Pratchett says he wishes he could hate the show, because it’s not science fiction and it discards Chekhov’s rifle. Unsurprising, really: the Doctor doesn’t much like guns.
Pratchett elevates said rifle to a Law of Narrative, which I’m not sure it really is. For all his objection to deus ex machina, it’s a founding technique of literature, and hardly unusual. And anyone who follows the man behind Who, Steve Moffat, knows that he’s an absolute master of that supposed law. Coupling‘s core mechanics were desire, shame, and Chekhov’s rifle.
His predecessor, Russell T. Davies, is also pretty able to plant props in advance.
So on Doctor Who, why don’t they?
Because it’s beside the point, I think. Modern Doctor Who is entirely about the characters and the spectacle and how the characters react to the spectacle. When I sit down to watch the show, I’m not looking to find out how Amy Pond came to be attached to cracks in the universe. I’m watching for that scene where she chases the Doctor around her bedroom.
I’m not there to find out what rules the Doctor will manipulate to stop the plague of gas mask zombies… I’m there to see his reaction when, for just one episode, everyone lives.
The narrative structure of Doctor Who is all about those reactions and interactions along the way. It’s kind of like going on an actual trip, where the point isn’t whether or not you mentioned sunscreen to Mom but how she reacts when you find yourself in Egypt without it.
By the way, this is one reason I basically don’t write Doctor Who fanfic. As a writer, my brain always wants to go back in time and set everything up just right for the events to come. I have to keep myself from building too many rules into my worlds, because I already have a terrible tendency to put things into little quantifiable boxes.1
I’m grateful, honestly, that somebody’s making TV that’s not about that.
- I don’t know if roleplaying has helped or hurt in this regard. Ron Edwards would probably say it’s White Wolf baggage, and he might be right. On the other hand, roleplaying’s taught me a lot about screwing around with my plans retroactively. ↩