Why the Last Series of Dr Who was Badly Written, and Why it Matters

It’s not often that a TV show makes me angry, but the last series of Doctor Who did. It made me really angry.

Why? Because it was badly written. Very badly written. I’ve read many articles to the contrary and, somewhat confusingly, I agree with them. How can that be?

Because I do agree that the writing for the series was superb, but I also think that some of the episodes with the best writing in them were also the worst written overall.

So where’s the contradiction? It lies in the writers’ almost total disregard for the science in the Science Fiction.

Does it matter? After all, this is a show that features a character who can travel in time. Time travel is impossible, surely that shows a complete disregard for science. Well, yes, but that’s not the problem. In Science Fiction you can have one impossible thing, you can maybe have two or three impossible things that you build your story around. That’s the nature of the genre, but there’s a caveat: you have to maintain internal consistency. If you accept your two or three impossible things and then continue to go trampling over the science just for the sake of the plot, then that’s just bad writing. Full stop. And that’s what happened in the last series of Dr Who.

Does it matter?

If you want to write SF, yes it does. If you care about SF, it does. Because this sort of bad writing cheapens what the rest of us SF writers are trying to do. It falls in with the received wisdom of the Literary Establishment that these things don’t really matter, that ignorance of Maths and Science is nothing to be ashamed of.

No one would dream of writing a detective show without consulting basic police procedure. I read somewhere that the BBC is always careful to make sure that the steam engines it includes in period dramas are correct because so many people write in to complain when they get it wrong. So why is it okay to ignore bad science? A dragon hatching and laying an egg straight away? Trees suddenly appearing to save us from a solar flare? These were well written episodes with bad explanations just tacked on. They could have been much better. Are the writers really going to claim failure of the imagination?

Yes, it’s nice that the BBC include this sort of drama in their mainstream schedules, it’s great that they throw money and actors at it to produce a quality product. But if they ignore the science, then they’re saying that it doesn’t matter, that when in it comes down to it, the S in SF doesn’t matter. It’s the only the F that counts.

Well, I think they’re wrong, and unlike some of the other reviewers, I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

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