Why does Doctor Who need a masterplan?

With the reveal of the Chibnall Masterplan for Doctor Who in The Timeless Children and in light of the furore over what it means (including several posts of my own), I thought it worth reflecting on if / why the show needs a reset. In a nutshell I believe these things are both inevitable and important. Their content is a different matter. We shall see more of the current ideas pan out in series 13. Then we may truly judge.

Masterplans in Doctor Who

There have been points at which showrunners / producers / the BBC have decided Doctor Who needs to change. This is for a variety of reasons, including keeping it fresh and modern. These things aren’t always Masterplans, but do set a character and tone for the show. There are also themes for a season, which overlap to an extent

Off the top of my head a list might include:

  • The Third Doctor exiled to Earth to save money – is this just a theme?
  • Various changes to transmission days / episode length. This is structural, affects both audience and story design but is more of a meta-change than a change within
  • The Cartmel Masterplan!
  • The many ideas hidden behind the Eight Doctor‘s solo TV outing in The Movie
  • RTD and the Time War allowing the show to come back without immense amounts of baggage and also being a good way to bury continuity probems
  • Bad Wolf / Torchwood launch I consider to be themes
  • Various Steven Moffat ideas: exploding TARDIS / crack in time, the hybrid, bringing back Gallifrey by retconning in Day of the Doctor
  • The Chibnall Masterplan.

So why do we need Masterplans?

Many of the clues are in the above. The show has a massive legacy. Even if the BBC can ignore comics, books and Big Finish audio complications, it has no canon and it does have nearly sixty years of ideas. A lot of the time there has been no ownership of continuity beyond a certain level. Ideas appear, develop, die away. But. There’s a big but. The ideas are still lying around.

There have been 100s of writers / producers / script editors and anyone else shaping the show here and there. There are too many pieces to double-check every time a script is submitted. I know first hand the BBC does have some checks it goes through (I got picked up on having an alien race whose name sounded like something from a Fifth Doctor story), but these can’t catch everything.

There’s an obvious list of problems:

  • UNIT dating – just when do the stories take place?
  • Atlantis sinking on more than one occasion
  • Far, far, FAR too many stories set on Earth, overlapping each other in such a way as to make a mockery of any sense of plausibility.

Never mind such oddities as:

  • Just why was the TARDIS meant to have exploded?
  • What was going on with Amy not remembering the Daleks
  • The Pandorica
  • Amy remembering the Doctor to reinsert him in reality (which had been massively reset) after the Pandorica events
  • Rory coming back as an Auton
  • How come Lady Me (Ashildr) gets to be immortal from just a small bit of tech and live to the very, very end of time?
  • The paradigm Daleks…

I’m sure everyone reading this has their own pet hates. The show has become too big, too many questions, too many yes but… (I don’t like Time Lords only being on Gallifrey for example. Not a problem now!). Add the fan obsession with ratings, continuity and speculation (guilty as charged) and the show either needs a rest or a whittling down to refocus.

We may like what we’ve seen of Chris Chibnall’s ideas, but at least he has them and is having what seems to be a systematic attempt to recast the show to give it focus.

Until the next showrunner, that is!

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