Bryan Paul Sullo

Everything Wrong with Doctor Who

In Writing on 19 November 2013 at 9:22 am

All the DoctorsThe phenomenon that is Doctor Who began in 1963. Other than a sixteen-year hiatus, we’ve had one, continuous story that has attracted followers through some of the most disparate decades in history. This, despite the fact that the writers continually do everything wrong.

Think about it with me for a minute. If we were to sit down and come up with an idea for a sci-fi TV drama marketed to adults, what advice would we give each other:

1. Make sure your leading actor is young and attractive. The first doctor was a gray-haired old man. The second looked like a reanimated Moe Howard. For most of us in the US, our first introduction to the Doctor was Tom Baker. I’ll admit that David Tennant made a dashing leading man, but, overall, the Doctor has generally been the antithesis of TV-star good looks.

2. Make sure the actor who plays your title character sticks around. Whatever you do, don’t try to put a different actor in the same role. There have, thus far, been eleven (soon to be 13) actors to play the Doctor.

3. Sci-fi fans hate inconsistencies. Don’t contradict things you’ve previously established. The Doctor Who canon spans roughly 800 episodes (some of which are lost), a movie, a radio series, and many books. In a show about time-travel, it’s impossible to avoid stepping on your own tail, especially one this long.

4. Don’t pull things out of your—ah—hat to save the day. Doctor Who writers do this with reckless abandon.

Doctor Who is silly. The primary bad guys (the Daleks and the Cybermen) are relics of 1960’s B movies. Every second episode involves the Doctor and his companions being chased through a maze by some unseen terror. Most of the time, it seems like the rules of its universe are being made up on the spot. Why is it so popular!

Emotion. Despite its seeming flaws, the modern Doctor Who is superbly written. I’ll admit to feeling a lump in my throat during a few episodes. The formula of mysterious, bipolar, almost-omnipotent traveler paired with an unwitting, strong, steady, caring companion is a classic (Think Sherlock Holmes.) and a winner if written well.

I said before that Doctor Who is one continuous story, but it’s not. Sure, there’s a continuity of character and events, but it’s really a series of many short stories. Some last for an episode, some last for a season, but with each story, we’re invited to rediscover these familiar characters again and again. A first-time viewer might be a little confused about references to past events, but he would certainly be drawn into the story, and that—the story—is why all the rest doesn’t matter.

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