Story Arcs: Series 6 vs Series 7

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Was Moffat correct to drop the heavier arc? Guest contributor Anthony Retondo gives his thoughts.

Series 6 of Doctor Who was highly controversial for many reasons. The most common complaint is usually directed at the integration of individual story arcs, and a wide-branching plot that covered the entire series. Examples of course were the origin story of River Song and the Doctor’s untimely death at Lake Silencio, Utah. Series 6 was littered with questions that set the Internet on fire in speculation. For a time, it seemed that this was the highest point that Doctor Who itself had reached, when fans came to a point where they had to unravel the show more then ever before.

Truly, the excitement was brimming once “Day of The Moon” came to a close, as fans were left with dozens of questions and few answers. I don’t recall ever being as engrossed in a television show up till that point, Doctor Who included. Ultimately however, Steven Moffat’s ambition got the best of him in the eyes of fans, and many feel that the individual plot arcs hindered the overall enjoyment of the show, since they weren’t terribly satisfying in the end. It’s certainly a valid argument to claim that over complicating the show takes away it’s spirit, but I am here to hopefully raise some defence for this approach in storytelling as a whole.

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As I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to deny that the build up with most of Moffat’s story arcs is immensely satisfying. Moments like the regenerating girl in the alleyway of New York left me bewildered in the best way possible. The current generation of Doctor Who has seen some truly huge and ambitious ideas presented, which have tried to really change the game. Not a day went by when I wasn’t surfing the web, joining in with other fans, speculating on what all those esoteric events meant in the first half of the series. A wide-scale plot arc of Series 6’s calibre is bound to excite with an endless amount of questions being raised. I really enjoyed this because it took Doctor Who past a level of pure entertainment, and actually kept me invested in the mystery. We were no longer just watching the show to be treated to 45 minutes of fun, and instead we actually had to pay attention to the finer details.

It’s at this point that the fanbase takes the climb. If “roller coaster” is the best word to describe it, then the first half of this series was certainly the climb up. I’d love if we could experience a sensation like that again, and witness Doctor Who try to keep pushing a complicated story. Remember how exciting it was to guess all of those questions. It couldn’t hurt to try it again. At the end of the day, it’s whether or not the payoff to those questions is satisfying, and that’s where many feel the ball was dropped and the roller coaster cart took a dive. The important thing to point out is that just because this approach may have fallen short once, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted again. It’s a challenge for a writer sure, but imagine if a writer like Steven Moffat nails it the second time.


Now ignoring the fact that River Song’s ultimate story seemed lacklustre, or that the questions were too obvious in the long-run, I don’t believe that fan outcry should discourage the writers from attempting another big-scale story-arc. The important thing here is evolution. Doctor Who is a show all about change, and evolving. It tries to get better and better as it goes on, and how incredibly impressive is that, when the show is in its 50th year. It’s easy to assume that writing a large-scale story arc is not a simple thing to do. It’s ambitious, challenging, and in this day and age, I believe Doctor Who can really benefit from something more dangerous and ambitious. Just because it didn’t work out in Series 6 as everyone had hoped, doesn’t mean it should never be attempted again. I’m not saying turn the show into an experiment or anything, but trying to take a brave new approach isn’t a bad idea for a fifty year old show.

Of course, I’m almost assuming here that a man like Steven Moffat would stop trying to tell a complicated, timey-wimey story, and that’s just blasphemous. It may seem premature to write about the lack of future plot-arcs, when Series 7 is only halfway through, but remember, Steven Moffat has gone on the record in saying that he has “flipped the switch the other way” so to speak, and it will be far less story-driven. This does disappoint me actually, because I quite enjoyed the idea of a story arc. Of course, we’ve seen small hints of an arc, channelled through the idea of the Doctor wiping himself from history thusfar in Series 7, but there’s no guarantee that this is really going anywhere, or if it’s simply a means to bring the show back to it’s somewhat lighter-toned roots.

There’s nothing wrong with reverting back to the “Monster a week” formula, but I must admit that it’s left me less excited about Series 7, compared to my excitement prior to Series 6. “Asylum of The Daleks” and “The Snowmen” did leave us with an interesting little mystery to ponder about Oswin/Clara’s fate, but I find this nowhere near as exciting as the questions posed in the American two-parter premiere from 2011, of which there were a lot more.

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The point is, introducing these story arcs, leaves many fans more immersed in a television series. By posing questions, you raise even more interest. Steven Moffat and the gang don’t need to go quite as overboard as they did before, but I don’t believe flipping the switch the other way is the best choice either. Regardless of the resolution, this more elaborate form of storytelling isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For a while, it made the show seem more intelligent, and bold. The newest series main draw is that the episodes will each function as a 45-minute blockbuster that will stand on their own. Perhaps it’s just me, but I believe a perfect balance can be reached between this idea and the ideas of the previous series. Story arcs don’t need to be ridden of. Clearly they’re not completely erased, as evidence by the new mystery surrounding Clara/Oswin, but overall, it seems obvious that Series 7 will in many ways be the opposite of Series 6, in terms of storytelling.

And quite honestly, I believe that a story arc compliments the context of the show itself. I quite enjoyed the way we were told River’s story in a nonlinear fashion, because it made a lot of sense. Doctor Who is a show that centres around time travel, so it’s highly likely that the Doctor would follow a story completely out of order. Obviously, Moffat relishes this idea, and he really ran with it in Series 6. Telling a story in a non-linear fashion is in itself a story arc, since it places a puzzle in front of an audience with missing pieces. I surely hope this style of writing doesn’t disappear, despite its dislike among fans. The ultimate point is, in a show about time-travelling confusion, it seems more realistic to be written in a complex way.


Lastly, allow me to touch upon another complaint I’ve seen before, and that is the idea that these complicated story-arcs repel any interest in new viewers, because they’re too confusing and rely too heavily on prior knowledge of the show. I find this to be completely false since many friends of mine actually gained an interest, once I explained to them of the many questions I was eager to discover throughout the course of Series 6. A quick glimpse of the enigmatic River Song interested some of them, and despite ever even watching an entire episode, they had actually asked me by the end, what her ultimate identity was, thus expressing their fascination with it. It’s not guaranteed that Series 7 would have the same effect without those questions. An audience isn’t always scared away by the unknown.

Now I can’t speak for sure on the future of course. For all I know, Steven Moffat has some truly clever ideas on how to tell the remaining half of Series 7, but if what he’s said is indeed true throughout, then I’m going to miss the complicated story-driven style of writing in the second series of his run. Raising questions and confusing the audience doesn’t necessarily have to take away from the enjoyment. It can actually immerse your audience in a whole new way. Perhaps other fans agree that Series 7 isn’t as fun to follow without the complication. Of course, I’ll always watch Doctor Who, and adore it, but I will miss the interesting gamble that Series 6 took.

Thanks for reading!