It is 100 years since the outbreak of The Great War.
Doctor Who is always a reflection of the times: just look at the Third Doctor era, especially the work of Malcolm Hulke. The concerns of the 1970s were perfectly encapsulated in stories like Doctor Who and the Silurians, Inferno, Frontier in Space and The Green Death. But these are the most obvious examples. Dig deeper and you discover the attitudes of each decade.
War, however, is always on the horizon, and it’s etched across the show. Last year’s Cold War was great at portraying the tense atmosphere of the early 1980s, but also worked as a reflection of the political landscape of the present.
It is a sad fact that human history revolves around conflict and so Doctor Who, too, must deal with it, whether that’s through taking us back in time, like in The Myth Makers, or drawing parallels in the future and on distant planets.
It goes further than that, though.
“We Shall Remember Them” isn’t just to remind us not to make the same mistakes again. It’s a mark of respect and Doctor Who, too, should pay tribute to those who gave their lives for us. The principle of the show is, after all, what those brave soldiers fought for, an ideal we all strive for: freedom.
So how should Doctor Who commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War (also known across the water as World War I)?
Naturally, the TARDIS could set down in No Man’s Land. It did once before (sort of) in 1969’s The War Games, and a similar adventure about the atrocities of war could be effective. Equally, a war on a far-away planet could be waged. Perhaps Who could land in an ongoing war: that of Iraq or Afghanistan. It would be an unprecedented move.
The war didn’t just happen in the trenches, though. The war at home would be interesting to depict. What was life like for the Average Joe, knowing that your own countrymen are sacrificing themselves for an uncertain future?
Then we must consider if a story set in the war’s aftermath could work. There might be four years of remembrance, 2014- 18 will consistently look back at that terrible period, but everyday troubles didn’t end there. And it didn’t begin in 1914 either. Human Nature/ The Family of Blood showed us the consequences of war, as a headmaster showed how ‘noble’ conflict is… but ultimately, that it would end only in death. A deeper look at the lives of people like him, who put on a face and tell of the glories of war but who are deeply affected by it and struggle to move on from all they’ve seen and done, would make for incredible drama. To a lesser extent, The Idiot’s Lantern showed how some struggled to carry on with their lives.
A further storyline could revolve around the Christmas Truce, 100 years ago this December. The Doctor might’ve visited that incredible day in other mediums but never on screen.
Doctor Who doesn’t need to focus on The Great War, but it does need to acknowledge it in my opinion.
The BBC could also do their part. Perhaps the corporation could repeat certain episodes? Genesis of the Daleks took us to a warzone and is loved by fans. It also concludes that, from darkness, comes genuine good. War does have a way of bringing out the best in people, as well as the worst.
The War Games, too, is an option, but the BBC could also turn to Torchwood. To the Last Man was one of the most affecting stories from Series 2 and perfectly exhibits the horror of war.
However, I can’t think of a greater tribute than the aforementioned Human Nature/The Family of Blood. It’s about bravery and humanity; its conclusion conjures a tear to the eye and brings it all home.
There is a particular quote that sticks in the mind, and it’s not from that Series 3 tale. It’s from Planet of the Daleks: “Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened, y’know. It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.”
How do you think Doctor Who should commemorate the Centenary…?