The seventh series of the new Doctor Who will likely start airing in the autumn of 2012 and may run into the fiftieth anniversary year, 2013. News is just starting to emerge of who the writers and directors will be and so the countdown to series seven feels like it has begun.
The last series – as usual – delighted some and frustrated others. As one who was both frustrated and delighted, here are some of my thoughts about what show-runner Steven Moffat could do to make both devoted fans and casual viewers more delighted and less frustrated over the 13 episodes which are on their way.
1. Less of the “arc” plotting
Moffat has already indicated that following the series-long storyline of the Doctor’s apparent death and Amy and Rory’s baby last year, he intends to “throw the lever back the other way” this year, even to the point of not initially commissioning any two part stories. This is absolutely the right move. Doctor Who’s key strength is its ability to reinvent itself not just Doctor-by-Doctor but story-by-story. Back in the sixties, an intense historical drama would be followed by hard sci-fi which in turn was followed by pure fantasy which was then followed by an outright spoof. (A special prize for anyone who can identify that sequence of stories from those descriptions alone!)
In trying to keep that variety (and also production flexibility) but also tell a 13-week tale, I think Moffat erred, with even solid stories like Night Terrors only working if you totally ignore the on-going series plot this week. You can’t have it both ways. Either you sacrifice variety completely and just tell the next episode in this on-going narrative (as many American series do, including the most recent series of Torchwood) or you tell a dozen totally different stories, just maybe with a few loose ends from each one tied up at the end of the series. A happy middle ground seems to be very hard to find, so let’s go back to “anthology” mode please.
2. No more timey-wimey solutions
Terrance Dicks, Doctor Who’s stalwart script editor when Jon Pertwee was piloting the TARDIS, coined the term “Blinovitch Limitation effect” to explain to Jo Grant why they just couldn’t go back in time and have another go. “The what?” asks Jo, perfectly reasonably – whereupon men with guns burst in and start shouting at them, cutting the Doctor’s explanation short. Dicks was wise enough to outlaw this kind of jiggery-pokery by fiat because he realised that, like a sort of existential sonic screwdriver, if he gave the Doctor that kind of power, then he could use it to solve almost any narrative problem. What’s done is done, so the Doctor can’t stop the Brigadier from blowing up the Siluarians, or save Adric from that space freighter, or give Donna back her marbles.
Steven Moffat is smart enough to write stories where this kind of thing happens, and it doesn’t completely destroy all the tension. Blink, The Big Bang and A Christmas Carol all make fine use of these techniques, but in The Wedding of River Song, not only is it really used far too much, but it’s also becoming less effective through sheer over-use. Let’s have more left-field, unexpected solutions that emerge from their particular narratives rather than the same old technobabble do-overs.
3. More proper bad-guys
Another new cliché (if you see what I mean) of the new series is its fondness for deploying supposedly benign automated systems where we used to have ranting power-mad dictators. The trouble is that ranting power-mad dictators are much more fun to defeat. In The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances, the nanogenes were a brilliant solution and when the villain was revealed, it was refreshing not to see some campy man in black twirling his moustache. But when we got the clockwork robots essentially functioning in the same way the following year, and since then the Nodes in The Library, the ship in The Lodger, the medical program in The Curse of the Black Spot, the handbots on Apalapucia and the prison ship in The God Complex. It’s not that this is a bad idea, it’s just that it’s the same thing over and over again, and now that it’s no longer fresh and new, flicking a switch to turn off a ropey machine is just not as satisfying as the vanquishing of House, the demolition of the Sontaran spaceship or even Max Capricorn’s demented death-by-forklift-truck. Give us more properly hissable villains and we will delight in their destruction.
4. More old friends
Not too many more, but maybe one or two? Back in the eighties, this got silly with every story in the 1983 series featuring a returning character of some kind, but in the last series we didn’t get any, except River Song, some very fragile Cybermen and a handful of brief appearances by the likes of Charles Dickens and Winston Churchill. The series’ long history is full of great monsters and characters that we would love to see again. What would a modern version of the Yeti look like, or the Zygons? Are there more stories to tell about the Mara or The Meddling Monk? Could we return to Peladon or even Vortis? (You laugh, but they brought back the Macra!)
It doesn’t have to be a huge nostalgia-fest and it doesn’t have to be bogged down in decades-old mythology, incomprehensible to the average viewer. But once or twice per series, why not delve into the show’s past and revisit an old favourite or polish-up an overlooked and underexploited concept?
5. More exploration of the TARDIS
Personally, I adore the new TARDIS set, introduced in The Eleventh Hour which I thought was a huge improvement over the Eccleston/Tennant model. And it was great to finally explore a bit more of it in The Doctor’s Wife, but we still haven’t seen much beyond the console room and a few corridors. The TARDIS is vast. Other stories have made references to or even visited boot cupboards, libraries, cloisters and even a swimming pool. The inside of the TARDIS could be a wonderful location to set all kinds of entrancing stories. It doesn’t have to be just a taxi which drops our heroes off at the site of their next adventure and then picks them up when they’re done – but we need to see more rooms.
6. More “star” writers
Writers like Simon Nye, Richard Curtis and especially Neil Gaiman have brought their own unique take to the series. If we are going to have more variety of storytelling, with a less prominent series arc, and if the series has the clout to attract this kind of writing talent, let’s have more of it. I’ve no idea if any of them would be interested, but how about asking Jimmy McGovern, Paul Abbot, Lee Hall, Charlie Brooker, Sam Bain & Jesse Armstrong, Lucy Prebble, Jez Butterworth, Mark Ravenhill, Lynda La Plante, Graham Linehan, Andy Hamilton or Victoria Wood to take a crack at it? Any one of them could write a story totally different from anything we’d seen before.
7. No 50th anniversary multi-Doctor stories
Leave that kind of thing to Big Finish, who do it excellently well and don’t have to worry about the actors looking older!
These are my hopes and wishes for series seven. If you have your own thoughts about what you’d like to see, let us know in the comments.