Change, My Dear: Rebirth from the 50th
Guest contributor James Copley looks at what changed and what it might mean for the future.
Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary year gave us many thrills and spills such as the recovery of the lost Troughton episodes, Big Finish’s ‘The Light at the End’, Paul McGann’s return in The Night of the Doctor, and to top it all off we had the Doctor trilogy. One thing that wasn’t really associated with the 50th anniversary, but featured in 2013, was Series 7: Part 2 – Matt Smith’s final half-series as our beloved Doctor. Throughout the 50th anniversary Doctor Who changed dramatically – some of the changes positive, others controversial among the Whoniverse. This article – my first by the way – shall compare and contrast Doctor Who from this time last year, through the 50th, to present day – comparing the format, the stories, and the characters and monsters. But what do these changes mean? And what does this contribute to what we have in store for Capaldi’s debut series later on this year?
Format & Episode Style
Let’s start with series format and cast our minds back to the end of March 2013 and the second half of Series 7. Doctor Who was practically reinvented again – new TARDIS, new companion, movie-styled episodes – all except for the main actor, Matt Smith. The movie-styled episodes were disliked by some fans as they felt two-parters could expand the story more. Squashing an story into 45-minutes is sometimes too hard to execute correctly. I for one agree with this point-of-view as it is impossible to confine a movie to 45-minutes. Has Hollywood ever distributed a film that was 45-minutes long? No. Two-parters allow the writer to expand their stories and delve into deeper depths with the characters, and to use their monster to the full.
Later on in the year, for the 50th specials, the format was divided into three huge episodes that made up the Doctor trilogy: The Name of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor. I thought these episodes were more movie-styled than Series 7 – especially The Day of the Doctor. One massive change was the move to simulcast the 50th episode in cinemas around the globe. More TV shows are now showing some of their ‘big’ episodes on the cinema. Could The Day of The Doctor lead to more episodes of Doctor Who in future being shown on the cinema? I think that is possible. Looking ahead to Series 8, Doctor Who has learnt from its mistakes in the split format – okay the split did have some positive effects like the fact that we didn’t have too much of a gap waiting for Doctor Who throughout the year, but on the whole it was negatively received by the audience – reverting back to 13-episode runs for Series 8 and beyond.
The stories back in Series 7 were, as mentioned earlier, supposed to be big and movie-styled. I believe the Doctor Who team achieved their ‘big’ episode aim. For example, The Name of the Doctor one cracker of an episode! The Paternoster gang was back, Clara’s riddle was about to be solved, and we were teased about the Doctor’s greatest secret – it turned out not to be his name but a secret incarnation, what a surprise! That story unlocked many secrets to the Time War and left us puzzled about which Doctor was what incarnation. What does the Doctor really do while he’s away, and with which face?
Towards the end of the year we were blessed with ever more fantastic episodes; we had The Day of the Doctor, and to finish a wonderful four years with Matt Smith, The Time of the Doctor. These stories got darker as they progressed through the year, Name was set after a funeral, Day saw the Doctor come face-to-face with his greatest secret, and Time was practically about the Doctor dying! I suspect, from Moffat hinting at a ‘snarling beast’, that Series 8 will die down from the Doctor trilogy but still contain some of the dark themes with a darker Doctor – I mean, the Doctor is really a ghost now, he should have never reached his Fourteenth incarnation. I wonder if Moffat will expand on that point? The Doctor is like a ghost in Series 8.
Characters & Monsters
Now, the main characters haven’t really changed from Series 7 – it is still the Doctor and Clara, except that the Doctor has changed actor and incarnation and Danny Pink is to be added to the crew. However, there are more episodes that have two or more monsters than ever before. These stories have small parts for different monsters, almost like extras; the backing cast. For instance, The Time of the Doctor showcased Cybermen and Daleks before the opening credits even rolled. Also, The Day of the Doctor had the Daleks with the Zygons as a sub-plot. I think from the experiences of these last two episodes, we are in for more multi-monster episodes in the future – not just in Capaldi’s first series.
We still don’t know what, maybe who (the Master?), will be the main antagonist for Series 8. Maybe in the last episode the villain will team up with other powerful monsters like the Daleks or Cybermen to create something similar to the alliance in Series 5. Or maybe not as Doctor Who doesn’t tend to go back over things already established, unless you’re Steven Moffat where you go back to an established event and change the outcome completely. But I like it when you think you know what happens and you’re wrong and you’re taken on a turn of events. Also, one thing that has changed from Series 7 to now is the Daleks. From Series 1 through to Series 7, Doctor Who has never had consecutive stories both having Dalek appearances (Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways is one story). Some members of the Whoniverse believe that the Daleks should have a rest for a while. But considering their frequent past appearances, like it or not, the Daleks are going to be in Series 8 somehow…
In conclusion, I believe Doctor Who has changed dramatically. Last year we had the following: Eleven and Clara, movie-styled episodes that were split halfway. Going into Series 8 we have the following: Twelve and Clara, 13 episodes that will not be split halfway. But my main point is how the 50th anniversary has changed many aspects of the show. I saved this one to last because I think it’s the most important change: Gallifrey. For the past 50 years the Doctor has been running from Gallifrey. Now, he is running back to his home. But have all these changes been positive or negative? I believe all the changes mentioned have been positive. We now have a full series of Doctor Who – no split – for umpteen months to come, with a possible two-parter return. One thing I am sad about is Matt Smith’s decision to leave. However, I think this is a good time to leave – after the 50th year – and hand over the keys to the TARDIS to an older man who will drive the show on a different narrative. So, I think the regeneration was a positive action for the show. Doctor Who is all about change; it regenerates itself every four-five years. But within the space of a year Doctor Who has twisted itself around to go on a new journey. Thank you, Steven Moffat; here’s to the next 50 years!