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’.
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.
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.