One of the things that troubles me as a writer who also has a day job is that it leaves little time for anything else I’d like to be doing. I have games I want to be playing, books to read, and many, many television shows I need to catch up on. So many shows….
Which got me thinking about writing and television. A well written show is a thing of beauty and immersive on so many levels that are different from a book… I have a lot of respect for a well written show.
I grew up watching a show on my local PBS channel in the early 80s… a geeky little scifi show called Doctor Who. My mom even made me the Tom Baker twenty foot scarf, which I wore everywhere. Apparently, I had no qualms about not attracting the ladies. At some point I fell out of touch with the show, however, but just this past year everyone out there in fandom land really had been talking about the latest incarnation of the series. When the people I follow talk something up, I’ve learned to listen.
So over the past few months, I’ve churned through the five new seasons of Doctor Who, and I’ve learned two things: 1) it effing rocks!, and 2) I haz TARDIS Envy. If you don’t get that reference, please go sit down and watch all of the new series… NOW! I’m totally serious. I’ll wait.
Why this envy? Well, I can’t help but watch most things these days with a writer’s eye and strictly as a show concept, it is genius. How else can you explain it’s almost fifty year run (granted, with some breaks here and there, but still!) We’re talking 26 seasons worth of story content, with 770 episodes in the can and the upcoming season six starting up any day now. How does story longevity like that work, without coming off like a soap opera?
Why, through the genius of the writing concept, naturally! You have a central character, The Doctor, assisted by companions, who travels through time and space saving the universe and such. A cosmic tinkerer, if you will. Yes, it’s a scifi show, but it’s much, much more, which helps explain its longevity. There’s romance, adventure, and mystery, even history lessons… all wrapped up in one stellar show.
Another favorite show of mine, Quantum Leap, went with a similar premise, using a central character thrust into a revolving series of adventures, but The Doctor was the original, and they had the genius idea to make The Doctor a character who didn’t die a normal death, but regenerated into a new form, meaning if one actor left, another could step right in. That meant the writers had to work with certain character restraints. All of those who played the role exhibit some similar eccentricities, but each also bring their own flavor to the character.
|The Tardis in all its glory!|
But really, from the writing aspect, anything goes on a week to week basis. In the mood to write an ode to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Go for it, just make the ghosts alien life forms in the end. Want to do an episode that brings up human vanity as an issue? Set it in the far future at the end of the universe and have the last surviving human show up as a stretched out sheet of flesh with just eyes and a mouth that need constant moisturizing. With a show like Doctor Who, the sky, literally, is the limit.
But surely a show can’t just exist on a space-monster-mystery-of-the-week kind of model! No, it can not. That’s where the rest of the writing genius happens. The writers on the show are damn fine, the current being Stephen Moffat (of Coupling fame). Sure, there’s the occasional misfire, but out of 770 episodes, that’s to be expected, right?
And the new run of the series? Fan-effing-tastic, drawing in more than just scifi nerds! Why? Because you have an excellent cast of reoccurring characters—companions new and old, villains, even omnisexual, shameless time police—and story through-lines that span great swaths of continuity.
Given the shows structure, it really is a skill to hit the ground running with a new scenario every week and get us to invest in the non-reoccurring characters as well, but the writers for the show do it quite deftly. Within minutes your invested in the lives of people you just met. I really envy their skill.
So if you’re a writer yourself, you could learn a thing or two by bulk watching Doctor Who. Just remember, though, once you get in the thick of full-on writing, watch your viewing time fade away like the TARDIS off on another adventure.
Fantasy author Anton Strout was born in the Berkshire Hills mere miles from writing heavyweights Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville and currently lives in the haunted corn maze that is New Jersey (where nothing paranormal ever really happens, he assures you).
He is the co-creator of the faux folk musical Sneezin’ Jeff & Blue Raccoon: The Loose Gravel Tour (winner of the Best Storytelling Award at the First Annual New York International Fringe Festival).
In his scant spare time, he is a writer, a sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the worlds most casual and controller smashing video gamer. He currently works in the exciting world of publishing and yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds.http://www.antonstrout.com/