Why Doctor Who is awesome: a writer’s perspective

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yes, this is a sonic screwdriver

 

I’ll try not to break into fangirl gushing – and simply state some solid reasons Doctor Who has lasted so long.

The BBC’s Doctor Who is the longest-running sci-fi series in history. It ran from 1963-1989, was regenerated in 2005 and has been going strong ever since. It’s about a 900-year-old Time Lord from an alien planet who calls himself “the Doctor.” He spends his days traveling through time and space, saving people, worlds, and whole universes. Here are five reasons the show has been so successful for so long:

Infinite possibilities

Because the Doctor can travel through time and space, the writers have the whole of human history to play with, plus whatever they can imagine in our future and across the universe.
Immortal characters played by mortal actors

The DW writers solved the problem of actors aging or moving on to other projects by creating in a quirk of Time Lord DNA – Time Lords don’t die; they regenerate. I.e., the same character comes back as a different actor, with a different wardrobe and perhaps a different personality.

Recurring elements

There are some things that stay the same throughout the series, maintaining a sense of familiarity despite constantly changing characters and locations. The main ones include:

The Doctor – insofar as his background and identity goes.

The TARDIS – the Doctor’s space ship/time machine, which is bigger on the inside. Due to a broken chameleon circuit, the TARDIS is stuck looking like a Police Call Box from 1963 London. The Doctor doesn’t fix it, because he likes it that way.

Sonic Screwdriver – a handy tool the Doctor uses in almost every episode to open doors, reprogram robots, and more.

Psychic paper – a blank piece of paper that shows people whatever the Doctor wants them to see. He usually uses it as fake ID to break into high security establishments and exclusive parties.

Relatability

The genius alien time traveler must be balanced with a more relatable, “regular” character, if only so the Doctor has someone to explain things to, so the audience doesn’t get lost. The Doctor always has a companion – usually a girl from modern-day Earth, who travels with him.

Great writing

The concepts are fascinating, the storytelling is effortless. Within a single episode you may laugh, cry, gasp, and grip the edge of your seat. The storylines are fun-filled adventures, but mixed with a greater depth of moral questions, such as self-sacrifice and when it is right to kill.

If you are writing a series, consider employing some of these same concepts to keep it fresh, familiar, relatable, and emotionally relevant.

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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22 Comments

  1. Yup. Actually, I’m about to post (well, in a few days) an epic review of Doctor Who Series 1, which I only started watching in January. Near the beginning I say the same thing, that the show has the perfect TV premise because it can tell any kind of story it wants to, set anywhere and anywhen. It’s not even limited to sci-fi stories, strictly speaking, although that’s mostly what it likes to tell. If they wanted, they could visit a more fantasy-like world, or have something that’s more historical fiction. They don’t usually, but they could. Anyway, yes, Doctor Who is awesome.

    • The only possible limit I’ve heard of so far, was sometime during the 8th Doctor’s brief stint. They stated that a Time Lord has only thirteen lives. Since we are currently on number eleven, I’m hoping they disregard continuity and keep making episodes.

      I look forward to reading your review – and I hope you continue with the series!

      • First, to the original poster – excellent summary of what makes Doctor Who work! As for the point raised here about the 13-life limit (which was actually established earlier than the TV movie, back around 1976), it’s generally assumed that the limit no longer applies. Without spoiling plotlines for those who are just watching it for the first time, a major backstory event revealed during the 2005 season, combined with an event that happens midway through the 2011 season, plus a bit of throwaway dialogue in one of the spin-off series “The Sarah Jane Adventures”, as pretty clearly suggested the 13-life limit no longer applies, so as long as the BBC attracts the viewers and the revenue, the current version of Doctor Who could easily match the 26-season run of the original series.

  2. Well said. I have not watched the series, but may now after your glowing synopsis. Great ideas to take to the keyboard.

    • I highly recommend it. But this is coming from a person with box sets of seasons 1-4, two Trock CDs (Trock = Time Lord rock), and two sonic screwdrivers; converting others to Doctor Who fandom is kind of a part time job for me.
      I recommend starting with Season 1 of the new series (unless you’re really committed and want to start with the very first 1963 episode) – be warned, some of the villains can be kind of cheesy (i.e. evil Christmas trees), but hang in there; you will not regret it.

  3. Probably I should know who ‘Doctor Who’ is, but I don’t. However I think that (of the points that fit) Lost has many of those qualities. The writers did an amazing job creating a convincing group of characters and a creative story line (which I’ve only seen a little of, since I’m just starting season 2).

    Anyways, great post as always.

    • I never watched Lost (although I did have it explained to me on sticky notes), but I understand there are a lot of running mysteries the writers hint at all the time. New series Doctor Who does this as well – although the mysteries are always revealed at the end of that season, instead of waiting until the end of the series. It makes for a very cool show. I really should give Lost a try one of these days – I hope you’ll check out Doctor Who!

      Thanks for reading!

    • Get your hands on an episode! Try “Blink” or “The Empty Child” to get you into the idea then start at the beginning of a season and enjoy.

  4. If I’m a Dr. Who fan who has written a stand-alone story for Dr. Who, but intend to try and have it made (one day.. ) is it still fan fiction?

    • Technically? I would say yes. Just don’t call it that when you’re submitting it. : ) I wish I could tell you how to go about that, but it’s outside my realm of expertise. : / I think that once it officially gets made into an episode, you can officially drop the label “fan fic.”

  5. super geek super geek

    i love doctor who especially that episode about the worlds worst traffic jam its called um uh oh gridlock! and that episode with those weird gasmask kids (are you my mummy?) oh and the one with the alternate universe and the cybermen awesome. oh and you know the episode with cybermen meet the darleks (exterminate! delete!) but my favorite… my favorite is the doctors daughter, but in that episode he shows really really really bad parenting. not showing up for his own daughters funeral thats a special day for people and if the bloody idiot had stuck around there would not be a confused time lordess flying around space without the 6 sacred items of the time lord wich are

    item:1 psychic paper
    the item that got him so many places he got one bloke thinking he was the king of belgum

    item:2 brillaince
    his brain. his ultimate weopen against all kinds of foes. jennys bright but shes no time lord

    item:3 tardus
    his mighty vessel through time and space is a blue box. but one thing i really like it regenerates as much as him

    item:4 sonic screwdriver
    some use whips some use swords some use lasers but not this child of gallaphray he uses a screwdriver his trademarked item it is his most useful tool

    item:5 reptuation
    the doctors history is a amazing thing and it adds a certain element to his character in fact he once used it to get rid of a giant eyeball

    item:6 name
    as far as i know the doctor has never revealed his true name through out the series and from past episodes time lords use fake names like the doctor and the master these add a certian amount of drama when someone says “Who are you?” and he says “I’m the doctor”

  6. have been a doctor who fan for a long time. I dont remember a weekend when i wouldnt sit down and just watch. This is an awesome review and i rediscovered why i love it so much

  7. Very well said. I love this show very much and the reasons you mentioned as to why it is so great are spot on. I would only emphasize the great writing. Doctor Who is so important to the people of UK that the writers who are writing the episodes are at their very best because of how important the show is to them and what it means to them.

    • Yes! I love the fact that guys like Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman have written episodes, and of course Davies and Moffat are amazing. And I love that, since the show’s been around so long, the writers and the new doctors actually grew up watching it and it’s a lifelong dream of theirs to be involved.

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