Doctor Who: All you can do is (step back in time)

I have no problem quoting Kylie Minogue songs if they serve my purpose, and my purpose, once more, is to detail Doctor Who related patterns. I can’t help it, all I see are how these help viewers adjust to the new in Who, as well as the writers retain everything that is familiar about The Doctor as well.

This is how I didn’t work all this out.

The fine creative folk at Doctor Who look like they have established a shape for writers regarding series with new Companions. The episodes are like chapters of a book and I could plot this on a graph, but after days of gastro, I don’t have the energy. Thus, you’ll have to imagine it (the graph, not the gastro). There is also a scale to new Companion encounters, going from a bit weird and a bit dangerous, increasing the tension and danger, until the new Companion graduates to understanding that death is her gift…no wait, that was Buffy. This is about navigating the universal constants aboard the TARDIS.

This is what I think the pattern or proforma is, if you are thinking about even attempting to write for Who.  Obviously this is not a graph and is not set in stone.


Here and Now Episode: This first cab off the rank is the Establishing Episode, since 2005 it is always approximately set in the Here and Now. It sees the new Companion introduced, with plot references: this year this means Bill Potts and The Vault in 2017. With Donna and Partners in Crime this was a re-establishing episode, since we had met her before, and not in a ‘my cousin used to work at Canary Wharf’ kinda way. With The Bells of St John it was also a re-establishing episode since we had met a Clara before.

Step Forward Episode: The second episode means they jump forward and out into the universe. This time it is 20 light years from earth with new colonists about to be murdered by emoji-bots over a grief virus, but it could have been on a viewing platform to see The End of the World with Rose or the end of Akhaten with Clara.

Or Back – with Martha the pattern holds, but is reversed. She goes back first because her first trip was off world. Hence Shakespeare Code. Same with Donna – she goes to Pompeii because she has already been off-world.

Step Back Episode: Ye olde London in a cold snap for Thin Ice. At least there are no ghosts in the gas lamps in Wales, like The Unquiet Dead, or a Russian submarine in Cold War. Why is the past often so freezing?

Or Forward – again with Martha they save a future human civilisation in Gridlock. With Donna they move on from humans and save Ood World.

Unique Stand Alone Episode: think Amy’s Choice, (even) Love and Monsters, Hide, Unicorn or the Wasp, Vincent and the Doctor. All these episodes see the series narrative take a back seat to let hijinks and emotions ensue. These are often favourites and win awards. But the back drop is the theme they are set against: in Vincent and the Doctor it is grief and despair, in Unicorn and the Wasp it is memory and forgetting. See. Clever, clever writers. This is how themes are meant to work in good writing, and when we look at them within the series, they become tiny telegraphs, hinting at the futures of Amy and Donna. Even Love and Monsters hints at the separation of the Doctor and Rose.

First Signpost Episode: Back to whatever the main theme, or point of the series might be driving at, like the return of the Master, or Daleks, or the fragility of memory or identity.  This episode, whatever happens, will feature enough clues that in a year’s time we will consider them billboards (Bill boards am I being prophetic?).

Minimal Doctor/Companion Episode: This year it could mean an episode based around Nardole related to the plot, much like Blink introduced an ongoing foe in the Weeping Angels. However, in previous series they haven’t always been big on plot (think Midnight with minimal Donna). These don’t happen every season, but it could be more likely this year given The Doctor is gallivanting with Bill and leaving the Vault protecting to Nardole. This could even be the first signpost episode.

Celebrity Writer Episode: The writer of the episode or double episode has enough clout that people in the Media notice who it is – think Neil Gaiman for The Doctor’s Wife. This episode could be any of the stand alone ones, or double episodes. They obviously don’t always occur.

See how I have mapped everything.

The Second Half Episodes

Further Adventures Episodes: Call back episodes to earlier clues, but now as I earlier stipulated, the tension and danger are increasing. Remember the time in the series where Missy first appeared, this is that. About midway through we need to be seeing more of the Big Bad (as they say in Buffy), or if there is no Big Bad, the reason for the Vault. The theme, whatever it is, becomes more obvious in these episodes.

More Further Adventures Episodes: Even more tension and drama. If by now the Vault is not more of a thing I will be angry. If it is some kind of decoy McGuffin The Doctor is using, then I should already have seen hints of this, or even a reveal. Bigger adventures, bigger themes.

Winding down, by winding up

Penultimate Episode: All the things are happening that will lead into the finale. Mysteries are stated (Bad Wolf), battle lines are set up (Army of Ghosts, Sound of Drums), premises  are set up (The Stolen Earth, The Pandorica Opens, Closing Time, Heaven Sent)…all to be resolved…next time.

Final Episode/s: Enough is wrapped up that there is a denouement without everything Who ending. Battles are fought and concluded, Earth is restored, mysteries solved, premises knocked down. Something like the TARDIS could explode, but it won’t in the end, because probably a future version of the TARDIS is the Vault (just guessing).

Anyway, the Companion’s purpose for this Doctor is fully revealed through a Defining Action: basically Bill needs to do something. In other series it was Remembering the Doctor (Amy) or Forgetting the Doctor (Donna), or Making The Doctor Forget (Clara) or looking in the Heart of the TARDIS and then Forgetting (Rose).

Also in 2017 – goodbye to This Doctor. Hint or more than a hint of the next one.

Christmas Episode. Festive re-set. Often an independent episode, or one used to tie up mysteries that have persisted over series, like how did River go from whatever last happened, to the Library.  This time New Doctor is run in.

Am done now. Go home.

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