7 Things that Make a Truly Great Doctor Who Story
Guest contributor Thomas Capon takes a look.
Blink, The Doctor’s Wife, The Waters of Mars, Human Nature, The Family of Blood, Midnight and many other stories are regarded by the majority of Doctor Who fans as ‘classics’. This term conveys the extreme love that the fans have for these stories. But why are episodes, such as Blink, so loved? What is it that makes a great story?
In this article, I am going to describe to you the factors which, for me, contribute in making a ‘fantastic’ story. It is worth saying that a great story doesn’t need to contain all of these factors, yet at the same time, the more of these that a story does posses tends to aid a story in obtaining the ‘classic’ status.
A plot that works
As you can see, we’re going to start with the blindingly obvious. Nevertheless a plot that works is vital to a great story. Some might argue that of late, Moffat isn’t producing ‘great stories’ due to this fundamental error. Whether the accusations are true or not, the point remains. A story has to work.
Let’s take The Doctor’s Wife as an example: the story was written to describe how the Doctor met the TARDIS as a person. Not surprisingly, this classic does what it says on the tin. It tells that story with a well structured side story about House which doesn’t take away from the idea for the story nor is it underused.
Believable characters who mean something to the audience
This is very important. Characters, like the plot, have to work. The audience don’t want to spend 45 minutes watching a character whom they’re struggling to tolerate. This stresses the importance of having characters who are in the story for a purpose.
The Waters of Mars is a prime example of a brilliant writer creating characters who are realistic. The group of individuals at Bowie Base One aren’t just there to say lines and ask the Doctor questions. They are real humans, who actually mean something to the audience, so that when the majority of them are killed off later it actually hurts the viewers to see them go.
A genuine threat
The villain is vital to a good story. The Doctor can’t just wander through the adventure without a care in the world. He can’t just destroy his opponents with a wave of the sonic screwdriver. This is, of course, the main criticism with The Power of Three. The villain wasn’t a real threat.
I bet you know which classic I’m going to use as an example of a genuine threat: Blink. The Weeping Angels terrified not only the characters onscreen and the viewers with their frightening nature. They not only provide this fear but also a real and genuine threat. If they gain control of the TARDIS, then the universe is in grave danger. This results in Sally Sparrow have huge responsibility thrust upon her. She cannot afford to fail.
A solution which isn’t a cop out
Yep, it’s another obvious fact. We all know about the Teselecta and how that went down with fans. The conclusion that a great story has to end well isn’t an idea I’m going to convince you is true. We all know it.
There are numerous examples of a story ending well. The one that I’m going to choose is The Doctor Dances. The ending with Nancy being revealed as the mother of the Empty Child, followed by the reprogramming of the nanogenes to clean up the mess, is an ending which the story was built up to and made complete and utter sense. Well done, Steven Moffat.
A solution which heartfelt by the hero or a near acquaintance of his/hers.
The best solution is one that means something to the characters in the story as well as the audience. The hero has to be affected by the story or, if he/she is killed, a near acquaintance should be affected by the pain.
My example here is Human Nature/The Family of Blood. The conclusion of this story is the death of John Smith and the rebirth of the Doctor. However this ending leaves a scar. Joan especially feels the pain of the loss of her lover and rebukes the Doctor for being a coward who needlessly inflicted the pain on her. The Doctor himself is also affected causing him to visit Joan’s granddaughter in The End of Time to discover if Joan was happy when she died.
A chance for the villain to repent
It is important for the Doctor to offer the villain another way out. He has to seek a peaceful solution before he opposes his enemy. A warrior is not necessarily a hero. To fight evil can be hard, to forgive it is even harder. The Doctor especially sees this as important because he himself seeks forgiveness for his past actions.
Journey’s End is a story that this feature is clearly seen. Despite all that Davros has just done, the Doctor tries to save him. He won’t just let Davros die. Instead he gives Davros the chance to escape with him in the TARDIS and it grieves him to see his enemy refuse his offer.
The hero turning down of an opportunity for escape
This last point was actually my inspiration for this article. The following quote, which isn’t from Doctor Who, sums up my feelings on the matter. I ask though that if you haven’t heard this speech before, then don’t read it but rather go to YouTube and search for ‘Sam’s Speech’. Listen to it instead.
‘It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.’
A great story will give not only the villain but also the hero an easy way out. This escape can feature in several ways whether it be surrendering to the evil, refusing to intervene, or leaving the job to someone else. The best stories for me always have the hero being giving the option of escaping but choosing rather to press on the hard and painful route.
So there you have it. That’s my view on what makes a great story.
What factors make a good story for you? Post away your opinions on this matter in the comments below.