Story arcs

the_tenth_doctor_by_dv8r71-d4osjwxIf you read this blog, it’s really no secret that I prefer Russell T. Davies’ showrunning over Steven Moffat’s. As I’ve said before, Moffat writes fantastic single episodes, but his arcs – both single-season and the Eleventh Doctor’s full run – seem to be overly complicated and confused, with a healthy dose of “let’s tie this thread up with this point, even though it contradicts a whole bunch of other points.”  RTD’s arcs were shorter – there never seemed to be a story arc that spanned the entire Tenth Doctor’s run – and his stories developed very subtly over the season, in opposition to Moffat’s preference of introducing the main conflict in the first episode of the season, then running a number of unrelated episodes with injections of “oh, no, a crack” / “Kovarian’s eyes again” / “I really need to figure out what’s up with Clara” just to remind the viewer that yes, there’s something else going on, so that we didn’t get bored waiting for the season finale.

I was reading an article on a website yesterday about Billie Piper, at some convention, answering “yes” to a fan question that asked if she’d return to do a spinoff based on Rose and the Metacrisis Tenth Doctor (No, it’s not a thing anyone is seriously considering. It was a fan question. Thank the powers that be. Bleah.) and I saw the following in the comments.

“Personally, the progression of their [Rose and the Doctor’s] relationship intrigues me, because I see it as a tragedy, but for different reasons than most. The way I interpret it, their relationship is supposed to hurt Ten to the point of him finding security in his colder Time Lord persona so that he doesn’t have to deal with the pain that his particularly human personality is susceptible to, and it’s supposed to show how Rose’s obsession with the Doctor warps her outlook and crushes any hope for positive growth that she could have had. I’m not saying that to just blindly insult the story or anything; that’s legitimately how I see it play out, and I think it’s actually quite interesting. But the point was made in “Journey’s End”, and I have no desire to it stretched out any further.”

I hadn’t honestly thought of it this way. I’ve always considered series 2 to be the weakest of the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s run, as the relationship between Rose and the Doctor was poorly handled, portrayed as the two traipsing through the universe, happy-go-lucky. There was no development, just random depictions of something deeper that might exist between them whenever the writer needed an emotional moment or an excuse for the Doctor to get really angry (by having the villain threaten or hurt Rose), and then suddenly, when Rose was sucked into Pete’s World, we’re shown that yes, he was in love with her.

If, instead, you look at it like the commenter does, it all makes a lot more sense. It’s a story of how the companion, if the Doctor isn’t very careful, becomes weaker and less independent. This story is repeated in series 3: Martha, because of her unrequited love for the Doctor and the Doctor’s inability to recognize it, also devolves, though she has the personal strength to recognize it, overcome it in the series finale, and leave at the end. Donna goes in the opposite direction because this time the Doctor is paying attention; of course, she loses it all due to circumstances beyond her and the Doctor’s control, but the Doctor blames himself for it. Looking at it this way, Davros’ words, about the Doctor taking his companions and transforming them into worse people, has even more weight.

The Doctor, on the other hand, has this “particularly human personality” and each companion hits him right where it hurts. Rose’s departure is particularly painful because of his love for her. Then Martha demonstrates that he’s hurting her even when he doesn’t mean to, simply because he’s still hurting from Rose, and also because while he has a tender human side, he’s still a Time Lord and can’t relate to her like she wants him to. And then there’s Donna, the shining example, to him, of a person whose life he’s ruined. His experience with all three companions drive him towards that “colder Time Lord persona,” into believing that he should be alone: he can’t afford to fall in love, he’s hurting his companions even when he thinks everything is okay, and he ruins the lives of those he touches. In other words, it was all pushing him towards “The Waters of Mars,” towards the Time Lord Victorious, and then his redemption in The End of Time.

Now, I really don’t know if RTD designed the Tenth Doctor’s run to have this epic storyline, but it certainly looks like he at least knew where he wanted the Doctor to start and to end up. And that’s really why I prefer RTD. His stories were about the characters, not the circumstances or the complex time mechanics. Maybe I prefer more of the classic show feel, in which you got to watch the Doctor grow and change through his close friendship with Jamie or Sarah Jane or Ace, his attempts to educate Leela, and the conflict with and death of Adric. And that’s why I like Paul Cornell so much as an episode writer. I’m not saying Moffat is bad in any way. I just prefer RTD.

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8 responses to “Story arcs

  1. Maybe it’s because of how many more stories they wrote than anyone else, but I think a lot of people tend to overlook some of the other writers on the show. They’re some of my favorites. Neil Gaiman, for one, Douglas Adams, Mark Gatiss, all brilliant.

    Their brains are, like, this big! So creative!

    • Yeah, that’s why I made the distinction between showrunner and episode writer. Moffat in general is a better episode writer than RTD, and then there are great writers who have written far fewer episodes, as you noted. The only one you listed that I’m not fond of is Mark Gatiss. I checked through his list of episodes and in my opinion, they’re all average or below. Not that average is a bad thing, of course – average episodes are still fine.

      • I just took a second look at his stuff. I hadn’t recognized him in “Phantasmagoria”. Maybe I should have another listen and see if I can hear him. (Then again, I did find similarities between that audio and “The Unquiet Dead” in parts)
        I like the atmosphere in his works, you get a sense of place and time. Even if the plot turns out not to be awesome, you still get those little details and you feel like they’re actually there. That’s what I like about them.
        “The Crimson Horror”, for a more recent example, was not at all as good as “Nightmare in Silver” but you’ve got historically accurate dialogue, (often religious) lady activists holding meetings to talk about giving up the evils of whatever they thought was bad like alcohol or gambling or women not being able to vote and a Holmesian detective team investigating in the 1880’s.

        Anyway, he’s not my number one favorite writer, but he’s still a good actor, though. 🙂 I liked him as Mycroft and Lazarus.

      • I do, however, agree with you on the showrunner thing. RTD was excellent. Looking over his episodes, I see a lot of ones I liked. Even with his tendency to put religious symbolism in his works. (I think that was him, wasn’t it?)

        Moffat would probably be favored by those like my father who like spirited women, especially if they have accents. Dad likes Amy, and Clara, and Gwen Cooper from Torchwood (even with how she [What, in the name of sanity, have you got on your head?])

      • I don’t know if it’s so much religious symbolism as it is addressing other types of issues (though I can’t deny that the end of “Voyage of the Damned” was really pushed the whole angel/savior thing beyond the limit). One of the things I really liked about “Midnight” was that it was unapologetic about portraying humans at their worst.

      • Oh, totally agree regarding “Midnight”. Panic does make people do things like that, clouds the mind.

        And, yeah, “Voyage of the Damned” was probably mostly what I was thinking of when I said that. Even Chamelon Circuit saw that in the Doctor’s tenth incarnation.

        “Lonely saviour of the universe
        Last in line of all my kin
        King of sacrifice and bearer of justice
        I am your last chance to repent”

        -“Regenerate Me”

      • Of course I could be wrong.

        “I love humans. They’re always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.” -Eight, “Doctor Who”

        Funny story, though, I was in the Goodwill store one day and I saw an old Bible that someone had donated and decided to try a bit of bibliomancy, just for fun. I’d flip though and then stop and see what my eyes would fall on and that would be my fortune. It gave me this:

        “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

        I took it to mean that I should probably watch “The Lazarus Experiment” (wherein the Doctor goes with Martha to see Lazarus at a party planned by Martha’s sister) again sometime but I didn’t actually do it. I don’t put much store in fortune-telling.

      • Huh. I always assumed that the Lazarus in the episode was named after the Biblical Lazarus, but it bothered me that the mechanics didn’t match: Lazarus in the Bible was resurrected while Lazarus in the episode was de-aged. Usually writers make the connection more direct. With that quote, I wonder if that’s what they were trying to refer back to, with the name Lazarus: the Doctor, Martha and her sister, and Lazarus. Of course, that could just be me being human, seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.

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