“Planet of the Dead,” the second of four Doctor Who specials planned for 2009, airs today on BBC One in the U.K. Who knows when it will air here in the States?
One thing we do know: Change is coming. Last year David Tennant announced he will be leaving the long-running sci-fi drama, to be replaced in 2010 by young actor Matt Smith, the 11th incarnation of the Time Lord. Russell T. Davies, the man who brought Doctor Who back after a hiatus of 16 years, also is leaving as producer, turning the reins over to writer Steven Moffat. Both of these changes will have far-reaching effects on the franchise, including but not limited to a switch to HD filming and a redesign of the TARDIS interior.
Beyond the cosmetic, here are a few more substantial changes I hope we’ll see.
More of the TARDIS’ innards
Ever since Doctor Who relaunched in 2005, all we’ve seen of the TARDIS interior is the Console Room and, briefly, the wardrobe. In the old days we saw corridors, personnel quarters, the sensory-depriving Zero Room, the tranquil Cloister Room — even a swimming pool and the rarely-sighted Secondary Console Room.
The Doctor’s space-time ship is supposed to be practically infinite within (I mean, we saw Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor, in the throes of a regeneration identity crisis, unravel one of his predecessor Tom Baker’s signature scarves so he didn’t get lost in the corridors). Let’s have some of that! Moffat doesn’t have to dip into the series’ past to do it, either — he can show us parts of the TARDIS we never imagined could have existed. Then again, as the Doctor is a bit of a pack rat, it would be an ideal way to dredge up just about any past plot element the producer wants …
More (not more frequent) companions
The Doctor-Rose, Doctor-Martha and Doctor-Donna dynamics have been great. Really. But it’s time for something different … again.
In the eighties, the Doctor (played by Tom Baker and then Peter Davison) ran around with not one, not two, but THREE companions, simultaneously — from left to right at top of photo, Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), pictured with Davison (crouching with celery in his lapel).
We got a taste of this halfway through the first season of the relaunched series, when Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor and Rose were joined in the TARDIS, however briefly, by Capt. Jack Harkness. Tennant’s Doctor and Rose later briefly traveled with her boyfriend Mickey Smith.
The Doctor is best when he’s playing for an audience, but it also brings out the teacher in him. And he has much to teach us mere mortals. In the fourth season finale, we learned that the TARDIS console is six-sided because it was designed to have six pilots, and that’s why he can barely control the thing. We don’t need five companions, but there’s definitely room (literally — see above) to explore the idea of a fuller house.
A less-ambitious meta-story
Bad Wolf. Torchwood. Vote Saxon. The Medusa Cascade.
Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned planet-of-the-week adventure?
A sweeping meta-plot is almost a prerequisite of television drama today, and it works really, really well in Doctor Who’s format — but it could be scaled down a bit, to let the characters shine a little more.
Outgoing producer Davies says Tennant’s final specials will have a story “arc” that unites them, getting progressively darker as the end of the Tenth Doctor’s life approaches. That’s fine, but maybe in the new era under Moffat, the Eleventh Doctor’s journeys can be a little less structured to show us as many of the universe’s wonders as possible — as long as it all comes together for a gripping season finale, natch.