Bring Back… Paul Cornell
Guest contributor Holly Illis wants to see the Father’s Day & Human Nature writer return.
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
Let’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.
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?”
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!