Ditch the TARDIS! Seven ways Russell T Davies could revive Doctor Who | Doctor Who
Doctor Who is perceived to be in the doldrums. Odds go down and the show began to feel outclassed by sci-fi contemporaries such as WandaVision or The Mandalorian. It’s far from the BBC’s jewel in the crown of family drama – as it was in 2009, when BBC One’s Christmas identities were all based around David Tennant hitching his TARDIS to flying reindeer. But, for its 60th anniversary next year, acclaimed screenwriter Russell T Davies is returning as showrunner – and hopefully reigniting the fortunes of the series he once turned into a smash hit. That’s what he needs to do to reinvigorate the show.
Double the fun and adventure
Leave the dark, gritty reboots of beloved DC movies characters and return to the program’s adventure roots. It was originally an action show with Doctor Who, no in regards to the character. We don’t need to know that the Doctor is wracked with the anguish of having lived for centuries – we just need to know that something, somewhere is wrong, and needs to be fixed, that the Doctor and his friends are in danger, and they’ll get out of it using their brains instead of their brawn.
Decide that less is more
The BBC’s budget for Doctor Who is miniscule compared to the amount Amazon, Disney+, Netflix and others can spend on episodes of their sci-fi and fantasy shows. Rather than trying to compete, week after week, the show could ditch the traditional series format and focus on making two or three movie specials each year. This would provide the ability to increase the production budget, while providing additional advertising opportunities throughout the year.
Place it (mostly) in the past
Any sci-fi franchise can create a multiverse or imagine future dystopias. But the Tardis gives Doctor Who the perhaps unique opportunity to take the viewer back in time to meet key historical figures and witness pivotal moments in history – with an added alien threat. But why not go further? Pick a companion from the 1990s, 1930s, or 1880s and create a series primarily from that era, exploring modern issues through attitudes of the past. Think Ashes to Ashes, but with monsters.
Ditch the TARDIS for a while
Alternatively, why not force a huge change in story structure on the writers? Jon Pertwee’s Doctor has been exiled to Earth – mainly for BBC budgetary reasons – but a variant of the format that hasn’t been made on TV – over a long period of time – is a doctor in search of a lost Tardis. The hunt for the time machine would become the MacGuffin of the week, and we’d see a Doctor hitchhiking across the galaxy on an ongoing quest.
A “Doctor of the week” every week
What if there was no new doctor? With a quick narrative device to produce Unstable Regeneration, you could have a new high-level Doctor every week. Suddenly, it is possible to engage Hugh Grant, Judi Dench or Riz Ahmed at the controls of the TARDIS, when it is enough to persuade them to do a few weeks of filming – rather than a commitment of three series. Plus, you get all the publicity of a new Doctor reveal over and over again.
Shamelessly aim for 12 years
The curse of a long-running fantasy franchise is that you end up with adult fans demanding more and more adult stories, forgetting that they fell in love with the idea of the show as kids. Russell T Davies could build the fanbase for the next 60 years, with an earlier timeslot, and cast a young Doctor with teenage companions to go wild in space. Shows such as Sarah Jane Adventures, Creeped Out and MI High have shown that the BBC can produce adventure programming for older children, with enough nods to cinematic pastiches, the wider world and lessons in moral to make adults smile, and provide that wider family appeal.
Do whatever you want – you’re Russell T Davies!
Davies once described Doctor Who as “the most difficult show to write on television”, but proposed its revival to the BBC in the early 000s as simply a story of friends having adventures in the space. Whatever form it takes in 2023, we can expect a surprise. He told the Radio Times in February that he was already writing and that “there are things coming that are whole new ways of telling the stories that have never been done before, so it just feels new…C is a self-renewing spectacle.”
Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devilsfeaturing Jodie Whittakerbroadcast on BBC One at 7.10pm on Easter Sunday. Russell T Davies’ first episode as showrunner is set to be for Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary in November 2023.