What Ruined Doctor Who: Part 4: Stagnation

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You would have thought that the older Tom Baker would have remembered this, unless Gallifrey is going to come back again! I wouldn’t put it past the Fitzroy Clique to reuse that story arc. 

In the previous articles we’ve looked at how the mantras of “all change is good” ,”William Hartnell morphed into Patrick Troughton and that was a change, so this is the same,” “Doctor Who is all about change” destroyed the core identity of Doctor Who as it meant that the Doctor could be anyone, and anything (a recent retcon of the series by Russell T Davies revealed that the Doctor can even regenerate into animals.)

In this article we will be exploring, somewhat paradoxically how the revival has also suffered from becoming too repetitive and how this is linked to its lack of respect for the shows past.

Ironically for a show that tries to justify its ever increasingly disastrous creative decisions with “it’s all about change”, the 21st century version of Doctor Who has become one of the most formulaic and predictable genre series in almost every respect.

It’s companions, story arcs, villains, even its Doctors to some extent are all just slight variants and rehashes of the same characters, themes and stories again and again.

The reason for this is because the writers ironically don’t practice what they preach and are scared to break out of what they think is a winning formula. (It was back in the 00s, but we are now almost 20 years on. That would be like if 80s Who was still being filmed in black and white.)

Added to that their obsession with rewriting Doctor Who’s past with things like the Hybrid Prophecy, the Timeless Children, gender bending regeneration and the Master being in love with the Doctor etc, has become their only way of keeping the show “fresh” and original. Ultimately however the majority of the shows stories are still just the same old drek we’ve seen dozens of times before, except now the Doctor is a girl, or the Master is a girl so that means it must be really fresh and exciting right?

Ultimately the way you keep a show fresh and exciting is by having the character go on new adventures, new types of stories and have them encounter new types of characters and villains.

That was how Classic Who reinvented itself. It changed the types of stories the Doctor went on, from historicals to base under siege, to spy and espionage thrillers, to gothic horror, yet underneath it all, it always kept the Doctor the same character fundamentally.

The same is true for any long running series. Look at Angel, the spin off from Buffy (which I just recently finished rewatching.) It went from a supernatural crime noir series, to a Prisoner style series about Wolfram and Hart trying to break Angel, to a supernatural soap opera, to a series about its lead running an evil law firm.

Throughout it however the character of Angel, though going through natural developments, still always remained Angel, a heroic Vampire with a soul.

The makers of New Who however it seems have it the wrong way round. They think that the core character, who serves as something for the long time viewers to latch onto, should be changed to the point where they are completely unrecognizable, whilst the stories can just keep being the same, boring old ideas from 2007 without any kind of variation.  (That would be like in Angel had remained a crime noir series for 5 seasons, but the character of Angel had one season been retconned into being a Werewolf, the next an actual Angel, the next a God, etc.)

Added to that if you keep obsessing about rewriting the characters past, then it means that you will end up constantly keep retelling the same stories. For instance season 9 and 12 of the revival both give us different accounts of the Doctors origins. The classic era meanwhile, most of the time would fill a gap in, like why the Doctor ran away in The War Games, and then leave it at that. The writers would decide to go on and tell new stories, or fill in other gaps about the Doctors life and as a result didn’t spend two whole years on the same question. Fair enough Genesis presents us with a different account of the Daleks origins, but as we have been over, the first Dalek story didn’t really show us the Daleks origins, just gave us a vague second hand account. Furthermore after Genesis no one bothered to explore the Daleks origins again, because what would be the point? We had seen that story now, move on to something else.

Sadly however the Fitzroy Clique have become too focused on the wrong thing, and as a result New Who even without the politics, the fan rage against the destruction of the Doctors character, is just simply a tired and boring show for most viewers in the following ways.

1/ Enemies

Doctor Who' Brit Binge: 10 Greatest Dalek Episodes | Anglophenia ...

“Remember a time when the return of the Daleks was a big deal as they hadn’t been around for a few years?”

The overwhelming majority of New Who seasons have featured either the Daleks, the Cybermen or the Master, or some combination of them as the main villains.

Season 1: The Daleks

Season 2: The Daleks and the Cybermen.

Season 3: The Master

Season 4: The Daleks and Davros

Specials: The Master and Rassilon

Series 5: The Alliance, the two main members of which are the Daleks and the Cybermen.

Series 6: Finally a new villain.

Series 7: The Great Intelligence

Series 8: The Master and the Cybermen

Series 9: There is no main villain per se, but the story arc still revolves around the Daleks and the Master and the Time Lords.

Series 10: The Master and the Cybermen

Series 11: Tzim Sha

Series 12: The Master and the Cybermen.

Out of 12 series, just two feature a new villain, whilst only three don’t feature the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Master or some combination of those three villains. In fact out of the last 5 season finales, only two haven’t featured the Master and the Cybermen teaming up.

Furthermore the monsters themselves I find have often become somewhat formulaic in terms of their role in the series. Before the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Master all represented very different threats to the Doctor.

The Daleks were an evil he could never stamp out. They were an empire who covered the galaxy. Even if the Doctor saved one planet from them, a hundred more would still be under their control at any given time. “We have been delayed not defeated, the Daleks are never defeated.”

The Cybermen were in contrast a desperate, dying race, struggling to survive. They had reached the point of extinction as an organic race, and had prolonged their lives as machine creatures. Now however they were reaching extinction again and seemingly couldn’t prolong their lives any longer. In a way they were more sympathetic as they just wanted to survive. Also in contrast to the Daleks, they didn’t view those they conquered as being inferior creatures. On the contrary they converted them in the hopes of learning from other life forms.

The Day of the Daleks

CONTROLLER: If only you would let me recruit more human security guards, I
DALEK: Humans are treacherous and unreliable!
CONTROLLER: Not all humans. I have served you faithfully.
DALEK: Do not dispute with the Daleks! Obey without question! 
CONTROLLER: Very well.

The Tomb of the Cybermen 

CONTROLLER: We have decided how you will be used.
KLIEG: Yes?
CONTROLLER: You are a logician. Our race is also logical. You will be the leader of the new race.
KLIEG: You will listen to my proposals then?
CONTROLLER: Yes, we will listen, but first you will be altered.

See the difference between them?

Both monsters were also used differently in terms of how they were scary. The Daleks lacked a physical presence as they were small, pepper pot shaped, vulnerable, and therefore they would always be scary in large numbers. They would also often be put in a powerful position, or given lackeys who obeyed them like the Ogrons, or if they were few in number, we’d get a chance to see how they manipulate people around them.

The Cybermen meanwhile up close had a tremendous physical presence. If one of the monsters cornered you it was terrifying, as there was no way you could even defend yourself against it. As a result the Cybermen were often used in tight, claustrophobic settings in Classic Who such as in the sewers in The Invasion and the icey tombs of Telos where they could be lurking around any corner and there was no escape.

The Master meanwhile was a different type of enemy in that he had a more personal grudge against the Doctor, was more manipulative and sought to bring about his own universal order.

Now in all fairness to Russell T Davies I think he did do a lot new and interesting things with the Daleks. Even Steven Moffat I feel was able to find a new take on the monsters in some of his stories too. (Ironically I think a lot of the new series writers did a better job with the Daleks and some other villains than the Doctor himself.)

Still the villains overuse and the fact that they constantly have to keep being used in the big, grand finales have gradually caused them all to slowly become the same bland, generic supervillains to the point where by the end of the Chibnall era, there’s hardly any difference between the three of them.

All three have at various points in the revival been turned into villains who are the last of their kind, and are desperately trying to rebuild their fallen empire. (The Daleks in Parting of the Ways, the Master in Last of The Time Lords, The Cybermen in Nightmare in Silver.)

All three have been responsible for the destruction of Gallifrey and the Time Lords at different points. (The Daleks in the 9th Doctors era, the Cybermen and the Master in Chibnalls era.)

The Cybermen’s desire to turn people into members of their own kind was eschewed completely in their latest appearance, where the monsters simply wanted to destroy all life in the universe, much like the Daleks. The Master meanwhile similarly wanted to destroy all life in the universe too. (Which is extremely out of character as the villain is normally a total coward who would never risk his own life.)

At the same time the Daleks have also become too earth centric like the Cybermen too. In the classic era, the Cybermen were interested in the earth more because it was their twin planet. The Daleks meanwhile though invading earth in two stories (The Dalek Invasion of Earth and Day of the Daleks) were often shown to be warring with other species throughout Classic Who.

Their first story sees the monsters battling with the Thals, The Chase features their conflict with the Mechanoids, Daleks Master Plan features their dodgy alliance with other alien races to conquer the Galaxy, Planet of and Death to feature the Daleks fighting with and enslaving other alien races (the Spirodons and the Exxilons) whilst Destiny revolves around their war with The Movellans.

All of this helped the Daleks to feel like a wider threat than the Cybermen, as humanity were just one of many races they had enslaved and warred with. In the revival however, other than the Time War, that is only fleetingly glimpsed, (and a tiny blink and you’ll miss it cameo of the Movellans.) We haven’t seen any other alien species the Daleks have either enslaved, are allied with or are at war with like the Ogrons, the Thals, the Draconians, The Exxilons, the Movellans, the Varga’s, the Aridians, the Delegates of the other galaxies, the Spirodons etc.

Furthermore the revival also doesn’t play to each monsters unique strengths either. Both the Daleks and the Cybermen are usually just depicted in the exact same way, as a massive army sweeping across the land. There’s no attempt to try and play to the Cybermen’s strengths by having them attack the heroes in tight claustrophobic settings, or show a planet under the Daleks rule. The Daleks and the Cybermen will both often just fly through the air, zapping everything in sight and then all get blown up, or swept away at once.

Even the Master gets this treatment too somewhat. His manipulative nature, though played up in The Sound of Drums to some extent, is eventually abandoned so that he too eventually just unleashes a massive army of monsters. Similarly The End of Time and Death in Heaven also both simply see the Master unleash an army like the Daleks and the Cybermen.

Then there is the fact that many of all 3 villains stories take place on modern earth, specifically modern day London too.

In the classic era a grand total of just two Dalek stories took place on modern earth in 26 years. Resurrection and Day (and even then that was only partly in both stories, Evil also takes place albeit very briefly in its first episode.)

In the revival however 6 Dalek episodes have taken place entirely in modern day earth (whilst 4 more, The Parting of The Ways, The Magicians Apprentice, The Day and Time of the Doctor have taken place partly on modern day earth.)

All but four meanwhile (Asylum of the Daleks, Into the Dalek, Bad Wolf and The Witch’s Familiar) have taken place on earth in general. In the classic era, only 5 Dalek stories in total took place largely or entirely on earth (Two 60s era Dalek stories Invasion and Evil, one 70s era Dalek story, Day and two 80s stories took place on earth. Even then Evil of the Daleks only takes place partly on earth. Parts of The Daleks Masterplan and The Chase take place on earth, but as a whole both stories take place largely on alien planets.)

With the Cybermen meanwhile ironically only three stories in 26 years took place on modern earth (and even then Attack only partially takes place on earth,) and only one took place in London.  With New Who meanwhile only Nightmare in Silver and their recent season 10 and 12 appearances don’t take place on earth.

All 3 villains have more or less merged together as bland, generic doomsday villains who now have largely the same motivations, the same method of attacking, scaring the viewer (arriving in huge armies), their stories have largely the same locations, they are also often thrown together too. (Every Cyberman story since 2014 has featured the Master, and prior to that 4 Cybermen episodes feature Daleks.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

See what I mean?

This wouldn’t even be as bad if these three villains not only didn’t keep showing up every single year, but they kept being the main villains of every single season too. Do you know that the Classic series once went 5 years without using the Daleks from Troughton to Pertwee? (It also had two more gaps of 4 years each without the pepper pots.) The Cybermen meanwhile were absent for 5 years in Pertwee’s time and later 7 years from Tom Baker to Peter Davison? In fact including these gaps and the 3 years they missed with Hartnell, there are twice as many seasons without Cybermen than with them in the Classic era (can you say the same thing about the revival?)

The Classic era also didn’t feature the Master for the first 7 years either, yet New Who it seems is completely dependent on these classic villains?

Obviously I am not saying don’t use the classic villains at all. The Daleks, Cybermen and the Master when used properly are fantastic villains, but it can’t come across as anything but lazy when all 3 are trotted out almost every single year as the main antagonists.

Rather than focusing on changing the Doctors sex or species, a better way to bring about change to Doctor Who would be in creating new and iconic villains. Other than the Weeping Angels, so far no new series villain has become as iconic as any of the classic series major villains. (The Silence could have, but their arc more or less petered out.)

None have even had the strength to carry a series. It’s not because the new series villains are poor. On the contrary I think a lot of New series villains like say The Beast could easily carry a full series and become just as iconic as classic era villains like say the Sontarans. Ultimately however I think that the writers of the new series either don’t care enough to develop their new antagonists, or are perhaps too scared to try something new ironically when they should in this instance.

Companions

Now for the record I have enjoyed many of the companions in the revival. The likes of Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman, Karen Gillan and John Barrowman were all excellent in their roles, and have all gone on to have fantastic careers on both sides of the Atlantic.

That said however when you look at the companions story arcs, their backgrounds and even just their relationship with the Doctor, you can see that the revival once again falls into a formula.

All of the companions barring a very few, Jack, River and Nardole are from 21st century earth.

The majority of them are attracted to or in love with the Doctor. (Rose, Martha, River, Jack, Amy, Clara.)

Several of the female companions have a wimpy, boyfriend, who becomes the secondary companion of the Doctor, and is jealous of the Doctor, but who eventually proves himself a hero in the end. (Rory, Mickey and Danny.)

Several of the female companions have a more sympathetic father figure and a more aggressive mother figure who hates the Doctor as she sees him as a bad influence. Nevertheless at the end of the series, the Doctor and the mother will reach an understanding. (Rose, Martha, Donna.)

The companions story arc will usually be the following. The Doctor notices there is something odd about her. (The words Bad Wolf keep appearing, he keeps meeting her, there is something on her back, there are cracks in her bedroom, there are multiple versions of her etc.)

In all instances this will be because in the finale the companion will get super powers, be revealed to be the most important person in all of creation and save the entire universe from one of the Doctors archenemies.

Finally the companion will often have to be ripped from the Doctor too. She can’t just leave on her own accord (apart from Martha.) There will have to be some over the top, sci fi explanation for why she can never see him again. (Different universe, can’t travel backwards in time, can’t see her again without her burning up etc.)

However in all cases the writer doesn’t have the guts to actually kill the companion, so she still has to live a happy, wonderful life, it’s just that the Doctor can’t see her anymore. Rose still lives in a mansion with her David Tennant clone, Amy and Rory live a wonderful life together in New York, Donna gets happily married and gets a winning lotto ticket, Clara gains super powers and her own TARDIS.

Not all of the companions follow every single aspect of this template, (though some do like Clara.) All of them however will follow at least a few of these tropes to the point where the companion is now more of a stock character than ever before.

It is true that a few companions in the classic era were dull, uninspired characters who weren’t really developed well such as Dodo.

Still at the very least the classic era for the most part always tried to make the companions backgrounds and relationship with the Doctor different. Take a look at the 4th Doctors era alone.

You have Sarah Jane a journalist from modern day earth who has a strong friendship with the hero, Leela, a savage warrior woman from another world who tends to clash with the Doctor, Romana a Time Lady who is an equal to the Doctor in intelligence and Adric a young boy from another universe who the Doctor develops a strict mentor/student relationship with, Teegan who is a reluctant companion, and finally Nyssa who looks up to the Doctor, but has a much warmer relationship with him than Adric.

Even the 2nd Doctors era gives us a wide variety of companions in terms of backgrounds and relationships with the Doctor. We have Ben and Polly who are merely friends with the Doctor, and who come from modern day England. Then we have Jamie who is from the past, and who becomes more of a willing accomplice to the Doctor, as he has a similar desire for adventure and recklessness. Victoria meanwhile is more vulnerable and younger and has more of a father/daughter relationship with the Doctor, whilst Zoe on the other hand is from the future and talks to the Doctor as an equal due to her scientific background.

The original series ironically despite what the media tells us, often made more of an effort to at least make its companions different, where as the revival is still essentially just reusing the Rose Tyler template after 15 years.

Story arcs

Doctor Who - Complete Bad Wolf Speech - YouTube

Aside from the companions story arcs more or less being exactly the same, the shows other major story arcs are all very similar and repetitive too.

Series 1, 2, 3 and 4 all feature a monster or villain from the Time War whose main aim is to take over the earth and rebuild his fallen race and empire there. The Dalek Emperor, the Cult of Skaro, The Saxon Master, Davros and the Daleks. The Specials even reuse this idea with Rassilon and the Time Lords.

Also all season finales of the Davies era, apart from Journey’s End feature the villain trying to turn humans into monsters (the Emperors Daleks, the Cybermen, the Master race, whilst the shock twist in Last of the Time Lords is that the Toclafane are humans, much like how the shock twist in The Parting of The Ways is that the Daleks were humans too.)

The Matt Smith era meanwhile relies heavily on the Doctor learning he is about to die. The specials see the Doctor learn about a prophecy that he will die “Your song is ending.” In season 5 the Doctor discovers that his TARDIS will blow up at a specific date in the future. In season 6 sees the Doctor learn that an astronaut is going to shoot him at some a specific date in the future at lake Silencio. Finally season 7 sees the Doctor learn that he will die in a future battle on Trenzalore.

Season 9 and seasons 12 both tease us that the Doctors origins are not what we thought, and reveal the identity of something that is only referred to by a mysterious title. “The Hybrid,” “The Timeless Children.” Both finales then feature the Doctor back on Gallifrey, where the Time Lords are portrayed as monstrous and we discover this mysterious something is the Doctor, and our perception of him has been changed forever.

The Master and the Cybermen have also been featured as the villains, working together in 3 out of the last 5 finales, whilst 5 finales in total feature aliens invading the earth. The Stolen Earth and the season 11 finale meanwhile both feature aliens stealing planets.

Finally in what is perhaps the laziest bit of writing in the entire franchise, series 12 saw the Doctor reduced to the last of his kind again. The first 7 years of the revival saw the Doctor cope with the Time Lords having been wiped out, whilst the 50th saw all of the Doctors team up to save the planet. Killing the Time Lords off again 7 years later not only almost seems comical after everything the Doctor went through to save them, but also smacks of “we honestly don’t know where to take this character, so lets revisit the same story arc from 2005 because it worked back then.”

On top of this the revival also tends to reuse certain episode types as well. To date there have been 9 episodes of the revival set in Victorian London. On top of that there have also been a number of episodes that see the Doctor meet a historical figure who helps the Time Lord battle an alien threat, only for the Doctor to then show them that they will be remembered, or at least lecture the audience about it.

The Unquiet Dead, The Shakespeare Code, The Unicorn and the Wasp, Vincent and the Doctor, Rosa and even the recent Tesla episode all follow the same basic plot. This isn’t always a bad thing mind you as Vincent and the Doctor I feel is one of the strongest episodes of either series, but still when you have so many other aspects of the revival that are similar it does start to look as though the Fitzroy crowd aren’t really trying to think up new stories and ideas.

Conclusion

It’s not always a bad thing if a writer reuses certain ideas. Both Terry Nation and Robert Holmes reused certain themes and concepts. Also it’s not as though Doctor Who hasn’t become formulaic for certain periods in the past, such as the Troughton era that relied too heavily on base under siege stories, or the Pertwee era that became too caught up in invasion earth, spy and espionage stories.

The difference is however that these periods never lasted as long, because new blood would always come in and shake things up. New Who meanwhile has featured the same basic ideas, from last of the time lords, to Daleks, Cybermen, The Master always being the main villains, to companions being the chosen one, from modern day earth, fancying the Doctor for close to 15 years now.

The reason for that is because they are all following the same cult like mantra of “Doctor Who is all about change” but are all focusing on changing the wrong things. They are focusing on changing time honored traditions and pieces of Doctor Who lore to keep it fresh, whilst peddling out the same tired ideas that they still think are current and trendy.

The result is a show that is making no one happy.  Fans are furious that the lore is being disrespected with The Timeless Children, whilst casual viewers have not surprisingly adopted an attitude of “seen one Doctor Who, seen them all.” Which for a show about a man who can travel literally anywhere is quite sad.

In the next edition of this series we will be looking at the negative effect the shows toxic fandom have had on the series.

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