Follow TV Tropes


So You Want To / Write the Next "Doctor Who"

Go To

"Ooo-ee-oooo, ooo-ooo..."

Since 1963, entire generations have grown up with Doctor Who, and have been thrilled — and terrified — by the Doctor's adventures against some of the greatest evils in the galaxy, including the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Doctor's arch-nemesis, the Master. The show has been brought back to TV twice since its cancellation in 1989 (the first time, in 1996, being something of a non-starter; the second time in 2005 proving more durable) and has seen a complex and intertwining expanded universe of novels, audio plays, comics and even a set of Alternate Continuity movies. So someone obviously did something right.


Needless to say, following in the footsteps of Doctor Who is a daunting task indeed. Fortunately for you, there's plenty of Doctor Who fans around here who can steer you straight.

You can also take heart in the fact that Doctor Who is in fact, a narrative device for whatever story the writer wants to tell — there's no Star Trek style continuity bible, no fixed limits to The 'Verse and an almost infinite variety of narrative styles, settings and devices.


Necessary Tropes

First and foremost, Doctor Who is a Walking the Earth story, at least in its televisual incarnation. While the Expanded Universe has had more freedom to explore ideas, the TV series' young target audience means a Monster of the Week (or other villain-of-the-week) format has proved most successful. The best monsters are firmly the stuff of nightmares. Also important is the element of True Companions between the Doctor and his companion, who usually functions as The Watson. Different characters will relate differently to the Doctor, of course, and there have been one or two less-than-lovable companions, but ultimately, both Doctor and companion will rescue the other, if it comes to that.

Some of the things seen by casual viewers as Necessary Tropes are actually not. The companion doesn't need to be a young, attractive human woman from contemporary Britain: it's true that that's often the case, but the Doctor's had several male companions and companions from all across time and space (including, but not limited to, an Australian, a Fake American, a robot dog from the distant future, and several aliens) — one of the longest-running companions ever was a man from 1746. Similarly, the Unresolved Sexual Tension between Doctor and companion is largely an invention of the 2005 Retool.

Chase sequences, preferably up and down corridors, are absolutely mandatory.


Using the TARDIS

Doctor Who writers frown on using the TARDIS as a Deus ex Machina, and most will use it only as a way to get the Doctor and companions to the plot hook. Actually separating the TARDIS and its crew, and making the Doctor's primary motivation getting back to it, is a classic plot device.

Plot Hook-wise, having the TARDIS answer a Distress Call is a fine old cliché that probably has plenty of mileage left. You could do worse, anyway. But here's some advice from former Show Runner Uncle Rusty:

You wouldn't believe it, but every writer who comes in to write their first script has the TARDIS answering a distress call! You just sit there going, "No, just have him land, why can't he just land, walk out the door and go, 'Where am I?'" Then he can hear a distress call. But it's the most boring way to start a story.

Former script editor Andrew Cartmel said the same thing writers starting their outlines with the TARDIS getting "a flat tire."

The standard excuse to the companion (and audience) for "why doesn't the Doctor just go back in time and..." is that once the TARDIS has landed, it has become part of the events. Something called the Blinovitch Limitation Effect was frequently name-dropped in previous series to imply that the Doctor going back in time and fixing things once he's already involved in them would have Extremely Bad Results. (The Russell T. Davies era brought out the Clock Roaches as just one of the ways things can go horribly wrong.)

In addition to transportation, the TARDIS is also legitimately used as a Weirdness Magnet and as a repository for whatever Technobabble gadgets your plot requires.

Using the sonic screwdriver

"Less is more" goes for the sonic screwdriver, too. Yes, it is essentially a Magic Wand: it can do whatever you, the writer, need it to. But it shouldn't solve all the Doctor's problems and it is emphatically not a gun. Beware of Invincible Hero.

In general, the screwdriver works best when limited to performing small, concrete tasks to move the story along: opening doors, disabling security cameras, etc. It is an all-purpose answer to the question "Why didn't the bad guys just [lock the doors/ask the guards to keep a lookout for the intruders/imprison the Doctor/take the doomsday device with them when they left the room; etc.]?" Best of all, if you need, say, a door to keep the Doctor out, there's plenty of room to handwave an explanation along the lines of "it doesn't work on wood!"

The Doctor as a character

  • The standard truism for writers is that the Doctor is never cruel or cowardly. Cautious, yes, but not cowardly. You can, however, have a character like the Master or the Dream Lord accuse him as part of a Breaking Lecture.
    • While the Valeyard himself is cruel and cowardly, it is also emphasized he is an aberration, not being a "proper" incarnation unto himself.
  • The Doctor himself often gives a Breaking Lecture or even a full-on Hannibal Lecture to his enemies, some incarnations more than others. This tendency began with the very first Doctor. Only the Second and Fifth Doctors have shied away from giving them.
  • Human traits that the Doctor particularly admires include tenacity, creativity, and courage. That he values these traits is a clue to his own character and problem-solving style.
  • The Doctor always sides with the oppressed against the oppressors, except in some historical stories where that would change the timeline. Government Drug Enforcement or any other form of coerced happiness counts as oppression in his book.
  • He prefers to incapacitate, or, better yet, outmanoeuver, his enemies rather than kill them. He has a weakness for poetic justice, though, and especially likes to catch enemies in their own traps.
  • He usually obeys a sort of temporal Prime Directive, in that he doesn't trust a society — or even an individual person — to have and use technology too far ahead of its time (or, more generally, that they didn't develop themselves). (This is the primary reason why he doesn't like the Torchwood Institute, whose whole purpose is to get hold of alien technologies and develop them for human users.) However, unlike most, this Directive does allow for him to intervene in history in order to combat a particular injustice or wrong. It does mean that he finds himself faced with the problem of certain events he can change and others he cannot; the new series usually phrases this as the Doctor being 'part of events', meaning he cannot go back and change something which he is already involved in. Alternatively, he may find that he has become involved in what he calls a 'fixed point in time' — i.e. some event of significance that cannot be altered without (it is implied) risking some kind of immense damage to or even destruction of the universe. This can range from the death of a single person, no matter how minor, to a sea change in the course of history.
  • The Doctor's first choice in solving a problem is communication. He will attempt to figure out the nature of the story's antagonists (e.g. which species, and what they want). If the problem is one he can fix (e.g. the alien can't communicate with humans, or the alien is just lost and needs a lift back home), he will generally do so.
  • The Doctor honors his word, and usually expects (sometimes naively) everyone else to honor theirs. He does not look kindly upon those who break that trust.
    • The Seventh Doctor broke with the latter principle in a big way. This accounts in large part for his reputation as the "Dark Doctor". However, it is important to remember that even the Seventh Doctor did not violate the trust of others lightly or flippantly, or for purely selfish reasons; he typically did so in service of a larger good or to defeat a larger evil, and one which had already proven itself untrustworthy. While he would manipulate his friends and allies, he would only do so if he felt it was for a broader good, would typically feel and demonstrate guilt about doing so and would try to make amends where possible.
  • He seems to view "life" as more or less equivalent to "sentience". That is,
    • If someone has been taken over by an outside force and there's absolutely no way of getting the real personality back, then the Doctor views them as already dead.
    • The Doctor will treat androids, monsters, members of a race that is shunned or stigmatized, etc., as he would any fellow sentient beings.
    • Note also how many of the Doctor's more notable enemies (Daleks, Cybermen, etc) fall within a race which has become homogenized to the point of the almost-complete obliteration of individuality; a sense of the individual is clearly important to the Doctor's conception of "sentience".
    • Also note that fierce individuality has been shown to be the hat of both humans, and, more importantly, Time Lords. A single Time Lord being involved in a plot is usually a very big deal while in groups they are usually Obstructive Bureaucrats, or even vile villains.
  • As suggested above, the Doctor is something of an individualist, at least in terms of his personal philosophy. He enjoys having his freedoms and pleasures, seeks to live his life on his terms, and fiercely chafes against authority, rules and structures being imposed upon him. Even his dress sense usually reflects his own tastes and styles over those of a broader fashion consensus (while obvious examples like the Fourth Doctor's scarf and the Sixth Doctor's outfit come to mind, this also occurs in smaller ways — even the Tenth Doctor, who probably came the closest to being fashionable, still wore comfy sports sneakers that clashed with his otherwise smart suits).
    • However, while the Doctor strongly values individuality he is not a purist or fundamentalist on the subject, and does acknowledge that broader social and collective needs exist which outweigh the wants and desires of a single individual, including himself. Just as he opposes any force which attempts to enforce total collectivism and homogeneity, he is also quite willing to oppose any individual who selfishly places his or her own wants and needs beyond those of the wider social good; be this a dictator trying to force everyone to conform to their ideal society, a scientist obsessed with proving a hypothesis or completing an experiment to ensure their own personal glory regardless of the potential wider harm it could do, or a businessperson seeking to profit at the expense of others. Furthermore, a common strategy of his is to bring together disparate individuals (or "hats") who may be in some form of lesser conflict and encourage them to find commonalities and work together, both to defeat a larger threat and to resolve their conflicts. Another common example from the classic series is the Doctor being manipulated into solving a problem for the Time Lords; while he will make no secret of how much he resents them for putting him in such a position, he will ultimately acquiesce if the alternative is allowing innocent people to die and a greater evil to succeed.
    • Essentially, while the Doctor highly values individuality and personal liberty he will willingly defer to the needs of the many when necessary; but don't expect him to always be pleased about doing so.
  • The Doctor only rarely has a plan of action at the outset. He makes it up as he goes along.
  • Violence is the Doctor's last choice, and he nearly never uses guns himself. That the Doctor prefers to keep his hands clean by letting other people do his dirty work is a fair criticism (brought up in the Twelfth Doctor's character arc in Series 8, among other places). The Doctor is, at best, a Technical Pacifist; he doesn't like to fight, but he will if he must, and whilst he might not use guns personally he's found plenty of ways to get around that in the past.
    • Even when he has taken up weapons against an enemy, it's always a) directly involved the Time War's participants (the Time Lords and Daleks), b) risked massive catastrophe (planet-wide genocide being the lower end of the scale), and c) still preferred the use of the weapon to cause indirect harm, such as Ten firing a pistol at an object or the War Doctor shooting down a wall. The Ninth Doctor alone attempted to directly use a weapon to kill an enemy, and failed, leading to a Heel Realization.
  • In keeping with the above two points, the Doctor generally doesn't go around picking fights or looking for trouble (he does, however, look for excitement or something interesting, which generally leads to trouble). Usually, he just wanders across a problem, and his first instinct when faced with someone planning on starting something is to ask to change their course of action or warn they of what would occur if they chose otherwise. (This is especially true of New Series Doctors, who make a special point of offering the enemy a peaceful way out.) When they (inevitably) refuse... well, though he didn't start the fight, he is perfectly willing to end it by any means necessary.
  • The Doctor prefers to vanish right when the action is resolved; he doesn't want to be around for the cleanup.
  • The Doctor feels some responsibility for the people travelling with him, and will always save them if he can, even at the cost of his own life. If they or any of the other people he meets are really determined to make Heroic Sacrifices to save the day, though, he will applaud their courage and perhaps look mournful, but not stop them.
  • The Doctor can and will lie when it suits his purposes, even, in extremis, to his own companions. He will not, generally, lie about having lied.
  • The Doctor can be either male or female, having had (as of 2017) thirteen male incarnations and one female incarnation.
  • Each regeneration maintains true to the above rules, but personality traits vary wildly, particularly from the immediately previous regeneration. Elegant Three becomes bohemian Four; gentle Five becomes abrasive Six; boyish, quirky Eleven becomes Grumpy Old Man Twelve; cynical Twelve becomes earnest, openhearted Thirteen, etc.

The companion as a character

We've talked a lot about the Doctor so far, but what about those he travels with? They're just as important to get right as the Doctor, and perhaps more so:
  • The companion is generally female. The Doctor has rarely travelled with only a male companion (and not for long at that); whenever there has been a male companion on board, there's usually been a female companion as well. Even Jamie, the male companion who has, to date, travelled longest with the Doctor, also travelled alongside women, namely Polly, Victoria, and Zoe. This has the effect of establishing a clear male-female dynamic to the Doctor-companion relationship which, while not exclusive, provides a handy template from which to work.
  • The Doctor also usually travels with one or two people at a time; certainly no more than three. Having more than one companion around tends to be tricky for writers to handle, in terms of giving everyone enough to do. Two companions and the Doctor seems manageable, but having three or more seems to be a bit of a struggle. Something to keep in mind.
  • So, who is the companion? Generally, they're:
    • Human. The Doctor seems to like having humans around, often vocally considering them his favourite species. This is obviously a matter of practicality. It saves on make-up costs for a start, budget considerations being something the Doctor Who production team cannot afford to sniff at. This also enables the audience to engage with what's happening easily. He has travelled with non-humans before, to great success. Romana, a Time Lady, was quite popular with the audience, as was the robot dog K9, although due to his tendency to break down in real life, K9 was not popular with the production team. But they're outnumbered by humans. (Another "real" robot companion, Kamelion, got written out in record time because his remote-control operator died and no one knew how to operate him.)
    • From the Present Day. Again, the companion is usually intended as an audience identification figure, and it's often easier to do this if the companion comes from a time which roughly coincides with that of the viewer. This tends to mean the recent past or the near future at most. Of course, there are exceptions.
    • Less "intelligent" and/or\ less worldly-wise than the Doctor. This enables them to again act as an audience stand-in by asking all the questions ("Where are we? What's going on? What's that?!"), enabling the Doctor to act as Mr. Exposition. Even Romana, who was established at times as more intellectually gifted than the Doctor, was still less experienced than him and allowed her to fill this role at times.
      • Important note: "Less intelligent" does not equal stupid. Companions who have clung on too tightly to the Idiot Ball in the past have generally not gone down well. Well written companions should have areas of aptitude or knowledge the Doctor is lacking in, such as Clara's ability to compensate for Twelve's lack of social skills or Donna spotting that, against all normal expectations, no-one had ever taken a sick day at the company they were looking into which Ten hadn't picked up on.
    • Curious. They have an interest in the universe around them and the wonders the Doctor shows them. Particularly in the new series, in their early scenes they're often directly compared with more jaded, less intellectually curious, or more timid people around them to demonstrate how they stand out, and consequently why they appeal to the Doctor.
    • Moral and ethical. The companion generally supports the Doctor in his battles against evil. However, particularly in the new series, the companion has often acted as the Doctor's moral guide; even when he's not being particularly an Anti-Hero, the Doctor is still an alien, and therefore does not often operate according to human morality. The companion has often acted to guide the Doctor into doing what is right, express outrage when he does go too far and steer in him the right direction once again. Much has been made in the new series about how the Doctor needs someone around him to "stop him" from going too far.
      • Trustworthy. The companion usually functions as the Doctor's best friend, and unscrupulous types rarely get invited aboard. Although mileage has and can be made from making the companion an untrustworthy sort who may even be acting against the Doctor (such as Turlough in the classic series, and Adam in the new series. These generally don't tend to last long. Turlough did a Heel–Face Turn and became a genuine companion, and Adam was booted out of the TARDIS after one adventure because he betrayed the Doctor's trust and lied to him.
    • Able to be frightened. It's a big, bad, scary universe the Doctor inhabits, and it's often been the companion's job to get scared by it when necessary (such as when the Monster of the Week is bearing down on them). Be careful with this one, however. In the past, this has translated to the typical cliche of the companion standing around doing a lot of screaming. Keeping in mind that the companion is generally female, and this can lead to some quite outdated gender roles and Unfortunate Implications very quickly. It also tends to make the companion look rather useless and come off as rather irritating. Consequently, this means that more modern roles for the companion have made them more:
    • Capable. Although they are usually still not as competent as the Doctor, the companion is expected to look after herself. You don't have to make the companion Ellen Ripley (although you could do worse), but modern audiences will find the timid, screaming, near-useless cliche of the Doctor Who companion unacceptable these days. (That said, while that described a few of the Doctor's companions, many other deviated from the pattern.)
  • In the past, the companion's relationship with the Doctor has tended be more a close friendship or a teacher-student relationship, with little overt romantic tension. The new series companions have generally introduced more romantic subtext between the Doctor and the companion. This also impacts on the male companion-female companion dynamic as well; the male companion in these cases is often the female companion's 'everyman' boyfriend, and is less than pleased at both the risks inherent in the Doctor's chaotic lifestyle and the female companion's obvious interest in the daring, charismatic and heroic Doctor, which often expresses itself in hostility towards the Doctor.
  • Companions who are witness to a regeneration must get to know their strange friend all over again due to his altered personality and appearance, which can take a while and provides a deep well of Character Development for both sides. Examples; Peri's relationship with Five/Six, Rose's with Nine/Ten, and Clara's with Eleven/Twelve.

Choices, Choices

Two main choices to make:setting and genre. Doctor Who is a very versatile format and continuity has never been strictly observed. The setting can be pure space fantasy with Crystal Spires and Togas, 20 Minutes into the Future, ancient Rome, Victorian Cardiff, Space Opera — or, of course, contemporary London. (His sojourns in places outside of Europe are quite rare by comparison.)

Doctor Who can fit into any genre, from Gothic Horror to Film Noir to Political Allegory to straight Action-Adventure. Pick one you'd like to write, and go with it.


The main pitfall is in writing something that your effects budget can't create (leading to Special Effects Failure), or a story too big to fit into the time allowed. Steven Moffat once observed that Who monsters tend to work best right up until the moment they're revealed. Judicious use of Nothing Is Scarier can really stretch an anemic budget.

The other pitfall many writers seem to fall into is over-use of the Villain Ball (so many villains were only caught because they pointlessly murdered people) or the Idiot Ball (companions wandering off and into trouble ... again...)

The 2005 reboot has also been frequently accused of over-relying on the Reset Button and / or the Deus ex Machina as a means of resolving the plot. To be fair, this isn't entirely limited to the new series, as the old series also had numerous moments where things built up to someone pressing the right button at the right time, which conveniently resolved the plot for them.

Techno Babble can also be a bit of an issue. Doctor Who has always generally hovered around the "soft" side of the "hard" science fiction dichotomy, but the over-use of technobabble can easily switch an audience off.

Some of the show's longer stories, particularly in the serial format of the classic series, also tended to run out of steam by the third episode or thereabouts, generally relying on a lot of Padding wherein the Doctor and friends would get captured, locked up, threatened with death, escape, run around the villain's base a bit, and then get cornered again just in time for the end of episode cliffhanger (lather, rinse, repeat, depending on how many more episodes were left in the story). The new series, with a shorter running time, has generally avoided the problem of padding, but instead can seem to go the opposite route, resulting in a lot of frantic running around, shouting and waving of arms in the last fifteen minutes or so to effect a hurried (and not necessarily coherent) conclusion to events.

A note also about the fan-base: as might be expected with a series that has being going strong in some form for almost fifty years in a wide variety of styles, formats and approaches, Doctor Who has a huge fan-base. And this fan-base is incredibly varied, intensely committed and, so it sometimes seems, unable to agree on anything. Some like the post-2005 not the 1963-1989 series, some like the old series but not the new series, some like parts of and absolutely nothing else, and so on. As such, no matter what you do, the fans will be split roughly between those who think you're the best thing to happen to the series and who worship everything you've ever written, and those who believe you're a soulless demon sent from Hell by Satan himself to spite them personally by ruining the show. Take this into account when you're reading the reactions of both groups.

Potential Ways of Playing With A Trope

Try taking one of the Aesops mentioned below and turning it on its head is always a good place to start. Maybe sometimes there are problems that no one can overcome, no matter how determined they are, or how great a team they have with them. Maybe there can be Happiness in Slavery. Maybe we would be happier if we were all the same. Given in mind the length of a Long Runner like Doctor Who, it has probably already explored many of these themes in some form or another.

Writers' Lounge


One word from each column, separated by "of" or "of the". Couldn't be simpler.

Column A

Age, Aliens, Ambassadors, Androids, Apocalypse, Ark, Attack, Asylum, Battle, Bells, Blood, Brain, Carnival, Caves, City, Claws, Code, Curse, Dalek Invasion, Day, Death, Demons, Destiny, Edge, End, Eve, Evil, Evolution, Face, Family, Fires, Forest, Fugitive, Genesis, Hand, Haunting, Horns, Horror, Invasion, Image, Keeper, Keys, Last, Mark, Masque, Menace, Mind, Monster, Name, Nightmare, Nikola Tesla's Night, Parting, Planet, Power, Prison, Pyramids, Remembrance, Resurrection, Revelation, Revenge, Revolution, Rings, Rise, Robots, Seeds, Sound, State, Stones, Survivors, Talons, Terror, Time, Tomb, Vampires, Victory, Village, Voyage, War, Warriors, Waters, Web, Wedding

Column B

Akhaten, Androids, Androzani, Angels, Autons, Assassins, Axos, Black Spot, Blood, Chaos, Cybermen, Daleks, Damned, Dead, Decay, Death, Demons, Destruction, Dinosaurs, Doctor, Doom, Doomed, Drums, Earth, Eden, Evil, Fang Rock, Fear, Fenric, Fendahl, Fire, Flux, Forsaken, Ghosts, Impossible, Infinite, Infinity, Judoon, Kroll, London, Lost, Mandragora, Monsters, Moon, Morbius, Nimon, Ood, Peladon, Punjab, Ranskoor av Kolos, Rani, River Song, Robots, Saint John, Sherwood, Sontarans, Space, Spiders, Steel, Terror, Tara, Time, Time Lords, Traken, Venice, Vervoids, Villa Diodati, Vortex, Ways, World, Weng-Chiang, Zygons

Suggested Themes and Aesops

Probably the biggest theme of Doctor Who is that one person can make a difference and that it's always a worthy thing to try to help people. Even in the stories where the Doctor fails miserably and almost everybody dies, there's at least one person left who is better off for having met him, or some malignant entity who's worse off (and deservedly so) for having opposed him.

Another major theme is freedom. The Doctor is beholden to no one, goes where the wind takes him and on the few occasions he finds himself having to bend to the whims of authority he resents it with a passion. Those authority figures who aren't evil are usually well meaning, but incompetent, or at least woefully unequipped to deal with whatever predicament has come up this week.

Paradoxically, the importance of teamwork is also a major force in many stories, with the Doctor and his companions, or UNIT and/or others putting their heads together to solve the problem. It's even been suggested a few times the the Doctor would be happier if he could find a place to belong, but this is usually dismissed fairly quickly.

The Doctor values self-actualization and the realization of hidden potential as much as he values freedom: "There's no such thing as an ordinary human".

Then there's the importance of diversity. The Doctor travels to many different places and touches the lives of many different people; generally, the only ones who are portrayed as irredeemable are those bent on trying to take away the freedom and/or individuality of others. This is best exemplified by his two greatest foes, the Daleks, who wish to EX-TER-MIN-ATE all other forms of life, and the Cybermen, relentless collectivists who believe the universe will be a much happier place when everyone else is turned into a faceless machine like them.

Similarly, the new series has taken criticism for the prevalence of the Heroic Sacrifice as a means to resolve a plot. (The old series used it quite a lot, too. Dalek stories always have them.)

In either case, write whatever you want to write, but it does pay to be aware of form, and if the audience feel a particular device has been overused of late it may be wise to avoid it.

Potential Motifs

Motifs for the entire series include the police box form of the TARDIS; although initially just a way of cutting the budget by making the Doctor's time machine something cheap and easy to recognize and place in different locations, it's become an icon of the series. It's also quite tempting to view it at least partially as part of the Doctor's overall character; like the best police officers, he protects and defends the innocent.

Being an obvious symbol of time (and hence time travel), clocks are also a potential; they were quite a motif in the 1996 telemovie, and it's worth mentioning that the new series has had plenty of shots of Big Ben (which formed a central part of the plot of at least one of them). The radically different opening for Series 8 has a clock theme.

The new series has opened several episodes — including its very first — with a long zoom shot from Earth in orbit to an aerial view of London.

Suggested Plots

  • There has been a preponderance of plots in the new series about schemes to destroy/take over the entire Earth, or the entire galaxy/universe. Or even just plots where destruction would be an unfortunate side-effect.
  • The season finales to the past few series notwithstanding, not every plot that puts the Doctor and his companions in danger, and makes for intriguing viewing, has to imperil a planet (or an entire race, or the universe...) Smaller stories were done plenty of times within the original run of the series. Take "The Caves of Androzani", mentioned below. The Doctor and his companion find themselves caught in the middle of a drug war and primarily want to just survive. It is regarded as one of the best stories in the show's history, and it doubled as the Fifth Doctor's sendoff.
  • In addition to the old standby of "plop the Doctor in the middle of (or run-up to) some famous historical event that he must prevent (or not prevent)", plenty of events in Earth's history are kinda weird, even if we know what happened and there's a perfectly logical, natural explanation. Take one, and tell us what really happened.
    • Note that there can be plot in the Doctor not preventing something bad happening as history must take its course, starting in The Aztecs, which is one of the best-thought of First Doctor stories despite being a pure historical, along to Vincent and the Doctor, one of the best-thought of Eleventh Doctor stories. This can provide a lot of plot even if the Doctor and the TARDIS are the only science-fiction elements.
  • Here are some archaeological anomalies. We're sure you can provide the real story.
  • Along the same lines, here's a list of cryptids sighted over the years. They'd make splendid aliens, would they not?
  • The Doctor would feel honor-bound to topple any society in the Help! Help! This Index Is Being Repressed! index.
  • A Busman's Holiday is another frequently used device to get the Doctor and his companions planetside. Basically, if the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS promising "Nothing bad ever happens on Halcyon IV, the picnic planet!", then the Daleks are on their way. (It's suggested that the Doctor does often have nice, relaxing visits to planets where he doesn't end up risking death and/or dismemberment, but obviously that doesn't make for interesting television.)

Family Friendly

As a writer you have to walk a fairly narrow path in terms of the amount of sex and violence you can show. The show generally hovers around the PG rating with occasional forays (more frequent in later series) up to the 12 rating — it's not for very young children but older children, teenagers and adults should all be able to be entertained by the show. It's not Barney & Friends but it's not Game of Thrones either. Think action, not violence and romance, not sex. Remember The Doctor is a Technical Pacifist and rarely uses direct force against his opponents and his companions tend to follow his lead. Death is still a part of the show but gore isn't appropriate (something Doctor Who found out the hard way more than once). Also resist the urge to dumb things down. The Doctor is a science hero and his intelligence is an integral part of the show. Your script should have smarts, humour and action with every character having a chance to shine.

Reusing previous Doctors and Companions

It's tempting to write stories where the current Doctor and his companion(s) meet up with previous Doctor incarnations and former companions, but it's probably best not to. These type of stories are generally reserved for major milestones — the last was for the fiftieth anniversary of of show's debut — and as such are generally handled "in house". There's also the issue of actor availability — in a normal episode, you can recast a role should the original actor become unavailable but you obviously can't do that with former Doctors and companions, all of whom are busy with other roles and projects. Having said all that, if you are determined to write a script with these elements, you should bear the following in mind.

  • The Doctor: At this time you have a limited choice as laid out below:
    • The First Doctor as David Bradley has shown a remarkable ability to capture William Hartnell's take on the role, but he has already appeared relatively recently so having him show up might be redundant.
    • Possibly the Second Doctor if you think Reece Shearsmith did a good job in An Adventure in Space and Time.
    • Possibly the Third Doctor, if you can persuade Sean Pertwee to reprise his father's role, which he's shown reluctance to do so far.
    • While the actors who played the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors are all still alive, all of them, especially Tom Baker have seriously aged out of the roles and/or are physically much different — the demands of appearing in the role might be too much. Also Tom Baker (albeit as the Curator) and Peter Davison have both previously appeared in the revival so having them show up might be redundant. Recasting the roles while the actors are still alive is probably a complete non-starter as this would be seen as insulting to the original actors.
    • The Eighth Doctor is possible as Paul McGann is somewhat younger, but again he has already passed the torch in a minisode so an appearance by him might be redundant.
    • While Christopher Eccleston has mended enough fences to appear in Big Finish audios as the Ninth Doctor, actually persuading him to return to the role on screen is likely to be a bridge too far.
    • Tenth Doctor David Tennant has already appeared in the fiftieth anniversary special and is due to appear in the sixtieth per official press announcements. Thus, he is unlikely to be persuaded to return a third time unless it's for something equally important.
    • The Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors probably haven't spent enough time away from the role yet to make having them return not look like a cheap stunt — the BBC will probably hold them back for an anniversary special in the distant future, maybe even persuading Eccleston to join.
  • "Classic" Companions: Being realistic, the only "classic" companion who has any kind of profile that makes bringing them back worthwhile is:
    • Sophie Aldred as Ace, her appearance in a promotion for a box set of the adventures she appeared in was well received and led to calls for her reappearance in the revival. She is probably your best choice if you want a former companion to return (especially since her character arc in the TV series went unresolved due to its cancellation in 1989, and the canonicity of expanded universe material is flexible).
  • "Revival" Companions: All are probably out of the question for various reasons:
    • Billie Piper already reprised a version of her role as Rose Tyler in the fiftieth anniversary special and having her return again would be difficult to justify, especially as she is living happily ever after in an alternate universe.
    • Freema Agyeman is busy with roles in America, her current show, New Amsterdam (2018) has been renewed for at least three more seasons ruling her out for the time being.
    • Karen Gillan has a high profile film career including as Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and as Ruby Roundhouse in the Jumanji franchise making her far too busy at the moment. Also her character is supposedly trapped beyond the Doctor's ability to reach, as is Rory Williams, ruling both of them out without a major retcon that could rile fans up.
    • Due to Noel Clarke's issues with #MeToo, bringing him back as Mickey Smith is not going to happen until they are resolved, if then (depending on the outcome).
    • Donna Noble is already due to appear in the sixtieth anniversary special alongside the Tenth Doctor (per press announcements). Bringing her back in her post-companion timeline is difficult, however, as she canonically cannot remember her time in the TARDIS, so it's hard to envisage how she could plausibly return without another potentially audience alienating retcon.
    • River Song and Bill Potts have completed their character arcs, so it's hard to see how they could be brought back and what they'd contribute if they were to return.
    • One possible "dark horse" option is if you can persuade Carey Mulligan to return as Sally Sparrow, bearing in mind she turned down the opportunity to become a regular series companion at the time.
    • If ANY of these companions are persuaded to return, again it's likely to be for an anniversary special, which will be written in house most likely.

All in all, it's probably better to write a story containing your own original characters. If you have to include another Doctor or companion, make it an unknown future incarnation of the Doctor, or a companion for a single adventure — you never know, maybe the BBC will take your idea and have your Doctor be a future regeneration or bring your companion back as a regular.


Set Designer / Location Scout

Currently, Doctor Who is filmed in Wales. Filming outside of Wales is relatively rare. That said, there's the occasional story filmed in England like "Rose" (London, in part) and "The Shakespeare Code" (London, Coventry and Warwick), as well as outside of Britain such as "Planet of the Dead" (Dubai), "The Vampires of Venice" (Trogir, Croatia) , "The Impossible Astronaut"/"Day of the Moon" (Utah), "A Town Called Mercy" (Spain) and "The Angels Take Manhattan" (New York, obviously)

Story-wise, many stories tend to take place in Britain, usually at some point in the nineteenth to twenty-first century. This is largely due to financial considerations; while story-wise Doctor Who has long been lauded as a device that can go anywhere and tell any story, in practice the producers have been limited by the budget, which has never been particularly extravagant. In the classic series, attempts by the show to show off alien planets have varied considerably in terms of credibility and quality, and the stereotype of the show relying heavily on the BBC Quarry for this purpose is not without foundation. Even with advances in CGI, the new series still faces this trade-off — more alien worlds in a season means less money to be able to convincingly realise them.

Props Department

Many fans, especially fans of the classic series, enjoy the slightly cheesy aspect to the show's special effects. The old series made extensive use of models and matte shots; the new series uses CGI as well. The sets aren't nearly as cheap as they were in the 70s, but the show is still a BBC production and doesn't have a gigantic budget. You still have more leeway before you hit Special Effects Failure than you would making a commercial American series. That said, if you get sloppy or lazy, you will get called out on it.

Costume Designer

Past series have showcased all kinds of outfits for all kinds of creatures. The main thing is to make sure that things don't get too outlandish—this privilege should be kept for the Doctor. If things get too strange, it won't be taken seriously.

With regard to the Doctor's costume a wide spectrum of outfits have been used through his current eleven lives, from Nine's simple leather jacket to Six's eye-searing Technicolor dreamcoat. Striking a balance between ordinary and odd is key, but since no one really seems to notice what the Doctor wears wherever/whenever he is, this balance can shift. Period clothes seem to be a favorite among the costume designers, but this has been kept within recent parts of history (19th to early 20th Centuries). The Doctor's outfit also gives chances to lampshade how strange it is sometimes (e.g. Four's scarf, Five's celery stick, etc.) No incarnation of the Doctor has been particularly self-conscious about the eccentricity of his sartorial choices — if someone asks why he's dressed so strangely, he usually replies along the lines of "What's wrong with my outfit? I like my outfit." (That said, in stories that have more than one incarnation of the Doctor encountering each other, they might poke fun at each other's choices.)

Despite the differences, certain fashion motifs tend to appear; a jacket with distinct (usually notched) lapels, something worn over the shirt (a waistcoat or sweater of some kind), a distinctive form of cravat or tie, and the occasional hat. Although the costuming of the new series made a distinct effort to get away from the more ostentatious and period styles of the classic series Doctors by clothing the Doctor in something more modern, some of these motifs still bled through, and the Eleventh Doctor's tweed jacket and bow-tie look — rather like an Oxbridge don on holiday — perhaps indicate something of a return to the classic series template of Awesome Anachronistic Apparel. The basic costume might evolve over a Doctor's tenure to reflect his Character Development — going from bright to darker colors (Four, Seven), elegant to battle-worn (Eight), severe to soft (Twelve).

One thing has emerged after thirteen Doctors and fifty-plus years: designing the Doctor's outfit without the actor's active participation doesn't end well.

Companions can pretty much wear anything they like. It's been established in canon that the TARDIS contains an enormous wardrobe, so there's no shortage of choice, but they generally wear the clothing of their home planet/era, the clothing of modern-day Brits, or some combination thereof. The Doctor only rarely imposes a dress code on his companions... which is fine, since — except for a passing comment on his or her "strange outfit" — practically none of the locals they'll meet will care.

If (one of) the current companions is an attractive young lady, resist the urge to go too far into Fanservice territory — Amy Pond's policewoman outfit (which had an in-universe justification anyway) should be the limit. Blatant pandering by putting the companion in very revealing clothing doesn't really fit the show's zeitgeist and may lead to fan backlash. Having said that don't go too far the other way, especially if the companion is supposed to be from the present day — deliberately putting them in dowdy clothing when in reality they'd wear much more attractive and stylish outfits won't win you any fans either. Moderation is the key.

One thing to consider when designing the wardrobe for both Doctors and companions is to have sufficient variations on the theme to keep the look fresh, and also to allow the actors to be as comfortable as possible in a wide range of weather conditions and temperatures — Doctor Who can shoot on both freezing cold nights and hot sunny days. Directors will also appreciate having different colour motifs to work with depending on how they are shooting the story.

When considering footwear, bear in mind that the actors will often have to run and perform other physical manoeuvres in the shoes or boots they are wearing, so avoid anything too impractical. Also something to consider is the relative height of the actors — for example Amy Pond never wore high heels in the show as this would have made the five foot eleven inch actress Karen Gillan tower over her co-stars.

Alien clothes should fit with the kind of alien they are and/or what kind of world they live on; sometimes having no clothes is appropriate. Sometimes the simplest of outfits work the best (see the Tritovores and their boiler suits). Make it interesting, but not too outrageous; it needs to be strange to humans (namely the audience), but seen as ordinary by everyone else. Look at how humans dress for various activities and use that to extrapolate from — if the Doctor meets a group of alien heavy machinery operators, they should not be wearing clothes with lots of frills and trailing bits of cloth that could get caught up in the machines they control.

Casting Director

Casting the Doctor is one of the hardest jobs. Whoever comes next will have many previous incumbents of the role to follow, all of them generally well thought-of. Your actor will need to be commanding when required, but always remain likeable; have the acting chops to pull off high drama and the timing for high comedy; and something to set him apart from the previous incarnations. Casting rumours surrounding the Eleventh Doctor in 2008 suggested he would be played by a black actor (either Paterson Joseph or Chiwetel Ejiofor), and although the casting was eventually that of white actor Matt Smith, it is notable that the prospect of a black Doctor was met with little to no resistance. Furthermore, in Eleven's guest appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures, after regenerating since he last met the gang, he states that regeneration isn't always the same skin tone, and it can be anything. In the episode "The Doctor's Wife", the Eleventh Doctor mentions the Corsair, a Time Lord who had some incarnations in the form of a woman as well as a man, and another example of this is longtime arch-enemy The Master, who became The Mistress — "Missy" for short — in Series 8 and The Doctor themselves followed suit in Series 11.

Also even once you've cast The Doctor, you always have to have one eye on the future as all the actors who've played the role since Tom Baker have limited their tenure to around three years or series due to the demands of the role (probably mindful of Baker's mental breakdown after his record breaking seven series run) so you'll have to do it all again if you're still working on the show at that point. There's also always the possibility of outside events throwing you a curveball such as when Christopher Eccleston fell out with the higher ups and elected to leave the show after a single series, so always make sure you've got plenty of possibilities in mind at all times!

When casting companions, after acting ability you'll probably have to cast with at least a fair weather eye on the Parental Bonus aspect, especially for female companions, but having a secondary companion that appeals to the ladies (we're looking at you John Barrowman) and the LGBT+ crowd is not the worst thing to consider. You absolutely must take into account chemistry and personality compatibility with the actor playing The Doctor as these people are going to spend extended amounts of time with each other in close proximity, in uncomfortable and tiring conditions so they HAVE to get on well.

When it comes to guest stars and actors, think "character actor" rather than "stunt casting". Britain has a huge wealth of acting talent — use it! Avoid the temptation to stunt cast extremely well known actors without a very good reason as they can jar the audience out of their willing suspension of disbelief. An example of this is where comedy partners David Mitchell and Robert Webb played a pair of robots — many viewers found it impossible to take the robots seriously.

Stunt Department

Again, this can be a matter of budget. High or low, however, we're not exactly talking Michael Bay movie territory here. The traditional cliche of the standard Doctor Who action sequence involving a lot of running up and down corridors is not without foundation, either in the old series or the new, mainly because it's quite cheap. Extravagant stunts tend to involve the actors struggling against either a special-effects backdrop or a Monster of the Week, both of which can lead to Special Effects Failure.