What do we actually expect from a Doctor Who episode?
Guest contributor Paul Humphreys looks at fan expectations.
The expectations for each and every episode of Series 7 were sky high. This is partly (and probably mainly) down to the promise that every episode would be of ‘blockbuster quality’, which led fans to believe we would be treated to a ‘classic’ every week. This hasn’t happened in the eyes of some fans, but it got me thinking what do we actually expect from a Doctor Who episode? Has Series 7 come under too much, maybe unfair, criticism because of our expectations? I think so. Lots of aspects come together to make a great episode; a snappy script, an interesting and engaging story, powerful acting performances, stunning special effects and enjoyable fan service. After watching an episode of Doctor Who, I have a little classification system that I use to determine its quality:
1. The ‘I’ll never get that time back’ Episodes
There is only one episode of Doctor Who that I feel has truly wasted my time. You all know the one I mean. I cannot conceive of how ‘Love and Monsters’ was allowed to be made. Thankfully this level of quality has never been replicated again on Doctor Who. It’s awful. It’s not Doctor Who. Enough said.
Notable examples: Love and Monsters
2. The ‘I guess it was OK’ Episodes
Almost every TV show can suffer from this kind of filler and for whatever reason, the episode fails to captivate and entertain for a full 45 minutes. Bad writing, wooden acting, over-reliance on cliché, dull sections or an unsatisfactory monster can all lead to a forgettable episode. Not particularly terrible, just forgettable. For me, the first or second episode of a series tended to suffer from these issues, mainly due to the amount that needed to be explained or shown when a new companion joined the Doctor. They had to be a bit more light hearted, to show the audience the new Doctor-companion chemistry and sometimes the monster or storyline suffered as a result, sometimes becoming overly comical or unthreatening. It’s very difficult to do a good introductory story, as there is so much that needs to be done in a short time, but when done right; the results are fantastic (Rose, The Eleventh Hour). However, filler can also apply to two-parters, which is much more annoying because then, two episodes seem wasted.
Notable Examples: Partners in Crime, Aliens of London/World War Three, Gridlock, New Earth, The Curse of the Black Spot, Boom Town, Hungry Earth/Cold Blood
3. The ‘Argh this could have been so good! If only they hadn’t messed up… everything!’ Episodes
These are the most frustrating type of episode I can think of, where a single or multiple story directions or decisions completely takes away from any good aspects of the episode and ruins the experience. This is when something just niggles away at you throughout the episode and you just can’t stop thinking, ‘why did they do that? Just why?!’ Obviously people will vary in what little things (if any) annoy them during episodes, but they cannot be ignored sometimes (a human Dalek?!?!?!). Any episode that disappoints I would also stick into this category, but this isn’t always measure of quality, rather the episode did not match up to your own personal expectations. The old ‘Deus-ex Machina’ rears its ugly head in this category, as it often demonstrates a rushed conclusion that almost never fails to disappoint.
Notable Examples: Journey’s End, Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks, The Doctor’s Daughter, Last of the Time Lords, Closing Time, Cold War
4. The ‘I really enjoyed that!’ Episodes
Ah here we go, the good stuff! Thankfully most Doctor Who episodes fall under this category, as we would expect from such a great program. These episodes have you glued to the screen for pure excitement, suspense, atmosphere or humour. There’s not too much else to say about these, apart from I could watch them over and over all day! Although highly enjoyable, there’s always something in these episodes that means it just falls short of the final category…
Notable examples: Dalek, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, Amy’s Choice, Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, The Girl who Waited
5. The ‘Wow. That was incredible.’ Episodes
Doctor Who also has quite a few of these. There are some episodes where you just know that you’ve a fantastic piece of television. Everything is done almost perfectly, the writing, acting, story, mood, monsters etc etc. One of the best things about Doctor Who is that we have the possibility of this kind of episode every week, as most of the time; these episodes appear almost out of nowhere. This kind of episode reminds us why we watch Doctor Who; they draw upon the mythos of the Doctor or manage to masterfully draw us in with mystery and subterfuge. We also know that we’ll almost certainly be treated to more of these episodes, as Doctor Who continues to attract new and talented guest writers and stars.
Notable Examples: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace, Human Nature/Family of Blood, Blink, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, The Doctor’s Wife
So the main point of this article was to offer my own opinion on Series 7 as a whole. Although I don’t think there have been any standout classics (at the time of writing). I also think most of the episodes fall under the fourth category of enjoyable episodes. By aiming higher, I think the overall quality of the series has improved compared to past seasons. I know that everyone will have different episodes placed in the ‘notable examples’, but I’ve tried to be relatively fair! What do you guys think? Do you feel the same sort of things after watching an episode? Am I completely wrong with my examples?