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Bring Back… Helen Raynor

Guest contributor Connor Johnston makes the case for why the RTD era writer needs to return.

helen-raynor-doctor-who

In the light of the recent announcement that Peter Harness and Jamie Mathieson will each be writing an episode for Peter Capaldi’s first Doctor Who series, the spots for writers are filling up tremendously fast! In the hype of new, old and long-lost writers being announced to pen future stories to the show, we can all be forgiven for having one name in our minds that we long to see in big bold letters on the front page of Doctor Who TV with the words “writing a new episode” following them. For me this name belongs to the talented Helen Raynor.

One of the true “veterans” of the Davies era, Raynor has written in total 6 full length episodes in the Whoniverse including Series Three’s “Daleks in Manhattan” and “Evolution of the Daleks”, Series 4’s “The Sontaran Stratagem” and “The Poison Sky”, as well as Torchwood episodes “Ghost Machine” and “To the Last Man”. Not only a writer of 6 episodes, Raynor also holds many more Who related accomplishments to her name such as; being effectively “tied” for the title of “first female script editor on Doctor Who”, becoming the first and only woman to write a televised Dalek story in the history of Doctor Who, becoming the first and only woman to write a Sontaran story in the history of Doctor Who, the only script editor for Steven Moffat – prior to his ascension to the position of head writer and as of the end of 2013, the only woman credited with writing episodes of the 2005 revival series.

There’s a certain uniqueness to Raynor’s writing that has definitely been lacking in the last few series, a charisma and energy that comes across in her episodes. This is the main motivation that leads to Helen Raynor being the name on my mind and on my lips during my silent prayers to Lord Moffat God of Trolls every night. Helen Raynor needs to return! And here are 5 reasons why…

1. Unique Ideas

sec-hybridOf course in writing this article I’d be foolish to think that there’d be no opposition to my love for Raynor – especially due to the low ranking of her arguably most iconic story “Daleks in Manhattan” and “Evolution of the Daleks” in the recent “Face-Off Polls”. When researching criticisms of the two-parter one of the main issues people seem to have regards the prosthetics of the Human Dalek Hybrid as well as the Pig slaves and the laughable acting of Mr. Diagoras, played by Eric Loren as the Hybrid itself. While I may not personally fully agree with these criticisms I can at least sympathize with the fact that many otherwise excellent episodes of Who seem to be let down by the same kind of thing – “Cold War” otherwise known as the “attack of the fake hands on sticks” and the “we can’t act” Van Borings from “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” come to mind because on paper and as an idea they all work sensationally – yet are only (in lack of a better word) botched up later on down the production line. It’s for this reason that point number 1 in this article is Helen’s “unique ideas”.

Season 3’s Dalek two parter is riddled with brilliant ideas including having the Daleks manipulate the building of the Empire State building with the inclusion of Dalekanium as well as the excellently constructed idea of a Human Dalek Hybrid, gaining a human perspective on how to survive – a stroke of genius by Raynor. While some may say this great plot point was cheapened due to the appearance of hybrid, I can easily see past that and acknowledge what stunning writing it is. Especially with dialogue rich in character developments (for the flipping Daleks!) like the conversation below:

We tried everything to survive when we found ourselves stranded in this ignorant age. First we tried growing new Dalek embryos but their flesh was too weak….. Our Creator was wrong, our purpose is wrong! Where has our quest for supremacy led us? To this. Hiding in the sewers on a primitive world. Just four of us left. If we do not change now then we deserve extinction.

2. Dark Themes

torchwood-Ghost-MachineWhen it comes to dark and mature themes in Doctor Who and Torchwood, I believe I’d be right in saying that because they are a rarity they are usually quite positively received by the more mature fans of Doctor Who, take for example “Water of Mars” and it’s winning place in the recent “Face-Off” polls as evidence. While “Ghost Machine” may not be Raynor’s strongest episode, the quality of it is more than enough to show that Raynor has impeccable variety in her writing and is more than capable of tackling some dark and mature themes. In the episode in question, Raynor tackles some of the most horrific issues in modern society such as sexual assault, physical and mental abuse, blackmail, suicide, murder – as well as dealing with the aftermath of being swept up in these issues, in a way that was not only as dark as the issues it presented, but also deals with them so extremely tastefully, by not cheapening or underestimating the seriousness that should be always associated when addressing them.

3. To Save the Sontarans?

sontaran-head-strategemFirstly, I’d like to make one thing very clear – my personal position on the Sontarans. I believe with great certainty I can say that I am one of, if not the, biggest fan of the Sontarans in the history of Whovians (hint hint at my comment username) – and feel like they’ve never been represented better than in the last few years. This is due to the reason that they are seen as a joke by the universe, by their enemies and by the audience. Meaning they are always underestimated, and when the times come that they do succeed in a victory it’s so unexpected and shocking, that we as an audience can’t help be taken aback.

The second reason I label them as the best Doctor Who villain of all time is because of the fact that their love and thirst for war is used comically, and that’s what makes them probably one of the scariest concepts ever created in Doctor Who – and most of us don’t even realize it. I think at times people forget that at the end of the day, these are aliens who take all that we describe as unthinkable and horrific acts – murder, war, bloodshed, torture – and they glorify them and hold them as sacred parts of their culture. It’s truly terrifying – and I think the only way that the Sontarans can be redeemed in everyone else’s eyes (and not just my own) is if this scary realization is focused on dominantly in quite a dark setting. In “The Sontaran Stratagem” and “The Poison Sky”, Helen Raynor proves she is the person to complete this mission, perfectly balancing the defining yet contrasting aspects of the comedic potatoes and the threatening warriors that are: The Sontarans.

4. Memorable Characters

soloman-Daleks-in-Manhattan-Evolution-of-the-DaleksThroughout her 6 episodes for the Whoniverse Helen Raynor has every time created such memorable and realistic characters that have captured the audience’s attention and affection for their short moments of fame. Without ignoring the spectacular characters of Frank, Tallulah, Ross and Tommy, I believe I can say with complete certainty that Raynor’s greatest creation with the most depth has to be the sensational Solomon, from the Season 3 Dalek 2 parter “Daleks in Manhattan” and “Evolution of the Daleks.” A veteran of the First World War, Solomon found himself responsible to be the unofficial point of authority in Hooverville, one of the shanty towns in Central Park that arose during the Great Depression. Possibly one of the most heroic characters of Who History, Raynor builds the character of Solomon on the foundations of compassion and justice, making for one exceptional example of the best of humanity. This image we have of Solomon is only strengthened by his courage and selflessness when standing up to the Daleks and delivering one of the greatest Character Defining monologues to date:

Solomon: Daleks…ain’t we all the same? Underneath, ain’t we all kin? (Sets rifle on the ground) ‘Cause, see, I’ve just discovered this past day God’s universe is a thousand times the size I thought it was. And that scares me. Oh, yeah. Terrifies me. Right down to the bone. But it’s got to give me hope…hope that maybe together we can make a better tomorrow. So I…I beg you now if you have any compassion in your hearts then you’ll meet with us and stop this fight. Well…what do you say?
Daleks: Exterminate!

Poor deluded, brave Solomon…..

5. To Break Our Hearts

torchwood-to-the-last-manOne of the greatest things that sets Doctor Who apart from any other old “Sci-Fi” show is the emotion and the investment that the audience has in each and every character. One of Helen Raynor’s most invaluable qualities as a television writer, and specifically a Doctor Who writer, has been to affect us emotionally in such a strong way and like many of the greatest Doctor Who writers has managed to break our hearts in the process. This was made no clearer than in the Torchwood Series Two episode, “To the Last Man”. Toshiko Sato continues to be one of my favorite characters of the Whoniverse ever, and Helen Raynor capture’s her emotions perfectly in this episode having disastrous consequences for the tissue boxes of viewers. It takes the skills of a sensational writer to introduce an audience to a character, and have them so affected by their death less than 30 minutes later. This was the case with Tommy Brockless. Using our emotional connections with Toshiko, Raynor manages to come up with a script that not only is riddled with character development, but manages to have us fall in love with Tommy, through his affection for Toshiko and his ultimate sacrifice to not only save her, but the entire world. Because he’s our brave and handsome hero. It’s stories like Tommy’s and the exploration of Toshiko’ emotions in “To the Last Man” that prove that Helen Raynor can write episodes with depth and heart exceptionally, and what makes it the final reason why she should return.

Conclusion

I’ve always been confused why Helen Raynor’s talent and devotion to Doctor Who in the past seems to be remarkably underestimated by fans everywhere. This was made even more evident when the recent results of the “Series Face-Off’s” were revealed, naming both Dalek episodes in the “Nightmare Run” for their episode slots, Episodes 4 and 5 respectively, and both Sontaran episodes receiving nowhere near the amount of appreciation they deserved. Due to her creative and unique ideas; her balance of comedic, emotional and dark themes and her position to rectify the Sontaran’s in the eyes of many fans, there is no doubt in my mind that one of the only people that could improve the stunning line up of writers we have so far for Series 8 is the great and magical Helen Raynor!

I’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed these 5 reasons as to why Helen Raynor needs to return to Doctor Who, feel free to leave your thoughts on Raynor’s episodes and your own “Dream Writer to return” in the comments. Let us know: Are you a Rayter (Raynor Hater), a F.A.H (Fan of Helen) or some other really bad abbreviation in between the two??? I’ve also chosen to include my own ratings for her work below. BRING BACK HELEN RAYNOR!

  1. Daleks in Manhattan – 9/10
  2. Evolution of the Daleks – 9/10
  3. The Sontaran Stratagem – 9/10
  4. The Poison Sky – 10/10
  5. Ghost Machine – 8.5/10
  6. To the Last Man – 10/10
Step back in time...

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139 comments
PeterWDawson
PeterWDawson

Really not a fan of her work so I did disagree with most of this, but yeah, she really did probably do the most respectable work with the Sontarans. 

NickyArmstrong
NickyArmstrong

It has been so long since I last watched Torchwood, but her Who episodes presented the Doctor as a morally confused numbskull who sided with the enemy and featured such egregious science as 'gamma lightning' and 'igniting the whole upper atmosphere', so I'm not convinced she's right for this particular programme.

Romanadvoratrelundar
Romanadvoratrelundar

I enjoyed her two-parters. I mean they weren't awesome, but I don't find anything particularly wrong with them either.


Castrovalva
Castrovalva

Amongst my favourite episodes (going by my re-watch count) are the Sontaran Strategem and The Poison Sky .  The other two parter would have worked without the pig men and the bizarre hybrid.  Somehow I feel something got lost in translation there.  




On the whole I would really like to see more from this writer.  


pikus87
pikus87

I have never seen her two Torchwood episodes but I really, REALLY like her two (/four) DW episodes and I think they are seriously underrated. Thank you for this important contribution! ^_^

Strontium
Strontium

Fan!! Really enjoyed both Who stories (not seen the Torchwood ones). Would like her back!

DaftDalek
DaftDalek

F.O.H. all the way. The Dalek 2-parter was phenomenal and I can't understand why people hate it so much.

Ollie Walton Harrod
Ollie Walton Harrod

I don't think either of her Doctor Who episodes were greatly interesting.

Although, I find very few Moffat era episodes to be good at all, so having her back might me good.


Stott
Stott

No thanks, both her Who stories were pretty poor. I'm all for more female writers in Who, but not this one.


Arcadia Boy
Arcadia Boy

I find it a crime that anyone can say anything bad against Daleks In Manhatten/Evolution Of The Daleks. It's a dark, gritty and tragic MASTERPIECE!

taptapwho
taptapwho

Ghost Machine was amazing. FIrst episode other than the pilot to get make Torchwood seem serious and dark. No bloomin' sex aliens. A proper adult Sci-fi story without forcing R rated content to make it adult. I didn't know she wrote that along with the even more incredible To the Last Man. I was going to comment about how she shouldn't come back before I saw that she wrote two of the best Torchwood episodes. Her Who wasn't so great though. Maybe she's better in Adult Sci-fi? Maybe her first two stories where just duds and could be third time lucky?



awkward912
awkward912

Her two Who stories are nothing special - not sure why she was handed the first two-parter two years in a row really. Her Torchwood stories, however, are excellent, particularly Ghost Machine. She was much better suited there.

TheElusiveWhovian
TheElusiveWhovian

Whilst I did like the Sontaran two-parter (about 6.5/10), her Dalek story wasn't all that impressive (4/10) but I'm not sure it's the script or production that hinders it. I have seen her Torchwood episodes and there wasn't anything that memorable.

Overall she is rather 'meh'.

parrot999
parrot999

You know, I have the same problem with her as I do with many of the writers under RTD' including himself... The idea that you should include weird ideas just because you can... Like, for example, turning people into pig slaves as the Daleks key to controlling the masses... More often than not, because of little connection with the narrative, it not only makes it seem forced, but leaves you asking yourself "Is this an official episode, or someone's attempt at a fanfiction?"... At least it does for me.

Now weird ideas can be good... If done well. Usually if the idea has some literary significance, or is actually part of a witty joke (No, fart jokes don't count...)

gunslinger19
gunslinger19

dont really mind though i dont consider anything she has done in the whoniverse to be particularly noteworthy

JackArtaganMackenna
JackArtaganMackenna

The question is, though, would she WANT to come back after the appalling way the fandom treated her?


''I’ve always been confused why Helen Raynor’s talent and devotion to Doctor Who in the past seems to be remarkably underestimated by fans everywhere''

She's a woman, and sci-fi fandom has a particularly vicious misogynistic faction. There's your answer.

sontaran17
sontaran17

A quiet little update on the comments (Again thanks for all your feedback :D)                                                  Note these numbers include all comments from 16-17 hours after the Article was put up (Aprox)


                                                   Comments               

Rayter (Raynor Hater)                       20                           

F.O.H (Fan of Helen)                         32                             

The  Middle Ground                           11



Oncoming_Badger
Oncoming_Badger

The Dalek two parter is phenomenal and the Sontaran two parter is great, I'd love her back.

tardiselliot
tardiselliot

I never understood the hate for Daleks in Manhattan, I throughly enjoy those episodes, I say yes to Helens return

mczolly
mczolly

Oh, rather not... her Doctor Who episodes were boring.

TheThirdDoctor
TheThirdDoctor

The writer of my worst Doctor Who 2 parter of all time? (Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks) No thank you, but I can see why you want her back but just not for me.

TheDreamer
TheDreamer

I really didn't care for Dalek in Manhattan, though I'm not sure if it was the writing or the execution that really didn't do it for me... likely a bit of both, the pacing felt off to me, the plot wasn't bad, but the whole just didn't work for me. I can't really point my finger on why exactly. 

But the Sontaran Stratagem was really good, imo.

I had to look up the Torchwood episodes to refresh my memory, because I have only seen the whole of Torchwood once and have not memorised titles - yet lol - but as far as I remember they were fairly good too. Not my faves by far, but not bad either.

All in all, she isn't better or worse than the others, so I really don't mind either way. To be honest, I never even remember who wrote what. I only recently looked that up as I ranked the episodes when we were doing the polls, coz I wrote the writer's name next to the title on my list... just so I would have the information right there if I needed it. Not that I memorised it or anything, lol.

Daleks in Manhattan – 6/10

Evolution of the Daleks – 6/10

The Sontaran Stratagem – 8.5/10

The Poison Sky – 8.5/10

Ghost Machine – 7.5/10

To the Last Man – 8/10


craig33
craig33

Yes. I too like helen raynors stuff and she and her peers from the RTD era should come back. Straxx is good but moffat has almost destroyed the sontarans through comedy. I love the manhattan/evolution dalek two parter as it was full of great original idea's and believe it comes in for too much criticism from holier than thou tosspots.

Doctor Who fans....scariest monsters of them all !!!!!

Temporal Tomato
Temporal Tomato

I just want some Big Finish writers to start/resume writing for the show, or even someone like Lawrence Miles, Jaqueline Rayner, Paul Magrs, or Lance Parkin who helped keep the series alive post TV movie with the Eighth Doctor novel range.

Ivegotnewkidneys on the 23rd
Ivegotnewkidneys on the 23rd

Meh shes an alrght writer I find her episodes alright but nothing spectacular I mean Daleks in Manhattan is good on the historical and human side and the the Daleks were used effectively IMO but the science was just wrong pure dalek DNA when the shells looked human I mean come on I haven't seen her torchwood episodes in a while but she gets credit for her torchwood series 1 episode being one of the more mature episodes of series 1 but If any RTD era wrtier had to come back she wouldn't be the first on my list (that would be Robert Shearman or Paul Cornell) overall for her episodes I'd say 1.Evolution of the Daleks 7/10 2.The sontaran stratagem 8/10 3.Ghost machine 8/10 4.To the last man 7/10  

SteviePenny
SteviePenny

I strongly disliked her Dalek two-parter in Series 3, though I don't know if that was because of the writing or the execution. Whatever the conclusion, using pig slaves was ridiculously silly and the American accents sounded forced... not to mention, the directing just made every scene seem clumsy, and the extermination of the hybrid didn't seem believable at all... and the extermination itself was massively over-done. The story was just cheesy. Cheesy enough to cover a pizza.

The Sontaran two-parter (on the other hand) is one of my favourite stories from the RTD era, as it's one of the biggest, most epic and funny stories they ever told, and yet I couldn't help but LOVE the Sontarans. Seriously, when Series 4 aired, I would've been ten, and you have no idea how excited I was when the action figures came out! I was one of the first to buy them, and I loved the Sontarans (I was literally obsessed) because of her story, so she redeemed herself in my eyes, for The Sontaran Stratagem & The Poison Sky still remain to me as one of my all-time favourites. The story telling is superb, and the Sontarans are made to be some of the most comical, entertaining villains I've ever seen on the show.

Not to mention, I love a good fight scene, and the execution of all the UNIT soldiers in the ATMOS factory has to be one of the best moments in the entire series.

"This isn't war, this is sport!"

General Staal & the Commander are some of the best evil baddies the show has ever produced, as they were not only thoroughly entertaining, but they were brilliantly threatening too.

"Then do it!"

I'd be open to Helen returning, but only to do another Sontaran story, as her depiction of them was outstanding in my opinion. Moffat's has been incredibly poor so far, which is a shame.

ClassicWhovian
ClassicWhovian

I like her, but there are just too many writers I would prefer to have back for me to really get behind this idea.... Good article, though!


hazwho
hazwho

R.I.O.K for me, (Raynor is OK.)


Scogali
Scogali

I can't comment on Torchwood, and the Sontaran 2 parter was alright (albeit pretty poor when compared with the rest of Series 4) I will give you that, but the Human Dalek Hybrid a "stroke of genius" and "excellently constructed idea"? Please! It was a bizarre illogical ridiculous looking blight on the face of the history of the Daleks in Doctor Who. Please Moffat keep Helen Raynor off our screens (and out of ruining Capaldi's first series) for another year. However, a well written article despite my absolute utter disagreement with every point made, and I respect your confidence in wading into such a contentious topic Connor.

WhoLock
WhoLock

I love all these episodes, I'm constantly saying how I'd love her back!

Rani Nose
Rani Nose

I find this discussion rather odd.  From the show's point of view it is not a question of whether or not Raynor should be brought back, but whether or not she can produce a quality script that can be fit into the new narrative arc.  If she spec an interesting story then, sure, invite her to draft a script. 


Never saw Torchwood so I can't comment on those stories.  I thought the Sontaran two-parter was okay, but not very memorable.  The Dalek two-parter was problematic for a host of reasons but Raynor had some interesting "high concept" ideas.  What would the Daleks do if faced with limited choices for survival is a very intriguing question.  It sort of hearkened back to the predicament they faced in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  I also thought the portrayal of the Daleks in those episodes came closest to their classic selves.  The way they moved and their odd, slow speech pattern was a throwback. 


Don't take this personally Connor but the Sontarans have always been a second-rate enemy.  There's only so much a writer can do with clone aliens who like fighting wars with honor and have an obvious probic vent weakness.  By definition they are the same one-dimensional character every time they appear.   Personally, I think one of Moffat's wisest decisions was to make Strax the comic relief character.  Even so, Strax is a one-note joke that has to be used sparingly to be effective.  I would be interested to see if a writer can come up with a good Sontaran story that forces Strax to choose between his new friends and his own kind.

Cowmoo83
Cowmoo83

I COMPLETELY agree!  I've loved all of her stories due to the creative and new ideas and good characters - they've never been the absolute pinnacle of Who, but she writes very solid stuff.  Glad you took the time to write this article! 



Malohkeh
Malohkeh

Lovely sentiment, but I still don't care for her work. I'd love some more variety in the writers, but I have nowhere near enough faith in her abilities for me to want Helen Raynor back. Her stories for Who just didn't work (her Torchwood episodes were lovely, though).

sontaran17
sontaran17

Well thats Article Number 15 done! Thanks for all your comments - I will stand by thoughts always! F.O.H Forever :)

PeterWDawson
PeterWDawson

@Romanadvoratrelundar There's a bunch of reviews out there for the Dalek ones. Off the top of my head a complete misunderstanding of even basic science (apparently lightning is full of gamma radiation and can transfer DNA in Frankenstein-like experiements), Doctor character assassination (he decides to just help the Daleks when they effectively killed a LOT of people) and the rather thin character of Solomon (REALLY surprised the writer of this liked that character but but, hey, to each their own). The pigmen aren't exactly well received either.

sontaran17
sontaran17

@JackArtaganMackenna  Insinuating anyone disliked her episodes due to her gender is just plain and simply wrong and a real horrid assumption

Meh Meh Meh Meh Meh
Meh Meh Meh Meh Meh

Very helpful! I haven't seen her Torchwood episodes, but I just... Don't like her Who episodes. The Sontaran one is alright, but I would not choose to watch Daleks again.

sontaran17
sontaran17

Continued:  One thing I can say is that I'm very pleased with people's positive reactions to a Raynor Return, as I was anticipating absolute chaos an opposition. I've attached the facts of peoples opinions based on their comments. BRING BACK  HELEN! 


Note these numbers include all comments from 4-5 hours after the Article was put up (Aprox)

                                                     Comments               

Rayter (Raynor Hater)                       13                           

F.O.H (Fan of Helen)                         22                             

The  Middle Ground                           5

Djornad
Djornad

@sontaran17 @JackArtaganMackenna  Dude, you can't attack a person like that. She has a point. Nothing she is saying is wrong. There are a very small minority out there that are like that. It's sad but it's true.

sontaran17
sontaran17

@Polyphase @sontaran17  Livefyre is not allowing Edits, I mean to write "I will stand by my thoughts forever" and FOH Forever is not doubling the same sentiment its stressing my point - FAN OF HELEN FOREVER!

Galax
Galax

@sontaran17 It's just because people with unpopular opinions talk more. Just look the nightmare run, it is enough to see that the number of Rayters are incredibly huge.

Djornad
Djornad

@sontaran17 @Djornad @JackArtaganMackenna  The debate does need to be had - which is why I support the above commenters right to say what she said because she's highlighting that sexism does exist in the Sci-Fi community. That's not something that shouldn't be talked about.

sontaran17
sontaran17

@Djornad @sontaran17 @JackArtaganMackenna  I'm not attacking her at all, like people who have said my thoughts in the article were wrong, I can see I find her points wrong - Its a debate that needs to be had but quite frankly is not appropriate to raise here because it will turn into an argument very quickly

Galax
Galax

@sontaran17 @Galax  its usually the negative voices that are the loudest when it comes to discussion these days

Depends of the discussion. Like I said, it's not "negative" or "positive" that matter, it's "popular" or "unpopular". In preview "Unpopular Opinion : [A WELL RECEIVED EPISODE]" articles, many claimed their love for the episode but more claimed their hate and that they agree with the article. But in fact, the episode is still well-received, members of Doctorwhotv are just a few minority of the fanbase.

So again, it's not a surprise that many defends Helen Raynor in this article. But if you just look at the "Likes", the Rayters get more...





sontaran17
sontaran17

@Galax @sontaran17  No need to be a downer, its usually the negative voices that are the loudest when it comes to discussion these days - Its a nice change to get some positivity going round!