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When is a spoiler not a spoiler?

Fans of any long-running series can be a funny bunch — none more so than devotees of Doctor Who. One of the major sources of ire is when future plot points are revealed without warning. It irks me a little — as with E4’s trailer for the season finale of ER last year, for example. As a general rule, though, I don’t mind seeing the occasional previews of forthcoming events, but some go to extraordinary lengths to avoid seeing or hearing anything that might disrupt their ignorance of events to come.

Let’s just hope that people who want to avoid spoilers for the forthcoming episode of Doctor Who, Daleks in Manhattan, don’t step into any newsagents for the next week — for the new edition of Radio Times has a cover image that is, in itself, a spoiler for the end of the episode.

Now, if you go to the RT website you’ll see the cover itself, so be warned. If you don’t mind seeing it, the BBC website has a large image of it.

What’s a little strange about this huge spoiler is that it’s been arranged with explicit approval of the series’ executive producer, Russell T Davies. In his monthly column in Doctor Who Magazine, Russell has always been careful to warn readers of what he calls ‘ruiners’ — listings magazines who give away far too much. Oh, the irony.

Or is it?

Certainly, Russell is no fan of the spoiler, but he does recognise the dilemma involved in promoting shows. In an accompanying feature, he says:

You want to give away a certain amount, to draw people in. But you don’t want people watching and thinking they’ve seen it before. What we try to protect are the endings of plots — that’s the important thing.

It always mystifies me when soaps give away plots in advance. I read a billing for Coronation Street: ‘Tracy disowns her mother’. And you watch it, and it’s the last scene! You sit there going, ‘Why did you tell me that?’

Which makes me wonder — is the monster that appears on the cover quite as big a give away as we might think? Or is it actually a red herring, to distract us from a bigger, more shocking revelation? Come Saturday, we’ll find out…

2 Comments

I hope it's a big ol' red herring! (I haven't looked, by the way!)

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It's strange, isn't it. The last but one Ugly Betty on Channel 4 featured as the "Coming Next Time..." revelation a believed-dead character returning as a woman. This week's episode had that "revelation" (that we'd already seen) as the final scene in the episode.

It's just like when you go and see a film at the cinema and realise that you've had the first hour or so spelled out for you already in the trailer.

Spoilering is something that yer modern day international TV show has to think heavily about. Turns of plot ("Who Killed JR", anybody?) can no longer hold the global viewers attention if the episode has already been uploaded, bittorrented and Youtubed around the world as soon as it is broadcast. Even Corrie - are you watching the ITV1 debut, the ITV2 night-time catch-up, the next-day re-run or the weekend omnibus?

I would think that drama will rely ever-more-heavily on more complex and detailed elements, rather than broad plot-twists. Something like Lost relies more on the rewards of watching intently and paying attention than merely getting a spoilered list of what happened.

INcidentally, this week is the first week after watching the whole two and a half seasons of Lost that I have been able to look at Lost stuff on the internet, having seen the Sky episode a few days before UK transmission. For once, I could join in on the the online stuff without risking being "spoilered" by information already broadcast in the US.

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