The Who’s Who of Transmedia

The main characters in Doctor Who don't change every episode, but this isn't necessarily wrong. Just look at Star Trek for an example of a show that doesn't require character development to be good or engaging.

While all of the Dr. Who storytelling outlets were appealing in their own way, I found the radio program to be the least engaging.  I don’t think this has anything to do with its radio’s validity as a medium or the producers’ execution of the story, but rather I think I’m just not accustomed to consuming audio-only stories.  We’ve grown up learning how to comprehend visual stories on television and movies, or to properly understand and dissect the written word.  I don’t mean to generalize, but it doesn’t seem that we have the same background in consuming radio shows.  Books allow us to move at our own pace, and visual stories give us images to fall back on if we’re not devoting our full attention to the audio, but radio requires 100% of your attention at all times, lest you miss a detail of the story.  I was a bit sleepy that day in class and couldn’t give 100%, and I fell behind quickly.

The other forms of Dr. Who stories each had their pros and cons.  The television series is obviously the bread and butter of the franchise, and was coincidentally my favorite medium.  The visuals were interesting and managed to properly convey the complex and disjointed narrative of the episode “Blink.”  I can’t see this being pulled off nearly as well in non-visual media.  The animated episode “Scream of the Shalka” was great at conveying dramatic settings like Earth’s Shalka-inhabited underworld in a way that a budget-constrained live action program likely couldn’t, but I felt the individual episodes were too short for me to really get to know the characters.  The video game, judged strictly on its merits as a game, was horrible.  As a storytelling device however I was pleasantly surprised.  The characters’ personalities really shined through during the cutscenes, and the storyline felt every bit as complete as that of the other mediums.

The comic book version didn’t catch my interest nearly as much as the stories that featured moving pictures.  This may be due to the fact that I hadn’t had enough exposure to the Dr. Who universe at that point, and the story required a more knowledgable reader.  I think the main reason I didn’t like it was that the speech bubbles failed to give me an understanding of the Doctor’s personality.  The TV show clearly gave me a likable, quirky incarnation of the Doctor.  The cartoon established a surlier and sterner character.  Even the video game and the radio show gave me a decent idea of what the Doctor was like.  Reading the comic however, I don’t feel that I ever got a great understanding of his character traits.  As a result, the character, and the comic strip as a whole, was less memorable for me.

I certainly think it’s possible to stitch together a coherent narrative across multiple mediums; Doctor Who stands as a testament to this.  That said, a truly transmedia narrative will always have limitations.  For one, the story would likely need to be episodic.  It doesn’t make much sense to split the plot of the average movie into a TV episode, comic book, and video game.  To put it simply, each piece must be able to stand on its own.  In addition, in creating a transmedia story, one must understand that the entire audience isn’t going to see the whole thing.  There are movie buffs who would never play a related video game or read a comic book that augmented the movie’s plot.  From my limited experience with Doctor Who, the franchise seems to accomplish these goals exceptionally well.  Every piece of media was divided into its own episode, all tying back to the overall world of the Doctor.  As Lance Parkin mentions in “Truths Universally Acknowledged: How the ‘Rules’ of Doctor Who Affect the Writing,” Doctor Who writers of everything from the TV shows to radio specials to video games to fan fiction still comply to certain rules and established facts of the series as a whole, even as the franchise’s format, themes, and actors have changed through the decades.

The stories also feature similar structure in terms of characters.  Though they don’t typically change or evolve noticeably from week to week, each type of Doctor Who story contains a Doctor (whose nature and mannerisms have changed on a frequent basis due to his power of reincarnation), a companion who assists the doctor, and an antagonist, usually in the form of a hostile alien race.  Many episodes and stories from this franchise do not include much in the way of McKee’s aspects of characterization.  It would be impossible for each of the thousands of stories in the Doctor Who universe to include a character revelation about the Doctor or his companion.  This isn’t necessarily wrong; many of storytelling’s greatest characters don’t noticeably change or reveal a new side to themselves every week.  Star Trek characters immediately come to mind.  Interestingly though, the cartoon story I saw did include the harsh and surly doctor, who had denied any interest in the fate of the human race for much of the episode, suddenly develop an unexpected soft side at the climax in saving Earth from the invading Shalka.

Doctor Who seems to consistently meet McKee’s requirement for a good scene: that a binary characteristic of a character is reversed.  A scene begins with the Doctor fleeing from a dangerous cyberman, and end with a daring rescue by his assistant.  Perhaps the Doctor is trying to reclaim his TARDIS at the beginning of a scene, and gets it back at the end.  In the animated episode, the Doctor began a scene plunging towards certain death, but the scene ended with an ingenious self-rescue.  Scenes in Doctor Who do not exist solely for exposition, but all serve to further the plot of the episode.


About shep979

Junior at Trinity University. Editor of
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2 Responses to The Who’s Who of Transmedia

  1. Pingback: It’s the Doctor! Doctor Who? Exactly. | Transmedia Storytelling (Fall 2010)

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