It’ll come as a surprise to many when I say Doctor Who needs fixing. No, no – the show will go on. And on. That’s not in question. Even if the series takes an extended hiatus again, it’ll be sure to come back all the stronger. But that hiatus won’t happen for a few years yet, so there’s no need to worry. Still, the series has a lot of shaking up to do if it’s ever to attain its true and full potential. Change needs to take place on a far deeper level than merely the face of the Doctor and Companion.
As the visual quality of the series increases, it becomes ever more apparent that it’s true strengths as a program are being put on the back burner. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Series 8. While a large portion of it was stellar in my opinion, another large portion of the series was rather weak. In my post Examining 8 Themes from Doctor Who Series 8, I lay out some of these issues. But in truth, the heart of Doctor Who is slowly rotting away. In this post I’ll give my thoughts as to what I believe would bring the show to its fullest potential.
Steven Moffat Must Go:
It was a brilliant move on Russell T. Davies part to set up Steven Moffat as his successor. Prior to Moffat’s reign over the show, his episodes were consistently top notch. And yes, he has had successes in storytelling after he was set up as Showrunner, but as has become increasingly clear (particularly these past two seasons) his writing styles are dangerously formulaic. Formulaic to the point where it borders on scoffingly dull. Robots that get fooled by those that stop breathing? Really? C’mon!
This isn’t a post to bash Moffat, nor a post to dissect his failings. He’s proven more times than not that he can write a compelling story. But his vision of the series is far too grand to be fully realized, a mistake he makes seasonally. In his efforts to bring Doctor Who out of the shadows and push it across the sea, he’s turned the traveling Doctor into a godlike hero who’s legend knows no bounds. In his attempt to wheel in 50 years of the program he’s placed his fingerprints over all corners of the show’s history. Clara has visited each Doctor. We got to see the Doctor fall in love. Got to see his gravesite, the moment he stole the TARDIS, he’s negated the Time War, etc. etc.
Moffat’s fingerprints on the series have become canon at this point. It’s time he steps down and let’s someone less prone to egotistical fan-wank have a go at running the show. He doesn’t have to leave the show entirely either, as Davies did. I’d welcome an episode or two now and again.
More Diversity in the Writers:
To go along with Moffat, the boys club needs a firm shakeup. Every year it seems we get the same handful of writers as the last, with an addition/subtraction or two here and there. Doctor Who needs more diversity in its writing staff. Does anybody find it a little odd that there hasn’t been a female writer for the series since 2008? Of course, don’t just throw female writers into the mix and expect your problems to be fixed. The show deserves the best writers it can get, whether they be male or female.
There are a lot of really great science fiction writers out there, novelists or otherwise. The past 4-5 years the series has strayed very far from its science fiction roots into a much more science fantasy genre, making it extremely fairytale-ish. It’s time to leave the fantasy behind. Where are the hard SciFi stories? Why can’t we get some decent SciFi novelists in? Sure Neil Gaiman is a successful novelist – of fantasy. We need more hard science fiction folks to head these tales.
It’s impossible to remove the fans from the writing staff. But Doctor Who is served best when it isn’t celebrating itself – when it isn’t a big ball of timey wimey self-referential stuff.
Why Are We Still Doing 45 Minute Stories?
This has been my number one concern with Doctor Who for years now. Moffat has gone on to mention that he believes any story can be scripted down into a 45-minute time slot. Sure. But that does not guarantee you stories will be any good. And very rarely do you find a single-episode 45 minute story that actually works. Perhaps, if I’m being generous, 1 in every 10 stories actually work in 45 minute constraints.
99 percent of all Classic Who episodes are roughly 25 minutes in length. But they’re part of a larger story or serial, usually comprising 4 to 6 episodes (exceptions were often made for more and/or less). The average Classic Story runs about 100 minutes in length, give or take. I’m not saying that Doctor Who needs to return to 25 minute episodes. No. That would never take off. But we need more 2 or 3 part stories nowadays. This will by no means fix poor writing, but it will allow the writer to let his/her story breathe. It’ll allow them to avoid blatant plotholes, or rushed endings. Each story should be as long as it needs to be.
The story arcs we’ve come to love and hate often bog down a story or three with its disjointed juxtaposition. I’d rather get one really long and tight nit story than a story arc that may or may not fit well together in the end. I know I’m in the very tiny minority here, but I really enjoyed Colin Baker’s The Trial of Time Lord season, if not for its story then for its insane dramatic vision. It’s a 14-part story (roughly the length of 7 New Who episodes) that doesn’t always work, but it was perhaps the biggest shakeup the series ever had. I do not want another Trial of a Time Lord season, but I do firmly believe a longer than usual story done right will go over well.
Doctor Who Should Be Crowdfunded:
Doctor Who is very much already a series in the hands of its fans. If you can find me someone on the production staff that isn’t a fan, whether they be writers, directors, or producers, I’d be very surprised. And the show is quickly becoming more and more of a fan owned property. This past season gave us the all new opening title sequence, based heavily off of a fanmade YouTube video by visual artist Billy Hanshaw.
For the series to really reach its potential though, it needs to lose its ties with BBC funding. It’s just not getting enough money there to be the show it can and deserves to be. As fans of the series have proven time and again, they’ll put money towards the show – whether that be buying DVDs, toys, books, audio dramas, etc. fans do care for the program and will shell out. And with crowdfunding now a VERY viable way for a project to get the money necessary to produce it, it can’t be any clearer that Doctor Who would thrive off of such an effort.
This doesn’t mean that the general fandom will be in charge of the actual show or story however. That needs to be left to a team dedicated towards moving the show forward, streamlined to success (not dissimilar to Disney’s creative team behind the new Star Wars universe). Otherwise, as one of my commenters mentioned, it’ll be a case of the inmates running the asylum.
What do you think? Are these valid concerns and/or solutions? Will we ever see the day? We certainly won’t by next season, that’s for sure.