It’s been a day since the Doctor Who: Legacy Facebook page posted my strategy guide, and it got 1473 hits yesterday and nearly 300 hits so far today. I had to mention it today, because this is the first time anything I’ve written (in any blog) has ever had more than a few hits, so it’s very exciting. Thanks very much for visiting!
I’ve spent the past couple of days reading some fanfics on A Teaspoon and an Open Mind. On the left side of the page, a blogger named Calufrax recommends a few stories that he (or she?) found to be exceptional. One of them, “Closed,” by A Who in Whoville, was fantastic. Interestingly, it’s a Doctor Who / Broadchurch crossover. Yes, you read that right. In it, Rose and the rest of the characters in Pete’s World were unable to breach the dimensions and assist the Doctor with the events in “Journey’s End” due to an accident that kills much of the team (including Mickey) and nearly kills Rose. The Doctor was able to defeat the Daleks, but Rose lost her last chance to reunite with him, and this, coupled with the death of her team due to what she considers her error, sends her into a deep depression. She decides to make a clean start by adopting a new name and moving away, and the town that she chooses to move to is Broadchurch. She arrives there about a year after the murder of Danny Latimer, with no knowledge at all about the crime, and ends up meeting DI Alec Hardy, who looks exactly like the Doctor. If you love Doctor Who (and why are you here if you don’t) and like Broadchurch, this fanfic is a wonderful read.
The other fanfic I read was “Winner Takes All” by LN29. In this one, the Doctor wakes up in a labyrinth with nine other people, all of them with their memories wiped to the point where they can’t remember who they are or even having had a life before they woke up. They are then told that they are in a game, that to win, they have to find the exit within seven days, and that there can only be one winner. The story is a psychological study of people developing their personalities based on their experiences in this maze of horrors. Much of it was very good, but I think it fizzled pretty badly near the end. I think at least the first three-quarters is worth the read.
The reason I bring these two fanfics up, though, is that they really made me realize how important voice is for a character. And I’m not talking about the sound of the voice, but the way the character expresses himself. We’re all used to how different each of the Doctors look, to the point where we can identify each of them by silhouette. But far more important than that is what the Doctor says and how he says it.
Here’s an example. Who said this? “Small though it is, the human brain can be quite effective when working at full efficiency, not unlike myself!” A number of the incarnations have expressed disdain for the intelligence of humans, compared to himself. The phrasing though, is very classic Doctor, and the contempt, as well as the compliment to himself, points to the more arrogant of the Doctor incarnations, and is in fact the Sixth Doctor. This quote wouldn’t work well in the mouth of Second or Fifth Doctor, and while Nine has said similar things sometimes, the feel is wrong.
The Doctors have all been British (with a variety of accents in the reboot) and use British terms for things, but it goes much deeper than that. Eleven expresses things differently from Ten, and vice versa. When Eleven is talking to Clara through the time fissure in “The Day of the Doctor,” he says, “Witchy witchcraft” – a phrasing that none of the other Doctors would ever use.
Going back to the two fanfics, I found that while reading “Closed,” I could hear Rose’s and DI Hardy’s voices in my head as I read the dialogue – and note that DI Hardy’s voice is not at all like the voice that Mr. Tennant used for the Tenth Doctor, both timbre-wise and expression-wise. Both Rose and DI Hardy change over the course of the story – they both come out of their respective shells – but in both cases, they still sounded like themselves. In contrast, in “Winner Takes All,” I couldn’t hear the Tenth Doctor’s voice at all. Granted, he didn’t have his memories until the final chapters, but even when he was back to being the Doctor, he didn’t sound like the Doctor: what he said was wrong, how he expressed it was wrong. It got to the point where I felt that the character was just some random guy who was put into the horrible situation. It didn’t hold me because he wasn’t the Doctor.
A character is defined by what he says and does. This is very important for print media, since you don’t have an actor saying your dialogue and interpreting them for the audience, but it’s just as important in TV. Ever watched something and said, “That character wouldn’t have said that?” It’s a failure of the writer to write correctly for the character, and it can completely break the spell. It’s one of the reasons that Firefly worked so well: all of the characters were well-defined, and their dialogue was perfect for each of them. And it’s one of the things that isn’t working with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: the characters are so ill-defined, they don’t speak differently, and so lines can be put into any of their mouths, making the characters interchangeable.
This is one of the things that Doctor Who does so well, and it isn’t confined to the portrayal of the Doctors. The companions, for example, are differentiated. River, Amy, and Clara are completely distinguishable from each other, as were Rose, Martha, and Donna before them. This is what makes the show come alive, and makes you care about them.