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Where Doctor Who Could Improve and How

Guest contributor Isaac Withers takes a look.

Disclaimer: the following views are in no way informed by a practical understanding of the workings of a television series and are solely the musings of an armchair critic with too much time on his hands.

smith-capaldi-cDoctor Who has always been to me, a show which I couldn’t pitch to someone who had never seen it before (bear with me). As an avid viewer of quality TV, who binge watched the entire first three seasons of Game of Thrones in a few weeks like a depraved meth addict, a part of me feels slightly childish when I tune in to Who on those rare Saturdays. Sure, I hear you, it’s aimed at children, but I’d wager the majority of its following is adult.

For some reason, unlike the other childhood TV series of my life, I have never been able to shake off Doctor Who, I think it’s part nostalgia, and part reverence for something truly enraptured and terrified me as a child (trying to sleep after The Girl in The Fireplace when all I could hear was my ticking clock will always stay with me). This is not to say that it is not a good quality television in itself, but as the Tennant generation grows up, we’re exposed to other hugely impressive examples of television, and Who doesn’t always hold up next to them. However, as a show defined by its capacity for change, here are just some thoughts, on how Who could improve, to become a show which I could openly take pride in, a show which I could come out of my bigger-on-the-inside closet to defend.

Anthropology

rings akhaten bbca promo (4)This is basically a big word for when you go and mingle with monkeys and do as the natives do. For a show which can go literally anywhere, Pompeii, the end of the universe, New, New, New, New, New, New, New, New, New…. (how many again?) Earth and far flung worlds like Akhaten, Doctor Who never really lets us see in depth into any of them. Sure, in 45 minutes James Cameron couldn’t have given us the grand visual tour of Pandora that he did in his epic monster of a sci-fi film, but as the episodes always begin with the Doctor and his companion arriving, we only ever see the surface of a world, sort of like being in a country for one day, you never get a feel of its genuine culture.

For a man who spends his life travelling, it seems unlikely in the extreme that the Doctor never stays for extended periods of time at a place. In fact, this is one of my greatest qualms (great word) with Who, especially with Tennant’s Doctor. He saunters onto a planet and after informing everyone that he is the highest authority in existence and pretty much a God, he would take control of everything, fight a bad guy and then back to the box. Characteristically, the Doctor so far has been like an Victorian explorer, setting up shop with no care for the locals, doing sometimes as much harm as damage (the often scoffed at solar meltdown of a finale in The Rings of Akhaten) and never really appreciating where he is or the beauty of the world around him. I want to see episodes where we don’t even see the TARDIS, when the Doctor begins his episode around a Cherokee campfire, bare chested and painted all over, genuinely embracing a culture and appreciating its values rather than demeaning them. So, to follow up on the monkey analogy, I want to see Capaldi throwing faeces just like those around him. Yeah you read that right.

Actual Consequence

doctor-who-the-snowmen-gallery-(26)This is something that I think will spread from Game of Thrones to the rest of mature TV in general. When you watch Who, you know, with 95% of episodes, that no one important will die, or get seriously hurt, or that if they do, the Doctor will be able to somehow bring them back (*cough* Rory *cough*). However, this is not just a problem with Doctor Who it spreads to CSI, mid-day Agatha Christie based crime dramas, and really the majority of TV. However, this safety, is counter- productive when you want to create tension, so no matter how high the stakes are, the audience never actually fear for the characters that they route for. So, this safety, kills drama itself, and this, I think is why Game of Thrones is such a success, no one is safe, and so it fully engages the audience.

This is not to say however, that the Doctor never experiences consequence. I loved it when after the death of the Ponds, Matt Smith’s Doctor retreated from everything, into the clouds and let his misery catch up with him. This was genuine pain, something the Doctor avoids somehow, all the time. In all honesty, I was hoping he would travel alone for Series 7B, out of respect for the longest serving companion Amy Pond, and her husband. But no, Clara was put into the mix fast, and we never heard about the Ponds again. I’m not saying that Moffat should suddenly spring a Red Wedding style massacre on our heroes in the console room, but for a man who gets in so many battles, it is only realistic that he should lose a few more than he does.

What irritates me is the fact that there is always a loophole, always. Even when Rose was given that heart-wrenching departure at the end of Series 2, just two years later she was back, Captain Jack didn’t really die, Donna returned a bit after her tragic departure, those that died at Demon’s Run like Dorium, came straight back. Galifrey is apparently fine now (which I’m OK with by the way). Even River was stored in the Library database, suspended before death. When you really look at it, the Doctor’s friends don’t die and he never really loses.

Continuity

capaldi-Musketeers-2014This is one of the things I loathed about Series 7, the whole ‘every episode is a movie idea’. This was Moffat’s response to the criticisms about his arc heavy Series 6, which shows he listens to the fanbase, but I’m not sure
 that was a good idea in this
 instance. Every episode
 was so separate that you
 got the impression that the
 TARDIS trio’s adventures
 meant very little to them. 
Each episode felt like a
 different show, just with
 similar qualities here and 
there.

This was the chronic
 flaw in the BBC’s The 
Musketeers. Each episode, 
there was a new villain,
 love interest, political plot, 
but by the next episode, 
they were forgotten. I endured all of those ten episodes purely to cringe through them, because ultimately, if there are no threads, no narrative arcs or character arcs, the show loses its audience’s attention. They simply have no reason to tune in to episode 5, if it is just a variant of every other episode. Hopefully Peter Capaldi’s new project will have abandoned this format…

Conclusion

I’m all to wary that many of these changes will not come to be, but I thoroughly enjoyed offloading my musings in this article. However, my hope was sparked by a recent announcement by the Moff. ‘“We haven’t made much of change to Doctor Who since it came back in 2005. I just felt it needs to be a bit more different now. It’s needs to be surprising again!”’ Maybe some of these, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to pitch Doctor Who to my fellow TV series addicts with pride…

Step back in time...

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58 comments
Malohkeh
Malohkeh

I don't get the whole "companions need to die" thing. There's no reason why death needs to happen. It isn't even the harshest consequence possible (just look at what happened to Donna). And, on top of that, several companions have died recently: River Song, Amy Pond, Rory Williams, Clara Oswin Oswald, and Oswin Oswald.


I really don't agree with that whole complaint at all.

Pockydon
Pockydon

I must say, I fully agree with everything you said here. Doctor Who is still one of my favourite shows ever, but after watching some other shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, the cracks do start to show. You've highlighted some things that aren't necessarily glaring issues, but would definitely make the show far more enjoyable if they were properly addressed. 

I must say that this is the first article in quite a while that I've thoroughly enjoyed reading and I agree 100% with. Maybe that just makes me very cynical, but well done anyway!

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

Interesting article but I don't agree that the Doctor just lands on a planet, sees the sights and leaves. I always thought he gets to the bottom of things as quickly as possible, he sees things that people who had lived there all their lives hadn't noticed, he exposes corruption and false Gods. For example in the Sun Makers (the Tom Baker story I'm watching right now) he lands on the planet, meets the resistance and asks questions about the Company's profits which those living there never thought about asking. In New Who, think New Earth. The Doctor enters the hospital and exposes the nurse cats for experimenting on humans. So, it was never about appearences, the Doctor always exposes the harsh reality behind the glamour.

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

doctor who companions hardly ever die, whatever the era, and for good reason, as it's not that sort of show. If the show became realistic then they'd die every week, which would be massively depressing!

supermoff
supermoff

Plus, the fact that Moffat responded wilfully to the complaints of Series 6 and was still lambasted for his changes really highlights the fact that the poor man can't win. I hope in future he ignores the fandom more and makes fully independent creative decisions, for he knows what's better for the show than the fandom.

supermoff
supermoff

As much as I adore the more recent series I must agree about the consequence aspect, and it leads me to believe that a harsh and unhappy companion death would be a shocking contrast after all the happy endings we've had so far.

Huknar
Huknar

The only thing I agree with here is consequence. Since series five we've had very little consequence, even for unimportant individuals, who are saved anyway. I think Series one to four had the perfect blend of this, and those consequences that turned out to not be so dire, like Rose for example, were handled at least well. 

Now I love the stories where it's a perfect happy ending, they make me cry tears of happiness, but without the stories that have endings on the opposite end of the scale, the happy episodes lose their power quite significantly. I just hope series eight has a bit more maturity in that regard, and I believe the best way to show this is to allow Clara to die, no strings attached at the end.


G_Unitt
G_Unitt

I think really significantly lowering the stakes would make the whole show more exciting. Look at Series 1 - Every problem they had affected a comparatively small number of people, and you know them well! This made everything more tense, and then in the last episode where THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF DALEKS were attacking, it was a big deal! I can remember myself going "OH MY GOD HOW ARE THEY GOING TO DEAL WITH THIS! HE IS GOING TO DIE!" And you know what? The Doctor *did* die. That sort of tension doesn't really exist in Doctor Who anymore.

Compare that, to Nightmare in Silver, an episode I did enjoy. A huge army of insanely powerful Cybermen that are able to adapt to anything, AND a Cyberman trying to take over the Doctor's mind. Fun? Absolutely. Tense? Not even a little bit. And that's because the events leading up to it had been - An army of Daleks, Dinosaurs, a planet's-worth of murderous cubes, an army of weeping angels, an army of murderous snowmen, an army of WiFi baddies ... You get the idea. Every episode, the stakes are so high that you just can't relate. 

Lower the stakes, increase the tension!


MetamorphmagusWho
MetamorphmagusWho

In terms of the amount of death in the show, whether it be companions or not, there needs to be a fine line. You don't want too little otherwise the stakes won't seem very high, but you also don't want too much as one of the best parts about Doctor Who is that it's so full of wonder towards the universe. Thus having a balance of light and dark tones would be the best, in my opinion, an idea that I believe the show has, for the most part, followed. Granted though having a few more deaths would help balance it out even more than it already is.

G_Unitt
G_Unitt

I love the idea of an episode starting with The Doctor already embracing the culture. I honestly do feel that Doctor Who does stand up to shows like Game of Thrones, but even though Series 7 was brilliant, it gets harder to fight Who's corner with a series like it. I want the Series 5 format back! That was Godly. 

gwylock1
gwylock1

*cough* what you want is the classic series and Big Finish audio stories. 

Invictus12
Invictus12

This is something I've always been aggravated about. After series 6, the vocal fans were so unappreciative about how to series went down that Stephen Moffat felt bad enough to change series 7 to a movie-a-day format. It's something he even said. Then, fans gripe about that. I'm not saying the writer is one of those people, but some fans could definitely find something nice to say, like "ooh, A Good Man Goes To War was spectacular!" Instead of "the series kinda died after episode 7." It keeps the show balanced and, and most importantly, running. If you stop watching because the series had a couple dismissible "flaws" in one category, then you aren't appreciating the entire dynamic.

brodgers123
brodgers123

A significantly less whimsical tone would be my priority.

Djornad
Djornad

Huh... I would actually agree with all three of those musings. Great article. First one I've read and thoroughly enjoyed for a while.

Ninjauthor
Ninjauthor

I don't think we need such a heavy emphasis on arc, one of the joys and unique things about who is the ability to be somewhere completely different each week

microbat98
microbat98

Watching the first three seasons of Game of Thrones in a few weeks certainly isn't binge watching. Watching them in one weekend, as I have, would be binge watching. A few weeks is very casual watching, like watching an episode a day.

joseffwilliams
joseffwilliams

I dislike the fact that the majority of the past few series seems to be centered around space travel, not really time travel. The best episodes, in my opinion, are those set on Earth at different periods in time. The Victorian era has been used too often, and I think another era, such as the Middle Ages or Celtic ages, may be an interesting setting.

Regenerated Catterson
Regenerated Catterson

About time the matter of death in Doctor Who was brought up. I mean, there are so many great examples of prime characters who appear to die and then gets revived somehow. Strax, Jenny (Doctor's Jenny) etc. Actually, the only major death if anything that has happened recently is Cass and she wasn't that big to be honest, but for The Doctor, she was. We need companions to meet their demise and this is what I keep saying. The only companion that has died from the New Who Series that has actually traveled with The Doctor in the TARDIS is Adelaide and that was because she killed herself. We need to see Cybermen that will delete companions or secondary characters, Daleks actually exterminating companions...This is why Clara's departure should be death to be honest because like you said, The Doctor in his 2000 years of being alive and 30-plus seasons of Doctor Who hasn[t really lost a lot of people when you consider it via death. He has loads a load of people but never carrying their corpses in his arms. This is why I have hope for Capaldi's Doctor to have a dark twist companion wise. Anyways, this article was great. I am just very picky with the need of companion to die actually and not some silly thing about how they lived happily ever after...If Doctor Who is achieve a dark lease in it's tenure, it needs to actually be dark and see companions, secondary characters and that killed...

Antee991166
Antee991166

Agree with all of these points, very good article!

gunslinger19
gunslinger19

its true that there is no way that any major character seems likely to die. this is a shame because character deaths are one of the most interesting things to watch and make for beautiful tv when done properly. but on a show like GoT where there are literally hundreds of characters this is much easier. we really need to make a more in depth universe, eg with paternoster and unit, and then kill off loads of characters in moving and effective ways.

MaraBackman
MaraBackman

It would be nice to see a proper return of the pure historicals, in part because it has become predictable that the foes will always be either aliens or time-travelers. There is one great recent exception, The Crimson Horror, which had a villain from that time-period and who managed to create advanced steampunk-technology on her own. That is why I'd really want to see some retro-futuristic scifi, such as steampunk and diesel punk, as well as homages to old-fashioned adventure stories. But seeing a pure historical story seems more likely and I too would want to see the cultures of the past explored, to teach a modern audience about these people with enough cultural relativism to show the merits of these civilizations. For instance, there could again be a story like The Unquiet Dead where they show that the companions and the audience shouldn't judge the people of the past according to modern standards, or make condescending attempts to enlighten them

Venawesomeo
Venawesomeo

"This was Moffat’s response to the criticisms about his arc heavy Series 6"... indeed it was. Now people are moaning that they do want an arc after all. 

I think what Doctor Who needs to do is just go hell for leather. I've always got the impression that Moffat's been restraining himself when it comes to Doctor Who (see Sherlock or Jekyll for the twists he's capable of throwing) out of respect for the fanbase. Us fans need to stop thinking we know what's best for the show and just let them do their thing. The general indications about Series 8 hint at that sort of approach but we'll have to wait and see. 

Sadly though, I can guarantee these very comment sections will be clogged up with people whining about it once it's aired and banging on and on about how Moffat's "killing the show". 





Autre 314-15
Autre 314-15

I do agree quite a bit with this article, especially the points about consequences and episodes living in their own separate worlds. As science fiction TV as a genre evolved it started off like this and that was because it was new and interesting but even then it didn't get the attention it deserved (Star Trek was cancelled during its third season), Then in the 90s we had a resurgence of genre (thanks to TNG) and even though these episodes existed in their own world as well we finally started to see real arcs develop, people were getting more and more invested in the characters because we're seeing what they go through and how it matters, then we had shows like Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine which took this a step further and really started building true season arcs. By the time we hit Battlestar Galactica we had full serialization, and in my opinion that is a much better way and a testament to the evolution of the genre.


Doctor Who seems to go backwards in this respect and sits in the periphery between TNG and Deep Space Nine where we have a huge portion of episodes that are disconnected but have character arcs that border onto season arcs. Just imagine if we had a Doctor Who season that was fully serialized, with full consequences that could happen, this would actually be much more like Torchwood season 3 (There's a reason that was much more successful than season 1 or 2) and I think it would make the show a lot better.


Most of us here care about the arcs more than anything, you can judge that simply by our reaction when Moffat teases us with some concept that is coming down the line, or when we sit here and try to figure out the mystery of whatever (Clara being impossible was a mystery we were stuck on for over a year). Just imagine how intense the show would get if we had a truly serialized season, I think it could push Doctor Who over the edge. It's good now but there is always room for improvement.

Pockydon
Pockydon

They're not really 'deaths' in the traditional sense. River was still in the show, and her consciousness lived on. Amy and Rory didn't actually die on screen. And Clara Oswin Oswald and Oswin Oswald were both just versions of another character who hasn't died, and they're technically still in the show. What I would like is for a character to properly die, on screen, and not come back. Ever. Well, maybe in flashbacks or hallucinations or something, but never actually come back as a physical person to interact with the Doctor. Death needs to mean something.

Pockydon
Pockydon

I must say that I think I said 'I must say' far too much in that comment. Sorry. It's a shame I can't edit it...

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

You are so right, I mean Doctor Who is a sci-fi show, it should,t be bound by the same rules that apply to drama even when it comes to death. We get plenty of shows where characters who die never return but Who is different and that's why I like it.

Malohkeh
Malohkeh

@supermoff Some people are just determined to dislike Moffat, unfortunately. You can't please everyone.

OliverTrussell
OliverTrussell

@G_Unitt Yeah, it seems like the writers keep trying to one up each other with how crazy they can make the consequences. Whether it's Russel T Davies making the Daleks trying to erase everything in existence apart from themselves. Steven Moffat making the TARDIS explode, which creates essentially just a variation on the first example. The writers seem to have it stuck in their heads that it needs to be the Doctor saving an entire planet/universe or the episode with be boring.

Notsosmartguy approves of female thor
Notsosmartguy approves of female thor

@MetamorphmagusWho as far as I'm concerned death should be saved for special occasions so it has more meaning. Y'know so we can still have those $#;+ got real moments.I  wouldn't mind a few more deaths per series but it shouldn't be too many.

G_Unitt
G_Unitt

@brodgers123 Whimsy worked brilliantly with Matt Smith, but I agree that it should change for Capaldi. And I think it will.

TheCapaldiMasterplan
TheCapaldiMasterplan

@joseffwilliams This argument comes up frequently but it's still false; the Victorian era has been the setting of 2-and-a-half episodes over the last 4 years. With regards to your other statement: from just Series 7, seven episodes were in the past, six in the future and two around the present day.

seearesea7
seearesea7

@Regenerated Catterson Another character who has died and has stayed dead is Harriet Jones. She was exterminated, and not brought back in any way. But you do have a point: companions have to stay dead! It has been done before, and can be done again: Anyone remember Adric?


Antee991166
Antee991166

Now that I think about it, the only Modern companion to have a truly tragic end is Donna. Rose was sent to Pete's World but got the Meta-crisis Doctor, Martha left voluntarily and at least Amy & Rory had eachother. But all of Donna's travels were taken away from her, that's made me very sad all of a sudden.


Also, not to nitpick, but Amy is only the longest serving companion in terms of stories. Technically Jamie is longer with the most episodes and screentime and Tegan in terms of how many real life years she was the companion from the viewer's perspective.

FreddieC
FreddieC

By all means create the in depth, but to make the deaths more ...closer to home, they need the characters to be influenced I the series more and that will be difficult to do without something similar to the earth exile in the early pertwee years with the budget they currently have.this would need a much larger budget.

Autre 314-15
Autre 314-15

@Venawesomeo I don't think Moffat is 'killing' the show at all, in fact it seems more popular than ever so that should speak for itself. I see Moffat is trying very hard to push the show forward into the 21st century and by slowly introducing arcs and getting people excited about the tantalizing details that are ahead of us he is weaning the fan base into that concept.

Malohkeh
Malohkeh

@Pockydon I don't think brutality fits Moffat's vision of Doctor Who (or, for that matter, the show in general).

GrannyMumantoog
GrannyMumantoog

@seearesea7 @Regenerated Catterson I was wondering if anyone was going to mention Adric! That was so sad...but someone (article writer) who was a child in '06 for The Girl In The Fireplace, probably doesn't remember Adric unless he went back and watched Classic Who!


Just to be clear, Doctor Who has enough loss in various ways but not so much that it loses the surprise and impact of those stories. Loss doesn't have to mean death and certainly not blood & gore. There is nothing quite as sad as watching #10 mourn the loss of Rose even though we know she's not dead. Loss has emotional impact that may be lost on people who are emotionally desensitized by shows like GoT. I wouldn't want Doctor Who to become that kind of show.

Sontaran dretsfelusumalo
Sontaran dretsfelusumalo

Clara was brought back to life twice , so it doesn't count. Also , the Ponds died and Amy was the companion with most TV stories. I hope that Clara gets deleted by a Cyberman , or exterminated by a Dalek (which would be pretty ironic). The Daleks need to exterminate! They barely killed people recently. In bad wolf they killed a lot of people and it was showed! This needs to happen more.

FreddieC
FreddieC

Donna was the only RTD departure to not feature a hint preview of Christmas inside the tardis. This added to the demeanour of the departure with the dr standing by the console, sodden in rain and upset

mrpaddy1984
mrpaddy1984

Fully agree with you on the Moff. He's not perfect and I don't agree with everything he does but you can't deny he has helped raise the international profile of the show and has helped ensure we have no fear of another cancellation to worry about any time soon. I don't mind that Who doesn't always get it right. I would mind if it went away again. I've seen that once.. And I never want to see it again!

Notsosmartguy approves of female thor
Notsosmartguy approves of female thor

@Sontaran dretsfelusumalo "Clara was  brought back twice so it doesn't count" What do you think I meant when she was Jean Grey'd? and YES IT DOES COUNT!!!!!!!!!! As for the Cybermen, hopefully they are doing the convert the dead and living people thing they really need something like that to remain relevant. The Daleks on the other hand can go to hell that's all they do, try to exterminate people they need to come up with something more interesting for.them to do than try to kill everyone all the time. 

Sontaran dretsfelusumalo
Sontaran dretsfelusumalo

It doesn't count , there needs to be a character who dies and stays dead , not alive travelling with the Doctor.