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Published on July 8th, 2010 | by Meredith Burdett

Over-Who-sed? has written an article to fill the gap of “no Nu-who” on BBC America this week by listing plot devices that they don’t like being overused in Steven Moffat episodes of Doctor Who. It’s an interesting and quite frankly accurate look at what keeps recurring in the world of Doctor Who but at the same time, why would you want to insult a show that has given out so much?

The article cites plot devices such as:

The Doctor tells scary aliens to go away- Episodes such as Forest of the Dead and The Pandorica Opens contain scenes where the Doctor blags an escape from an enemy by telling them to think about who he actually is and if they can really defeat him.

Someone stops a deadly machine by admitting to their true feelings-the Doctor stops gas mask zombies by getting a character to tell a child she is his mother in The Doctor Dances, two characters profess their love in The Lodger to stop a rip-off TARDIS from killing the Doctor.

Deadly and unknowable aliens use dead humans’ lingering remains to communicate- the child in The Empty Child, Vashta Nerada in Silence in the Library and Angel Bob in The Time of Angels.

A little girl is trapped in an unreal world where she’s the only one who can touch reality- The little girl in Forest of the Dead and to an extent Amelia in The Big Bang.

A little girl meets the Doctor, and then she sees him again as an adult, but it’s only been a few minutes for him- The Girl in the Fireplace and The Eleventh Hour use this the most.

Timey-wimey cheating that actually affects the plot- Take your pick from most Moffat written tales….

While these may be fair points to make the fact still stands that Moffat is such a great writer that he can take similar plot devices and make them look completely different to attract strong ratings each week in his Doctor Who episodes. Russell T Davies had similar “uniform” plot devices and his episodes shot Doctor Who back to where it belonged-as entertain-the-hell-out-of-you-on-a-Saturday-night television. Two of Doctor Who’s most prolific and famous writers, Robert Holmes and Terry Nation, always used similar plots and characters and yet they managed to create some of the best loved and most fondly remembered Doctor Who episodes of all time.

It’s best to just enjoy the show, rather than pick away at the obvious. It has been running for more or less fifty years now and there are bound to be some similarities!


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About the Author


What happens when an eight year old kid watches the 1993 repeat run of Planet of the Daleks? He pretty much ends up here writing about the show that grabbed hold of him and never let go!

7 Responses to Over-Who-sed?

  1. avatar Rick714 says:

    Well, some of those are a bit of a stretch–using the remains to communicate, that’s what the angels do so why change the M.O.?

    The true feelings, the girl/fireplace and Eleventh hour, timey wimey cheating (heck RTD used to do that too), it all reeks of needing to fill space. you couldmake similar claims of most writers anywhere.

    The only one worth the notice might be the first one. He has used the Doctor’s rep as a deterrent in at least three adventures and he probably should cool it on that one. He did it in eleventh hour as well….

  2. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    I completely agree with the i09 article. Moffat’s recycling of old ideas was probably the single most annoying aspect of Series Fnarg, it really annoyed me. We’re not talking about subtle plot devices here either – these are big, obvious plot elements that are simply being resused. I don’t agree that Moffat uses these plot devices and ‘make them look completely different’, and I don’t think it’s unnecessary to ‘pick away at the obvious’. Criticising poor writing (because that’s what it is) will hopefully prompt the writers to raise their game. Although of course, Moffat has recently said that he doesn’t read what fans write about the show, so maybe not.

  3. avatar Paul says:

    All writers reuse stuff. Robert Holmes rewrote the season 7 opener “Spearhead from Space” for the season eight opener and called it “Terror of the Autons”. “Spearhead from Space” itself was ripped off from “Quatermass II”. There are also huge plot similarities between “The Deadly Assassin” and “The Talons of The Talons of Weng-Chiang” (deformed maniac living underground and searching for a way to extend his life, while using a leg-man). Chris Boucher ripped off Isaac Asimov’s entire back catalogue for “The Robots of Death” and Terry Nation’s “Genesis of the Daleks” borrows heavily from “Robot,” “The Power of the Daleks,” and “Things to Come.”

    The difference is, these were individual writers working on a long running series with other individual writers, all of which had their own personal obsessions and ways of doing things, which although tailored to the Doctor Who house-style, nevertheless stood out. What we have now with the idea of a “Showrunner” is one writer being publicly prominent and all the other writers copying his style almost exactly. Equally, you’ve got Moffat copying plot elements from RTD, (for example, the Angels falling into the crack in time, is very similar to the Daleks being sucked into the crack between the universes in “Doomsday,” and how many more times are they going to feature a wedding in Doctor Who?), so you end up with a lot of terribly samey stories.

    Add to this the fact that BBC Three repeat Doctor Who over and over again, it’s not surprising that so many fans felt series five of Nu-Who all felt a bit tired. Moffat can put as many clever subtexts in as he likes, but if the surface details become over familiar, people get bored, and indeed, the constant repetition can actually blind a usually attentive viewer to what the story is actually all about.

    Unfortunately, this is all goes back to RTD’s idea of turning Nu Who series 1 into a “winning formula,” even though he has previously stated himself that “winning formulas” never work. For over five years now we’ve had stories being constructed out of the same components, over and over again, and I think even the general public are now starting to get tired of it all. I know I certainly am, and it’s about time the producers of Doctor Who stopped treating the programme as a “product” and more as a series of entertaining stories in their own right.

  4. avatar Paul says:

    “Meredith Burdett

    It’s best to just enjoy the show, rather than pick away at the obvious. It has been running for more or less fifty years now and there are bound to be some similarities!”

    The whole point of the argument is that they are picking away at it because it is so “obvious”. If these elements weren’t so obvious, there wouldn’t be a problem! Also, the problem, as it exists, is one that greatly concerns the show as it is now, not as it used to be, for two reasons, 1/ the level of repetition is far more pronounced now then any time before in the classic series, 2/ the classic series was and still is rarely repeated.

    Sticking your head in the sand and saying,”Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it, they know that they’re doing,” usually ends up with, “Oh, dear, they’ve cancelled my favourite show. I wonder why people stopped watching?”

  5. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    How gratifying to see that Paul and I can agree sometimes! I agree that all writers reuse stuff. George Orwell really only wrote one novel – anti hero rebels against society and fails. That’s the plot of every one of his novels bar Animal Farm (which is similar – it’s a whole group of animals who rebel and fail in that one), but it really doesn’t matter because all the novels vary widely in other ways, and so very well written. I’d go further really and say that all culture depends on what has occurred before. There are so few cultural pioneers really. The problem with the repetition in Doctor Who is really about how obvious that repetition is, and the short space of time in between these plot devices being reused. It leaves me feeling like we’ve been short sold, which is a shame, because clearly there’s a massive amount of passion and dedication that goes into making the show.

  6. avatar Paul says:

    I think it is a product of the age. People in television are so afraid of failure that they’ll just keep churning the same stuff out over and over again, because they think the audience will leave as soon as they do something different. What you end up with, of course, is totally bland television.

  7. avatar Paul says:

    “Rick714 wrote:

    Well, some of those are a bit of a stretch–using the remains to communicate, that’s what the angels do so why change the M.O.?”

    It wasn’t their M.O. in “Blink.” It just suddenly became their “M.O.”

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