Story vs. Story Arc

I think I’m becoming disenchanted by Doctor Who–still love it, particularly the individual stories, but the story arcs are starting to be more annoying than wonderful. Which is very surprising to me. Either I want what I can’t have, or it is possible to have too much of a good thing. When I was a kid, the thing that most disappointed me about Star Trek: The Next Generation (and any number of other shows) was the lack of development—the way that the characters and setting didn’t seem to change nearly as much as episode events seemed to warrant. Sure, solving the problem of the week was interesting, but it just left me feeling unfulfilled. Ongoing development of the story and the characters is what made me love Blake’s 7 so much.So when Babylon 5 came along, I finally had exactly what I was looking for: a scifi TV series built explicitly to tell a novel-like story, ongoing and with beginning, middle, and end–and long enough that we would have character development and see the setting itself change and respond to what happened. To this day, it’s still perhaps my favorite TV series, and largely for that reason–watching G’Kar and Londo, in particular, change and grow as real people would, in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

best frenemies?

That was also my only complaint against Doctor Who: I wanted more continuity! I absolutely loved The Key to Time and Trial of a Time Lord. It was so awesome when the Master showed up. I looked forward to the next Cybermen or Daleks story, or to finding out more about Gallifrey. And when we finally encountered a Rutan, after hearing about them for years? It didn’t even matter that it just looked like half of green eggs and ham. [Though it didn’t hurt that it was one of the best episodes of the era.] In general, when a character—villain, monster, alien, friend, bit part—came back, it was almost guaranteed that I’d love the episode, just for the building of the mythology and the setting, and the extra weight familiarity with the previous story lent to the current one.

I do not like Rutan and ham

So, when Doctor Who was revived, and we started having more recurring characters/settings, and story threads that wove through many of the episodes of a season, I was initially very happy: it was everything I like about Doctor Who, plus some other stuff that I’d always liked, too. It was even enough, in concert with Eccleston, to make me forgive it for being all on Earth. But then with each subsequent season, more and more of the episodes tied into these ongoing threads, and the season arcs became predictable: every season would end with a 2- or 3-part story that wrapped up some major threat, and every episode turning out in hindsight to have had some part to play in that story. I had hoped with Moffat taking over, we’d finally be free of the overblown fanfiction season endings. No such luck.

But really, I think it’s neither ongoing story arcs nor stand-alone stories that I object to or want. It’s variety that I want. One of the biggest strengths of Doctor Who is the versatility of the format–we can set a story anywhere and anywhen, and make just about any style of story work, from near-farce to nightmare-inducing horror. I don’t want to know what’s coming because it’s predictable–if I know, it should be because I’m clever. Tom Baker might not be my favorite Doctor, but his era is definitely my favorite, and it’s in large part because so few of the stories were on Earth or any other familiar place.

Perhaps more importantly, I want mysteries! I’m not sure which is worse: the season-long mysteries, or the fact that if there’s a plot thread left dangling, I know it’ll be resolved. I want the illusion of a world too big for us to comprehend.

just when did he originally “fix” Xoanon?

So, we don’t need to eliminate story arcs, but I would love it if they stopped coinciding with the seasons. To start with, I really hope that the Silence plot thread is basically over–that they’re actually defeated. Unfortunately, I’m sure that they aren’t. But, along the way, if we must have a season-long story arc, can we at least have some stories that don’t have anything to do with the Silence?


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