Bring Back… Helen Raynor
Guest contributor Connor Johnston makes the case for why the RTD era writer needs to return.
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
Of 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
When 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?
Firstly, 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
Throughout 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?
Poor deluded, brave Solomon…..
5. To Break Our Hearts
One 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.
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!
- Daleks in Manhattan – 9/10
- Evolution of the Daleks – 9/10
- The Sontaran Stratagem – 9/10
- The Poison Sky – 10/10
- Ghost Machine – 8.5/10
- To the Last Man – 10/10