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Bring Back… Paul Cornell

Guest contributor Holly Illis wants to see the Father’s Day & Human Nature writer return.

fathers-day-human-nature

I recently read the “Bring Back Helen Raynor” article and found it extremely interesting. In the comments I stated that I would also like a certain writer to return for Series 8, and I thought I would have a crack at writing an article. So…

Paul Cornell. I think most people will agree that Cornell is an extremely talented writer, despite not having written many full-length episodes set in the Whoniverse – three, to be precise. However, he has written five novels, including Human Nature (but we’ll come back to that!), lots of short stories, Big Finish audio books and comics.

For the purpose of this article, I’ll be focusing mainly on his stories for TV. I realise Paul Cornell is already a popular New Who writer, so there won’t be a lot of persuading to do, but for that minority who don’t like his stories, or just for anyone who’s interested, here are a few reasons why I think Paul Cornell should return for Series 8:

1. Darker Ideas

One of the great and unique things about Doctor Who, is that it’s aimed at children but has something for everyone. We all like the lighter episodes, the funny ones, but for the older audience, isn’t it even better when you get that occasional sad one? Scary one? Dark one? Like, say, I don’t know… Father’s Day.

Maybe at first look it’s not one of the darker episodes (compared to things like Midnight or The Empty Child,) but think about it. The main plot is that Rose has gone back in time and saved her dad from dying. But that should never happen, and so at the end of the episode her dad Pete is forced to kill himself. Now, in a show aimed at children, that’s pretty grim.

Also, consider: In Human Nature/The Family Of Blood, this bit of dialogue, which Son Of Mine says as a voiceover:

“He never raised his voice. That was the worst thing… the fury of the Time Lord… and then we discovered why. Why this Doctor, who had fought with gods and demons, why he had run away from us and hidden. He was being kind.”

And the punishments for the Family, making them live forever, how cruel is that? Isn’t that a kind of torture?

I love Doctor Who, I love every aspect of Doctor Who, but now that I’m a bit older, going over Father’s Day, and particularly Human Nature/The Family Of Blood, it strikes me as to how different those were, and how those kinds of episodes are important. And I think that Series 5-7 have lacked a little bit in darker stories in the middle of a series, as opposed to just for a finale.

“We wanted to live forever. So the Doctor made sure that we did.”

2. High Concept Episodes

Human Nature & The Family of BloodLet’s think about what other episodes might be considered “high concept” first. Midnight, obviously. Set almost entirely on a bus (type thing.) I know it’s considered pretty rubbish, but Love And Monsters is quite high concept in that it’s Doctor-lite and breaks the fourth wall, which hasn’t happened in any other New Who episode. Gridlock maybe? Set almost entirely on the motorway? Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that “high concept” isn’t the same as “amazing episodes.” It’s more a break from the template of regular episodes, (oh, and it’s pure coincidence that the episodes I mentioned were all written by RTD), and Paul Cornell achieves this in both his stories for Doctor Who on TV. Father’s Day is set predominantly in the church, the Doctor disappears three quarters of the way though, and there is no interaction with the aliens at all, they only serve as a threat while we focus on the main story – the inevitability of Pete Tyler having to kill himself.

But the main one is obviously Human Nature/The Family Of Blood. For about 90% of these episodes, the Doctor doesn’t even know he’s the Doctor. In my opinion, nothing since has been quite as different, quite as special. When I first watched them when they came out, this break from tradition scared me – I admit it, I hated it. To be fair I was only 7 and I wanted the Doctor to come back and defeat the bad guys. Now, I can appreciate why this makes these episodes so interesting and they remain my favourite two-parter to date, probably my favourite stories for Doctor Who overall so far.

3. Heartbreak

Father’s Day. Paul Cornell’s ability to introduce us to a character at the beginning of an episode and have us crying for them at the end – for whatever reason – is, in my opinion, unmatched. Pete had been mentioned a couple of times before Father’s Day, and Jackie and Rose between them made him sound like such an amazing man, the perfect dad, a genius… so when we meet Pete, and his ideas never work, he’s constantly arguing with Jackie and he’s a rubbish dad, it comes as quite a shock to the viewer. But over the course of the half an hour in which we meet him properly, we get to know him and understand him and by the end, who wasn’t wishing that he didn’t have to be run over after all, that there must be some other way?

The Family Of Blood. I am unashamed to say that I cry every time I watch this episode, without fail. The most remarkable thing, I think, is that not only does Paul Cornell have only two episodes to make us love a new character, John Smith, but that that new character is a replacement for the Doctor, and still, by the end of it, I certainly (I don’t know about the rest of you), would rather the Doctor stayed tucked away somewhere in the corner of John’s mind and John got to live the happy life he dreamed of, rather than him die for the Doctor to return. It portrays the humanity in the Doctor, a whole new side of him that we never ever see. Would John Smith have imprisoned the Family for all eternity, even if he had been able to? I doubt it. In this episode more than any other we can empathise with the main character because he is like us, he is human and he has fallen in love and as far as he’s concerned, he has to die just so that some other man can replace him and live a life of his own, depriving John of his.

“John Smith: You knew this all along and yet you watched while Nurse Redfern and I…
Martha Jones: I didn’t know how to stop you. He gave me a list of things to watch out for, but that wasn’t included.
John Smith: Falling in love? That didn’t even occur to him?
Martha Jones: No.
John Smith: Then what sort of man is that?”

Conclusion

This wasn’t really an article I ever wrote in the hope of persuading people that Paul Cornell has written some of the most incredible episodes of Doctor Who – while he’s not everyone’s favourite, the majority of Whovians definitely think him a very talented writer for the reboot. However, despite doing very well in the Dream Run recently, Human Nature and The Family Of Blood both lost out in their respective slots to The Empty Child and Silence In The Library. While I love these, in my opinion neither are as good as the Paul Cornell double. Both The Empty Child and Silence In The Library are only the first parts of double eps; I think it’s fair to say that as a general rule, the first part of a double is always better than the second. I think The Family Of Blood comes extremely close to breaking that rule.

I feel that if anyone was going to improve the lineup of Series 8 writers so far, Paul Cornell would be the guy to do it, with his more adult themes, and darker ideas (and by the sound of it, the Capaldi era is going to be darker than any yet – yay!) and more than anything, his ability to break our hearts, which again, in my opinion, I think Series 5-7 have lacked, short of series finales.

But please, if you think I’m wrong (about anything I’ve said in this article – which hopefully you found interesting!) feel free to comment below, or, even better, if you agree with me, just tell me why.

  • Father’s Day: 9/10
  • Human Nature: 10/10
  • Family Of Blood: 10/10

Thanks for reading!

Step back in time...

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76 comments
DavidFarmbrough
DavidFarmbrough

It's not aimed at children, it's family viewing. That's the whole point of Doctor Who. It wouldn't be a good fit in its time slot if it were just children's fare or just an adult show.

But yes, I agree that Paul should write some more television stories, and I don't think I know anyone who would argue against that sentiment.

ilyootha is back in home Universe
ilyootha is back in home Universe

By the way, it is said that a certain Steven Moffat contributed a segment to the original Human Nature novel. :P I don't know if this is true though, but anyway, a character called Mr Moffat, "a young Scotsman with curly hair and permanently 
perplexed eyes", indeed makes an appearance there...




dragonsfyre
dragonsfyre

Dear Moderators: please use this version of my comment. I'm afraid I ran out of time when I was editing my comment. My apologies but I hope you will take into consideration what appears to be a duplicate post but actually is slightly longer than the one just posted a few minutes ago. Thank you. Please edit out my note to you above and please find the comment below:

"One of the great and unique things about Doctor Who, is that it’s aimed at children..."

THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES was aimed at children. If anything, Doctor Who is aimed at families and young teens....

But it's interesting you should say that: I believe your statement proves just how far the show has fallen into children's territory. No one hides behind the sofa anymore.

Prior to Moffat taking over as SHOWRUNNER, we had MUCH more adult-themed stories:

'The Satan Pit' (replete with discussions of faith and confrontations with the Devil),

'Midnight' (possession),

'The Waters of Mars' (body horror, suicide),

'The Empty Child' (the horrifying transformation of Dr. Constantine into a gas mask creature),

'The Unquiet Dead'(zombies, bodies coming to life in the morgue),

'The Fires of Pompeii' (the High Priestess of the Cybaline/Pyroville hybrid creature, the doomed city of Pompeii),

I

'The Girl in the Fireplace' (Rose and Mickey get their arms injected with sedative and their bodies go limp),

.....and let's not forget the Gothic Horror years of the Phillip Hincliffe/Robert Holmes era: violence, body horror and terrifying monsters were splattered our screens at 6pm in the evenings. Stories like THE SEEDS OF DOOM, THE DEADLY ASSASSIN, THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS, GENESIS OF THE DALEKS, TERROR OF THE ZYGONS etc had even the adults scurrying for cover behind the sofa. Yet these are widely as some of the best Doctor Who stories ever...but so terrifying that the moral crusader Mary Whitehouse infamously led the charge to demand that the BBC tone down the horror and violence of the show as children were watching.

And they did tone down the adult nature of the show, effectively sounding the death-knell that saw the show become a pale shadow of its former glory...leading to the end of the classic series some 9 years later.

Yes, we need the darker, more adult-themed stories to return. If the nature of a particular story is deemed to be too frightening, then you put a PARENTAL GUIDANCE notice at the start of the show and between commercial breaks. Or air the show later for that particular week.

By doing this, you make fans of all ages happy. Because guess what Mr Moffat? Doctor Who has been around for 50years, meaning that you have fans who are well into their 60s now. They are ADULTS and are deserving of darker, more mature stories....not silly, happy-go-lucky stories with cute little Adipose for kids.

robdw
robdw

Paul Cornell is a great writer, but it's worth flagging up that Human Nature and The Family of Blood were heavily re-written. RTD, The Writer's Tale:


"I had a whole Sunday of people saying, 'That was brilliant,' and specifically, 'What a brilliant script. Paul Cornell is a genius.' Which he is. But I'm thinking, if only you know how much of that I wrote! But I stifle myself, so it all goes inwards. It festers. People know that I polish stuff, but they think that polishing means adding a gag or an epigram, not writing half the script. I know it shouldn't, but it drives me mad."


As Russell says, he's still brilliant, a new Paul Cornell commission would always, always be good news, but it doesn't necessarily mean Human Nature on tap, just as I'm not expecting Phil Ford to deliver The Waters of Mars for Capaldi.

ilyootha is back in home Universe
ilyootha is back in home Universe

I didn't like Father's Day and I don't remember much from Human Nature/The Family of Blood, to be honest, but I have enjoyed Cornell's work on books and audios so far, so yeah, I think he is great. Hopefully we'll see him writing for televised Doctor Who again one day, and in the meantime, I can't wait to read the original Human Nature!

DW_girl
DW_girl

It's annoying how Moffat brings back the same writers which write mediocre or poor episodes. Take 'Mark Gattis' who in my opinion has never written a single episode which i consider to be fantastic (none of his episodes are bad but they aren't exactly great either), and especially 'Steve Thompson', who wrote two of the worst episodes is New-Who. Moffat just brings back his pals, rather than the good writers. I agree that Paul Cornell should return, as well as some of the one-off writers like Robert Shearman and Richard Curtis.

DaftDalek
DaftDalek

His stories are almost flawless. Nevertheless, his stories didn't seem to be appreciated in the recent poll. WHY?

WhoPotterVian
WhoPotterVian

I definitely want to see Paul Cornell return to the show. But let's see him do something different outside of his comfort zone. That would be interesting.It would be great to see a pure action/adventure episode from him. 



JoehWh0
JoehWh0

I love all three episodes, come back Paul!

Baker Street is excited for Series 8!
Baker Street is excited for Series 8!

Wow, I forgot how good his episodes were. I haven't seen Father's Day in a while and I got a lump in my throat when I watched the video of Pete's death, and Human Nature/The Family of Blood remains one of my favourite Who episodes of all time for the sheer individuality and poignancy of it. So I completely agree with you, Paul Cornell needs to return!


awkward912
awkward912

It's been a long wait... where are you, Paul? Come back! 

Castrovalva
Castrovalva

Great article Holly.  Totally agree.  He is a busy chap though, but it would be great if we could have more Cornell stories.  BTW: there are two Paul Cornell stories on Big Finish that are only 2.99 (one is the 7th Doctor and one is the 8th).   I've just finished listening to The Shadow of the Scourge.  That was not so great and, not surprisingly, was a bit on the dark side, but had some great moments mind you. However, the 8th Doctor's  Seasons of Fear is rather wonderful.

TheOncomingSnow
TheOncomingSnow

It's not a case of bringing him back. While under major comic contracts, he's a but tied up at the moment. He and Moffat are good friends, I'm sure Moffat wouldn't hesitate to bring him back were he available.

Malohkeh
Malohkeh

I'd love to see Cornell come back! Human Nature/Family of Blood was definitely one of the highlights of the RTD era!

Oodkind
Oodkind

It's funny, I was literally just thinking today that he should come back. All of his episodes were, if not my favorite, extremely good episodes. They were great stories, brilliant changes of pace, and really made the show interesting. I'd love for him to come back and write an episode or two.

hankim912
hankim912

Right. Human Nature and Family of Blood. The episodes were extraordinary

sontaran17
sontaran17

As the writer of the Helen Raynor Article its great to see that you've been prompted to do a case for Paul Cornell. A stunning article and a stunning writer, her can return any time he likes!

Chris502
Chris502

Agree agree agree! Great read.

TheNightmareChild sees into your soul!
TheNightmareChild sees into your soul!

Yes.  I remember in the Helen Raynor article I said more or less this exact thing in the comments.  I feel like Paul Cornell's particular talents and interests are always best suited for sixth to eighth episodes in any given series.  In his few contributions to the show, he's always had a knack for taking the show out of its element, and thus it's necessary to give the show those first few episodes to establish its element in the first place so that he can then come in and flip the script for an episode or two.  So if Paul Cornell does come back, I hope it's in Series 9; seeing as we have a new Doctor to contend and (hopefully) fall in love with, I think the show is going to need that time to establish that connection with the audience.  But yes, 100% agree with this article.  Very well stated.

Deus_Ex_Machina
Deus_Ex_Machina

Yes. I definetly want to see him back. I was just watching "Human Nature" yesterday and thinking what a brilliant episode it was. And lets all agree that the next time trailer for "Family of Blood" is the greatest next time trailer ever. It sent a shiver down my spine.

newhorizons
newhorizons

Meh. His stories were really boring, at least I find. They just didn't feel like DW episodes, but were still better than most of what we got in Series 1-4. 

Sir James Bond
Sir James Bond

What a fulfilling read.....I really, really enjoyed that, thank you Ms Illis. One of the most heartfelt, engaging and instantly re-readable articles I've instantly re-read in a long time. An article as precise and articulate as it was warm and conversational. Brilliant! More please. 


Oh, and I agree with every point you raised regarding the multifaceted writing talents of Mr Cornell (and RTD). The sooner the show coaxes him back the better. His stories are all tightly written, with a clear sense of purpose, focus, depth, and most importantly, heart......storytelling attributes that are always welcome. 

Ninjauthor
Ninjauthor

Paul cornell's episodes are all so great, he should definitely return. does anyone know why he hasn't so far, he's a really  big fan of the show (even writing books during the wilderness years) so why hasn't he come back since season 3?

troughton who?
troughton who?

In my opinion Human Nature/The Family of Blood is the greatest story ever told in Doctor Who history - this is including classic and new, all the novels, all the audio plays, all the comic books - all everything. The novel is superb, and in all honesty it was so good they had to adapt it for the show itself. Harry Lloyd is excellent as Son of Mine (i'd even go so far to say he'd make a great Doctor...) and I reckon this is also one of Tennant's best performances.

TheDreamer
TheDreamer

@dragonsfyre  Sorry but I have seen Brain of Morbius, Genesis of the Daleks, etc... and they did not make me scurry to hide behind the sofa one little bit. And they certainly did not terrify me. None of the Monsters have ever scared me. Nothing in Doctor Who has ever terrified me, in fact... although Midnight has come close. And Terror of the Vervoids did keep me on edge with the way they didn't show what had escaped from the pods for a while. But there have been some gripping stories in the last few series nonetheless. Not everything need be gory in order to be gripping. Atmosphere, setting and filming techniques plays a better role in that regards than blood, gore or monsters, imo.








As for parental guidance, Series 7 was rated 12. So was series 6. Only series 5 was PG. Series 1 was rated 12, so was series 2 I believe, series 3 was PG and series 4 was 12 (yes, the one with the cute adipose in it)


By the way, Brain of Morbius is rated PG... so are Seeds of Doom. Genesis of the Daleks, Deadly Assassin and Terror of the Zygons. And the DVD The Beginning with Unearthly Child, the Daleks and Edge of Destruction is rated 12. 

robdw
robdw

@dragonsfyre I just watched Asylum of the Daleks. A gang of hideous, emaciated corpses, dead and festering for a year, are reanimated by nanogenes and grab Amy by the arm.


People made the exact same criticism of RTD's era, too lightweight, not gory enough compared to the classic era, and now we're citing the exceptions, rather than the rule, as a stick to beat the new showrunner with.


Doctor Who is, was, and is likely to remain fine for grim visuals for the foreseeable future!

TheOncomingStorm
TheOncomingStorm

@dragonsfyre  That is just one of the many reasons why I prefer the RTD to the Moffat era. Oh, and I love Partners In Crime.

MeglosProductions
MeglosProductions

@robdw It was still Paul Cornell's story. He originally wrote it for the virgin new adventures books in the 1990's. Also, RTD did admit in the book that he was still a "genius".

TheOncomingStorm
TheOncomingStorm

@robdw  I know, I've read The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter, and I was going to mention that, but then like Brainlock said, the whole original premise was Cornell's.

Brainlock
Brainlock

@robdw you do know Cornell originally wrote it for one of the pre-reboot/Lost Years novels, right? Then he adapted it to the new series for Tenner. Whatever credit Rusty takes for it, you only have to look back to the novel to see the original story.

supermoff
supermoff

@DW_girl  For goodness sake, do you think Moffat is gonna make decisions on what writers to use based purely on your opinion? Just because you consider none of his episodes to be fantastic, doesn't mean everyone does. Moffat uses the AI scores to judge how good writers are, and, according to them, Thompson and Gatiss have all achieved "excellent" scores for their episodes in the last few years. 

MeglosProductions
MeglosProductions

@DW_girl I have liked some of Gatiss' episodes (Cold war, Crimson horror and Victory of the Daleks) but they still weren't great. Same with Thompson. I have actually liked both of his episodes but they weren't great.

Skylord Maldon
Skylord Maldon

@DW_girl  The sooner Steve Thompson is gone the better, he is a far better writer for something like Sherlock.

TheOncomingStorm
TheOncomingStorm

@DW_girl  I completely agree. I have enjoyed a few of Gatiss's episodes, but none have been amazing. Steve Thompson has written some pretty poor ones... I'm pretty much repeating what you said, but yeah, he brings back the same writers who don't tend to be that great.

supermoff
supermoff

@DaftDalek  It's not exactly rocket science. Simply, people prefer other stories. 

Skylord Maldon
Skylord Maldon

@DaftDalek  A shame really, he is a my favourite writer :) I really wish he would write more Doctor Who

TheOncomingStorm
TheOncomingStorm

@sontaran17  Thank you (I wrote it), and I really liked your Helen Raynor article. I'm not a massive FOH but you definitely shed some new light on her.

dragonsfyre
dragonsfyre

Then you missed the British newspapers talking about be rising horror during the Hincliffe era -- showing Morbius and his patchwork Frankenstein body beside the article.

It may not be horrific to you in this day, my friend, but it was for thousands and that is where the expression "hiding behind the sofa" comes from. Or at least it is intimately associated with DrWho. In fact, during the marketing for the launch of the new series in 2005, some ads said "are you ready to hide behind the sofa again?"

And actually, did you know that the British broadcast of THE EMPTY CHILD had the sequence of Dr. Constantine edited so that you couldn't hear the sound of his face bones crunching as he morphed into the gas mask creature?

But you're right: horror and violence do not necessarily make for adult-themed entertainment but they sure do help. We need a return to grittiness....and by all accounts that is where the Capaldi era will take us. BBC has heard the outcry from its adult tans and has finally responded.

dragonsfyre
dragonsfyre

You're right about that. I just meant to use the example of the Adipose as the pinnacle of children's TV and that Moffat should steer clear of that.

The RTD era wasn't perfect (I mean really, farting aliens, belching recycle bins and pigmen???) but it had a greater number of adult-themed episodes.

When the show rebooted, you could tell that -- by and large -- it wanted to be taken seriously. It wanted to shed the idea in people's minds that Doctor Who was filled with wobbly sets and aliens that strained credibility because you could see it was just a man in a rubber suit.

To be taken seriously, a return to real drama against a Sci-Fi setting (with adult themes) MUST take place or else WHO will be on the cancellation list again.

robdw
robdw

@Brainlock Yes, I do! Point taken, though. "Doesn't necessarily mean The Family of Blood on tap," then.

DW_girl
DW_girl

@supermoff @DW_girlI never said no else likes those episodes. I just said I didn't. And what's the point in a forum if you can't express your own opinion without people having a go at you for having an opinion? 

I did think back then though that when I was writing that comment that Moffat would sack Gattiss and Thompson and pick the writers I want, and change everything on the show the way I wanted it..... ;)

TheDreamer
TheDreamer

@dragonsfyre  Exactly... what sort of episodes would they have to make for pple of today to find them horrific? Torchwood style stuff maybe... Those are rated 16 for the most part, and some 18... but then kids would not be able to watch it anymore, and DW is still a family show, not just for adults. I'm all for a few more scary episodes but I think they still have to be somewhat family friendly. I don't see any harm in catering to the young now and again - bring in the younger crowds, interest them in the show, and you add to your base... they'll grow up and the show can grow with them. Looks like it's pretty much what they''ve been doing lately.


Each "era" has its own tone... Change... it's what the show is about.


No, I didn't see the newspapers for the Morbius days... I wasn't born. I do remember the 2005 ads though.