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Under certain atmospheric conditions, and with the right equipment (i.e. modified aerials), viewers in Belgium, the western provinces of the Netherlands, and some parts of northern France were able to receive BBC signals (albeit weak) from across the English Channel, so some residents could have seen the odd episode of Doctor Who "live" (albeit in English) during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Some of these countries later had BBC1 and BBC2 available on their subscriber-only cable networks.

The Peter Cushing Dalek movies were released in a number of European countries, either dubbed or subtitled. For some, this was the only form of Doctor Who they had.

Selling Doctor Who - 1960s

While the BBC had moderate success selling the Doctor Who TV series to Mediterranean Commonwealth countries such as Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus in the 1960s, it had only limited success in selling the series to continental Europe.

Of the three named above, while Malta made a very short-lived comeback in 1979, only Gibraltar kept up with the series on a regular basis well into the late 80s.

By mid-1965, the BBC had unsuccessfully offered stories from the first two William Hartnell seasons to Yugoslavia, Italy, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany, but these offers were not taken up, probably because the episodes could only be supplied in English.

But by mid-1966, BBC Enterprises went to great trouble and effort to create "Music / Effects" only soundtracks that enabled episodes to be dubbed into other languages (see interview with Eddie Montague); the series could once again be offered to countries in Europe. (It's highly likely that the BBC had wanted to sell the recently dubbed Spanish episodes to Spain.)

But despite the first three serials being sent from New Zealand to Denmark for auditioning in March 1968, The Ice Warriors being auditioned by Germany two months later, and an unidentified story (possibly with the Daleks) being auditioned in Norway in 1967 or 68, the BBC still failed to achieve any sales. (Norway had rejected the series due to the cost, and Germany due to the poor production values.)

Selling Doctor Who - 1970s

The Netherlands eventually picked up a limited run of Tom Baker stories in 1975. (The UK became a full member of the European Economic Community (EEC) from 1 January 1973, which may account for this renewed (albeit limited) interest in the programme.)

And residents living in the British Sector of West Germany were able to view the UK military channel BFBS from September 1975 onwards. Several years later, this channel also became available in south-eastern regions of the Netherlands.

28 February 1977 Daily Mail article (image courtesy of Peter Haining's The Key to Time)

According to the Daily Mail, issue dated 28 February 1977, the reason for this lack of interest on the continent was because "Dr Who is too terrifying for Europe".

This newspaper article declared that: "DR WHO... will not be seen by European youngsters. He is too terrifying. "Our television is regarded as being too violent by the rest of Europe," Mr Brian Keyser, assistant head of sales for BBC Enterprises, said yesterday. "We have found it impossible to sell Dr Who..." Mr Keyser was speaking in Brighton, where the BBC presented a showcase of TV programmes for European buyers yesterday in the hope of raising £500,000. Dr Who will be shown to the delegates from 30 countries at Brighton this week. It has been sold in Canada and Australia, but there it is classified as adult-only viewing..."

A few years later, two more European countries - Denmark and Italy - did sample some Tom Baker stories in 1979/1980. But it really wasn't until the "Third Wave" in the late 1980s, that the BBC made any real breakthrough with selling the good Doctor (mostly Tom Baker) to major players in Europe, such as France, Turkey, Spain, Greece, Poland and Germany. (Some of these sales would have only been possible after the BBC made 'dialogue-free' versions of the early Baker stories (initially for the sale to France in 1986) allowing for the programme to be dubbed into other languages.)

Selling Doctor Who - 1980s

In DWB issue 43 (May 1987), there is a report that a sale was made to Spain "at the recent European TV Fair, months after France did a U-turn". At this TV fair - presumably the annual MIPCOM which was held from 17-21 October 1986 - it would seem that the BBC was successful in selling the series to a number of other European countries.

It was later reported in DWM #151 (August 1989) that the sale to Germany was due to the annual BBC Showcase held at Brighton in February. It's likely that other foreign sales were also completed at that time.

Also a major factor in boosting sales interest in Europe and elsewhere during the late 1980s was the introduction of a new and simplified royalties-based system of payments for members of Actors' Equity and the Musicians' Union which opened up more international markets to the BBC.



WAVE TWO (post UK entry into the EEC)

++ Both Gibraltar and Malta had 'dropped' the series in 1966, but returned to it in the early 1970s, hence they are listed twice.

^^ Although the series didn't air in France until 1989, the episodes were acquired and dubbed in 1986.

WAVE THREE (after the October 1986 MIPCOM and February 1987 BBC Showcase)

Signal drift also meant that these stations could be received in neighbouring countries, and as such the series was available in Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Portugal, and likely also in the small nations of San Marino, the Vatican City and Liechtenstein.

In the late 1990s, several Eastern European countries, such as the Czech Republic and Croatia, aired just the TV Movie, which had its distribution to foreign markets through Universal Television rather than the BBC.


From the mid-1980s, Europe was also served by a number of UK-based Cable and Satellite stations, such as Super Channel, BBC World Service and BBC Prime.

Direct cable feeds from the UK were also available in parts of western Europe, bringing BBC1 and BBC2 to them "live".

European-based satellite and cable stations - such as Germany's RTL-Plus and Scandinavia's TV4 Science Fiction, both of which showed selected serials - were available across western and eastern Europe. For some countries, these channels were the only places they could see Doctor Who...

Europe in Doctor Who

Non country specific references to Europe have featured in the following stories: