How to Fix Doctor Who

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.

23 thoughts on “How to Fix Doctor Who

  1. Crowdfunding is not going to happen for Doctor Who in this lifetime. It’s mainstream television in Great Britain and it makes too much money to need or want crowdfunding. It’s also a plum job to land for those who chase it and they would never, ever, as closed shop professionals let the fans they pretend to like so much get their nubbies on the steering wheel.

    Fixing the show is really as simple as replacing Moffat. He’s had a good run but he’s tired, out of ideas, recycling his single good plot and far too enamoured of the right-on luvvie stuff. Needs new blood.

    And I agree, harder science fiction would be welcome. There’s been more than enough fanwank and twaddle, time to break some new ground.

    Doctor Who has once again become far too self-referential and is suffering from Star Trek syndrome: we’re getting bland turkey dinners every week, and it makes you pine for a hamburger or a curry. No matter how nice the meal if it’s the same meal every week (love conquers all, no one dies, old monsters come back – in short, Moffat Bingo)- it’s boring as hell.

    The fact a couple of wags could even DO a Moffat Bingo tells you something.

    I didn’t create it, just reposted it. I posted it on Gallifrey Base too. It got deleted, naturally. Happiness Patrol is ruthlessly efficient there. Another aspect of some American fans- the niche cult intolerance of the fanatic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think Doctor Who needs “fixing”. I loved the past season. Sure, some held my attention more than others. And I liked the way Clara was important: not because she “saved the world”, or anything more than that she was the Doctor’s (current) closet friend.

    I have wondered whether Moffatt, or indeed anyone, can write quality scripts, *and* be a “showrunner”.

    The idea of a showrunner who is not a writer is intriguing. Anyone familiar with the beginnings of “The New Yorker” magazine may remember that Harold Ross, who founded it, was an editor, not a writer. And yet that was a classic era in a classic magazine’s long history. So yes, I wouldn’t mind seeing two major changes: 1) A showrunner who is not a writer, OR, one who is a writer, but doesn’t script any of the stories, but instead serves as a commission editor, who also edits. 2) A return to the classic format of two or more part stories. 3) More new writers, or at least, new to Who writers.

    Crowdfunding? Considering the number of people who call themselves fans, yet appear to practically *hate* the show, no thanks. And no, I don’t mean you, Geekritique! Or anyone else posting on this thread.

    When Moffatt does step down, I hope he continues to write for the show. Because, as stated, he has written some absolute corkers of episodes.


  3. I have to say I disagree with pretty much everything in this article (except for the part about those stupid robots in Deep Breath), largely because I don’t think the show is broken. I liked the last season overall, certainly better than the one prior. I didn’t like all of it though…just like I have felt about all of the rest of the 50 years of the show. Some is good, some is bad, but overall I like it enough to keep going with it and to be excited for the future.

    Steven Moffat can stay, Steven Moffat can go. He isn’t Doctor Who’s saviour and he isn’t it’s curse either. I agree with many that his best scripts were mostly in the shows first four years (I’d actually include Season 5 in that, as well as Dark Water probably), but I also enjoy his show running far more than I do RTD’s. All of the fingerprint moments you mention, except the falling in love bit, came from the stuff around the 50th celebrations, so for me that was appropriate, and not obsessive fanboyishness. For the most part, I liked seeing that stuff, just as I enjoyed the stuff that came before and the stuff that came after (largely, anyway).

    I think Doctor Who has been a largely science-fantasy series for a lot longer than you say, but it’s always had the mix. Even this past year, I’d put both “Mummy” and “Flatline” into the more science-fiction category, if we are going to make the destinction. The diversity of styles that the show is capable of from week to week is one of the appeals for me.

    Back when Doctor Who stories were mostly movie length, in addition to more time for developing ideas, it also meant more time for padding and filler conversation. I’d rather watch a tightly written but complete 45 minute story (like Flatline, Midnight, Blink) than an unnecessarily drawn out longer one any day. And I felt like Season 8 did that pretty successfully most of the time, again more so than 7.

    But I like longer stories too. And one thing I do like about the modern series is how they will add extra minutes to episodes when necessary, presumably to serve the needs if the episode, and not just be absolutely locked into 45 minutes. Seems they do that a fair bit.

    And I thought this last year was probably the Most successful one in Modern-Who history at handling the story arcs idea. The build up to the Missy/Nethersphere stuff barely got in the way of the individual episodes at all, but that wasn’t really the main arc. The actual story arc was the evolution of Clara’s relationships with the Doctor and Danny, which was strongly integrated into most of the episodes (not really sure what you mean by disjointed juxtaposition, I guess). A true arc, rather than just an idea that is seeded a few times before it’s explored.

    The crowd-funding suggestion genuinely confuses me. What problem will this solve? I do have things about Doctor Who that I don’t like, but I don’t see any of them being fixed if it just got more money or cut its ties with BBC funding. And do you really think that the show will get more money to produce each episode than it does currently? 12-13+ million pounds every year? For how long? That seems fanciful to me if you want it to be sustainable.

    Anyway, of course I think the show has room to improve. And there plenty of things this last year that I didn’t like. And sure, we could a new show runner who could take the series in an exciting new direction (though I guarantee there’d be a bunch of voices who wouldn’t like it). And some new writer could be the next Steven Moffat or Paul Cornell. And we could get some cool 2 or even 3 part stories. And fans could give the BBC a whole lot of money to keep making the show (as in fact they already do), I just don’t see any of that fixing some problem that’s endemic to show as it is right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe with how successful crowdfunding efforts have been in far, far less substantial projects, it’s very feasible to quadruple the budget. Of course, this could be fanciful thinking in the long run, but this would allow for scripts to be cut down less. A notable example is Nightmare in Silver. The original script by Gaiman was better, grander than the eventual project. Several key scenes were cut because of the budget. Also, a more substantial budget would allow them to actually afford longer seasons, with less gap. They’re given a limited budget each year that they have to divide per episode.


  4. Crowd sourcing would be an interesting experiment, while I certainly think its possible it would certainly be a record setting kickstarter. The largest film production funded by kickstarter that I’m aware of was the Veronica Mars movie clocking in just under $6mil. Add the fact that it met it’s kickstarter goal in four hours and it’s apparent that crowd sourcing is a very viable approach for a show with a cult fan base. When you compare the fanbase of DW compared to Veronica Mars it’s absolutely larger, close to triple in fact.

    I looked up the numbers and Veronica Mars seemed to have around 3.5 million viewers at its height in the third season. The episode Deep Breath aired to nearly 7 million viewers in the UK, I couldn’t find the number for the viewership in the US but it usually runs about half the UK’s. You can also factor in that DW seems to have a slightly more rabid fanbase.

    All that combined and that leads me to the conclusion that DW could certainly be crowd funded, and receive a larger budget for each episode.

    Even creators in the entertainment industry recognize that, obviously, their shows are carried by the fans and that, if the fans wanted it badly enough, they themselves could make it happen. Take Carl Macek, the creator of Robotech, who as far back as 1995 predicted that his show would end up being crowd sourced, and that’s exactly what is happening to his show currently.

    The one unknown they would have to deal with is the fact that a tv series of the kind has never been crowd sourced before. Current practice now is that the content creators will outline the script they’ve written, the sets they have so far, for them it’s obviously a labor of love, and the fans are helping them make it a reality. People typically want to give their money to support projects they understand, and will be rewarded for. Unless the mentality of what people expect from these kinds of project changes sometime, this would mean that most likely DW would be expected to already have scripts, and getting things lined up.

    Lastly, viewers aren’t used to having to go through a pay gate to watch their show, usually they fund the production by simply watching commercials. Is a crowd funding model for a series sustainable? People paying upfront for a show they want to watch season after season? And how would distribute that? Would people who have backed it on kickstarter get it, but other people who didn’t would have to pay for it on itunes or something? Putting it on TV anyway would really screw with backers minds. And if people can’t flick through channels and discover the show, how will the show gain new fans if the only way they can watch a show their friend recommended to them is by paying for it up front? It’s not a movie, their model has to be sustainable for seasons. Smaller animated series have distributed it for free on youtube and the like, I’m just not sure how well that would work for a show as huge and expensive as DW.

    If it could be done, DW would be the strongest candidate to make it happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yo, thanks for the stats. I’m at work and was just thinking about Veronica Mars. You bring out a great point about it being streamed on television. I don’t think crowdsourcing would make it impossible to air on tv. That just means whichever network(s) is airing the program need not have to put any money towards it, outside of advertisement.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. And sure, it could work well on YouTube or other. For example, the Doctor Who minisode featuring Paul McGann, The Night of the Doctor, received over 2 million views in a few days, not counting the extra figures from BBC’s (UK streaming service) Red Button.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree, except with the crowdfunding. Actually getting the dang episodes produced and into our hands is already a major problem. I HATE having little dribbles of a couple episodes here, a couple episodes there, a special, a 3-minute special I don’t hear about until three years later… All that would be way worse with crowdfunding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well. I see your point. But I can’t say that the figures agree with your assessment. As has been shown repeatedly, crowdfunding programs and movies has become increasingly popular. Small and relatively unheard of productions – such as the Youtube mini-cartoon Bee and Puppycat which received 900k in little under a month – are proof its doable and quickly. Because the fans are willing to see it through. That said, i believe the last estimate for how much money it costs to produce an episode of DW is roughly £1m per episode. A lot of money sure, money that comes unwillingly out of taxpayers pockets. I have little doubt that with fan crowdfunding it’d make that much and more in days. And with the right push I dont see why we wouldn’t actually be receiving more Who than we are currently.


      1. I can certainly see the appeal in having people pay for it who actually watch it and want it, rather than just everyone over there! I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how it goes.


  6. I’ve mentioned before… I thought Davies and Moffat made a good team. I thought Moffat’s ideas pushed Davies to reach farther, and conversely I thought Davies kept a tight reign on Moffat so his ideas didn’t go off the rails. That’s why almost all of the “best” episodes people list of new Who come from the Davies era, with Moffat scripts.

    Davies had his issues as a showrunner… but Moffat has had them too, sometimes even the same issues… and Davies scripted episodes were not always that good… but Moffat’s scripts were MUCH better when he wasn’t also the showrunner.

    I hope for a new showrunner… and I hope that showrunner is NOT a writer. I’d like him/her to be writer-friendly, but not bogged down on trying to put his/her fingerprints on specific scripts… and I would like that new showrunner to get Moffat to write a few episodes every year. I almost guarantee you Moffat scripts would return to higher standards IF he was focused on that and not also running the show.

    I think that one singular thing… new showrunner, retain Moffat as writer, would improve Who tremendously without needing to shake the apple cart more than that.

    This would also accomplish, mostly, the end of the series-long arc… which I don’t think works. I like references to things and episodes that matter and change things… but they don’t need a series-long arc to do that… just make the stuff that happens matter and grow the characters accordingly.

    I love Sherlock, by the way… and Moffat does co-run that as well as co-write it… but it is 3 90-minute episodes a series and they have taken more than a year between series too… so I think that allows him to manage being a showrunner and lead writer simultaneously. 12-14 episodes of Doctor Who is too much to run the show and try to write several episodes AND try to guide a series-long arc, and something is bound to break and I think that is what we all see.

    The show has cracks just like series 5 did… Moffat has blown up his own Tardis and just doesn’t realize it yet… and he need to take the advice of the Doctor where the Doctor had “become too big” and he needed to “go back to the shadows”… Moffat is best utilized when he can own the episodes he works on and not ALL the episodes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I appreciate all your points, although I thought it was admirable that Capaldi’s Doctor has taken a backseat in several stories this season. Often times he’s not even the “hero” or the character that saves the day. So far there’s a stark contrast to *theme music plays* Eleventh saves the day and Twelfth’s return to being a wanderer character who sometimes simply observes.

    It’s no accident that the one two-part episode we’ve had in the longest time got to explore some really interesting concepts and LINGER on them over the course of the first episode BECAUSE we weren’t in any rush to get to a resolution.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. The best way to fix Doctor Who is for the writers to collaborate more. It’s trying to mimic other dramas, but is forgetting how they work: the writers discuss everything together. It’s the responsibility of the Head Writer to meet with the writers in person and say “this is what happens in episode one, and the finale, which makes this season about[…], therefore, the character development is[…], and the stages of that will be[…]”, and to then designate those stages to episodes, which writers then plot-out with sticky notes, so episodes form rows and the writers can see everything that’s going to happen. When I’m Head Writer, that’s exactly how I’m going to do it. It’s the only way it can be done.

    Liked by 2 people

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