The Influence of Doctor Who 1 : 21st Century British Sci Fi

Throughout the past year I have been exploring the works that had a great influence on Doctor Who and over the years helped to shape it.

Now in this series I am going to look at the impact Doctor Who had on prominent works across many mediums.

In the first article of this sequel series I will be exploring how I feel the success of the revival of Doctor Who led to a major resurgence in Sci Fi and Fantasy on British television and paved the way for a number of other cult classics in more ways than one.

You have to remember that science fiction, fantasy and indeed it could be argued Saturday night prime time adventure series in general were dead by the mid to early noughties on British tv. The only popular genre series for the past 20 years almost in the UK had been American series such as obviously Star Trek, Buffy, Xena and Charmed. Even many of these series had only been cult hits in the UK, shown on smaller channels such as channel 5 or on in late or early time slots.

The revival of Doctor Who helped to revive sci fi and fantasy as mainstream genre’s in general on uk television and escapist Saturday tea time television too.

Lets get started then shall we and look at the specific series that in some ways owed a part of their success to Doctor Who.

Primeval

The first genre series to follow in New Who’s wake, this was also the series that was most often compared to Doctor Who as well.

Both series after all did revolve around time travel. Primeval for those who are unfamiliar with it revolved around portals between the present and other time periods called anomalies opening up and creatures emerging through these anomalies to cause havoc.

A special team is formed by the government called the ARC (Anomaly Research Centre) to track down these anomalies and contain the creatures that emerge from them.  Over the course of the series the ARC encounter many animals from both the past and the future after mankind has died out and also discover how mankind was driven to extinction and deal with changes to time caused by the anomalies too.

I don’t think the premise of Primeval was really similar to Doctor Who at all.  Yes it revolved around time travel but other than that there was no real similarity to the basic core concept of Who.

Still it cannot be denied that Primeval’s rise to fame was made at least at lot smoother by the success of Doctor Who. Primeval had actually been in development for many years, but it finally saw the light of day after the phenomenally successful first series of Doctor Who.

A few ex Doctor Who writers Paul Cornell and Helen Raynor would go on to write episodes of Primeval too.

Also I think in some ways Primeval owed a lot to the original Doctor Who series too.

Though we will mostly be looking at how the revival paved the way for shows like Primeval its important to mention the influence Classic Who had on this series too.

The ARC in Primeval was in many ways similar to UNIT. Just like UNIT it was a government organisation designed to deal with paranormal threats. Much like UNIT despite being our only hope against these otherworldly threats are remarkably understaffed. Lets be honest here UNIT and the ARC are the last people you’d want to deal with Dinosaurs, Daleks or Cybermen. They’re utter crap. They normally send in two inept soldiers, the Brig, the Doctor and Jo  or Nick Cutter, Abby and Connor in unarmed or in the Moff era, Kate and Osgood in unarmed to deal with an army of monsters.

To be fair to them though they always do manage to improvise their way out of it quite well. I suppose that’s the charm of these British organisations that hunt aliens. When you look at the American ones like Shield they have all of these agents and big expensive equipment and professionals who never go anywhere unless they are completely prepared. I just love the way in comparison the British ones are so crap. They are literally just “army of psychotic metal monsters, five rounds of good British bullets will take care of them” “Giant future predator on the loose send that grumpy Scots guy and his geeky sidekick”. “Homicidal sadistic psychopath that’s fiendishly clever and with an army of cyber zombies? Yeah lets send in someone who cries and whimpers and puffs on her inhaler at the first sign of danger unarmed”.

Its typical that the British one would be less shiny and glossy than the American one. It almost feels like in universe UNIT and the ARC have a lower budget than Shield, never mind the series’s budgets in real life.

The character of Nick Cutter meanwhile was very similar to the Third Doctor. Like the Third Doctor he was the special advisor about unnatural threats to a government organisation. He was also grumpy, bad tempered, didn’t suffer fools gladly particularly pen pushers and petty bureaucrats. He is a maverick that often doesn’t play by the rules, is arrogant and condescending and even quite biting and scathing to those around him for not keeping up with him.

His relationship with Ben Millers character Lester also has shades of the Doctors relationship with the Brigs. Lester and the Brig are the Doctor and Cutter’s bosses who in contrast to the unconventional maverick Doctor and Cutter are very by the book type of characters. The two often quarrel with the Doctor and Cutter. Often Lester and the Brig were in favour of more ruthless actions as well and would be proved wrong by the Doctor and Cutter who not only found a way that was less callous, but again against the rules. At certain times both Lester and the Brig would be used to make jokes about how rigid those in positions of authority can be.  Still despite this the Brig and Lester are shown to be useful allies to the team and underneath their rigid, by the book persona, actually have a deep respect for the Doctor and Lester who likewise respect them.

Abby meanwhile I see as being like Liz Shaw. She is the blonde, non sexualized highly intelligent female character who is a scientist and about the only person that is spared from the Third Doctor/Nick Cutter’s grumpy, surly attitude. Both the Doctor and Cutter consider them to be the only other intelligent person around them and talk to them as equals.

Connor meanwhile is really the Jo Grant, the sweet, more bumbling companion to Nick. Nick and the Doctor can often be more short with Jo and Connor who do tend to make mistakes, but deep down they care about them and Jo and Connor idolize both Nick and the Doctor.

Stephen Hart meanwhile I see as being a Mike Yates type character. He is the conventional hero who is a good man but ends up betraying the others because he sadly is misguided, yet he gets a chance to redeem himself at the same time.

Helen Cutter meanwhile the teams archenemy who uses the anomalies for her own ends is actually like a female version of the Master pre Missy. She is the villain who was once close to the main hero, but fate took them down different paths. She is his equal in every way and tries to lure him to the dark side. Also like the Delgado Master her desire to control the very fabric of time itself for a supposedly greater good is what drives her down a dark path. She also makes several dodgy alliances with other villains that she manipulates for her own ends and she is even a master of disguise too, wearing masks that cover her face and make her look like a completely different person.

All of this coupled with Juliet Aubrey’s calm, charming, yet icey and ruthless characterisation of Helen really to me at least make her the original female Master.

Many episodes of Primeval’s stories are very similar to old UNIT era stories.

The 5th episode of Primeval’s third series is similar to The Seeds of Doom. Both revolve around plant monsters that infect people and turn them into hideous plant men. There are scenes in Primeval that are almost lifted from Seeds of Doom.

Another episode from series 5 also takes its inspiration from the Sea Devils. It involves a marine reptile posing a threat on a sub marine which is made worse by an ignorant politician who plans to bomb it to deal with it.

The story arc around Matt Anderson travelling backwards in time to stop a potential disaster that will bring about the end of the human race itself is similar to Day of the Daleks. A lot of critics compared that storyline to Terminator, but remember that Terminator came after Day of the Daleks.

The final episode of Primeval is also similar I feel to Inferno. Both Inferno and Primeval’s last episode revolve around someone being determined to bring about a project that they believe will allow them to harness a natural resource for the worlds benefit, though in actual fact its simply for their own glory in both cases. Both men’s project will destroy all life on earth as it will tamper with something that mankind was not meant to and unleash unimaginable. In both cases we have someone (a time traveller) who has seen the disaster and tries to stop them from bringing it about.

Both projects, New Dawn and Inferno also unleash savage, bestial monsters too, the future predators and the Primords, but in both cases these are later shown to be nothing compared to the devastation the project will unleash on the planet.

Finally its also worth noting that one Classic Who Pertwee story Invasion of the Dinosaurs features Dinosaurs being brought into modern day just like Primeval. Interestingly enough when running through reasons as to why these prehistoric creatures have suddenly begun appearing in modern day Mike Yates actually suggests that it could be anomalies in time and space that are allowing the Dinosaurs to emerge into modern day The Doctor dismisses this as not possible or else these Dinosaurs would be popping up all over the place, but its interesting to know that Mike proposed basically the entire premise for Primeval.

Primeval was often presented as a rival to Doctor Who which I think often sadly turned many Doctor Who fans against the show. I think this is a shame as Primeval is really a show I’d recommend to most Classic Era fans. I think it actually represents how the Pertwee era would be reinterpreted in the 21st century far more than any UNIT stories in New Who in fact.

Personally I hope Adrian Hodges the co-creator of the series takes over Doctor Who after Moffat steps down. I can’t see Moff going on beyond season 10. I just that Hodges gets a chance to write for Capaldi as since Capaldi is kind of like a 21st century Pertwee it would be great to see Hodges get a chance to give him some proper Pertweesque stories.

Merlin

Yet another series that had been in development hell for some time, but was later able to not only finally get made but enjoy a mainstream slot thanks to the revival of Doctor Who.

In the closing credits to the very first episode of Merlin there is actually a thank you to Russell T Davies for bringing back Saturday tea time telly.

All of Merlin’s main cast except for Katie McGrath and Bradley James had roles in Doctor Who prior to Merlin being made as well and many directors and production crew worked on Doctor Who before Merlin as well.

Being Human

The genre series was less mainstream than either Merlin or Primeval it was still very successful in the United Kingdom and in America too.

The success of Doctor Who not only made it easier for these  genre series to enjoy success in their native UK but also abroad too. Man f them would go on to inspire American remakes or sequels such as the US Being Human and Primeval New World, whilst the stars of the original’s at the same time would land larger roles in American productions too, all just after Doctor Who started to re enter popular culture in America.

Just like with Merlin many of the stars of Being Human had roles in Doctor Who first.

The series was also created by former Doctor Who writer Toby Whitehouse as well.

I also felt that perhaps the 4th season of Being Human much like Primeval took a bit of inspiration from Classic Who. The images of the Vampires taking over the earth in the future reminds me slightly of the scenes from the Dalek invasion of earth.

In both cases after all we have human beings hiding underground from Monsters who are not so subtle allegories for the Nazi’s. Also the Eve time travel story line could be seen as comparable to Day of the Daleks too as it sees someone travel back in time to avert a catastrophe involving monsters taking over the earth.

Non Sci Fi series

Doctor Who has also been credited with paving the way for Sherlock and the BBC’s Robin Hood series starring Keith Allen. Sherlock after all is made by both Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss and again has featured many of the same actors and crew.

In many ways I think that its from the mid oo’s on we start to see a revival in British forms of entertainment in general abroad.

Doctor Who revives British tv on an international level in 2005, the new and improved Daniel Craig Bond movies revive British cinema in 2006 abroad and finally in 2007 the record breaking success of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black album revived the popularity of British music abroad, particularly in America and paved the way for British artists like Adele to dominate the charts for the next well almost decade since.

Thanks for reading.

 

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