New Who vs. Classic Who

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Guest contributor John Hussey compares the new and classic-era Doctor Who.

Doctor Who has been running for 50 years as of the 23rd November 2013, so I have decided to look at the show as a whole and write an article on one of the biggest battles of the last seven years; “New” Who vs. “Classic” Who. In this I will share my opinions on the matter and compare and contrast the ages of Doctor Who.

Story format

The most obvious difference between New and Classic Who is the story format. The classic series normally contained an average of 6 stories per “season” with each of them multi-part. For example, the first ever story, An Unearthly Child, was 4 episodes long, while the second, The Daleks was a 7-parter. I do prefer this format to the new series due to the fact it spread the show out across the year instead of it being shown in just one chunk.

New Who [up until Series 7] has 13 episodes containing 10 stories made up of 7 single and 3 two-parters. There is an ongoing arc connecting the stories together with a massive revelation revealed at the end of it. This is a concept that I prefer as the arcs help build up a story which leads to an interesting revelation affecting the Doctor and his companions.

The classic series contained more one-off stories that didn’t connect to the rest of the episodes of that season and therefore didn’t rely heavily on story-arcs. Nonetheless it still had them, which unlike a lot of the arcs of the new series, spread across numerous seasons with a long, ongoing plot which affected the Doctor’s adventures.

The most famous one is ‘the Doctor’s Exile’ which had the Time Lords force the Doctor to regenerate before his banishment to Earth for his continuous interference with time. This arc lasted from the end of Season 6 all the way up to the beginning of Season 10 where the Time Lord’s eventually forgave the Doctor and granted him his freedom. It is very much like the ‘Silence will Fall’ story of the Steven Moffat-era in that it spreads across different series and also produces other inter-connected arcs along the way. Many of the classic series arcs were mostly short ones that lasted for three episodes and formed loose trilogies like the E-Space and Black Guardian arcs.


The Companions are another good thing to compare as their focus and storylines have changed dramatically between classic and new Who. In the new series, their story is more centre stage. In the Russell T Davies-era, companions had family connections for the first time and we saw what happens when their own lives conflict with their adventures in the TARDIS. Although it got a bit repetitive in the end, I believe it served its purpose in showing a different aspect to their lifestyle and character.

The classic series was more focused on the companions life within the TARDIS and didn’t give them too much of a back story, letting them join with more mystery and allowing their character to develop without the fear of home life interfering. I liked this more than the family-conflict-scenarios as it allowed the story to focus more on the adventures the companions were having, rather than their worries and emotions. Also, there was more of a variety within the characters back in the classic series due to the Doctor picking his companions from different planets and timelines, allowing for alien and robotic characters to be developed.

The departure of the companions was another interesting point within the classic series, as they didn’t always return to the point in which they joined, and would often decide to live in other time and/or planets. I’m not being judgmental on the new series because we’ve had a lot of brilliant characters, but I just think it’s time we moved away from present-day Earth. On the other hand, we have more emotional and sometimes dramatic departures in the new series, so in many ways it balances itself out.


And finally the monsters. Within the second ever story of Doctor Who we were introduced to the biggest monster of them all; the Daleks. Since then, the classic series produced big names like the Cybermen, the Ice Warriors, the Yeti, the Autons, the Silurians, the Master, Omega, the Sontarans, the Black Guardian and the Mara.

Now I have to be honest, there have not been too many original, recurring monsters produced in the new series when you compare the two. The only ones that really come to mind, especially in the popularity area of fans, is the Weeping Angels and the Silence by our very own Mr. Moffat. While on the other hand, Russell T Davies gave us the Slitheen family, who would later make their success in spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures.

It is confusing, as there are plenty of monsters in the new series and only three (unless you count the Ood, but they technically were never a monster) have hit what I consider the “big enemy status” in six whole series. I believe many of these monsters could have easily have been made into mainstream villains, but the same could have been said in the classic series. In some ways, the new series relies too much on the classic series. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when classic villains and monsters return but sometimes originality helps progress the show as well.


Overall though, I believe it is a hard subject to talk about. There is so much to compare and contrast and this is just a small portion of those options. But at the end of the day, I don’t think you should compare with negative thoughts because it is all fantastic. Doctor Who is an amazing show and stands as a monument to British television for its continuous brilliant plot, it’s fantastic characters and villains and above all, its iconic hero, the Doctor.

I believe all Whovians should watch the classic series in all its glory, along with the fantastic stories, the Doctors, companions and villains it produced. Then observe how the new series has continued that story into the 21st century and created its own stamp in history of the show; how it has created a new generation of Whovians and progressed the show towards the 50th anniversary.