Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lessons from Doctor Who: Character Trumps Everything

Let me set a scene.

Open to inside of some kind of vessel, or room, which has a glowing console in the middle, overflowing with gadgets and tended by a man in a blue suit and interesting ideas about hair styling.

Noise: sound of large ship. IMPACT! Man in blue suit goes flying, prow of a ship and accompanying sounds appear through the walls of the room. Dust settles.

Man: What? WHAT? [cough] [crawls to life saver on floor. flips it over. TITANIC] [looks up] ...what.

Man in blue suit with funky hair is able to somehow "pedal" the ship back out of his wall. Blue box materializes in Titanic. Man walks out of blue box wearing black suit with hands stuffed in pockets, chin lifted.There are small red people running around. Goes to window. Oh wait, we're above earth. Flying in space. In the Titanic.

Man: Riiight...

Cue strange music and a blue box flying through a colorful vortex.

Sound strange? It gets even better (worse?), as we encounter "Heavenly Hosts" that malfunction and then start killing people with their halos, a millionaire with only a head and very shiney tooth, a couple dressed in purple cowboy get-up, a pretty waitress who wants to see the stars, a terrorized London in Christmas Eve, among more cacophonies of strange characters and plot turnings.

This is my favourite show. But it seems, by this episode, to be worthy of being no one's favourite show. Admittedly, it stands among the worser Doctor Who episodes ever concocted (I do not say THE worse. I'm looking at you, Love and Monsters.) This episode, however, holds a tinge of nostalgic for me, because this is where I started.

My sister and I ended this episode, I think, with the same conclusion: this show is really strange, but we like that guy who walks strange, talks British, and is apparently 903 years old. Our liking even survived what I now think of brilliant but then thought as astronomically stupid (really, it's both) next episode, Partners in Crime.

The show Doctor Who demonstrates, I believe, the extreme power of character in any story. It also shows the importance of good dialogue and writing, but there are dips when the show has neither, and even when the plots are good, they still hold a measure of extreme silliness (don't try and deny it, Whovians--you know it's true!).

My sister and I attempted those next episodes and got hooked on the story for basically one reason: the Doctor. He holds the entire show together. Without him, the show is not worth watching. With a character as good as the Doctor you can survived stupid plots, stupider plots, silly aliens, plot holes, sillier aliens, even stupider plots, bad acting, gaps in logic, and a huge arsenal of other things that writers might think of as necessary to keep readers or watchers hooked. No, really, all you need is a complex character that we love to follow (though great plots and questions certainly help), even through all time and space.

So, a lesson from Doctor Who: there is absolutely nothing more important in a compelling story than your characters. Doctor Who is living proof. And the fact that it's still living is itself an amazing feat: 49 years, and still going strong. That's not merely luck.


All images found through google images, and probably pinched in some way or form from the BBC. As I'm analyzing and advertising their show, I hope they don't mind.


Katie Oostman said...

'interesting ideas about hair styling' Ah yes~

And I am right there with you on the Titanic and Love and Monsters episodes. Ick. But that is what I love about characters. Even if you botch everything else, the audience will hold on for them. The Doctor is worth holding on for. :)

Angela said...

Exactly how I feel about the show. And most books/movies. :P

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