Saving Doctor Who – Episode 2: Arcs, Horror and Screwdrivers

sonic screwdriver
sonic screwdrivers are no longer cool

Doctor Who isn’t really in trouble. The programme is still hugely popular and Peter Capaldi is an excellent choice as the new Doctor. But I can’t help think that the programme has taken a few missteps recently. At the end of last week’s exciting post you may recall I was in mortal peril from a Dalek at the door and a Weeping Angel at the window? No? Well I waved my sonic screwdriver and here I am. So now, for your edification and debate, are points 5-10 of my plan to get Doctor Who back on track. If you missed it, read part one of this feature first.

5: Make the sonic screwdriver lose 95% of its abilities so that the Doctor (and the writers) can’t use it as a wibbly-wobbly get-out-of-jail-free solution to every problem and danger.

6: Introduce properly thought-out story arcs. Have long term plans for the overall direction of the series. Not just the current series, but for years ahead. The powers that be could, for instance, devote an entire 13 part series to finally showing us the Time War. Make it two or three series, with massive cliffhangers and a proper plot all the way. Look at how J. Michael Straczynski was able to plan Babylon 5 over a five year arc, and almost carry it out, bar some fudging when it was uncertain for a long time if there would be a fifth season. Surely if ever there was a programme with the security to make long term plans it is Doctor Who. Proper planning would put an end to the introduction of fascinating fragments of story  which are never resolved. (This is a televisual disease officially known as X Files Syndrome.) Silence will fall… what/why/when?

Oh what tangled web Mr Moffat weaves…

7: The above said, remember that Doctor Who is a family programme. Don’t make it so convoluted that an 11 year old (or a 51 year old) can’t figure out what is going on.

8: Tone down the comedy. Not that Doctor Who should never be funny, but that the humour should be of the nervous, tension relieving sort. Generations didn’t grow-up thinking of Doctor Who as their favourite comedy, something we watched for a good giggle. We tuned in nervously, expecting and hoping to be terrified. Certainly the most recent run ramped up the fear factor with episodes like ‘Hide’ and ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’, but the programme would benefit from dropping the outright silliness. Every generation of children has the right to be scared senseless and feel a powerful urge to watch from behind the sofa.

Doctor Who - sofa
less silliness, more hiding behind the sofa moments

9: Put some of the horror back on screen. The production team shouldn’t be afraid to show a little bit of blood, some icky alien slime and the occasional disembodied brain in bottle. Remember how strong the horror element became in the 70s? ‘The Brain of Morbius’, anyone?

Today television for adults routinely has a level of graphic violence, explicit injury detail and horror which would have been strong stuff in an X/R rated horror film 35 years ago, while Doctor Who has moved the other way and become almost completely devoid of physical horror. I’m not calling for rivers of blood, but Doctor Who is graphically tamer now than it was 30 years ago. There’s no need to cut away every time someone dies. Just don’t show ‘all’ the details. Children love a little horror. Isn’t Little Horror one of the things we call them?

A scene from Death to the Daleks: Episode 4
1970s’ on screen horror in a scene from Death to the Daleks

10: Relegate those spoiler filled, atmosphere destroying trailers to after the end credits so we don’t have to suddenly pause playback or switch off/change channel so as not to have the next episode ruined for us. Yes, we are going to watch next week. No, we don’t need a trailer rammed down out throats before this week’s episode has actually finished – which is when the credits are over. If we want to see the trailer we know where to find it.

What do you think? Has Doctor Who lost its direction? What would you recommend to get it back on track?

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