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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Opinion: 5 Ways To Improve Doctor Who Series Eight

While we await the next instalment of the 50th Anniversary run, it's time to recap Season Seven and look ahead to see what improvements can be made...
"Fourteen blockbusters- a blockbuster adventure every week!" In essence, that was Steven Moffat's publicized pitch for his third full season as showrunner on Doctor Who, Season Seven. This would be the fourteen-episode run that would take us into the 50th Anniversary year of 2013, opening with five episodes to bring the tale of the Ponds to a climax in Autumn 2012, returning at Christmas to further the mystery of the Impossible Girl, then making a firm return for eight more adventures in Spring 2013 with Clara onboard.

Make no mistake, this was a hugely ambitious set-up both in terms of a lighter narrative arc by Moffat and indeed in terms of the different scheduling from usual on the part of the BBC. Though the scheduling arrangement proved to be controversial, there's no doubting it was an innovative way to keep things fresh, even if it did mean that three season premiere episodes were essentially required, seemingly a tough ask for the Moff by the time we reached The Bells of Saint John. So, now we've finished the run and await the 50th Anniversary Special and 2013 Christmas Special amongst the other celebratory TV shows and releases, what could we look to improve in 2014? Here are our top five key suggestions to watch out for:
Ever since Doctor Who returned in 2005, an ongoing theme of each season has been some kind of running story arc that builds up to a grand finale come the season's climax. In Season One it was Bad Wolf, in Season Two it was Torchwood, in Season Three it was the Master, in Season Four it was the coming darkness, in Season Five it was the cracks in time and in Season Six there were the combined mysteries of River Song and the death of the Doctor.

In Season Seven, though, we had two self-contained arcs of the fall of the Ponds and the mystery of Clara, both of which had the tendency to feel a little shoehorned in on some instances- for example, the Doctor essentially claimed that he was going to find out the truth on the Impossible Girl at the end of each successive episode of Part Two before the finale. This was unusual, as the arc references have generally been quite subtle and effective. Next time around, while the 'big surprise' we may discover in Episode One (a la the Doctor's death in The Impossible Astronaut and Oswin's appearance in Asylum of the Daleks) can shape the arc of the season, it would perhaps be most beneficial for this arc to develop gradually when relevant over all of the run's episodes, rather than having multiple arcs ongoing at different times with arguable loose threads as a result.
No fan can deny Steven Moffat's ambition in choosing to bring us fourteen standalone blockbusters within Season Seven. Indeed, with Daleks, dinosaurs, the Wild West, sci-fi invasions, noir New York, killer snowmen, a Wi-Fi thriller, intergalactic alien worlds, Cold War battles against the Ice Warriors, journeys to the centre of the TARDIS, haunted houses, Victorian period dramas, Cyber-horrors and the fabled Fields of Trenzalore all appearing in these new instalments, it's difficult to argue with the level of ambition and scale that was on offer here.

Nevertheless, a caveat to this approach was the lack of two-part adventures. Although episodes such as Asylum, Mercy, Angels, Snowmen, Rings, Cold War, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS and The Name of the Doctor managed to avoid rushed endings, the remaining episodes I haven't mentioned did not fare so well, with The Power of Three a particularly memorable example of a script where time seemed to get the better of Chris Chibnall. Seeing as two-part adventures like Human Nature/The Family of Blood, The Time of Angels/Flesh & Stone and The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon remain amongst my favourite episodes of Doctor Who, I'd love to see 2-3 two-part tales introduced in Season Eight, with a two-parter opening the run likely to be another major success from Steven Moffat.
When it came to defending the BBC's decision to schedule the new run of Doctor Who over Autumn 2012 and Spring 2013 recently, the Moff cited his other celebrated TV creation Sherlock, noting how Who deserves to have the same kind of 'event' status every time it returns, no matter how large its run. I see the argument here, certainly, but if the BBC want this to be the case, then we need to see trailers broadcast weekly for each episode so as to keep the public in the know on airtimes, as a lack of promotional material affected the middle section of Series Seven Part Two this year.

On top of that, though, it would likely be a strong idea to revive some consistency to Doctor Who's broadcast formatting after the 50th Anniversary. I'm not asking for a straight revival of the thirteen-episode seasons in the Spring and a Christmas Special in December, though. Indeed, the idea that's been posed by rumour sites that Season Eight will consist of twelve episodes and the 2014 Christmas Special (due to the 50th Special/Christmas Special technically making Season Eight a fifteen-part run), commencing broadcast from August 2014, doesn't seem too bad. If this format of airing from August to October/November before a Christmas Special continues, then it would work well in establishing Doctor Who at a different time of year. Whatever the scheduling, the more consistent it becomes, the easier it is for the public (i.e. those who don't monitor every scheduling update) to follow when one of their favourite TV dramas is returning.
Now, this is a serious matter. What with the 50th Anniversary Special likely to some extent to induce some kind of wave of nostalgia for fans old and new of Doctor Who, it is vital that once the celebratory festivities are done, Steven Moffat's production team do not let nods to the past get the better of them. Considering that in the years leading up to the show's demise during the 1980s, there were a number of seasons dedicated to reintroducing an old friend or foe in every story, it is of paramount importance that no such repetition occurs here in order to keep Who alive and well in the years ahead.

This is not to lay down criticism on the approach with Season Seven- quite the opposite. By including nostalgic elements such as the Daleks, the Silurians, UNIT, the Weeping Angels, the Great Intelligence, the Ice Warriors, the Eye of Harmony and the Cybermen in proceedings without comprimising story quality, Steven and his team provided an incredible anniversary season that balanced well nostalgia with innovation. All the same, although one or two old foes never go amiss, Season Eight could do with finding the next Silence, the next Weeping Angels, a new 'arch-nemesis' for the Doctor to tackle with that iconic nature of evil we can rally against as viewers. Perhaps this can be achieved in the arc of the next run, but however it's done, this strict balance needs to be kept fiercely in mind to preserve Doctor Who's future sanctity.
Where do you next take a Time Lord who, in recent seasons, has had time-shifting religions attempt to wipe him from existence in order to hide a universe-threatening secret he conceals? The answer should be simple-you dial the Doctor down. As we move into the era of the Twelfth Doctor, whoever he or she may be, it will be important that the successes and mistakes that the Eleventh Doctor made in his life are mostly forgotten in favour of a new start and a new take on the character. A Good Man Goes To War was a brilliant defining moment of pride and loss for the current incarnation, but to have such a demoralising event occur in the Doctor's life every season/every few episodes would simply do an injustice to the history of the character.

Once the mystery of John Hurt's Doctor has been dealt with in the 50th Anniversary Special, it seems that it may almost truly be possible for the new Doctor to "step back into the shadows" as Matt's declared he would back in 2011's The Wedding of River Song. That arc of wiping the Doctor from the memory banks played heavily into Series Seven Part One, only for Part Two then to essentially conclude that until he had dealt with his unfinished secrets, the Doctor could never truly hide himself. With the Twelfth Doctor, then, I'd love to see his plan work, as the character becomes a source of humorous mystery to those he meets on his travels, rather than the infamous 'hero' of the Time War who seems known to every alien race in the galaxy these days.

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