The Resurrection of The Doctor: How Russell T Davies can revive the flailing show

 

The Doctor has faced many enemies throughout the years, from Daleks to Weeping Angels, but these weren’t the Time Lord’s greatest foes. The Doctor’s biggest nemesis has always been bad writing!

The ‘classic’ era of the show had its share of duff episodes – Time & The Rani and The Twin Dilemma spring to mind – but the good often outweighed the bad. In recent times, the opposite has been true.

When the show regenerated in 2015 with Russell T Davies at the helm and Christopher Eccleston in the lead, the show gained a lot of new fans thanks to the (mostly) decent writing that kept us gripped throughout the first season’s run.

Highlights of that season included The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, and Father’s Day which still rank among the best episodes of Doctor Who to date. Admittedly, not every episode of Eccleston’s run can be considered a classic – the storylines featuring the Slitheen were fairly embarrassing – but more often than not, the quality of writing was, to quote Eccleston’s Doctor, fantastic!

Davies remained with the show for four seasons, successfully ushering in one of the most beloved Doctors of all time – David Tennant – before departing the show in 2009. Steven Moffat took over as showrunner a year later and thanks to some great episodes and the casting of Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, the show went from strength to strength.

And then it all went horribly wrong.

Chris Chibnall took over from Moffat in 2018 and the show went downhill – fast. The fault doesn’t lie with Jodie Whittaker – she was a decent Doctor given duff material – but the stories she featured in were often bland and overly complicated. Then there was The Timeless Child storyline that upended everything we knew about the Time Lord. Long-time fans of the show were very unhappy with the way Chibnall retconned the show, more so because it opened up a lot of plot holes that Chibnall ultimately failed to close.

As a consequence, the show suffered from its lowest ratings in years, with 2022’s New Year’s Day special drawing in just 3.4 million viewers. Previous Doctor Who specials had viewing figures of 9 million or more so it’s clear that people had long since lost interest in the adventures of the Doctor.

Chris Chibnall has now stepped down from the role of showrunner and Jodie Whittaker has exited the Tardis. Russell T Davies is back at the helm and it can be assumed that he has been brought back to deliver the high-quality writing that the series benefitted from during his previous time on the show.

David Tennant will be returning as the Doctor, which could be considered something of a surprise, but as he is a favourite among fans, it can be assumed that this is the BBC’s way to drag back those viewers who have long since left the show kicking and screaming.

Tennant won’t be with the show for very long as the very talented Ncuti Gatwa will take his rightful place as the Doctor at the tail-end of 2023. We’re sure he’ll be brilliant but to ensure his time in the Tardis is a rewarding and enjoyable one, Davies needs to work his magic to revive the flailing show. As he is both a brilliant writer and a long-time Doctor Who devotee, we’re sure he’ll do an excellent job. But if he’s looking for a few pointers, we recommend the following to him.

More memorable storylines

Which episodes of Doctor Who do you most remember? Chances are, very few of them will be from Jodie Whittaker’s time on the show. Many of her storylines have been downright forgettable, even though the actress has done her best to rise above the weak writing.

We remember episodes from the Davies era because of the high emotional stakes, memorable villains, and exciting setpieces. We don’t remember many episodes from the Chibnall era because the majority of the stories during his tenure lacked those very same things.

If Davies can deliver stories of the calibre of the haunting Silence in the Library or the heartbreaking Human Nature, we will have more incentive to rewatch these stories and remember them with fondness.

Fewer companions

The more people there are in the Tardis, the less there is for the others to do, as the writing on the Whittaker episodes has proved. Take Dan (John Bishop) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) as examples. They didn’t make much of an impact because their characters were blandly written and the majority of screen-time saw them standing around in the background looking confused.

With better writing and a more thought-out character arc, both could have been improved. Dan’s character was especially under-served, more so in the recent Power Of The Doctor when he made an abrupt exit near the beginning of the episode, presumably because the writers didn’t have anything for him to do.

We don’t know how many companions will join Ncuti Gatwa when he takes over the reins of the Tardis but I would argue that he doesn’t need more than one. If there are too many there is the danger that some of them will be as thinly written as Dan was. Not only will that be frustrating for us, the viewers, but it will also be frustrating for the actors who want to make their mark on the show.

No more Daleks!

It’s time to exterminate the Daleks as they are no longer the threat that they used to be. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has long since tired of them so perhaps Davies should put them in a retirement home for redundant aliens. Not only Daleks but the Cybermen too as they are also guilty of invading the Earth and our televisions too many times now for us to fully care about them.

I have no problem with Davies bringing back other aliens from the show’s past (with the exception of the Slitheen) but he should have a good reason for their return beyond just fan service. I was excited when Chibnall brought back the Sea Devils as they were a favourite of mine when I was a kid but once again, bad writing scuppered their return. Chibnall seemed to be appealing to long-term fans of the show who remembered the Sea Devils as I did. But as he forgot to craft an engaging storyline around them, their return became something of a missed opportunity.

Of course, Davies doesn’t need to rely on past monsters. While I would love to see the Daemons or the Ogrons again (I’m less enthused about the Kandy Man), the show would benefit from new antagonists challenging the Doctor during his adventures through time and space. Provided they are properly scary like the Daleks used to be, we would have extra reason to be excited about the upcoming series.

No more retconning

Who is the Doctor? Where did they come from? We don’t really know anymore and neither does the Doctor as their memory was apparently wiped a long long time ago! This creates a sense of mystery about the character but as mentioned earlier, it also creates plot holes as what we have always been told about the Doctor – such as their having a limited regeneration cycle – might no longer be true.

Chibnall may have wanted to shake up the series with the Timeless Child plotline but he did much to shake up long-term fans of the show too. Not everybody was happy about the Doctor’s new origin story and this may have impacted viewing figures. Davies now has the job of taking the show forward. He needs to win back old fans as well as bring in a new audience and to do this, he needs to be respectful of both.

It doesn’t seem like he will fix the holes that Chibnall has created but instead of making any more sweeping changes, he should simply do what he has always done best: deliver exciting new adventures for the Doctor to go on. This should please most fans of the Time Lord (or whatever it is the Doctor can now be considered to be).

What do you think Davies should do?

If you’re a fan of the show, you will likely have ideas of your own about its future.

Should Davies continue the Timeless Child storyline or should he forget it ever happened? Should he bring back aliens from the Doctor’s past or should he conjure up new foes for the Doctor to face up against? Should he have one companion or should he fill the Tardis with enough people to make up an intergalactic football team?

Let us know your thoughts about the upcoming series in the comments below!


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