Should Doctor Who Adopt a Darker Tone?

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Mark McCullough investigates.


Should Doctor Who adopt a darker tone? It’s a question I have seen asked increasingly often by fans, but one whose answer may not be as simple as most would think. My stance on the matter is that the show should maintain the tone which it currently utilises so well. However with the introduction of Peter Capaldi as the lead role, many fans would tend to disagree. I have seen several suggestions that the era of the Twelfth Doctor should be a more gothic one which would suit an older grittier Doctor. With the recently released teaser material, specifically the darker TARDIS interior, it is looking increasing likely that this wish will be granted.

What do we mean when we say we would like the show to become darker?

Put this question to someone who mentions their aspirations for the show and they tend to struggle giving a precise reply. General the answer will come back with exploring more adult themes within the narrative of the show. A popular answer would be that a companion should properly die at some stage. On this point I find myself wholeheartedly agreeing. If you look at the companions we have thus far, each and every one of them have ended up better off for having met the Doctor. Rose has a complete family for the first time in her life, not only that but she also has her own personal human version of the Doctor. Martha is now fully qualified with a husband and is doing what she loves. Donna too has a husband and is a lottery winner; she also has no memory of her time with the Doctor so from her point of view her life is so much better than before.

The Ponds perhaps come out the worst, although their decision of a normal life or life with the Doctor was made for them. What’s more they are able to settle down and adopt a child in the absence of being able to have their own. What I think this shows us is that the companion role has become devoid of a certain risk factor and we as viewers have become complacent that our beloved companion will eventually get their happy ending. In fact companion deaths have become a bit of a joke recently with Rory dying a countless number of times and Clara an infinite amount across the Doctor’s timeline. So perhaps it is time that a companion met a rather more permanent end and restores some danger and suspense to the companion role.

When it comes to the darker concepts there are numerous avenues which could be perused. These include: torture, mutilation, infertility, divorce, suicide, retribution, kidnap, murder, genocide and revenge. Perhaps that reads as just a random list; however the astute readers may have instantly picked it up as a list of concepts from a three episode stretch of the show. The stretch of episodes in question is Asylum of the Daleks to A Town Called Mercy. I hope this illustrates my point that I feel what most fans are calling out for is already present within the show. Perhaps I have been rather selective with my choice of episodes, however if you look across the span of the revived series, more and more dark concepts will spring out at you. This then begs the question, if the show already displays such attributes, why are people calling out for it to adopt an even darker tone?

Why I think the show is fine as it is.

When you analyse the show, you will note that the tone is generally light hearted and friendly. Naturally as an established family show, it needs to have this nature so that it can appeal to young and older fans alike. This is why an altercation to the most prominent tone of the show provides too much of a risk for the writers to attempt. Go too much in one direction and you open the possibility of alienating either set of viewers. This is particularly prominent with the arrival of an older Doctor who may be more difficult for younger fans to engage with. To couple this with a shift to a darker toned show could lead to these viewers becoming disengaged with the show. This is certainly not a desirable situation as the show does not want to lose viewers.

The era of the Eleventh Doctor was arguably one of the most balanced in terms of tone. The character himself was the youngest and most energetic Doctor, yet he was capable moments of cold hearted brutality. The feel of his entire story (particularly in Series Five) has been likened to that of a fairy tale. This is something I feel which actually heightened the moments where the show took a darker turn. This is probably due to the stark contrast they provided in comparison to what we had been accustomed too. Using Dinosaurs on a Spaceship as an example, we go from a fun romp on a spaceship, to genocide and the Doctor exacting the ultimate punishment in retribution. This is how I feel the show is strongest, a perfect blend of both elements. Ideally I would hope that Series Eight would adopt a similar tone.


I will admit, that it is a difficult topic to address as it is very much six of one, half a dozen of the other. There are so many potential arguments for stories with a darker tone; however it always comes back to the same problem, maintaining the balance of the show. I would like to see some of the ideas that have been suggested become a reality, but it cannot be at the cost of what makes the show what it is today. What are your thoughts on the conundrum? I look forward to reading them in the comments section.