Tuesday, 9 May 2017

15 Original Ideas from Doctor Who

Has Doctor Who run out of ideas? With the current series featuring lots of things you can't help thinking you've seen before (nanobots, wooden people, a beast below etc), I've racked my brain to find why I've been so impressed by Doctor Who back in the past (just thinking of the last 12 years). Was it just because it was a novelty, or was it really that stuffed full of original ideas I'd never seen in Doctor Who, or anywhere, before? So here, as a hint for the new showrunner Chris Chibnall as to the sort of originality I'd like to see again, is a Top 15 of things from Doctor Who that have made me say "I've never seen that before" or "Wow, why didn't I think of that?"

Tardis parked the wrong way round (Fear Her)

A small thing, but a redeeming feature of a much-derided episode. The Doctor parks the Tardis between two skips, the wrong way round, so he can't open the door. So he has to dematerialise and rematerialise the right way round. Come on, had you thought of that idea first?

Went away for 12 hours, came back 12 months later (Aliens Of London)

The Doctor had been time-travelling for over 40 telly years before this simple but brilliant thing happened. Then we got the whole emotional mudslide of how this would affect a real family - a Mum, a daughter and a boyfriend - when something like this happens. Where else had you seen that done, back in 2005? 

Tardis surrounds things (Parting Of The Ways, Dinosaur on a Spaceship, Knock Knock)

It's a multi-dimensional ship, why can't some things appear inside it? Of course they can. It started dramatically in Christopher Eccleston's Parting Of The Ways ("Is that all you've got? Nul points"), and is done most amusingly in Dinosaurs On A Spaceship (by Chris Chibnall, which bodes well for the new showrunner, it being him), and again nicely in Knock Knock.

Doctor becomes a human (Human Nature)

I could just as easily find this contrived and unconvincing, but it was so expertly carried out in a brilliant fully-realised story, that it remains an immaculate and original Time Lord trope. They can "become human" and keep their real self in a pocket watch. Hmm, it sounds really hokey when you say it out loud. Well at least they didn't use the same trick a few episodes later, then totally forget about it forever after.

Tardis comes to life (The Doctor's Wife)

Although it includes my least favourite trope, having "The Doctor" in the title of an episode, it's the definitive example of something that every Doctor Who writer has: the Doctor Who idea they've been keeping on the back burner since they were a teenager. What if the Tardis, who we've heard referred to as female and with some sort of character (especially by Paul McGann in the TV movie), was actually made into a real-live female character? They got away with it.

Alien's name isn't a race, it's a family (Aliens of London)

Genius. From every sci fi film you'd ever seen, Star Trek very much included, every alien race were the sole representatives of their planet. The planet Vulcan was occupied entirely by Vulcans, etc. Amazingly their authors were humans, who live on the planet Earth, where not only does every country have different nationalities, but every small town therein has different groups with different surnames. So, amazingly, it took until 2005 for us to get the Slitheen family, who lived on the planet Raxicoricofallipatorius. (An original idea by Paul Cornell, borrowed by Russell T Davies.)

Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey (Girl In The Fireplace onwards, River Song)

Between Doctor Who ending (in 1989) and reappearing (in 2005), we had Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, the movie that invented wibbly wobbly timey wimey, and The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Unless anyone can prove otherwise, Bill & Ted was the first place to posit the notion that you could plan to do something when you time-travelled to the past or future, then turn out to have already done it. They did it, I believe, with a bucket of water balanced on the top of a door. Steven Moffatt went on to do it by having River Song jump off a building and be caught by the Tardis, and land in the swimming pool, in The Impossible Astronaut. Along the way, most famously, we've had The Doctor send messages to someone in the future on video tapes, and in Girl In The Fireplace leap through a mirror on a horse thus travelling from a 51st century spaceship to an 18th century chateau, and it all made logical sense. You may argue that Back To The Future created this trope, but Doctor Who very much owned it. Then, to an extent, wore it out. As for characters who meet each other at different points in their individual timelines, Audrey Niffenegger got the jump on Steven Moffat by having the idea first, but by God Moffat went on to milk it every which way. We also got 6 year old Amelia and 20 something Amy appearing together, which was nifty. 

Original story telling / The Doctor-lite episode (Love & Monsters)

Just before box-set TV on Netflix and the like was inventing the Bottle Episode (see TV Tropes) Doctor Who was one of the shows getting away from linear, chronological storytelling, to construct episodes in a different way. From Rose's voice over in Father's Day through Doomsday, we were playing with the way an episode was told. The Doctor-lite episode, including Turn Left, was an opportunity to do this. Say what you like about Doctor Who's most Marmite episode, Love & Monsters, but it was the most unusual and un-Doctor Who-like episode you'd ever seen.  NB The Doctor-free episode had been done, slightly, 50 years ago with the William Hartnell free episode Mission To The Unknown. Slightly.

Musical interlude (Last Of The Timelords)

The Master pushes The Doctor around in a wheelchair, miming to Scissor Sisters? So surreal and original it gets edited out of the Netflix version of the episode. That original.

Tardis Translation (Fires of Pompeii)

The Tardis translates everything. So what if you're in Ancient Rome and you speak Latin? I won't spoil it for you, but the answer is brilliant.

Virtual Reality (Silence in the Library)

This is one of those tropes that's now so overused you never know whether you're in an alternative reality, a dream, a simulation or what. Remember Sleep No More? No. Nobody does. And I bet they can't remember whether it was real or not if they do. But the virtual world of Silence, and the ghost voices of its characters stored in some uploaded fashion, remain the most highly original people-stored-in-computers I've seen to date. Having a virtual Amy for half a series wasn't so pleasing for me, but you can't deny it too was a first.

Companion goes back to see her dead Dad, changes time (Father's Day)

This must be the oldest "What If" storyline of all time, but outside of Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life, I don't remember it being done as well as this. You go back to see the Dad who died when you were a baby - already the most touching pitch you've ever heard - then it goes wrong in a brilliantly sci-fi way, and gets solved in an almost Biblically sacrificial denoument. Blimey, this is a really good story isn't it?

Live action in real time (Midnight)

How many episodes happen in real time like this? 42 did, written by Chibnall (boding well again blah blah), but Midnight is the best. No trickery, it's almost a stage play, with an unseen menace and some Tom Stoppardian dialogue. If another show has done an episode like this, I've not seen it.

Shrunken Tardis (Flatline)

It is multi-dimensional, so obviously at some time it'll shrink. Giving us an Addams Family moment where a hand moves the Tardis along by finger power only. A truly brilliant visual image that you can't imagine no-one else had thought of before, but Jamie Mathieson got in there first. (Again, it had been done in the old series, in The Time Monster with John Pertwee and Logopolis with Tom Baker, but not as well as this).

Time Lords can change sex & ethnicity (Doctor's Wife, Hell Bent)

Of course they can. Why would anyone ever think you could turn into a different actor, for practical TV-making reasons, and that actor not be ABSOLUTELY ANYONE! You've made up a silly, nonsense, random way of extending the life of your TV show, why would there be any restriction on what nature of person takes up the role? The 1960s, we're a bit racist and sexist, obviously. The 1970s, we're still a bit racist and sexist and, let's face it, it would be odd for a black Doctor to be in the show that is followed by The Black & White Minstrel Show. The 1980s, obviously we can't be too hasty about these things, after all we already have Juliet Bravo and Lenny Henry. The 1990s, there's no Doctor Who so we needn't think about it. The 2000s, we're reviving a show from the 1960s, so baby steps to begin with. Bringing us to the 2010s, when Time Lords can change sex & race. Which, of course, they always could. 

So there you have 15 or so Doctor Who moments of brilliance and originality. All we ask of for this level of originality every single week and we'll all be happy. Is that too much to ask?

2017 TOUR
May 5 - Artrix Bromsgrove
May 6 - Stafford Gatehouse

May 12 - Croydon Spread Eagle
May 13 (4.30pm) & May 14 (5.30pm) Komedia Brighton
May 19 - Carriageworks Leeds
May 26 - Aberdeen May Fest
June 2 - Eden Ct Inverness
June 15 - Crescent Arts, Belfast
June 20 - Grassington Festival, Yorks
June 23 - Hertford Comedy Festival
June 24 - Ludlow Fringe
August 15 - 17 Camden Fringe

Comic Art Masterclasses coming up in 2017:

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who et al, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries and art centres - email for details, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. View the promo video here.

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