How I’d write Doctor Who


Chris Chibnell is probably sitting somewhere right now, and planning for his time as Showrunner of Doctor Who. It isn’t an easy task, and I wish the man good luck in his time as Showrunner, don’t be crap. It’s all quite hushed at the moment, and there are lots of rumours about, and they don’t leave me with much faith. There’s a lot I like about the current show, but there’s a lot of stuff that I don’t, and a lot of things I’d personally change. Here’s what I’d do if I was the showrunner for Doctor Who. Do better, Chibnell.

SIDE NOTE: A lot of this was written before the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor, I do talk about a male doctor. I just want to make that clear.

PART ONE: Aesthetics

Firstly, we need to discuss the aesthetics of how I’d write the show, as that is sort of the groundwork it all needs to rest on.  How do you want the show to be? Dauer, like early JNT? Horror based and more mature, a la Phillip Hinchcliffe? Do you want scripts written like Andrew Cartmell? Robert Holmes? Douglas Adams? Doctor Who is a family show, and children watch it, and you do want to keep children watching it. But you need to challenge children. Brothers Grimm did it well, read the unabridged fairytales. This quote from Q on Star Trek episode ‘Q Who’ really encapsulates the mood I’d go for:

‘If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid.’

The show needs to embrace the 70’s golden age really. You can have silly, quirky Adamsesque stories, but be terrified by Hinchcliffe style horror. Not a retread, mind, but that atmosphere needs to be there. Space is huge, and its all out to kill you. As for effects, I understand how CGI is cost effective, but I’d use less of it. I personally believe practical effects need to make a comeback. Star Wars Episode 7 brought back practical effects in a big way, models, and used CGI as a tool to enhance it, not build it.

PART TWO: Episode Structure

The 12-13 episode structure of Doctor Who is good, but I think that style limits the stories one can tell. They experimented in Series 9, with a lot of 2 part stories, but ultimately, the format is a little unwieldy. I would bring back serials because you can tell longer stories, and maybe have more episodes, but I’d make them shorter. With longer stories, you can save money by saving on sets, which in turn can be reinvested into making better sets or grander effects. And no story arcs or overarching elements. Let the characters have fun!

PART THREE: The Main Characters

NOW I can have fun. For this section, I will be writing about the characters I’d create, and the characterisation I would give The Doctor:

The Doctor: I think a 35-45-year-old should be The Doctor, but that’s not exclusive. I think as a character, he should primarily be a traveller, who stumbles into things. He is not the highest authority, he is not the lonely God, he is an intergalactic vagrant who wanted to see things and goes places. For my Doctor, I’d give him a pulp detective attire, a bit Dick Tracy, or a bit like The Question from DC Comics. As a character, I liked the McCoy characterisation, as someone who is very calculating, especially if something gets in his way. The character should also be a little detached too, he’s been travelling for thousands of years, NO ROMANCE.

(Side note regarding The new Doctor: I’d have the doctor act somewhat arrogant under Whittaker, sort of anti social, doesn’t want her companions with her, maybe a little amoral, but good hearted and ultimately a hero. As for her costume, I would have The Doctor in a dress, with tights, and some black shoes, with a blazer perhaps. And NO ROMANCE)

Companions: Would I have an earth girl? Yes. But I’d also mix it up a bit. Hot earth girls are one thing, but I think there should be multiple companions, 2 or 3 at most. The three I’d have for my first series would be:

  • A 17-year-old teenage German soldier from Berlin, 1945. A half-alien 17-year-old teenage German soldier from Berlin, 1945. I’d give him a backstory that he was created by Nazi scientists to be a super soldier, using a captured alien’s DNA.
  • A late 20’s Italian-American Girl from late 19th Century America. Her family emigrated to America, and she has always wanted to travel.
  • A cyborg from the 46th Century, who was experimented on, and he became an intergalactic cop.

All of these characters would be outsiders, which is why The Doctor would want to travel with them. And they’re all different enough that it isn’t just sexy earth girl who drools at The Doctor. I’d maybe even have the Female character passionately dislike The Doctor. Or at least, maybe make her not as dooey eyed as others.

PART FOUR: Villains

Of course, I’d have Daleks, Cybermen, and The Master, and bring back some obscure monsters and races.

For The Daleks, I’d make them smoother, less industrial, and have them with different colours to explain their ranks. A grey drone, a black elite, and a gold supreme. And there will be Davros and the Emporer too. The Cybermen would be cyborgs. I love the older designs where you could see parts of the human anatomy, like the clear perspex chins of 80’s Cybermen helmets. In short, I’d subliminally suggest that there’s something horrible under those helmets. The Master needs to be less crazy, and more Machiavellian. I loved the Ainley and Delgado Masters, and I loved Michelle Gomez as Missy. The crazy thing needs to go, no more Drums.

Returning villains would include:

  • The Axons
  • Sea Devils (and I’d give their species a name too, maybe the Eocene)
  • The Daemons
  • The Mara
  • The War Lords (along with Time Lords)
  • Sutekh The Destroyer (Preferably in a theatrical movie)
  • The Kandyman (and I am serious, but he’d be human)
  • The Judoon
  • The Drahvins
  • Some Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood villains, like The Nightmare Man or the 456.
  • And much more…

PART FIVE: The  logo and the theme

Another important aspect of the show is its branding and its promotion. How do you get someone to watch a television show about a centuries old man taking young girls into his blue box to travel? That sounds mildly disturbing. I think it’s time to replace the current Doctor Who logo, with the original 60’s one, and make it the logo used by the show, past, present, and future. I know Chibnell has been considering using the original Jon Pertwee logo used in classic who branding, and while I like it, I think the 1963 logo is more interesting. Both are very unique, but the sans serif just makes it look modern, and it’s mysterious too. So I would use the classic 1963 logo. As for the titles, music, I’d try to combine as many aspects of the previous doctor who title sequences and music. The face, the vortex, the diamond motif from the 70’s, the classic logo, with an electronic soundtrack (which I will use to replace the Murray Gold themes). Music, in general, I would want a general electronic vibe, but retaining the orchestra, and I’d also use less incidental music. I think hearing the characters talk is more important.

PART SIX: Themes

I was going to put this in with aesthetics, but I want to give a short section to themes and recurring elements I would have if I was the showrunner. As the showrunner, I’d want to put across the following ideas. This is a Sci-Fi themed adventure show, which has social commentary, commenting on the developments of the human race today, and seeing situations in the past which echo the issues of today, and seeing how our continued development could lead to a better or a worse future.

PART SEVEN: Minor things

Several bullet point notes:

  • The Doctor should never be the highest authority figure in the show. In the classic show, there were other races that were similar to the time lords in power, and they need to come back.
  • I wouldn’t announce the regenerations like they have been doing with special TV things. I’d have people wait until it happens.
  • I would only have one spin off, and I’d make it about UNIT in the 70’s, perhaps a branch in Manchester so it can get away from the fact that we can’t have the Brigadier.
  • I was going to put some episode ideas in, but this post is very long, and one of my ideas; Cold as Ice (A Cyberman origin story) was spoilt by World Enough and Time (which was very good).
  • I’d like the show to air later in evenings, but kids watch it, but I would like to have some more gruesome bits.

And this, my friends, is what I’d do as Doctor Who showrunner. Have you got better ideas? Let me know.

About the author


Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

Add comment


By Ben




%d bloggers like this: