Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Doctor Who: If I ran the zoo: Conclusion
This is the final installment covering the multi-season story arc I would produce if I were showrunner for Doctor Who.
Part Three: Stories
When we last left the Doctor, he had been abandoned by his companions who felt betrayed by his machinations. His future self arrived, and the companions who had abandoned the Doctor joined the future version on his travels.
We’ll split the show between the Doctors of different eras. The new Doctor radiates charisma like a sun, enthusiastic and utterly charming, and the old Doctor is at his lowest desperate and grubby and petty. The new Doctor has easy solutions to complex problems, and the old Doctor lights desperate firebreaks, compromises and often has to choose the lesser evil. The new Doctor takes his companions on exciting adventures and lavishes attention on them
Over time, but we’ll slowly reveal his dark side. At first his companions adore him, though Daisy is always somewhat reserved, but they have their doubts, which eventually progress to fears as they see him for what he is. He’s the Tenth Doctor, but shown in such a way that highlights his failings, rather than excusing them as the show did.
He picks favorites. When he’s captured by the Daleks, he builds them a doomsday device that will kill billions, rather than a treasured companion to be hurt.
He loves humanity, but as one loves a favorite pet. He’s amused by our tricks. Whenever we try to advance beyond a certain technological threshold, he’ll knock us back down, ostensibly because we’re not ready for the knowledge, but really because he likes culture as it is, and doesn’t want it to change.
When he destroys the Harriett Jones of a world in a fit of pique, we see the consequences, the millions of thrown into chaos, and we see it on a smaller scale, when his disproportionate revenge destroys the lives of those who offended him.
Meanwhile, the old Doctor is trying to think of a way to conspire against a foe who already knows every move he will make. He charges to Prisoner to conspire against his future self and then dismisses him, so his future self will not know what to expect. He programs several stored procedures into the TARDIS, and then contrives to have himself judged by an alien race that takes memories as a form of punishment so his future self won’t know what to expect. He realizes how ridiculous is, but he does it anyway, because he’s out of good options.
Near the end of an episode, the New Doctor has done something egregious. Let’s say he topples a society because they keep pets of some animals. “Don’t you know they become sentient in 50,000 years?!” he roars in his righteous indignation.
Hector and Dorothy try to intervene, but they are unsuccessful. “I’ll deal with you later.” He knocks the civilization down to barbarism, then departs. His companions try to flee whilst he’s doing this (They hear the exchange as they run “Don't kill me. Please.” “I'm so sorry…”) but they turn down a city street and find that it’s somehow just a corridor in the TARDIS. “Going somewhere?”
Cut to the console room, where the New Doctor shivers with icy anger as he tries to figure out how to
We flash back a bit to show that Daisy has summoned him, and then we have the confrontation between the old and the new. I can’t find the exact quote about the structure of Damnation Alley, but it’s something along the line of “A good man goes bad and a bad man goes good and they meet in the middle.”
There are measures and counter-measures, elaborate feints and reversals, but in the end, the old Doctor approaches the new, takes hold of his head, and says “Contact.”
The battle moves the mental plane, and becomes one of dueling philosophies. We see how his bad deeds grew out of the best of intentions, but we also see witness the flaws of the old Doctor’s approach, how he needs to temper the aid he gives with compassion.
On the mental plane, they accept their flaws, and the physical world, both men are unconscious. The old Doctor begins regenerating, but merges into the body of the new, as did the Watcher when Four regenerated into Five. Perhaps he’ll even have the same last words: “It's the end... But the moment has been prepared for.”
His first act is to offer to make amends with his companions. They’re nervous at first, but they give him a chance. The new Doctor has a fresh lease on life, and has a chance to become the hero he always imagined he was. I’m imagining him like Bill Murray at the end of Groundhog’s Day. He knows everything about everybody, is deeply interested in their lives. He always knows what to say to say to make their day better, and what to do to make their lives better. Diplomatic, kind, enthusiastic but humble, tempered by his vicissitudes. He was very wrong very a long time, and that informs his actions. While Moffat’s stories were often about how important the Doctor is, and his role in the cosmos, I want to go the opposite direction. This Doctor will be almost invisible as he nudges his companions and those they meet towards the voices of their better angels. He won’t even inspire them directly, but will show them others whom he knows will inspire them.
There will be other Time Lords for the Doctor to meet, but only exiles and renegades. Gallifrey itself will mostly be kept off stage. We’ll return to the Time Lords of the Troughton era, which was never really the dominant portrayal, but it’s the one I prefer. I want them to watch the universe with intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic. I'm certainly not interested in the modern portrayal of Gallifrey, with a Doctor who is the best Time Lord ever, and the others are so feckless they can barely stop drooling on themselves long enough to sit on the curb and clap when he goes by. My favoured interpretation is a Doctor who is not as technically adept as his fellows, but who stands above them as first among equals because he has experienced so much and has a much broader perspective than those who have never left Gallifrey.
City of Death is just about the perfect Doctor Who story, and while we can’t tell it every week, we can have a few stories that progress along those lines. I think Doctor Who, moreso than most modern genre series, can work along a mostly episodic format. We’re not going to end the universe for every finale. We’ll tell smaller, more personal stories, with strong supporting casts, our latter day Jagos and Lightfoots (Lightfeet?). The Prisoner may return as an adversary, but this Doctor will follow the example of Abraham Lincoln and destroy his enemies by making them his friends.