If I were show-runner of Doctor Who I would go back to basics.
First, I would work out what "basics" means.
I would not advocate a reboot or a Rilstone Masterplan or more Timeless Children or even another Time War.
I would present the Doctor as a wanderer (not a traveller or a tourist) running from something unspecified and searching for something unspecified, in a TARDIS he can't quite operate: a space gypsy rather than a space trouble shooter.
Whatever happened to the cosmic hobo?
I am happy enough with the Time Lords existing: but I wouldn't think it necessary to go on and on and on about them. "I am from Galilee in the constellation of Kasturbation" has a certain aesthetic flavour to it. "I was born in another world, and I renounced my own people to become a wanderer" tastes different. I know which I prefer.
Characters don't need to speak the words "Doctor who?" every five minutes, or indeed ever again. But the majority of the supporting cast should be asking the question. One or two of them know the answer, but they aren't telling.
I do not care who plays the fifteenth Doctor provided they stick around for a while. The endless speculation as to who is going to replace Jodie Whittaker's successor has destroyed the show as a piece of drama, however much fun it might have made it as a game show.
We talk about lame duck presidents and caretaker governments: one third of Jodie Whittaker's entire run on Doctor Who will have been a holding pattern, killing time before the return of RTD and whoever he casts as the Doc.
In the olden days, some fans might have known that someone called Holmes or Adams was editing the script; they might even invite him to speak at one of their convocations: but the notion that a newspaper would have an opinion about who the next producer of a TV show ought to be is bizarre in the extreme.
We are all excited about the Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. (It must be pretty galling for him that, after all he has done, he will live and die as "the guy who wrote that comic where Death was a cute goth chick" although in fairness, it was a very, very good comic.) The one question none of us is asking is "Who do you think the next Morpheus will be when Sturridge leaves?" We kind of assume that actors sign on for seven seasons. Granted, arguing about whether the next 007 could be a Bondess is as much part of the British way of life as arguing about whether Last Night of the Proms could afford to be a bit less jingoistic. But Casino Royale premiered in the same year as Rose. Daniel Craig has out-Bonded Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, Capaldi and Whittaker.
The actor I hire to play Doctor Who in 2022 will, if all goes well, still be in the role when I quit in 2029, by which time no-one will be able to imagine that it could ever have been anyone else.
Colin Baker says the next Doctor should be a Doctor of Colour.
I wouldn't go as far as should myself; but the next Doctor certainly could be a black person, and there are (I assume) many black actors who would be great in the role.
But I don't think that a black Doctor would shake up the format, particularly, any more than a woman Doctor seems to have done; and I think that the format badly needs upshaking. When they find out who I have cast as the Doctor, I want the fans to be as gobsmacked as they were when Troughton became Pertwee and Pertwee became Baker. "Don't be ridiculous: how can that silly little man in the checked suit possibly be the same person as the irascible old crotchet with the white hair?"
When I saw the first still of Paul McGann, I thought "Yes: he looks exactly as I expect the Doctor to look." That, as Yoda might have said, is why he failed. Christopher Eccleston confounded all our expectations about who the Doctor should be: he had to fight every step of the way to convince us that he really was the same guy who failed to touch the two wires together on Skaro and was prosecuted by the Valeyard. If he had been an elderly Edwardian in a frock coat and a wooly scarf, would New Who have lasted beyond Season 1?
Jodie Whitaker was the first female Doctor and it wouldn't have made the slightest difference if she hadn't been. She could have phoned in the same characterisation in guy clothes with male pronouns: in fact it might have been more interesting if she had. The message of the Whitaker era, and indeed the Whitaker error, is not "The Doctor can be anyone". It is "The Doctor can be anyone more or less like David Tennant."
Given that New Who is all about romance, you might have expected a lady Doctor to become the obscure object of some Impossible Boy's desire. The thirteenth Doctor isn't even particularly maternal, which would have been a different take, albeit not a particularly interesting one.
The single point of intersection on the venn diagram which we should cling to is the idea that the Doctor is, when all is said and done, fundamentally and illogically British. Sometimes Scottish and sometimes Northern, but usually posh-English. Chibnall's multi-ethnic Timeless Child seems explicitly created to remove that one remaining point. I may very well cast a black or Asian actor as the Doctor: but they will be black British or British Asian. They will still like cricket and tea and jelly babies and jammy dodgers and cucumber sandwiches.
Colin Baker was on to something with his idea of a nasty Doctor Who would gradually mellow.
The Twin Dilemma is appalling; but the characterisation of the Doctor in Attack of the Cybermen is genuinely interesting, even though the story itself is a steaming pile of Levine. But Old Who couldn't generate story arcs: Colin had to say lines that were written for Peter Davison. The new Doctor was pretty much just the same as the old Doctor with a bit more of an attitude problem than before.
In one sense "a nasty Doctor" is a contradiction in terms. If regeneration can really turn a person who is never cruel or cowardly into a monster, then "regeneration" is another word for death and the Thirteen Doctors are Thirteen different people, not Thirteen aspects of a single being.
But suppose the Doctor, our Doctor, jelly babies and psychic papers and sonic screwdriver and all started behaving in a way that seemed, by our standards evil... Suppose that the right thing to do according to his Time Lord logic was the wrong thing to do from our human point of view, and suppose that after three seasons we understood that? Wouldn't that have been a story worth telling?
For about thirty seconds, it looked as if that might be the point of the John Hurt. But having been introduced as the bad Doctor, the one who disgraced the holy name, he was almost immediately reduced to simply Captain Grumpy.
I don't want to cast a black Doctor, a gay Doctor, a trans Doctor or another female Doctor: that is just the kind of thing you would expect me to do. I want to do the last thing you would expect.
What then? A disabled Doctor could be interesting, not because it would give kids who are wheelchair users the opportunity to imagine themselves as the hero (kind though that would be) but because a Doctor in a wheelchair wouldn't be able to run down corridors or swing across chasms or use Venusian aikido. They would have to approach problems in a different way. The dynamic of the show would change.
And it would be amusing to hear the Daleks making fun of the Doctor because he can't climb stairs.
What about an alien Doctor? A Krynoid Doctor or a Sontaran Doctor or a Sltheen Doctor? What about the Doctor regenerating into a robot?
But Andrew, that is not canon. We know that the Time Lords are all humanoid.
Granted, every Time Lord we have seen so far has looked human. But every Time Lord we had seen was male, until the first female one was introduced; and they were all white until we saw a black one. I declare unilaterally that the universe is full to the brim of Time Zygons and Time Ogrons and conceivably also a Time Dalek. I declare unilaterally that Time Lords take on the form of whatever species they are with at the time of their "death". Romana (and the Third Doctor) got to choose their forms: it just so happens that, up to now, the Doctor has always chosen to identify with his favourite species.
And further more: Doctor Who is a made up thing and we don't care about canon.
So: what if Fifteen was a very warlike Doctor who happened to be a very peaceful Sontaran?
A very peaceful English Sontaran?
What if he became the Face of Bo, a brain with tentacles, or a small owl-like bird with two heads. And what if we had to learn, over many, many, seasons that a small patch of ochre slime could stand up for the little guy, never be cowardly or cruel, and have a strange liking for cricket and jelly babies?
Or if that fails: I will regenerate them into a child. Unearthly or Timeless: I will find the youngest actor I can who can plausibly deliver the lines. Better yet, I will use CGI to cast a baby in the role, and allow them to age at the rate of about two years per season. By the time I return Doctor Who to its owners, "the Doctor-baby" will be a fourteen year old adolescent with their whole career in front of them. (They could have a companion they call grandfather.)
I said that Doctor Who didn't really have any lore. So, I would invent some.
It astonishes me, that while some people demand that Jodie Whittaker has to go away and watch Planet of the Giants before she is allowed to do a scene with Rosa Parks, we are quite happy for Backstory of the Daleks to be reinvented pretty much every time they appear. The Cybermen, too. In 1966, the point of the Cybermen was that they came from a counter-earth on the far side of The Sun. RTD had a quite clever notion (he was full of quite clever notions) that this could be recast in the modern idiom by placing them on a parallel earth in a parallel universe where everyone was wearing eyepatches. (I made that last bit up.) That rapidly got forgotten and it turned out that wherever you go in time and space, augmented humanoids use the same design that Rose's dad made up in the early twenty first century, sometimes even with the same corporate branding.
Each time we meet the Cybermen or the Daleks or the Sontarans or UNIT or the endless, endless iterations of the Human Space Empire and its vast fleet of space-arks, we reimagine them from the ground up. Or just rely on some sort of oral tradition.
"The Daleks? They have an empire, I think, which rose and then fell and was fought against by men in grubby uniforms called Tarrant?"
There is no chronology. There is certainly no geography.
What if there were?
There hasn't been up to now. For many years, Terry Pratchett maintained that there could never and should never be a map of the Discworld. After about a decade of publishing stories, he bowed to the inevitable and commissioned someone to create a map. I am not a Terry Pratchett fan, having only red ten or twelve of his books, but I suppose a fan can tell me whether the stories are
a: more funny
b: less funny
c: differently funny
d: about the same funny
since Ankh Moorpork acquired a street-plan.
In 1989, thirty minute serials were already an anachronism.
Twenty five minute serials were a weird historical aberration. I suppose that in 1963 there was a five minute weather forecast or Potters Wheel ident to be squeezed in between the cliffhanger and the evening news so they couldn't spare a full half-hour for Doctor Who. That format stayed in place for 26 years because dammit, Jim, you can't improve on perfection. Even Big Finish went with 25 minute segments until they didn't.
In 2005, the rebooted Doctor Who very naturally went with 45 minute stand-alones, with just a smattering of two-parters to keep it weird. But when I take over as show-runner, that format will also be looking decidedly olde worlde. Picard and Discovery and Sandman and Loki are predicated on multi-season arcs, intended to be gobbled up in mighty box-sets. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was, to all intents and purposes, a six hour presentation of a fourth Captain America movie, and all the better for it. Even Masters of the Universe had a beginning, a middle and an end and jolly good fun it was too. If Doctor Who for the millennium had to be 45 minute Buffy-a-like zingers, Doctor Who for the twenties and thirties needs to be a series of binge worthy boxsets.
The unique selling point of Doctor Who is that it can encompass all of time and space; but it hardly ever does.
Stories arrive in particular settings and stay there. Steven Moffat did sometimes let the Doctor zip between different time periods in the same story; but that was mostly to allow him to play with the idea of non-sequential story telling, of effect preceding cause.
I would use Doctor Who's extensive backlog of stuff and create a single unified Doctor Who setting, fuzzy round the edges, but solid enough that audiences could get to know Skaro and Raxacoricofallapatorius in the way that they got to to know Casterley Rock and Kings Landing: as places with a consistent feel which stood in a consistent relationship, geographically and politically. I'm not looking for the Silmarillion, but I am looking for a series Bible: something like one of those Histories of the Marvel, or, as it were, DC Universe, or the little map of the galaxy in the front of all the best Star Wars guidebooks. A Time Line from Big Bang to Big Crunch, noting when the Daleks started expanding and when the Time Lords took their non-interference vows and precisely when the human race finally left earth. There would be periods where Sontarans and Rutans were struggling for control of the galaxy and periods when everything was overrun by Daleks. Davros and the Master and Mavic Chen and Ming the Merciless and Rassilon would be treated as characters rather than adversaries: they would have off-stage-lives when they weren't being the Doctor's opponent-of-the-week.
I would under no circumstances tell the viewers that this is what I had done. My first story would just be a story: maybe the Doctor would find and orphan alien on a near future earth, and protect her from the locals, even though she just wanted her alien mummy. I expect he would then embark on a quest to take her home. (If we go with the idea that the Doctor is a baby with the mind of a Time Lord, clearly the alien would have to be a big scary monster with the personality of a toddler. Has that ever been done before?) But I would drop in a few facts and references to the the setting and hope that the audience notices that they are more specific and more consistent than they used to be. ("I can't call UNIT, because they were disbanded after the Grail scandal about a century ago.")
But it would become increasingly clear that I was no longer writing individual adventures, but instead, writing a twenty-six week soap opera that ranged around the fictional galaxy and fictional time line I have created. The individual action would be old-school Doctor Who: no corridor would fail to be run down and no cliff would fail to be hung off. But the adventures would have consequences for the setting and ramifications for the characters that would only be seen in the next episode or the next season. A conspiracy that the Doctor initiated in the court of King Arthur would bear fruit five thousand years later in the heart of the Draconian Empire. Human rebels would be holding out against the Daleks on 22nd Century Earth; UNIT would be trying to repel the same invasion in the 21st. A season long quest by the Doctor-baby to find the alien's mummy would intersect with these, and many other, historical events. (I suppose the baby would pull the Draconian Excalibur from the stone?)
"Are you saying, Andrew, that you wish Doctor Who was a bit more like Babylon 5"
No. I am saying that Doctor Who should be a bit more like The Mandalorian.
"But you hated Babylon 5."
No. I hated the inept, childish scripting and the fact that JMS couldn't distinguish between religious allegory and the libretto of Jesus Christ Superstar. I liked the ambition and the structure and the space ships. I like the fact that it was doing big science fiction concepts in the Star Trek format, even though the big science fiction concepts were mostly a pile of derivative poo. I think that "Star Trek with a backstory and a setting" could potentially have been more fun than Star Trek had ever been.
"Wouldn't it be better to just make up brand new science fiction stories with up to the minute stuff about transexual smart phones and AI black holes and just happen to have a Time Traveller called the Doctor in them?"
You could do that.
You could take out everything that made Doctor Who Doctor Who, apart from the Doctor.
And then you could rewrite the character of the Doctor so he/she / they were not recognisably the Doctor at all; either because of the infinite Childish variations or because someone has decided that it would be cool to make him a tough talking hispanic cop who does drugs and thinks with his fists.
And then you could write him out of the series altogether and just do stories.
This would be the rational thing to do.
Because as mentioned before, there is no rational reason to carry on making Doctor Who.
But the reality is that we are going to have to carry on making some kind of TV show with the words "Doctor Who" printed on it.
So we will kind of pretend.
Or we could just bow to the inevitable and cast Benedict Cumberbatch.
"I am from Galilee ..."
A little on the unnnecessarily messianic side, don't you think?
Actual lol at the last line. Thank you.
"I may very well cast a black or Asian actor as the Doctor: but they will be black British or British Asian. They will still like cricket and tea and jelly babies and jammy dodgers and cucumber sandwiches."
I don't disagree, but this strikes me very much as the kind of thing Normat Tebbitt might say — not something I would particularly expect to see here.
So true, though. He can be alien, he can be black, he can be female, but the one thing the Doctor can never ever be is American.
Yes. I mean, you could be black British and not like tea. And you could be French and like Fish and Chips. Probably, I shouldn't focus so heavily on the obvious signifiers. I wanted to avoid saying "Maybe he would like chicken tika masala rather than jelly babies" because, while chicken tika masala certainly is as typically English a fast-food as fish and chips, an Asian British Doctor who liked curry would be a massive stereotype. I think the Doctors do have to be quite broadly drawn and quite old fashioned: but we need to find the right signifiers for quite broadly drawn old fashioned British people in the 21st century. Probably not sherbet lemons, for example.
"But it would become increasingly clear that I was no longer writing individual adventures, but instead, writing a twenty-six week soap opera that ranged around the fictional galaxy and fictional time line I have created."
I thought this was exactly what Moffat/Smith was trying to do.
Episode 1 had a Crack in the wall. This culminated with a Crack across reality and the TARDIS nearly exploding. The conspiracy behind this expanded, and slowly it became clear that there was a whole huge "thing" going on (possibly revolving around the doctor's name), culminating in a huge war, and eventually leading to The Time Of The Doctor, which theoretically tied it all together, but did so in a couple of throwaway lines and was a complete mess.
So if you're going to do a massive plot arc please do a better job of it than that :-)
Here's a description of the Moffat Masterplan, for those who don't remember:
As you can see, bits of it made sense, and bits of it were the usual "Clap if you believe in fairies" nonsense, and bits of it were rushed through so fast that there's no way the average person could have worked out how it all tied together.
It made Babylon 5's arc plotting look like genius.
As you can see, bits of it made sense
It still doesn't explain the big question I had: so why does the TARDIS explode at the end of Smith's first series?
It's not actually ever explained. But my favourite fan-theory (after some reading there) is that River was left alone in the TARDIS, and we know about River and her backstory now...
It's not actually ever explained.
See that was my problem. It's the big mystery of the second half of the series, from when they pull the fragment of TARDIS out of the crack that ate Rory. Up to that point it's 'what caused the cracks?', then it's 'the TARDIS exploded and caused the cracks, so how did that happen?'
And it's just… never explained. I assumed on first viewing that it was meant to be the cliffhanger for the next series — it's certainly set up that way — but no, it's never mentioned again.
But my favourite fan-theory
Fan bollocks does not count. Ever.
Oh yeah, it was terrible. Which is why I said "please do a better job of it than that"
And I wasn't saying it counted, just that it was my favourite fan theory.
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