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TGT Debate – Which Time Period Should Stories Be Set In?

Last week we looked at whether we would prefer to see more classic aliens return in future Doctor Who or if there should be more new aliens. Though the voting was close, it seems that you want to see more classic aliens return, with 58% votes to 42%.

This week, we’re completely throwing out the metaphorical rulebook and having a three way argument. You see, we’ve been discussing whether there should be more stories set in the past, more stories in the future or if the Doctor should just stick to present day. We all have differing views on this, so let’s hear what each other has to say.

“I want to go to the past!” argues Anna

I’m sure many would agree with me when I say that history tends to be a very boring subject. So many names and dates to memorise, so many battles and victories that one can barely keep track. But imagine how much easier it would be if these people you read about in your history books could be brought to life. We know of course, that this isn’t really possible, but we have seen episodes of Doctor Who in which our friends meet great historical figures. What was once just a name in a textbook becomes someone with a personality, someone who we can understand and relate to. We learn their story, which is always more memorable when they tell it themselves. It suddenly becomes relevant, and we care more about the history that formed our culture today. With more episodes set in the past, people would learn about history in a way that is much more appealing. 
Despite all these textbooks full of names and events, there are often gaps in history. Missing years of people’s lives that no one bothered to write down. These gaps allow for the writers to get creative, explaining a missing piece in someone’s story with a tale of aliens that couldn’t possibly be told to anyone of the time period without them getting locked away in a madhouse. Also, the Doctor tends to inspire people to do things that are often uncharacteristic. This could explain random and confusing acts performed by historical figures.  
We could also travel even further into the past, before people. We could see what the Earth was like when it was young and very different. We could discover the Silurian lifestyle before they had to go underground. Perhaps we could meet Madame Vastra as a child. Exploring the world before humans has many possibilities for great storylines, as there is a lot more time there to explore.  
It doesn’t just have to be our past, either. Often, our adventures with the Doctor bring us far into the future, on alien planets. But perhaps we’d like to see more episodes in which the history of various planets and species are revealed. Imagine seeing the origins of well-known enemies, or maybe even their predecessors; what sort of beings evolved into the creatures we know today? Or we could see the birth of a planet, how different planets began; they couldn’t possibly have all started out looking like our own. There is so much potential for episodes set in the past, and the writers should definitely explore these and more awesome options.

“I want to see the future!” argues Ben

The past has already gone and we’re trying to escape the present by watching the show. Evidently, the future is where it’s all happening. The future opens up so many possibilities and gives writers a greater freedom to share with us what they think the future holds for the universe, whether it be the evolution of our home planet, humans exploring far out worlds, or a new race on an alien planet.

The trouble with setting stories in the past is that everything has already been established. We all knew that the volcano was going to erupt over Pompeii. Okay, it was nice to see how the Doctor made it happen, but it wasn’t much of a surprise. Because these things have already happened and we know the outcome, it restricts writers to specific characters and events, making it harder for them to be original.

Setting a story in the present day is even more complicated, as when we watch episodes back, the cultural references quickly become outdated as the present quickly becomes the past. In a show with a format that can travel to any time, why on Earth would you want to stay in the present day? It’s like Cadbury’s saying “I think we’ll just stick to dairy milk and make nothing else.” I want my Curly Wurly dammit!

The future allows us to predict what we think our own future might look like. Although some predictions don’t always come true – most notably the Shayne Ward greatest hits poster in Fear Her – it’s interesting to see what the writers and designers can come up with. Generally, future stories show humans that have survived and evolved, travelling out into space to find new planets. This gives us hope. This gives us reassurance that everything will – at least in our beloved Whoniverse – be okay. Because while we celebrate the past and revel in the present, humans are always looking to the future, and Doctor Who can allow us, for a brief moment, to see what it might be like.

“I want to stay right here!” argues Bedwyr

Some of the most memorable and scariest Doctor Who stories are often those set in present day Earth. In contrast, historical stories can be difficult to produce effectively and futuristic stories are vulnerable to ridicule. 
What makes present day stories so much more exciting is that they are located in realistic settings that viewers can recognise and easily relate to. When an alien creature is thrown into those surroundings it creates the most iconic images of the series, such as Daleks on Westminster Bridge and Cybermen outside St Paul’s Cathedral. This was such a strong concept that producer Derek Sherwin made the decision to base the show on Earth during the 70s, following the success of The Web of Fear in 1968. This plan came into full effect with Jon Pertwee’s first season in the lead role and was an attempt to make the show feel real, like the Quatermass serials had achieved, making the drama and scares even more effective. This concept has continued in the modern version of the programme. For example, the universally popular episode Blink concludes with a montage of images showing other statues, implying that the Weeping Angels could be all around us. Similarly, part of the fun of Doctor Who when you are a child is the possibility of walking around the corner of a normal street and seeing the TARDIS or being faced with a Dalek. This is only achievable by having stories set in the present day, creating those images that thrive with the imagination.

So, you’ve heard what we think, but which time would you like to see the Doctor frequent more often? Vote in the poll below and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Where would you like to see the Doctor visit more often?