Fixing Doctor Who

There's been a lot of press recently regarding worries about Doctor Who, not least in Private Eye and the tabloids, and rebutted in fan hide-outs such as Den of Geek. As a fan since the age of ten who identified with Adric, here's my tuppence-worth.

The main problem with Doctor Who right now is that, it is going in exactly the direction us hardcore fans always wanted. We always wanted it darker - not just plotlines, but tone. We always wanted the Doctor to be geekier, to be stranger. We always wanted lots of space-set and/or futuristic storylines. And above all, we always wanted lots of hard SF storylines, headscratchers that could only be solved with time-travel.

And that's what we got. Huzzah from the hardcore fans - including from me!

Unfortunately this has and is alienating the wider TV audience. Many Moff plots are incomprehensible to the average viewer. There are no soap-style family elements to draw the mums in. The fate of bug-eyed monsters or spacemen doesn't interest the average man on the street. The hard-science concepts mean nothing to a 6-year-old. And the technicalities of time travel and paradoxes are completely and utterly baffling to the average viewer.

So how could this be put straight? Just four rules.

First off, the TARDIS should return to its original, long-standing role as a vehicle to do ONE job and ONE job alone - get the Doctor and his companions from the end of one adventure to the start of the next. DURING each adventure, the TARDIS should be OUT OF BOUNDS. This was pretty much always the case until the Moff era (with a few very, very rare exceptions like that story with two Brigadeers). Letting the heroes have the ability to travel in time during a story, breaks storytelling in two ways; either it allows Deus Ex Machina plot resolution, or it makes the plots so utterly complicated as to alienate casual viewers. Let the baddies and the secondary characters have done all the time travel they like off-screen before the story starts, but once begun, keep the story on the straight and narrow, on one understandable timeline. Saturday tea-time on BBC1 is NOT the time to do head-scratchers; the time to do that is BBC2 or Film Four at 11pm.

Next, at least half of the stories for any season should be set on present day Earth in familiar surroundings. For the historical/futuristic/spacefaring other half, they use should familiar character archetypes (family, worker, boss, sleuth, maiden in distress, monster of the week, mad scientist, thief, etc.). We only have 42 minutes to tell the story, folks, let's get the audience stuck in quickly, not arse about being clever whilst making the audience feel left out.

Third, no going over budget and no crew working on more than one big project at a time. This series comes with a responsibility not to screw it up. Don't pinch money from next year's series and don't moonlight your efforts away from this year's series. If that means you have to scale back a story from being set in an expensive fantasy world, to being set in something vaguely recognisable as south Wales, so be it - and your story will probably be all the more accessible for it, too. While we're at it, here's a hint: Overcast beaches and colour-filtered gravel-pits make great alien landscapes and cost pretty much sod all. And Wales is hardly lacking in rock formations, castles or stately homes, is it? Stop with this expensive set nonsense - the reason production moved to Wales was because of the abundance of potential location shoots.

Fourth, don't be afraid of Eastenders, by which I mean the interplay between family home life on Earth and the adventuring life of the companions. Yeah, the hardcore fans including myself detest the soap-style family references, but that's just our hard luck. Yeah, this was RTD's trademark and Moff wants to prove he's not RTD, but it was also a feature that won Doctor Who the best audience figures it had seen in three decades. If us hardcore geeks want to watch some hard SF with no family elements then there are plenty of late-night imports we can turn to. Above all, if we want mass-market, successful British sci-fi then we have to embrace the mass-market British audience.

Public Domain - Andrew Oakley - 2011-08-01

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