Could Doctor Who's Arrival On Disney+ Lead To The Time Lord Coming To The Disney Parks?

Doctor Who on BBC America
(Image credit: BBC America)

This week, we got a bombshell Doctor Who announcement that came right alongside the regeneration of The Doctor. When new episodes of the BBC series arrive in the U.S. late next year, they'll be sharing space with Mickey Mouse. That's right, Doctor Who is coming to Disney+. It’s a massive deal that brings together one of the most popular streaming services and a globally recognized character, but considering how many different ways Disney uses IP today, one has to wonder if this could be the first step toward one day seeing The Doctor appear at Disneyland or Walt Disney World

Certainly there was no announcement attached to the Disney+ deal that Disney and Doctor Who were entering into any bigger deals, but that makes sense. There’s no guarantee that Doctor Who on Disney+ is going to be a game changer, but the possibility that it could end up being a huge deal certainly exists, and if that happens, we could very possibly see Doctor Who in the Disney Parks before too long.

Jodie Whittaker on Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC America )

Doctor Who has been a popular show in the UK since in the early 1960s, but for a long time in the United States, the show was largely unknown. It could occasionally be found being broadcast on PBS stations across the country, so there was an audience for the series, but it never broke into the mainstream.

That started to change in 2005 when Doctor Who returned to the BBC following the show’s cancellation in 1989. Due to the show being more readily available thanks to steaming services, more American fans found the series and Doctor Who started to become more popular. Now most science fiction fans are at least aware of the show, and a lot of Americans are big fans. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan are big stars in Hollywood now because of Doctor Who. New episodes are now an event just like any new Marvel or Star Wars series.

But Disney+ has the potential to take the popularity of Doctor Who into the stratosphere. Viewership numbers for Doctor Who in the U.S. alone are a fraction of what they are in the U.K., in the hundreds of thousands for premiere episodes. Disney is approaching 50 million subscribers in North America for its streaming service. A lot more people are going to easily be able to access Doctor Who, and that means a lot more people who barely know about the show right now could become fans very soon.

The Doctor falling

(Image credit: BBC)

Doctor Who Has Untapped Theme Park Potential 

What’s great about theme park attractions is that they give fans the ability to experience their favorite media in an entirely different way. You can become part of your favorite stories and see them in a “real” and physical way that just isn’t the same as sitting and watching a screen. Doctor Who is perfectly situated for some sort of thrilling adventure as a theme park attraction, but so far that hasn’t happened.

There are currently no theme park attractions based on Doctor Who anywhere in the world. The currently in-development London Resort reportedly is planning to include Doctor Who in its theme park, but construction on that park has been delayed for years and it’s impossible to be sure at this point if that park will ever actually happen.

Even if The London Resort does happen and includes at least one Doctor Who attraction, it’s unlikely that the rights for building attractions based on the show would extend into North America. Those rights are probably available if there was a theme park that wanted them. People within Universal Parks & Resorts have spoken on occasion of being fans of Doctor Who, but we’ve never seen anything come of it, and it’s unlikely a deal for the rights has been made since there is nothing in active development. If Disney wanted the rights to build an attraction, they are likely available.

C-3PO and R2-D2 in Star Tours

(Image credit: Disneyland Resort)

It Wouldn’t Be The First Time Disney Had Attractions From IP It Did Not Own

The thing that looks like the biggest hurdle to a Doctor Who attraction inside a Disney park is that right now, everything inside the parks that is based on a movie or show is based on a property that Disney owns. It’s easy to forget that hasn’t always been the case. Several of Disney’s most popular attractions were licensed from their creators in the same way that Universal bought the rights to create the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a film franchise owned by Warner Bros.

Disneyland opened the Star Wars attraction Star Tours in 1987 and Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye in 1995, and while Disney owns those properties now through the acquisition of Lucasfilm, that didn’t take place until 2012. These were part of a deal made with George Lucas and Lucasfilm where Disney purchased the exclusive rights to build attractions based on Lucasfilm movies.

The same thing happened with Pixar Animation Studios. The first Pixar attraction, the 3D movie It’s Tough To Be A Bug, based on A Bug’s Life, opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998, but Disney didn’t buy Pixar until 2006. Up until that point, Disney was simply the distributor of Pixar films, a relationship not dissimilar from the one Disney now has regarding Doctor Who.

Spaceship Earth and Fountain at Epcot

(Image credit: Walt Disney World)

Walt Disney World Already Has The Perfect Spot For A Doctor Who Attraction

So if Doctor Who on Disney+ makes the show a massive hit in the U.S. to the point that a Doctor Who theme park attraction becomes something that would attract guests to the parks, then Disney will need to pick up the rights. Once that's done, Disney needs to figure out where to put such an attraction. Luckily, there is already a spot that we know for a fact would work.

Prior to the global pandemic, Walt Disney World announced plans to build a Mary Poppins attraction in the UK pavilion of Epcot’s World Showcase. Unfortunately, due to said pandemic, a lot of plans changed, and at this point, while Disney has indicated that the Mary Poppins attraction might still happen, it’s more than likely dead. But, if there was room for a Mary Poppins attraction before, then there is certainly room for a Doctor Who attraction now. 

In addition to the fact that the Epcot UK pavilion simply fits for a Doctor Who experience, putting a Doctor Who attraction at Walt Disney World makes the most sense because that’s the U.S. Disney resort that gets the most European visitors. If fans from Europe are going to Disney World anyway, they will certainly make a stop to check out a Doctor Who ride.

Certainly a Doctor Who theme park experience in North America is a long way off, assuming it ever happens at all. There’s no guarantee that the dominoes will fall in just the right way to make something like this happen. However, the possibility is there in a way that it hasn’t been before, and just the idea is simply fantastic.  

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.