The crimes of Russell T Davies against Doctor Who

This list refers exclusively to the Doctor Who universe as I am not familiar enough with his other work to comment.

This list is also my own personal opinion… etc etc.

First – the good things:

Bringing Doctor Who back to our screens. Surely no Doctor Who fan can argue with this? The series should never have been cancelled in the first place (damn Michael Grade!) As the numerous books, magazines, unofficial video releases, audio releases and so on that appeared during it’s time off-air surely proved, the audience was very much still there. Getting Doctor Who back on screen was long overdue and for that I applaud RTD.

Torchwood. I know, not to everyone’s liking, but I personally really like Torchwood (although the last series was it’s weakest). I like the idea of a Doctor Who-type scenario spiced up by sex and violence. It was something already touched on in some of the New Adventures books from Virgin – an attempt to take Doctor Who very much in to the ‘adult audience’ realm, rather than child or family. I think it would have been a mistake to take the TV Doctor in that direction so the creation of Torchwood allowed it to happen without ruining the family appeal of Doctor Who itself.

And now, the case for the prosecution (in no particular order).

1. Destroying the Time Lords

Many of the best original Doctor Who stories involved the on/off relationship between The Doctor and his race. The fact he was a renegade; their exiling him to Earth for a time; making him president; the battles against evil Time Lords; the Tardis being taken over by the Time Lords and the Doctor sent on adventures against his will to help them out… the list goes one. Making the Doctor the last surviving Time Lord and cutting off a whole raft of plot possibilities was a crime against the series and turned our renegade Doctor into a war hero/criminal (depending on your point of view). Plus it allowed some unforgiveably sickly and melodramatic scenes of angst and guilt to creep into the adventures.

2. Making the Doctor reliant on his assistants for rescue

Yes, there were times right back to William Hartnell when the Doctor needed to be rescued by one or more of his assistants, but the new series, particularly during Christopher Eccelston’s time, made him into someone incapable of looking after himself. Right from the first episode, with Rose swinging down to rescue the Doctor from the Auton holding him, it was obvious the Doctor/Assistant dynamic had changed and not for the better. The Doctor is more than capable of handling himself and his need for assistants has always been more about companionship than a physical need for their aid.

3. Romantically linking the Doctor and his assistants

No!!!! The relationship between Doctor and assistants has always been of the teacher/student or even father/child type. At most you could call them friends. To introduce romance into that relationship was catastophic and has served no useful purpose. The occasional romantic link between the Doctor and characters from a particular storyline goes right back to William Hartnell and (albeit in a very innocent and suggested way, rather than explicit) but not with his assistants!

4. Giving the assistants a family life

Once an assistant is with the Doctor, and apart from the occasional bit of homesickness in the run up to a change, they have no family life and certainly did not return to it time and boring time again. Roses’s mother? Please! This is the Doctor we’re talking about here, not some social worker. And it continues right through to the current assistant and her annoying waste-of-space boyfriend. Turning Doctor Who into something dangerously close to a soap opera at times is a major crime against the whole drive of the series.

5. Story length

The ability to develop a story and characters over 4,6 or 8 episodes (sometimes even more) gave a great scope for complex and well crafted plots. Constricting everything into one 45/50 minute episode (and the occasional two-parter) has removed that element completely. What we have been left with, particularly in the most recent season (and I know this isn’t directly RTD but he started it!), is some interesting set-ups and possibilities that are then rushed to an unsatisfying conclusion to fit in the time allowed. I know this is not unique to the re-vamped series, there were times in the original when outside constraints led to rewrites and sometimes whole episodes being cut and stories crammed into shorter time periods than originally intended, but it seems to happen every week now.

6. The Sontarans

Turning war-like aliens into laughable dwarfs with an even more laughable chant (sonta-ha or whatever it was). Oh dear.

7. The Cybermen

Possibly the greatest crime of all? Taking alien cybernetic creatures and turning them into stiff, clunking robotic creations of a human being in a different dimension. Terrible decision! I don’t think I can say any more on this, other than it is one of the most annoying and needless changes made. Bring back the original alien cybermen!!!!

I’m sure there are more I’ve forgotten and there is one subject I must comment on, although I don’t consider it one of his major ‘crimes’.

The Daleks

Actually, I don’t have a lot of complaints about RTD’s treatment of the Daleks. Most of the new things (the ability to fly and so on) are fine – they levitated up stairs back in Remembrance Of The Daleks with Sylvester McCoy so nothing particularly new there, just an extension of accepted lore. I am dubious about the Daleks with emotions and the Dalek/Human combination in the New York story was just plain bad, but otherwise not too much to criticise.

Conclusion

Having said all of the above – the vast majority of ‘crimes’ are overshadowed by that one great thing he did of bringing Doctor Who back to our screens (although the ruination of the cybermen gives me pause for thought on that). I’d rather have Doctor Who as it is now than no Doctor at all on TV, and just maybe some of the new fans will be interested enough to search out the original series on DVD. If only we could go back in time and keep the scripts, acting, characterisation etc. as they were but change the production values and special effects to the current standard – that would create the ultimate Doctor Who. The original was always deserving of a bigger budget and better production values than it got. Doctor Who had to evolve, in fact it always has done if you watch from William Hartnell right through to Sylvester McCoy, and things change, but some of those changes seem to have been changes for the sake of change and in no way improve the series. I like the new Doctor Who, but I love the originals, and that’s the subtle difference.

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4 thoughts on “The crimes of Russell T Davies against Doctor Who

  1. most of these “crimes” have made the show better and lets not forget without his there would be no new series or torchwood or SJA

    old fart and geek

    • As I said in my original post, I am grateful to RTD for the new series being on and for Torchwood and, yes, even for The Sarah Jane Adventures but as for the ‘crimes’ making the show better? Not a chance! The only thing that makes the show better than the original is the production values. If you prefer soap opera to science fiction adventure then, yes, the show is better. Otherwise we will just have to disagree. And it’s not just me, my 19 year old son, who has seen some of the old ones (not the black and white ones, that’s too much to ask) agrees on most of my points. In particular the cybermen one – he absolutely hates the new cybermen, probably more than I do.

      • I actually think I prefer RTD’s humanization of the Doctor, because now we actually feel emotionally invested in him. He has flaws, which are counteracted by his human companions. Flaws make a character more interesting, as well as more identifiable (which is crucial for a likable protagonist.)

        I disagree that it’s a Soap Opera, but it’s a dramatic, Sci-Fi adventure. Just because it’s Sci-Fi doesn’t mean it has to be the old school, cookie cutter Sci-Fi. Stories, and the ways in which we tell them, are allowed to change, and evolve… otherwise we are left with repetitive, stupefying, childish dribble that essentially inhibits character growth over the arc of a season/series (sorry Steven Moffat.) Why shouldn’t the Doctor be allowed to fall in love? Why should he have exactly the same relationship with every companion? Surely after spending so much time on board with these pretty ladies (who look visually like the same race as the Doctor) he could conceivably develop said feelings. This defense that “the old Doctor would have never…” is weak because it’s 2010, DW is for a different audience, and the nostalgia factor is the only part of the show you seem to appreciate, as if you were against change in general. Moffat’s Doctor is more childish, more predictable, hollow, and essentially serves as fan service for the Doctor Who “purists,” and also entertains small children.

        Also, it’s really not surprising that your son would think the same way about the show as you… assuming you raised him, and got him into Doctor Who in the first place (thusly shaping his expectations of what the show “should” be.)

      • It’s fair enough that you prefer the new one, I’m sure lots of people do. I completely agree that characters and series need to evolve (I said as much I think) but that doesn’t mean that all change is good. The Doctor can certainly fall in love (in has been hinted at previously) but with just about every assistant? With Rose it developed in a believable way, but then it happened again and again etc. And yes, I know sometimes it was the assistant and the whole unrequired love thing but it still got repetitive and unbelievable. Like you say, different assistants, different relationships but that wasn’t happening.

        Character is all important in any drama but I personally don’t particularly like the developments RTD made to a Doctor that had already changed siginificantly since those first ones in the 1960’s and was already developing in what I thought was a very interesting way and one with great potential which was just discarded with the new series.

        I’m not sure why you feel Moffat’s Doctor would appeal to purists… is that what I am? Not sure. Anyway, I agree with your comments about the latest incarnation of the doctor and, to be fair to RTD, in hindsight my comments about the development of an idea and then a quick and rushed climax to the story seem more applicable to this latest Doctor than to RTD’s versions.

        I am not against change (just against change for the sake of change and nothing else). I find the best way to appreciate the new Doctor is not to think of it as a continuation of the original but as a completely separate thing, and an enjoyable one. I think it’s a shame that RTD made some, in my opinion, bad dramatic choices (back to the cybermen in particular again : ) and the involvement of an assistant’s family was wrong for me at least.

        You’re no doubt right about my son… can’t help that!

        I stick to my original feelings – I like the new Doctor but I love the old, and I also stick to my belief that RTD made changes that were unnecessary and did not improve or advance the character or the possibilities for future development. However, in the end it’s all about personal preference, I’m just sorry that some very interesting developments of the character that was happening around the time the series was cancelled were completely discarded and that some of the changes felt too much like “new broom” management – change to show who was in charge.

        And anyone who prefers the stiff, clunking robotic cybermen… well, there’s no hope.

        Thanks for your comments. I knew this would stir some people up 🙂

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