How To Fix Doctor Who

by Staff & Contributors

Not every TV show we grew up with during the 1970s and 1980s has gone the way of the dodo. Happily, some of them are still made today and still enjoy broad success. Doctor Who is one of them. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll have fond memories of watching your favorite Doctor and hiding behind the proverbial or literal sofa as a child. For our older readers, the first person that comes to mind when you think of the Doctor is probably Tom Baker and his impossibly long scarf. If your childhood was in the 1980s, however, you’ll probably agree that Sylvester McCoy is criminally underrated for his performances as the BBC’s Time Lord. Thankfully, he’s getting a little more appreciation for his work from people watching old episodes in the here and now.

Just because the show is still being made, though, doesn’t mean that it’s to everybody’s tastes. It’s impossible to please everybody – even the highly-praised David Tennant had his critics during his time as the Tenth Doctor – but not since the cancellation of the series in 1989 has Doctor Who endured such consistently negative press as it’s receiving right now. We think that some of the negativity is unjustified, and comes from an element of the audience who’ve never been happy that Jodie Whittaker became the show’s first female Doctor in 2018, but only the most fanatical fan would deny that there aren’t a few aspects of the show that could do with improvement. We don’t claim to be television experts, but here’s our take on what could be done to make things better.

Kill Off A Companion Or Two

Back in the early days of Doctor Who, it wasn’t uncommon for the Doctor to travel with two, three, or even four companions at a time. The character of the Doctor was more mysterious back then, and the companions allowed us to see the alien nature of the Time Lord through their eyes. Since then, the Doctor has been allowed to become a little more ‘human’ and relatable, and we expect the incumbent lead actor to give us a big, funny, eccentric, and zany performance. That means the actor needs to have room to breathe and talk, and it’s difficult to give them the space to do that when you also need to find dialogue and purpose for three different companions. Killing off Bradley Walsh’s lovable Graham would give the program a dramatic kick, but we could also happily live without one of either Ryan or Yaz. The TARDIS is too crowded. Someone has to get out.

Go Somewhere More Interesting

The TARDIS is the most advanced time and space ship in the universe, as the show makes a point of telling us all the time. Travel in the TARDIS should be as unpredictable as a game of online slots. It should also contain all the ups and downs on casino website like Amigo Slots – sometimes you’ll be happy with the outcome, and sometimes you won’t. If an online slots game delivered similar results every time you played with it, you’d quickly get bored. The same is becoming true of Doctor Who. The show can go to literally any time and any place. We understand that there are budget restrictions, but is there any reason to spend quite so much time on Earth? Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor was exiled to our planet, but it’s frankly odd that a Gallifreyan Time Lord chooses to split so much of her time between modern Sheffield, Cardiff, and London.

Ease Back On The Message

The current criticism that Doctor Who has a left-leaning message might be valid, but we’re at a loss to explain why anyone thinks it’s a new thing. Environmental causes were covered as long ago as ‘The Green Death’ in 1973, and several stories (most notably ‘The Happiness Patrol’ during Sylvester McCoy’s time) were barely-disguised digs at the government of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party. The difference is that the criticisms and points came in the form of metaphors and allegories. When the Doctor all-but looks down the lens of the camera and tells us all off for not taking better care of the environment, as she did at the end of ‘Orphan 55,’ it simultaneously comes off as too patronizing and too heavy-handed. We’re all capable of getting the point without being lectured, and many of us watch Doctor Who because we want some exciting science-fiction escapism. We’re happy to tackle real-world issues, but they don’t need rubbing in our faces quite so vigorously.

Bring Back Season-Long Arcs

We’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt on this because the two-part story ‘Spyfall’ suggests we might get a season-long arc this year, but ‘Orphan 55’ was a return to the standalone episodes of Season 11. Part of the reason Season 11 felt so empty is that there was no reason to tune in from one episode to the next. There was no long-form story being told, no cliffhangers, and little to give viewers a compelling reason to come back the following week. Compare that to the ‘Bad Wolf’ mystery of Christopher Eccleston’s 2005 season, the ‘Torchwood’ mystery of David Tennant’s first season, the ‘who is Harold Saxon’ arc of season three, and the long-running question of River Song’s true identity. Those were stories that got the whole nation talking, and kept viewers in front of the television whenever the show aired. People love a mystery to get their teeth into, and season 11 didn’t give us one.

The show doesn’t need huge, sweeping changes. Jodie Whittaker is fine within the role, and the scrips aren’t anything like as bad as some corners of the press would have you believe. A slight change in tone and the introduction of some connected, compelling storylines is all it would take to get the press – and the fans – back onside. Doctor Who is a national treasure, and is utterly unique in terms of both its format and its content. We want to see it celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2023, and a few minor tweaks are all it would need to make sure it remains commissioned for long enough to get there.

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