Number Three: Storytelling in Doctor Who

Hallo David Tennant

For me, the least satisfying media platform for storytelling was a tie between the audio drama and the computer game, though I honestly wish they weren’t. I’ll discuss the audio drama first. I think one of the reasons that I had a hard time enjoying the audio drama was the fact that I really didn’t feel like I had a good frame of reference for what exactly was going on. As the story progresses, I began to piece together what exactly was going on but I don’t really appreciate being lost during a story (unless it’s a story to which I’m already dedicated, like Lost). Additionally, since I’m so used to (and really as a culture, we’re used to) video accompanying sound with stories, I couldn’t help but feeling that something was lacking. Of course, it allowed for the imagination to wander as to what the characters looked like and what they were doing, but I missed the concreteness of television. Perhaps that means I don’t have as good of an imagination, but whatever, I missed TV. Another thing was that it was really hard for me to keep straight whose voice was whose. I kept thinking, “Wait, who is talking?” However, I found it strange that I didn’t really like the audio drama since I love listening to Harry Potter on audiobook. The difference might be that audiobooks at least describe the action and inner thoughts of characters. Anyways, I wasn’t particularly drawn to the audio drama version of Doctor Who.

As much as I wanted to enjoy the Doctor Who computer game, Blood of the Cybermen, I just didn’t, although it could have been for a multitude of reasons. Immediately, I found myself extremely frustrated with the game. I didn’t like how the characters moved and I hated having to reposition my characters in order to touch or use an object. Often, I felt lost within the game and couldn’t figure out how to solve the clues, which I’m not sure is lack of direction from the game or my inexperience with games. It’s probably the latter since everyone else seemed to get further in the game than I did, but it frustrated me that I couldn’t figure out seemingly simple puzzles.

It's a promo picture thing.

I don’t think that it was the kind of story that was being told that kept me from liking the stories in these media. I think it was simply the kind of medium itself. I’m not used to the pure-audio quality of radio dramas and I’ve never been patient enough for video games (although I think with some practice, I could have really enjoyed the Blood of the Cybermen because at least it’s a computer game and not a video game on console).

I absolutely adored “Blink.” I think this obviously appealed to me the most because I am obsessed with many TV shows and so this just catered right to what I love. This is the first time in a long time that I can remember being scared during a TV show. It was a very strange kind of fear, not from a scary axe murderer but from the cleverness of the “monsters.” I literally had a dream the other night where I was afraid to open my eyes because I thought those freaky angels would be there. Yeah, I know. It was very well done, well-written and the element of time travel just makes me so happy. The written transcript? Love it. Even though this was the only episode of Doctor Who I have ever seen, I didn’t feel lost in the least bit. I mean, I did at first because I was like, “Who are all of these people…” but everything pieced itself together very quickly.

I probably would not have enjoyed the comic book platform of the story if I had not recently begun to read comics on my own time. I enjoyed it more than the audio drama simple because there was a visual element. Additionally, the story seemed to just be like a new adventure, not one that was necessarily continued from previously. True, I didn’t have any knowledge of the worlds that the characters were visiting or any of the races of people, but they were fairly well explained, at least the point that I was able to understand what was happening. Plus, the penguin talked.

I think that certain types of media definitely foster a specific kind of story. For instance, the comic book was able to tell a story that would have taken several episodes to explain (although, in fairness, the comic was actually two or three episodes). Each media plays to a specific sense. For instance, television mainly caters to visual senses, while the audio drama exclusively caters exclusively to aural senses. So naturally television will foster stories that really rely heavily on visual information. A story that describes something really visual in an audio drama really wouldn’t work very well. A comic book works really well for describing and showing sci-fi elements and things that can’t easily be filmed realistically, like aliens or different planets or aging.

This comic actually has nothing to do with the one we read in class but I like this picture.

All storytelling on different media require audiences to keep up with the basic narrative. I would have to say that audio drams really require audiences to be patient and be extremely imaginative and patient. They must be okay with not seeing the story unfold. Also, I’d say that for me to be an audio drama listener, I’d need something monotonous to do with my hands. Otherwise, I’m sure that I would drift off in my own imagination and not pay attention. Comic book stories require a basic understanding and appreciate for comic stories. For people who haven’t had any experience in comics or haven’t read a comic book story that they enjoyed, it would be hard to just jump in. Everyone does have to start somewhere though, but it’s best to start with an easier comic and then progress through more difficult ones. Video games, like comic books, require users/audiences to have some basic understanding of gaming. Sometimes you can gain that understanding by messing around in the game world for a bit to get a feel of the direction of the game. Still, the stories of games tend to work more smoothly when users/audiences understand functions of games. Television stories are probably the ones that are the medium that place the lowest amount of requirement on viewers. Everyone watches TV, even just casually. TV shows also usually have the same basic forumla– they’re episodic, often with larger stroy arcs that connect certain elements of the episodes with previous and future episodes. Most audience members understand that concept and can therefore generally get the general gist of any story that they’re introduced to of any show.

TV shows can usually make the jump from medium to medium fairly easily and it’s been done multiple times. They can jump to comic books (see any Joss Whedon creation) or to movies (Firefly). Additionally, comic books are media that offer a range of transmedia possibilities as media history has shown. The Marvel movies that are due to come out in the next few years (Captain America, Thor, and The Avengers) all began as comic books and are now being turned into films. This example is different from the TV shows to comic book example since the TV show’s narrative is usually continued directly to the comic book. The comics that are turned into movies are usually condensed narratives, not really a continuation of the narrative.

Obviously basic concept of the Doctor was consistent across all of the media platforms as is the idea of time travelling in the TARDIS. The idea of a companion seemed to also be consistent, but other than that… there were so many fluid elements. For instance, in “Blink,” the Doctor wasn’t even the main character. In the other forms, at least it seemed to be the formula of “The Doctor travels somewhere to attempt to save the day from some unknown evil.” But even still, none of the stories had any connecting elements except for the Doctor, and even that Doctor was different across most (if not all, I’m not quite sure) of the platforms. In this way, I was really able to understand Lance Parkin’s discussion of the challenges for Doctor Who writers. There are hardly any recurring characters which makes connecting episodes in arcs difficult.

Additionally, it’s hard for a show that ranges with such stories to have a real “definition” of what makes the show that show. It’s easier for shows such as Bones or Grey’s or even Fringe and Dollhouse. They have the same set of characters, the same basic idea. Use science to decipher bones, super sexy doctors solve impossible medical problems, Joshua Jackson makes witty remarks while Walter somehow manages to save the earth from blowing up, and Paul Ballard has strange sexual tension with a girl he’s never met while Echo is off making people’s dreams come true. We can pin down what makes a show a show. As Parkin discusses, it’s usually the reviewers who hold that authority to determine what that set of rules is. As we discuss shows, we say “Well, that wasn’t a great Glee episode because all they did was redo Britney videos instead of putting their own Glee-tastic spin on it and weaving it into the story line, except of course for Artie’s fabulous rendition of Stronger.” Official reviewers also make these judgement, but even as fans, we can recognize when a show does or doesn’t fit into these set guidelines. A show like Doctor Who makes that incredibly more difficult because of its refusal to set out guidelines. And yet without rigid guidelines, the show has thrived for decades. Perhaps it is precisely the story’s fluidity that helps it adapt to meet audience’s desires (both casual viewers and dedicated viewers).

In his article about Doctor Who, Matt Hills discussed the elements of Doctor Who that have remained fairly consistent across the story’s lifetime– the absent epic, the implied story arc, and variations on a theme. Though I have only been an audience to one example of each medium, I feel like I could understand each of these elements in the stories of each medium. The absent epic seemed to be present in the Blood of the Cyberman (for me at least, probably not for other fans who have actually watched the series) since I didn’t have a clue what Cybermen were and yet simply the fact that they were bad and needed to be destroyed was all that I needed to know. For other fans who understood the epic of the Cybermen, it was great, but for unfamiliar fans like me, it was fine since I didn’t need to know the deep background. While I didn’t catch any implied story arcs, this is exactly the point that Hills was trying to make. Casual viewers are supposed to be unbothered by the unremarkable presence of random clues to the implied story arc. So if there were clues to an implied story arc in any of the platforms, they were lost on me which means that the writers did a good job. (GOOD JOB WRITERS) The same thing could be said about variation of theme. I’m sure that if I watched more Doctor Who episodes (which I will undoubtedly be doing very soon since Netflix has ALL of the new seasons on Instant Watch… Mmm David Tennant… I forgive you for that Barty Crouch Jr. business), I would have noticed some of the shot similarities from episodes. However, since I’ve only seen “Blink,” I didn’t notice any, and again, that is supposed to be the point.

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