Ah the Doctor. Besides tea, Monty Python, Henry James, the pilgrims and Sheppard’s pie Doctor Who is one of the greatest exports Britain has to offer. A mix of the sci-fi techno-nerdiness of Star Trek, the longevity of Gunsmoke, and the sheer insanity of British humor, Doctor Who is a brand so entrenched in world culture that it will probably outlive most governments. Of course any long lived story has to find different mediums to keep expanding its premise. You think of any media outlet and Doctor Who has probably had at least one outing in it. For class we covered four of the most popular: television, radio, comic books, and video games. Looking back at it all I have to say that the video game, Blood of the Cyberman, was by far my least favorite. My first problem with the game was that it simply didn’t work. If you weren’t stuck in a loop then you were falling through walls, and if you weren’t doing that you were laughing at the shoddy graphics. However, even if you take away all of the problems consistently plaguing this game I still found the whole experience to be rather uninteresting. The first limitation was the voice acting. While Matt Smith and Karren Gillan try their best, their delivery is simply too muddled and quiet to convey any sort of real danger in the game. Also an issue was simply in the writing. Here you have one of Doctor Who’s oldest foes and they do nothing original with them. Instead the whole thing plays out like The Thing meets Doctor Who. I did have a chance to play the other game, City of the Daleks, which was far more interesting. I really enjoyed seeing the Dalek Emperor return to the series as well as a good performance from Smith when Amy Pond is literally ceasing to exist. Still the simply amateur quality of the entire affair could not allow me to find any sort of enjoyment out of this game. Perhaps if it was well written or acted I could get over the technical limitations, but it was just too hard.
The other three media each presented a very unique look into the “Whoinverse” as a whole. I enjoyed the comic for what it was worth. I personally have always had mixed feelings about Grant Morrison, who has the capacity to get far too lost in his works. This time I felt Morrison knew the Doctor and his world quite well and he was able to utilize the strengths of Doctor Who without having to change too much. I particularly liked his conclusion where we discover that one day the Cybermen will be so evolved that they will end conflict with the universe, but that it won’t be for another couple millennia. This was a strongly realized concept, one that was able to fit into the universe very well without having to disenfranchise the fans. The ultimate flaw though in the comic is that it lacks the same kind of emotional urgency the other three mediums have because of its static nature. I also particularly enjoyed the radio drama, “Human Resources”, which seemed to seriously divide our class. I was surprised how humorous this radio play was, especially the mental image of stuffy white collar workers powering a massive killing robot. I felt that the radio drama excelled at writing because that was the only way to keep your attention. It was surprising to me that actually the drama’s greatest flaw, the lack of visuals, was its greatest strength as well because of how well the creators pushed the boundaries. Again though, I don’t think the radio drama can have as much of an impact emotionally as television because it was hard for me to pretend that they were really in danger.
My favorite medium of all was the television episode “Blink”. For starters, this simply was an incredibly well crafted episode that daftly used the concept of time travel better than most films on the subject. However, even if we watched a mediocre episode of Doctor Who I think I would still prefer this medium for three very important reasons. 1. This is the medium we are all most familiar with. I grew up with television much more than I did with comics or the radio or even video games. This means I understand the tropes and have a keen eye for quality. 2. Television is where the good Doctor first began. It is so incredibly rare for a story to transfer perfectly from its original form to a new one (ex: every video game movie ever made). 3. Characterization. While an actor can voice over his lines, there is nothing quite like watching the full form of an actor. This is why I feel McGann and Smith lacked in their performances. I have seen both on television, so I know they are good at their roles but when they are only allowed to use their voice the entire work suffers. Still there is one thing that the comics, radio dramas, and video games have over the television series: endless possibilities. If Grant Morrison wants the Doctor to face a 100ft. tall man eating robot, all he has to do is draw it. If Steven Moffat wants the same thing he has to sell his organs to get the budget. The other media excel by having an unrestricted canvas to work with.
Despite all the limitations and the sheer length of the show Doctor Who still manages to find a new audience and new storytellers every year. But why? I think the best answer comes from Robert McKee in his definition of characterization. McKee claims that characters, “are the creatures who are revealed and changed by how they choose to act under pressure.” If this is indeed the case then the Doctor simply is a fabulous character because of one simple truth about himself that has allowed for the show to continue on for as long as it has: the Doctor can regenerate into different forms and personalities. This allows for any actor to personalize their Doctor incarnation to their liking. Some doctors may cower in the face of fear, others may crave, while some may avoid it all together. Each Doctor is defined by the ways in which they encounter dangerous situations. Tennant was praised for his ability to turn from quirky fun to deadly seriousness on a dime. Baker had a beautiful compassion to him that made him feel like a warm hearted friend.
No matter how many iterations of the Doctor there are, the plot will always stay the same. A time travelling alien battles monsters, saves the galaxy, and has a little bit of fun along the way. What makes the show so unique is the different ways each Doctor approaches that formula of pressure vs. intellect. As McKee says, “Pressure is essential.” What makes Doctor Who so well loved is the Doctor himself, that brave and humorous man whose journeys will probably never stop. He is character who is not only ageless physically but anecdotally as well. There is something my English teacher once told me that has stuck with me over the years. She said, “Make a great story and you can write 5 books. Make a great character and you can write 500.” I don’t think a more perfect example of that rules exists than Doctor Who.
Thought you guys would like to see this parody of DW from Ricky Gervais’ Extras. (note: Ricky is the guy in the slug costume)