I have started my journey into story appreciation and structure with the period of Doctor Who, which I like to refer to as New Who. It comprises the work of three showrunners and the adventures of the Ninth through the Thirteenth incarnations of the Doctor. I do not plan to include Torchwood, or other spin-offs this go-around. It’s not because they lack something, but because I feel like this version of Doctor Who stands very well on its own.
Eventually, I plan to dip into some of Classic Who, as well as what I’m calling New New Who, which begins on Disney+ in America later this month.
This show’s entry follows the style of Dan Harmon’s story circle.
Warning: spoilers ahead (can you spoil a show from 2005?)
The first series of New Who follows the adventures of the Ninth official incarnation of the alien, death-defying, shapeshifting Time Lord known as Doctor Who, or as he prefers, “The Doctor.” The theoretical “last of his kind,” The Doctor almost always travels time and space with a companion or two. They are usually young human characters, so we can relate to all the bizarre antics The Doctor gets up to.
I like to think of a companion entering The Doctor’s world like someone visiting the Addams Family. As an audience, we need characters somewhat anchored in a reality we can agree with and understand boggling for us at all the world-saving weirdness that’s coming our way. The tragic part of many companions is that once they are fully attuned to the wild universe the Doctor lives in, they must leave the nest of the TARDIS, and either retire from adventure, return to Earth, or venture out into space on their journey to make way for fresh eyes. In the saddest cases, a companion might die, have their memory erased, or get trapped in a parallel dimension.
I know I’m starting out doing write-ups of a series that started in 2005. I’m okay with that. Just wait until I eventually hop in my own TARDIS and head back to 1993 to cover the X-Files.
In this series, the primary companion is a young woman, Rose Tyler, and she brings with her the support characters of her boyfriend Mickey, and her mom Jackie. Jackie is especially interesting because it’s the first time any parent of a companion has been involved in shaking up the narrative. They remain important, if not always present, the entire time she travels with The Doctor. For this blog, I intend to think of the leads as simply The Doctor, Rose, Mickey, and Jackie. I could spend a ton of time listing cast members and that entire angle, but since I’m focusing on the story, I think I’ll just stick to the character names.
When applying Dan Harmon’s eight-part story circle, I’m used to looking at it about his Community sitcom series. He notes that early in each story, you can see distinct characters in the ensemble assert themselves as the lead at the beginning. I’ll be on the lookout for that as I go through these shows.
This one’s titled “Rose.” Guess who’s looking for big excitement, and a change in her life? I can’t guarantee that every one of these is going to follow the format exactly. I don’t expect all of them to. I do, however, expect many of these to work out and follow the example. Even multi-parters on some level should follow the pattern, so let’s look at Rose.
1) In a zone of comfort
In a zone of comfort, Rose begins her day by getting up and going to work at a shop and having lunch with her boyfriend. She’s fairly carefree, but you can tell she feels like something is missing in her life. On her way home, she gets told to take extra cash down to the basement. We quickly see that where she works, she is at the absolute bottom of the food chain, metaphorically. She’s headed down through an elevator where the only people she knows are already dead and the monsters are waking up. The zone of comfort quickly falls away when she meets the most unusual man she’s ever met. He’s a strange heroic character who wants to blow up the very building where she works. She doesn’t need this place anymore. Rose has got places to go.
2) They desire something
Everyone makes a big fuss over Rose. Her mother and her boyfriend try to tell her what to do. Her mom thinks she should get money for working somewhere that doesn’t care about her, and her boyfriend just wants to go to the pub like it was nothing. Even though the fire from the explosion the Doctor caused is still on the news. Rose doesn’t care about any of that anymore. Rose only wants to know who the mysterious man is. It’s funny when she complains to her mother about the loose cat flap in the door because they’re going to let in strays. The Doctor is a stray floating around the galaxy moving from one mission to another. Rose says the clear motivating desire, and where of course supposed to relate to her and be on her side. The Doctor is still an alien mystery even though many of us already know who he is from Classic Doctor Who. Here we are still learning about him and finding out what kind of tragic story is in his current background.
3) Enter an unfamiliar situation
After the Doctor saves Rose from the living plastic arm, she chases him out and won’t leave him alone until he speaks to her. He tells her she can get people killed if she talks, but she doesn’t care. She’s going to find out everything she can about him. She presses him for information; she wants in on the mystery. I don’t even think she knows why she wants in on the mystery yet except that she’s not satisfied with her life. She thinks she can do something better or something different, rather than sitting on the couch. Because of the big speech about the earth turning underneath her, she has to make a choice. Her choice is to follow, but the doctor cuts her off and gets away. It’s the first time we hear the noise of the TARDIS materializing in the series. She is now in unfamiliar territory and looking for a way to make it back out.
4) Adapt to the situation
If the doctor will not help her, then Rose, who has already decided that she’s in this, will do it for herself. She’s resourceful even though she doesn’t exactly know what she’s getting herself into or what she’s doing. She goes to visit her boyfriend Mickey, who has a computer, and she knows enough about it to get searching. She looks up all the clues she can figure out about him. That quickly leads her to a local conspiracy theorist’s website, which has an unwitting knack for tracking the Doctor. Clive is such an interesting character, and I wish we got to learn a little more about him, but he shows her a small history of the Doctor. It brings up a few points I don’t agree with. It’s mainly because we know that he’s just regenerated into the ninth incarnation of himself. He mentions that when he looks at himself in the mirror in Rose’s apartment. Then he never goes to any of the locations that are mentioned, such as the Titanic or Kennedy’s assassination, with this face in the series’s course. It’s probably covered in an audio story. In the absence of the Doctor telling her what’s going on, Rose goes out to find out for herself, even if that gets Mickey captured.
5) Get what they desired
When the Doctor rescues Rose from the restaurant where she and the fake Mickey are about to order pizza, she gets what she wants. The Doctor has returned; the excitement has returned, and he lets her in a little. As they run from the fake Mickey, he lets her, and us for the first time in this series, get into the TARDIS. The Doctor is standing with the fake Mickey’s head, plugging it into the TARDIS console. Then he turns and stands calmly and truthfully, answering every question that she has. He’s an alien, and so is the ship. We follow a signal to the base of the London Eye and the Doctor has to trust her a little more.
6) Pay a heavy price for winning
Rose is having a great time, hanging out with the Doctor when it comes up that Mickey is likely dead after having been copied by the Nestine Consciousness. As exciting as everything is, she realizes the Doctor thinks in a much different way than she does. He looks at everything on a different scale, and sometimes that scale means that he appears insensitive about really human topics.
7) Return to their familiar situation
Is this their new normal? Just when it looks like Rose is going to leave all this craziness behind, she gets the London Eye clue. She can see the massive Ferris wheel in the middle of London, and it’s the giant antenna that they were looking for. This has to be the place. At that moment, I believe the doctor realizes that he couldn’t have done this without her, even if he wanted to. She’s now part of his new normal.
8) They have changed
Rose has no job as the Doctor blew it up. She has no A-levels, which means she left school at age 16 or quickly dropped out after starting them. Mickey turns out to be alive, but he’s a useless mess when things get weird. She has no future unless she takes that job at the butcher (ugh!), but she’s got a bronze gymnastics medal. She could do this. She could be an action hero. This is the job for her! She transforms, leaving her old life behind, and swings into action, knocking the Autons over the edge and saving the day. Escape for everyone, including her mom.
This is the kind of breakdown I expect from each of the episodes that I look at. The more often I take one apart, the better I hope to become at creating them for myself for my own written work. I want to understand how my favorite stories function in order to create my own unique ones.
Doctor Who on DvD
- Doctor Who: The Christopher Eccleston & David Tennant Collection [DVD]
- Doctor Who: The Matt Smith Collection [DVD]
- Doctor Who: The Peter Capaldi Collection [DVD]
- Doctor Who: The Jodie Whitaker Collection