Story structure may not be everyone’s thing, but I love it and it’s a key part of this website. It’s not intentional to sit around and just look at the plot. I intend to take stories apart and see what makes a story a good story. How many of these work? I mean, there are a ton of episodes of Doctor Who and it’s not the only show that I intend to work my way through here. I remember the first time I was figuring out story structure. I was a kid watching Inspector Gadget, and it occurred to me that certain things happened in a certain order every time. This show helped me predict when things would happen down to the minute. I realized that having this kind of thing on your side is crucial for writing long-running series, especially with today’s TV shows and movies.
I want to take them apart and see what makes them tick so that I can write better stories of my own.
This show’s entry follows the style of Dan Harmon’s story circle.
The End of the World
1) In a zone of comfort
As the story begins, the Doctor and Rose travel as far into the future as the Doctor can imagine. He wants desperately to impress her. He brings her to the last day on Earth before the sun expands and destroys it. He has brought her to a place where she feels small, surrounded by rich people and the troublesome lady Cassandra. One by one strange-looking alien groups enter, all piling up to make Rose feel as insignificant as possible. The Doctor and they exchange gifts which he immediately hands off to her. These things mean nothing to him, but she doesn’t know whether they are important, so she stands there with them. Some might say that he’s in a zone of comfort here, but that Rose is standing in a zone of discomfort. She doesn’t know who this guy is. She has been rather impulsive to leave with him in the first place, and here they are at this strange party at the end of the world.
2) They desire something
The Doctor desperately wants to impress her, but he’s going about it all the wrong way. He has a problem explaining who he is because of the terrible loss he feels coming off the end of the Time War. He is not emotionally ready to deal with that in front of her. We as an audience don’t learn about the Time War until much, much later. So she wants to know who’s driving the car. Can someone trust this guy when he doesn’t want to say a word about himself? It Puts her off, and she has to deal with the response “This is who I am here, and now.” He could have said, “I come from Gallifrey, I’m a Time Lord, my world is gone, and I played a big role in its destruction, but it was necessary.” Oof. But she doesn’t get that story, she just gets either nothing or more riddles and it creates serious tension between them when all she wants to know is who he is.
3) Enter an unfamiliar situation
They gave everyone on the space station a little silver pod. It was a gift handed out when they arrived and as Rose sets out to explore; they sabotage the ship. The first casualty is the Steward (“He’s blue…”), who hosted the initial party. He announced people as they came on board. Now he’s locked in his room. There’s a very unfortunate button on his keyboard that would allow the shields to drop and the sun to burn him alive. I think it’s a kind of design flaw. I think that there should be better fail-safes involved to keep people from being able to do that. It also kind of shows the mentality of the people who are boarding this platform for the party. These are upper-echelon party members and not necessarily the savviest technical people in the universe. These are all people used to convenience, and the little robots are easily infiltrating and sabotaging the station.
4) Adapt to the situation
Rose is doing her best to fit in. They’ve been introduced to Cassandra, the last human who appears to be a stretched-out piece of skin with a mouth, eyes, and a brain in a jar hanging out underneath her. Cassandra is incredibly frightening to me because of the lengths to which she’s gone through surgery to “fix” herself to last as long as she has. Meanwhile, the Doctor is off looking for part of the heating system with Jabe, and she has figured out who he is, which is the last thing he wants to hear about. She touches a nerve and makes him cry, which is something that you don’t see often with the Doctor. You do, but you don’t see it often when he is brought to tears. He’s trying to figure out a technical problem on the ship when she brings him back to reality and confronts him about something he’s keeping from Rose. He’s not emotionally ready for it.
5) Get what they desired
The Doctor being his usual clever self, outs Cassandra for sabotaging the station. He has this kind of detective’s moment, gathering everyone in the library where he puts together the clues in front of everyone. He’s trying to act the badass, showing how the little sabotage robots belong to her.
6) Pay a heavy price for winning
Because of outing Cassandra, she activates the sabotage robots. They respond by attacking the shields protecting the ship. The Doctor has taken care of Cassandra, but as a result, he has to run down to the engine rooms and try to vent the ship before it burns up. He takes Jabe, who is a female anthropomorphized tree character, with him. He’s been treating her like his companion the whole show instead of Rose, and she perishes trying to help him. The Doctor is used to losing people, but this shows him part of his pattern and as terrible a loss as Jabe is, he has to remember that he’s got a 19-year-old woman with him. She’s someone new to traveling with him, and this world, and he hasn’t watched over her for the last couple of hours. He needs to do a better job or he could get her killed, too.
The Earth explodes, but no one is watching as they all come so close to death.
7) Return to their familiar situation
The Doctor has had it. He’s a little mean at this point. He reverses Cassandra’s escape route and brings her back to the platform, where he completes his investigation and condemns her. Rose wants to help her, but he stands there and lets her die.
8) They have changed
Rose trying to figure out what she’s going to do. He’s got to come clean with her, but she doesn’t want to push. The Doctor has made some breakthroughs. After Jabe dies, he’s ready to at least give Rose part of the picture. They’re looking out the window at the Earth, or what’s left of it, rolling around and on fire, and he explains to her that his planet burns just like this. I always imagined that subconsciously that’s why he brought her here, because he was still dealing with it in his head. It still bothers him for a long time.
But there’s hope. There’s still life in the universe, there is still plenty to fight and live for.
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