We are on the cusp of the reveal for the Doctor Who series 12 arc. It’s looking like Chris Chibnall’s answer to the Cartmel Masterplan. Will it be clever, self-indulgent or just plain dull? I’ve given many thoughts on the upcoming Timeless Children elsewhere (here and here to be exact) but wanted here to consider the whole topic of arcs in Doctor Who. I also demonstrate how few decent arcs we’ve actually had.
Arks in Doctor Who
We’ve had arks for a long time. Back in 1966 we had Doctor Who: The Ark with the First Doctor, Steven and Dodo in the far future. We had The Ark in Space in 1975 with the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan vs the Wirrn. Then of course it’s not that kind of ark!
Arcs in Doctor Who
Back on track we had Arc of Infinity in 1983 for the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Omega. But still the wrong kind of arc.
By story/series arc I think we mean a set of stories with a narrative connection. The Dalek’s Masterplan is the classic example. The much derided Trial of a Timelord was an arc. A set of stories each complete and yet each laying clues to a bigger story. It ended erratically with the meta story taking over but it was an arc.
We had the quest for the Key to Time – connected stories building a quest.
It’s been done before and can work.
Then we come to the twenty-first century and the post-Buffy revival. Now we have so-called arcs everywhere.
Bad Wolf and beyond
We liked the Bad Wolf reveal in the good old days of the Ninth Doctor and Rose. It joined dots across the series, but they weren’t narrative. They didn’t drive any story development. To an extent they were RTD being clever and adding Easter Eggs.
Later series had little themes. I don’t mind a theme.
Then Stephen Moffat went mad for the idea and we have odd ideas such as the exploding TARDIS or killing the Doctor. They drove some story and were thematic. In some way they were arcs, unlike the mess that was the hybrid arc. No arc there at all.
The same is true of the quest for Gallifrey. We know it’s back following Day of the Doctor but instead of looking for it, the Doctor has a bunch of adventures then it appears behind a crack on Trenzalore. That’s not an arc, that’s linking the end of a series to the beginning to close it off.
This brings us to…
The Timeless Child arc
Barring miracles on Sunday, I don’t think this is much of an arc. Two two-part episodes bracket the Master / Gallifrey segment, and the Villa Diodati acts as a separate entry. That aside it’s all been on Earth and the Doctor nips to Gallifrey in her spare time and scans for the Master to fill time. Where’s the quest? The search? Why isn’t she deep in the ruins looking for clues? Looking for Rassilon? Looking for other survivors? Going to Karn even. It’s not really an arc!
I look forward to being completely wrong on Sunday. I’ll let you know.