The Doctor can travel anywhere in time and space in his TARDIS, but he’s a big fan of Earth. Over the years, there have been many stories set on Earth – be it in the past, present or future – but are there too many Earth stories? That’s what we’re here to debate this week.
“Anywhere you want. Any time you want. One condition: it has to be amazing.”
That’s the promise the Doctor makes to Amy and Rory in Vampires of Venice and it’s a line that sums up the premise of Doctor Who. The Doctor can take us anywhere in the universe at any point in history. So why does he keep going back to Earth?
The Doctor has a fond liking of our lovely little planet, that much is obvious, but I can’t help thinking that he’s a little bit obsessed. There are millions of planets in the Universe – or so the show tells us – but the Doctor always seems to come back to Earth. Let’s take a look at some of the stats, focussing on post-2005 Who. There have been 116 episodes since the series was brought back in 2005, with 70 of them set on Earth. 71! That’s over 60% of episodes set on Earth. Considering we’ve got all of time and space to play with, we’re still spending more time on Earth than on another planet. And even when we are on Earth, it’s often either London or Cardiff that we visit. More often than not, when stories aren’t set on Earth they are set on space stations or spaceships. So why exactly are the BBC so reluctant to show off any new planets in their hit sci-fi drama?
The BBC obviously have their reasons for keeping the Doctor firmly rooted to Earth, but surely they can improvise a bit. Okay, it may save costs to film in Cardiff and call it Cardiff. But surely they could find some abstract part of town – a quarry perhaps – and call it a different planet. The other cliche is that they’re doing it ‘so the audience can relate to it’. Why do I need to relate to it? If I wanted something I could relate to I’d stare out the window. I watch Doctor Who to lose myself in other worlds and immerse myself in a universe where anything is possible. Fair enough at the start of the 2005 series – as with the original 1963 run – it needs to start off in Earth so people can gradually get used to the idea of other worlds and aliens and the like. But in these days of supersonic hedgehog brothers and Jedi knights, people are used to other planets and aliens. Star Wars wasn’t spoiled because Obi-Wan didn’t keep popping back to Earth was it? Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t suffer because Peter Quill never went back to Earth did it? My main quibble with the ‘aliens invading Earth’ stories is that it breaks the illusion of reality. We know that the Daleks and Cybermen weren’t flying and marching around London in 2006, so therefore we know that what is happening isn’t real. I’m not saying that when the Doctor landed on Trenzalore I believed it was 100% real, but I’ve never been to Trenzalore, so for all I know it could be real.
But why does all this matter? It matters because the show is not delivering on its promise. Every time I tune in to Doctor Who, I’m thinking “I wonder where we’re going this week” but most of the time I’m disappointed because it’s another ‘Earth story’. They may not always be set in the present day, but the fact of the matter is that it’s still Earth. Yes it’s nice to see historical figures like Winston Churchill – played wonderfully by Ian McNiece I may add – but I prefer to see more aliens. With a universe of life out there, it provides us with endless opportunities for characters and stories. It’s not just the other planets we’re missing out on, it’s the beings that inhabit them. Daleks! Cybermen! Those are the characters that people remember, and on their home planets they’re even more deadly, with the advantage of being in their own territories.
Let me ask you this: would The Rings of Akhaten be better off as The Rings of Coventry? Or would Dinosaurs on a Spaceship work better as Dinosaurs on a Field in Yorkshire? Would you be more frightened of The Waters of Earth than The Waters of Mars? And finally, would anybody have tuned in to David Tennant’s first series of Doctor Who if the first episode was just called Earth? Of course not. Doctor Who should explore more of what the universe has to offer and let us delight in visiting these strange and wonderful planets.
‘There shouldn’t be fewer Earth stories’, argues Louis
The planet out there, with three suns, a wormhole, and alien sand – that planet is nothing. You hear me? Nothing! Compared to all those things waiting for you – food, home, people. Hold on to that.
Done right, an alien planet can be something quite special – conveying a sense of exoticism and sheer alienness that’s specific to science-fiction shows. The idea of a civilisation completely disconnected from Earth is appealingly escapist, creating an entirely new world with no anchor to the world we live in.
So, that’s what we think, but what do you think? Vote in the poll whether you think there should be fewer Earth stories and leave your comments below.