Dr Who travels to cyberspace

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Dr Who, the fictional time-travelling adventurer, is being brought back to herald the future of BBC broadcasting.

However, the TimeLord ­ who has been reincarnated nine times in the guise of different actors ­ is to resume his journey through the portals of cyberspace and not television.

Next month, fans of the BBC show will be able to hear a radio play first commissioned in 1998 featuring Sylvester McCoy, who played the last incarnation of the Doctor in the television series. Though the play was written and produced for Radio 4, it was never broadcast. Now the BBC is billing it as "the first piece of drama broadcast purely online" and the first new Doctor Who broadcast by the BBC since the TV movie in 1996.

The fact that it is being relegated to internet audio, where quality is at best limited for any listener with a standard telephone line, suggests that the move is more of an experiment than a trailblazer.

The episode, titled "The Death of Time", will be broadcast from the BBC's website at www.bbc.co.uk/cult/doctorwho/ and will offer visitors the chance to vote on whether they want Dr Who to return to television. The fact that the vote will be drawn from a group of people who have already come to find a Dr Who programme suggests that it will be used to evaluate how keen the science-fiction programme's fans are for more.

In theory, it might be possible for the BBC to broadcast video copies of Dr Who episodes over the internet. But it is believed the intention is to decide whether there is enough interest to put the programmes on digital television channels.