Is It Time For Doctor Who To Grow Up?
Guest contributor Mike Falino investigates.
The question of “how to make the Daleks scary again” never seems to go away. It’s an interesting question because it serves to highlight the two very different worlds that Doctor Who lives in, first being the time in which it debuted, 1963, and second, now. Back when the Daleks first arrived on peoples’ screens, and for a long while after that, the Daleks were undeniably scary…to children, at least. A whole paper could be written on why children from back then were scared of the Daleks, and children from today are probably are not. Suffice to say that something has changed, and Doctor Who needs to change with it.
I propose that Doctor Who needs to make the difficult, if not precarious transition from being a “family” program into a more adult show. I know, that’s tantamount to blasphemy, but hear me out. I understand that the BBC would never consider any action that might lead to a loss of sales from merchandise, especially cute little remote control Daleks, action figures, and a slew of other toys. There’s just too much money to be made from Doctor Who to risk abandoning that market. But there is also huge potential in redirecting merchandising efforts towards other markets, namely, well-crafted video games. The video game market is nearly equal to Hollywood in terms of making money. Grand Theft Auto 5 made more money than any other of entertainment product in history. I’m just trying to point out why gearing Doctor Who towards a more adult audience wouldn’t necessarily hurt them financially. But I digress.
Doctor Who should become a more adult show centering on more maturely explored themes. This doesn’t mean sex or swearing. I’m not advocating Doctor Who transform into Torchwood. I’m suggesting that Doctor Who could work as a show if modeled after such great series as Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. Clearly adult-oriented programs, but not so blatantly risqué or offensive as to completely erase the “family friendly” draw of Doctor Who. While you may not want your six-year olds watching with you anymore, perhaps you now might be able to connect with your teenagers a bit more. Create a child-friendly program centered on other characters, and have the Doctor pop-in from time to time.
Why am I trying to suggest gearing Doctor Who towards adults? Well it comes back to the question of how to make the Daleks scary again. Short answer…you can’t! I just don’t think you can make the Daleks scary again in any functional and believable way. And why would should they anyway? To scare children again, like they did 40-50 years ago? That seems like holding onto nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. The only way to make the Daleks scary is to bring them in line with what makes modern villains scary. The Daleks frightened children in the 60’s because they were something nobody had ever seen before, they screamed in robotic voices, and because they resembled Nazis (intentionally, I might add). All those things simply do not resonate with children today.
Just as children grow up and shed their childhood fears (mostly) so too should Doctor Who grow up and shed its pretence of being a “family” show. One thing to consider is that it is generally adults proclaiming the Daleks no longer scary, which goes to show who the main audience actually is. Continuing to keep Doctor Who in line with what is acceptable as “family” programming does the show a grave injustice. It deserves a chance to grow up, to mature, and to blossom. Fans deserve the chance to see Doctor Who spread its wings and grow into something more. Darker themes. Dire, lasting consequences. Serious danger with serious resolutions. These are the things that could set Doctor Who off in a direction where it could really explore the more interesting themes that science fiction has to offer.
The Day of the Doctor set Doctor Who on a new course that I believe is ripe with the possibility of maturing the show. With the possibility of the Doctor locating Gallifrey, and therefore re-introducing the Time Lords into the show, the foundation for a more serious, more adult story has already been laid. The Time Lords might be back, but who says they have to be good guys? Come to think of it, when have they ever actually been good guys as a whole?
I think Doctor Who has reached a point where it can’t be scary again because those things that made it scary just aren’t anymore, as well as the fact that its audience has grown up. Society as a whole just isn’t as innocent and willing to believe that “bad guys” are bad guys just because we’re told they are. I think it is time for Doctor Who to finally embrace its potential and blow away its audience with mature material not for shock value, but to celebrate what it was, what it has become, and what it can be.