Doctor Who and the Supremacy of Story

It has happened. I have stepped across the boundary into complete nerdom. There is no escape for me, no path to redemption. Now all I can do is look back and wonder…could my life have been different? But no, such questions are pointless. I am forever lost, my friends. For I have been sucked in by the swirling vortex of madness that is…Doctor Who.

And the thing is, on the surface it’s difficult to explain why. Why should I have fallen in love with a show with special effects I’m fairly certain I could duplicate with sock puppets? What is the draw of a series who’s cast is guilty of either hopelessly hammy over-acting or being shameless eye candy?

I’m not sure. But I think that the answer lies somewhere in that nebulously defined area of “story.”

That isn’t to say that the writing is brilliant. Often dialogue seems clunky and over the top, and plot convenience abounds, but…and this is a really big but, it’s not boring.

And really, I think that’s something that a lot of stories, whether they be television shows, movies, or books, miss out on. It doesn’t matter how good your special effects are, or how florid your writing is if you don’t keep the story moving, if you don’t give the reader a reason to care then you’ve failed.

This was something I was reminded of recently when I delved into a book I thought would really interest me. It’s a novel by Jesse Kellerman called The Genius about an art dealer who discovers a massive body of tremendous art, thousands about thousands of pages of pencil sketches left piled high in boxes in an empty apartment.

I’m kind of interested in art, and the concept of the story intrigued me, and the writing was excellent. So I picked it up. But now after almost a hundred pages, I don’t think I’m  going to be able to finish it. Because while the premise is interesting, so far the most dangerous thing that has befallen the protagonist is a fairly weak sabotage attempt by one of his former clients.

So to Jesse Kellerman and the rest of the writers of the world, I say this: Take a hint from Doctor Who. Forget about your back-story and your artistry. Or rather, don’t forget them, but add to them. Have something interesting happen to your main characters. Put them in danger. Give them conflict. Show us what is truly at stake for them.

Only then can you be certain of keeping your readers attention. Only then can you craft a truly gripping story.

P.S. In a similar vein, I have this dream that one day, when I’m rich and famous, I’ll take a break from writing books and write a script for the infamous low-budget mockbuster factory The Asylum for the sole purpose of testing out this theory that story always trumps production value. Maybe it’s far fetched, but hey, I can dream.

6 responses to “Doctor Who and the Supremacy of Story

  1. There’s a lot to be said for a story that has the un-boringness factor. Maybe it doesn’t have the best dialogue or special effects, but for some reason you are still watching…

  2. Agreed. Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath has an entire chapter about nothing more than a turtle crossing a road…which is apart from the storyline, and is metaphorical — yet it isn’t boring because the turtle is in real danger!
    Steinbeck was a talented writer of course, but if the turtle had been, say eating a bug instead of crossing a road, I would not have been so interested in that chapter.

    • Good point. And think this is a point a lot of action movies miss. “High stakes” doesn’t always mean the fate of the world is at stake. All that matters is that we care what happens to the protagonist. No matter whether that protagonist is turtle, dog, or man.

  3. Story wins! absolutely. Especially when that story involves car chases and explosions and sexy doubly agents and mode explosions. Hehe, Hollywood doesn’t care for story so much right now, but let’s not count them.
    p.s.I’m pretty sure you’ve lived in nerddom for a while now, but don’t worry, it’s nice over here in nerddom.

  4. You’ve absolutely got to care about the characters and what happens to them. I think that’s why Doctor Who works because the whole thing (with its dodgy effects, sometimes questionable dialogue, and vulnerability) is just totally endearing. You got to cheer for the guy who uses a screwdriver to repel an alien invasion! Great post!

  5. I got turned off watching Dr. Who after a few scenes. The effects reminds me of a low budget film! However, I don’t understand why a lot of people watch it. Now I know why. Thanks, Albert for clarifying it for me.

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