Bad Wolf & The Parting of the Ways (Joint review)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 22 June 2005 - Reviewed by Giles Holland

Can somebody please tell me why the hell it is that so-called professional scriptwriters seem physically incapable of writing coherent scripts? There are many things that can make a script good – pacing, action, insightful or entertaining dialogue, deeper questions and thoughts, originality, surprises – and many things that can make it bad – viz all the opposites of these things. But beyond all of this, there are a few things that a script must have in order to be called a finished script at all. It must, for example, be 45 minutes long in the case of Dr. Who. It must be technically realizeable given its budget. And it must be logically coherent. You can pen the most brilliantly entertaining story in the world, but if it doesn’t make sense, it’s not done.

Now Doctor Who is science fantasy, not science fiction, so there’s a lot of headroom in this regard. But even so, there still exists a standard. After running a whole season that mostly made sense – a first for Dr. Who - I was beginning to think that holes were a thing of the past, that somehow our new generation of writers had learned from the errors of the old, that they’d learned how to write. There was the baffling fact that the car somehow knew that it had to circle the church in Father’s Day – and yup, that sure ruined that episode in short order – but aside from that we were doing fairly well.

Then comes the season finale, and while it still managed to be one of the most fun of the twelve stories… Just to list a few brief examples to serve as food for my point here: How can the Daleks break into the TARDIS, no matter where it is? Why would they transmat the Doctor into reality TV (as opposed to, as Davies himself writes, a volcano)? Why, given the chance to disintegrate the Doctor rather than beam him aboard their vessel, do they let him run free, even going so far as to instruct blue chicky with wires in her to let him move unimpeded? And why do they then spend the rest of the story trying desperately to kill him? In fact, given that they’re terrified of him being the one factor in the Universe that could bring about their end, why would they go out of their way to bring him into the picture in the first place?

This isn’t nit-picking, nor the stomping ground of Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. This is basic scriptwriting 101.

Now this being time travel, and in particular being a story that ends with a God-like figure manipulating the whole timeline with omnipotent power, you could probably come up with any sort of half-baked explanation you like. That doesn’t excuse the fact that Davies simply didn’t bother to try.

People complain about deus ex machina (or should that be dei in the plural?), but at least a script with a deus ex machina is a finished script. It may be lazy and unfulfilling, but it’s done. A script that doesn’t make sense is not only lazy; it’s incompetent. It should still be on the writer’s office floor. If anyone is free to throw away the constraints of causality just to make a distracting hour of TV, then what’s the point in putting any effort in whatsoever? Why are we paying pro writers big bucks to not-do their job? Why not just get a drunk from the nearest pub to come up with something creative for a couple more pints?

Maybe Davies believes that a coherent plot is worth the price to pay for a slightly more interesting one. But doesn’t that sound like the plenary definition of a cheap thrill? Or maybe he thinks that because a large portion of his audience consists of children, he’s justified in ignoring plot logic, since they probably won’t notice anyway.

But here’s a lesson he seems to need: a large portion may be children, but the majority are still adults. And seeing as many of those adults are people who were children when the original series was being broadcast, and seeing as they are the very reason that the series is back in the first place, they deserve his attention. Besides, don’t we all want children’s shows that captivate us when we’re young but that we can look back on when we’re older like a favourite stuffed animal and say, ‘Yeah, that really was good.’ …as opposed to just shaking our heads and wondering how we were ever sucked in?

Hell, I think a story where there’s somebody hiding in the TARDIS so the Doctor materializes it underwater and opens the door sounds pretty exciting. Or how about one where giant ants come out of my butt and make me feed them sugar cubes? At least I’m being satirical, and so I suspect was Christopher Bidmead in 1980. But Davies is not. Get your $&^! together, and if you can’t take this seriously, move over for someone who can.