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WAND! - Ed's journal
Dear Russell T. Davies,
Please, ensure you somehow exploderize the Doctor's Sonic screwdriver in one of your special episodes.

A Sonic screwdriver is a marvelous plot device, for circumventing a trivial challenge - that of the locked door. A locked door is annoyingly difficult to 'bypass' - that is, after all, kinda the point of them. However they're also not very interesting challenges, in general.
And thus giving the Doctor a 'magic lockpick' is actually quite an elegant way of merging the two problems - people lock doors in secret military compounds, and locked doors are boring.

However, you should be aware that that carries with it a risk - making your 'magic lockpick' a 'magic do everything device'. You see, you're the story writer, you can quite literally make anything happen to the people involved. What's important in the storytelling is therefore not what happens - which can be anything you feel like - but how the characters react to it, to each other, and how they deal with a the problems.
Dramatic tension is often increased by having a problem and some danger.
However, this dramatic tension is completely pissed away if you have a 'wave wand, fix plot' type plot device - like the Sonic screwdriver, as you've been using it in Dr. Who. Deus Ex Machina plot resolutions, you see, highlight the intrinsic powerlessness of the character involved. That really does fall down badly when it comes to portraying the Doctor. Kinda the point of the Doctor is that he's really old, wise, a bit mystical, and happens to have some rather handy tech around that lets him get to the places he needs to be to apply his awesome. The Tardis is a really great example of this - it serves as a vehicle that shortcuts the boring 'Doctor gets to where the interesting is happening' part of the story, and also quite nicely explains why he didn't get stopped by any of the security in somewhere high tech (or for that matter, low tech and paranoid). It's therefore entirely OK for it to be awesomely powerful, and yet a bit cranky, because it serves the needs of the storytelling, without it actually needing to take a metaphorical dump over whatever plot is happening - the combined 'don't meddle with timelines, because bad stuff happens' and 'TARDIS tends to go astray at times for unknown reasons' serves very well to get the Doctor into play, and leave him there until the story is done.

Assistants also serve a valuable role in the story telling, as they 'fill in' for the audience to ask questions and get told about what's going on, and quite why there is peril this time. Or to be a target of 'dramatic tension' themselves, because the Doctor is awesome, clever and wise, but assistants don't have to be. So the can let themselves get captured, caught out, push the button that they shouldn't, or otherwise be... the human element of the team.

Oh, and whilst we're at it - dramatic tension doesn't get more because the numbers involved are bigger. Stalin said it quite well - "Death of one man is a tragedy. Death of a million is a statistic.". You don't need to make your plot EVEN MORE EPIC THAN EVER BEFORE - the impending destruction of planet earth is like a giant game of chicken, and something you can't _actually_ do in your plot line, and have it meaningful. However taking this character that you've introducted everyone to, got a bit of empathy going, and then put in peril of some kind actually works much better - because they're insignificant enough that you _can_ just kill them as a story writer, but we care about them enough that we'll be rooting for the Doctor to save them none the less. That's got way more dramatic tension than declaring the power level to be over 9000!

But yeah, just blow up that sodding screwdriver already - it's making you lazy with your plot resolutions.
11 comments or Leave a comment
shakalooloo From: shakalooloo Date: April 15th, 2009 04:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
jorune From: jorune Date: April 15th, 2009 04:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Spoiler Alert!
Spoiler Alert!

Yes, the sonic screwdriver is certainly becoming more powerful. There is a reason for this which I saw on a Dr Who preview board. RTD is planning a huge twist as he wraps up his time as exec producer. No one will see this coming and it will leave everyone talking about it for ages.

The sonic screwdriver is the real power behind the tardis, it is the real Timelord. Just as the Dr keeps changing his companions so does the sonic screwdriver. It remains eternal while the organics, the meatflesh that carries it around fades and dies.

This is just one of the ultimate truths RTD has lined up for the final few shows.
mister_jack From: mister_jack Date: April 15th, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good god.

I hope that dreck isn't true.
jorune From: jorune Date: April 15th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
As Stormbringer is to Elric so the Screwdriver is to the Doctor. Say what you like about the series but RTD likes Moorcock.
ash1977law From: ash1977law Date: April 15th, 2009 04:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wish to have your clonevat babies!
erjholton From: erjholton Date: April 15th, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I remember that it was destroyed during the Peter Davidson years, and that The Doctor got on perfectly well without that plot device until it reappeared in the rather naff TV movie.
mister_jack From: mister_jack Date: April 15th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I see it as symptom rather than a cause. The whole of New Who has been characterised by shoddy stories with little mystery and unsatisfactory or deus ex endings.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 15th, 2009 09:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Dear Ed, I'd never thought of it that way before, how enlightened about all things Dr Who you must be. It is sad really that I profess to be a super fan of the Dr but I am, in reality, just rather annoying and a poor writer to boot. Luckily for you I only have two shows left before I hand over to a writer with a great deal of talent. I would suggest you don't watch the next 'specials' you'll only be disappointed.

Regards Russ.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: April 15th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I'm a little suspicious of comments like this. But I guess this is the day and age of Google Alerts.

Ah well, I'll just say getting Dr. Who back on TV was a real achievement, and one that's definitely one hell of a legacy.

And for all I dislike your writing style, it's still the case that you're the one getting paid for it, and I'm the one carping on a blog.
crashbarrier From: crashbarrier Date: April 24th, 2009 08:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Mr Russell T Davies.

I wish I had noticed this earlier. I truely hope that this is from Mr Davies and that he actually does read it and take the information on board.

I could announce that I am an unparallelled Dr Who fan but that would not be true, I know many people who know Dr Who far better than I. What I describe myself as is a Science Fiction fan, particulalrly TV Sci Fi.

So As a fan of the genre I do want to thank Mr Davies for returning this to our screens it takes a lot of hard work from the ground up to get something like this moving. But having seen episodes from th efirst through to present episodes I have found myself asking, "was it worth it?"..

I think for the singular episodes which really knock your socks off (Blink, Family of blood, Silence in the library being good examples)then probably yes.. but unfortunately such episodes are buried within a selection of others which, though possibly on the surface are suitable for the 10 year olds and under who watch the series in their droves, are sadly not compelling enough for me to want to watch for a first time let alone a second.

I have sadly found that over all the tv series dissolves into formulaic derivative cliche, often with uninspiring dialogue (often dialogue is what moves a cliche episode from bad to kinda worth watching).

Episodes regularly and heavily rely on a "PlotDevice"(often that screwdriver)to do tasks which would be relatively simple, I.e. unlock a door, or break something, (which a lot of peopel can adequately do with a foot or a brick - we are human's, one of the things we can do really well is break stuff without the need for a technological do-hicky) or just close a plot hole in the story so you can move on to the next bit (which is - to be truthful-boring, a brick is far more interesting than a widget).. Plus The "bad guys" just are not that scarey or threatening I mean often we have a "comp generated monster of the week" or some old and flogged to death monster from the past which is kinda cool for the first 20 minutes but then descended into what i can only describe as cliche stupidity. The master being a prime example. In "the sound of Drums" he is truely and disturbingly scarey but by then end of the episode and into "the last of the time lords" he has descended into absurdity

Formula is well and good but you need to ind ways to make formulaic scripts look good and unfortunately it isn't happening here, and pretty soon those 10 year olds are going to be 12 and 13 and will be wanting to watch stuff with more of an edge.. and the new 10 year olds will be watching something else.

I may not be a TV writer but I am a prolific TV viewer and I have felt for a long time that though production values are better than they have been in history for this series and the acting talent has been impecable, unfortunately the scripts have been largely lacking. which makes me worried for the longevity and sustainability of this series in comparison to its predecessor run.

Yours sincerely

Judith Taylor..
tya From: tya Date: April 16th, 2009 09:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I've written off Dr Who with regard to RTD, clichéd SF farce seems to have been the watchword from day one. I have high hopes for Stephen Moffat though. Fingers crossed we'll see something akin to the tension and creepiness Dr Who used to have. Hopefully we'll see less plot device, more plot...
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