Doctor Who: What Makes a Great Multi-Doctor Story?

The Two Doctors

If the ‘The Two Doctors’ could be considered a cash grab, it failed. The fourth story of Season 22, it had the lowest average viewing figures per episode, with ratings going down for episode one from the final part of ‘The Mark of the Rani’. John Nathan-Turner asked for another multi-Doctor story and wanted it to be partly filmed in New Orleans to appeal to American fans. The funding fell through and the story was relocated to Seville after Robert Holmes had already drafted a story based around the New Orleans setting (creating a race of food-obsessed aliens and writing a story about vegetarianism as a result). There are some thoughtful defenses of this story (Rob Shearman’s, for example, in About Time Vol. 6), describing ‘The Two Doctors’ as the opposite of a celebration, a scabrous satire on Doctor Who itself and what an audience will accept as monstrous. Whichever interpretation of it you go along with, this is darkly comic and provocative, and so stands out among the multi-Doctor stories. Nonetheless, it continues the Holmes tradition established in ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and Dicks continued in ‘The Five Doctors’ of making the Time Lords seem morally murky.

Robert Holmes and Steven Moffat are very different writers, but Moffat’s multi-Doctor stories move from celebratory to discursive, with different eras of the show in conversation with each other. In this way both writers use multi-Doctor stories to write Doctor Who about Doctor Who. Due to Moffat writing his stories after the show had been off-air (for sixteen years between 1989 and 2005) his stories of him have this gap to address and bridge. Hence when the idea of ​​the War Doctor developed, Moffat was able to use him to represent what has now become known as ‘The Classic Series’ Doctors. This was a relief for Moffat, because he felt pressure to include previous Doctors but he knew that the story he wanted to tell precluded this. This allowed him to have a representative of the original run interact with and criticize the post-2005 series.

Time Crash, Day of the Doctor, and Twice Upon a Time

With his Children in Need special ‘Time Crash’ Moffat has the Tenth Doctor/David Tennant explicitly connect Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor with the current incarnation of both character and show. In his final script for the show, Moffat has David Bradley’s First Doctor and Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth interact. The most successful part of this is the First Doctor witnessing the violence and horror of Doctor Who unfold in front of him, especially the escalating stakes of the post-2005 series, and see his future as being the ‘Doctor of War’ (the response from Twelve, “To be fair, they cut out all the jokes”, is amazing ). Again we see a Doctor from the original run interrogating and responding to tropes of the newer series. Moffat being a more romantic cynic than Robert Holmes, these questions end up with happier answers.

All three of Moffat’s multi-Doctor stories are influenced by their production situations, especially ‘The Day of the Doctor’. With Eccleston not returning, Moffat needed to change his plans for him, and the invention of the War Doctor was huge for the story itself, the mythology of the show, and to allow the meta-commentary mentioned above. With the Ninth Doctor this simply would not have had the same impact or worked in the same way. ‘Twice Upon a Time’ exists largely because Moffat didn’t want Doctor Who to lose its Christmas Day slot, with the new production team unwilling to launch with a Christmas episode, and so an extra story was written for the Twelfth Doctor. Moffat, as he often did, turned the show in on itself and wrote a partially successful story about memories, and the influence of the past on the future and the future on the past.

The 60th Anniversary?

So in terms of the 60th Anniversary episode, can we say with certainty what needs to be in it?

Nope.

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