To the TARDIS!

Doctor Who in front of his TARDIS

Before taking this class, I had never heard of Doctor Who (don’t freak out on me).  Because of this, my interpretation and level of enjoyment regarding each of the four storytelling mediums is certainly different than that of an avid Doctor Who fan.  While each medium has the ability to stand on it’s own, the combination of all four helps better define who the Doctor is and what he’s all about.  For an avid fan, absorbing stories through different media sources provides depth and layers to already established characters and stories.  A video game may allow fans of the TV show to learn back-stories and discover the finer nuances of a secondary character.  However, for someone like me who has never even heard of Doctor Who, the combination of four different mediums simply helps to establish the basics.  After watching the TV show, I was still kind of fuzzy on who Doctor Who was.  However, after listening to the radio show, reading the comic, and playing the video game, I can now tell you that Doctor Who is a humanoid alien who travels through time in a TARDIS often fighting his oldest enemies, the Daleks, or cyborgs known as Cybermen (who sometimes work at call centers).

Doctor Who or Disco Stu?

After consuming Doctor Who across four different platforms, I would say that my least favorite was the comic (Maybe it’s because the Doctor looked like Disco Stu).  In all seriousness though, one of the primary reasons I didn’t enjoy the comic was because I found myself rushing through it.  Even when I tried my hardest, I couldn’t bring myself to take the time to study the pictures.  I would fly through the text, take a cursory glance at the pictures, and go on to the next frame.  By the end of the comic, I didn’t really feel like I got a whole lot out of it.  I realize that much of this can be attributed to the fact that I have never in my life been a reader of comic books.  I admit that I probably don’t know how to properly consume or appreciate a comic simply because I have never been trained to do so (When I say trained, I am referring to the process of reading many comics through which one would gain specific knowledge).  Maybe this stems from my lack of “training,” but I also found the comic to be the least engaging of the four mediums.  During the TV show, I was actively viewing.  During the radio show, I was actively listening.  While playing the video game, I was actively controlling a character.  While consuming the comic, I suppose I should have been actively reading and viewing, but instead I found myself actively daydreaming as I zoomed through the text and almost ignored the images.  The other three mediums provide a certain level of interactivity that I just didn’t find in the comic.

Although the comic was perhaps the least satisfying of the four mediums, the videogame wasn’t much better.  I must start by stating that I am in no way a gamer (I only recently found out what an ARG was, again, don’t freak out on me), however; I found the videogame to be incredibly boring.  Glitches aside, I did not much enjoy completing absolutely mindless tasks that could have been made even easier were it not for the stubborn controls that nearly brought me to the point of vomiting (at one point I literally had to turn away from the screen because I was feeling sick).  The game didn’t really supply any meaningful challenges or fun for that matter.  I quickly found myself not caring at all about rescuing a snowmobiler with a winch that could only be used if you were standing at the exact right angle.  If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I didn’t like the videogame.  However, I will say that for someone like me with no prior Doctor Who knowledge, the videogame was successful in progressing several components of the overarching story.  After playing the game, I had a better understanding of what a Cyberman was, I could visualize the TARDIS better, and I felt like I had a better sense of the Doctor.  In this regard, the game was a success.  However, overall, the videogame fell short.

The audio drama “Human Resources” wasn’t my favorite, but I did enjoy it.  Hearing reaction from the class, this seemed to be the least popular platform.  Several people said they had trouble focusing or were falling asleep.  Maybe I just have a better attention span than the rest of the class, but I was able to stay engaged pretty much the whole time and follow the story very clearly.  Even though (or perhaps because) I had no prior exposure to Doctor Who, I was able to visualize all of the characters, the settings, and the events taking place.  I make the statement above because maybe it was the fact that I didn’t know what the Doctor looked like or what a Cyberman looked like that allowed me to enjoy the audio drama.  My mind had no predetermined constraints.  I could envision the world of Doctor Who in any way that I pleased, because I didn’t know what the world of Doctor Who was supposed to look like.  Certainly, the audio drama demands a little more attention than other mediums.  But for me, that’s what makes it work.  I feel engaged and ultimately that is rewarding.  In something like a comic, I don’t feel that sense of engagement, and for that reason, I don’t get the same satisfaction.

Don't take your eyes off the weeping angel

Finally there is the TV episode, “Blink,” which was my favorite (and seemed to be the favorite of the majority of the class).  One of the reasons I enjoyed this platform the most was because of the story.  However, if the same story were told on the radio, I don’t think I would have enjoyed nearly as much.  Much of the story was driven by the visual elements attached to it.  By seeing the weeping angels, I experienced fear and suspense.  By seeing an old man in a hospital bed, I was better able to understand the concept of time travel (as it pertains to the show).  By seeing the TARDIS, I learned what a TARDIS was.  Simply, a television show is able to provide the “full package.”  It is able to bring storytelling to life.  A radio broadcast cannot provide images; a comic cannot provide movement; and a videogame cannot always provide a well-paced story.  At least in the case of the four mediums that we consumed, the TV show did the best job at providing an entertaining and engaging story that was easy to consume.

Not only does the Doctor Who franchise span several media platforms, but it also spans several decades.  The Doctor Who of today certainly looks different than he did in 1963, but Lance Parkin states that change in only natural: “continuing narratives change over time in a process that is analogous to natural selection: unfolding texts adopt strategies to ensure their continued survival in the face of a changing environment of artistic and commercial imperatives.”  However, Parkin also notes that there are still conditions that “make it” a Doctor Who story.  Even across many media platforms “there are links between stories; there is a strong internal continuity.”  This is true in the four mediums that we consumed.  For instance, the TARDIS appears in all four mediums.  The TARDIS is an iconic component of Doctor Who.  When we see the TARDIS, we know it’s a Doctor Who story, regardless of the medium.  The TARDIS further helps bridge the gap between mediums in that it allows a story to be set literally anywhere.  The TARDIS is a time traveling machine and thus has the ability to go anywhere in time at any point in time.  Because of this, a TV episode can be set in London and a comic can be set in another galaxy completely.  No setting is unrealistic.  Despite the changing scenery, the TARDIS unifies the overarching story.  This was seen in all four mediums that we consumed.

Old school Doctor Who

Another thing that stays consistent across all four of the media platforms is the characterization of the Doctor.  Although, the actual actor (or depiction of the actor) changes, the characterization of the Doctor remains similar.  As McKee defines it, “characterization is the sum of all observable qualities of a human being, everything knowable through careful scrutiny: age and IQ; sex and sexuality; style of speech and gesture; choice of home, car, and dress; education and occupation; personality and nervosity; values and attitudes.”  In all four mediums, the Doctor is roughly the same age, he is intelligent, he has similar quirks and mannerisms, he dresses similarly, and he has the same occupation: fighting various foes and saving civilization.  Whether he appears in an audio drama or a videogame, the Doctor is immediately recognizable (even when he’s Jamaican).

Two weeks ago I had never heard of Doctor Who, but it is pretty apparent that it is a well-established, well-produced transmedia story.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to the TARDIS.

-Andrew Hoing-

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