A better Doctor Who

We’ve seen a fair amount of the new series of Doctor Who, and while it’s pretty good, it needs to get better for the second series. Here are some of the things that seem obvious to me.

  • Write three times as much plot in every episode. There have been several episodes – even the Dalek episode, which was generally very good – where special effects, or protracted sequences of people doing nothing in blind panic, have been used instead of having more going on. Even the best episodes take a while to get going, and they all seem to have this appalling bit about thirty minutes in where everyone is about to die, and the camera cuts back and forth between all of them until someone remembers to press the “don’t die” switch. Write much more plot and this won’t need to happen.
  • When writing an episode, don’t assume you’re smarter than the audience. The two-part aliens-invading-earth story had a lot of painful hints that the female MP was going to go on to be Prime Minister – really, only one was needed. Get lots of ideas going, and trust the audience to keep up.
  • Learn the difference between comedy and humour, and don’t try to do comedy. There’s a bit in the first episode that is presumably supposed to be farcical, where the Doctor keeps on failing to notice the London Eye as the big circular thing he’s looking for. The joke isn’t bad, but the execution was terrible. (Actually, perhaps it was so protracted because they thought the audience needed time to get what was going on, in which case: see above.) Humour is a vibe that helps relieve tension and allows drama to be darker; comedy is something light and frothy that people forget by the morning. We don’t want people to forget Doctor Who.
  • Have a single person who oversees everything from story inception to post-production – Russell T Davies has made it obvious he doesn’t see this as his job as lead writer, but it’s a job that needs doing. This is what Doctor Who producers used to do, before we went all pseudo-American with executive producers. Interestingly, this is exactly what executive producers do on the best shows. The job of the creative mind behind an episode, or the series, is not done on delivery of the script.
  • Drop the minor characters and let Rose carry the weight of the human factor. Billie (and presumably her successor) is more than capable of carrying the human perspective in stories (indeed, The End Of The World had only one real human – Rose – but considerably more humanity than the episodes set on Earth have managed). Instead of half an hour of soap-style bickering and moaning to get the point that Rose isn’t sure whether running around with the Doctor is the right thing to do, one ten-second shot of her looking at a photo of her mother would be more effective. Trust in the actors.

And while I’m here, a technical niggle:

  • There’s something wrong with the process used to make the digital footage look like film – it looks stretched, and the colours are weird. I don’t know what actually needs doing here, but there’s something not right, and it needs fixing.
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