If I was an unscrupulous Time Lord with the ability to travel through the fourth dimension and to try to affect changes that I thought would improve history, there’s probably a bunch of stuff I’d do with my favorite TV series, Doctor Who. Like many-a-fan (I assume), I’ve thought of these things from time to time, and I now I’m going to list them over a series of posts.
(Daily Doctor Who #133)
Some ground rules are that I cannot introduce any temporal anomalies in my adjustments to the show—I need to keep my manipulations subtle, for fear of alerting some higher power or meddling do-gooder to my activities. So I won’t be mixing up actors from different time periods, or bringing in futuristic special effects technology, or doing a bunch of stuff in one era that has massive implications on future eras.
Starting with the First Doctor (1963-1966), as played by William Hartnell, I find my wish-list of changes I want to make to the series probably being as small as it will be. I think this is because the older the series is, the more I’m likely to look at it through the lens of what it was in its time period, rather than what I wish it were instead. The First Doctor’s era was always old for me—I didn’t come into the viewing the show until much later, so I always looked at it as sort of a series of historical documents.
Still, there are a few things I’d do…
No Missing Episodes
First, and this sort of goes without saying, I’d make sure the BBC doesn’t ditch its archives of Doctor Who episodes, including pretty much all of the First Doctor stories. Many of those stories have been recovered in various forms over the years, but all of the original video tapes of those stories are gone. To this day, there are 44 First Doctor episodes that are missing over a dozen stories. It’s kind of the Holy Grail amongst Doctor Who aficionados to one day have complete versions of Marco Polo, The Daleks’ Masterplan, and so on.
Susan’s Character Development
Susan Foreman, as played by Carole Ann Ford, was one of the original cast members of Doctor Who—the Doctor’s teenaged granddaughter. She was often the most panic-stricken and weepy of the cast, which is pretty much right along the lines of the teenaged girl stereotypes of the day. I’d do a couple of subtle tweaks just to strengthen the character a bit.
First, I’d make more use of her telepathic abilities. She doesn’t have to become Doctor Who’s answer to Counselor Troi, Cally or Saturn Girl, but since they bothered to establish her capacity for telepathy at one point, I’d like them to have done more with it. At least, it could have been brought up as a question about her nature and history, even if it never got fully answered.
Similarly, I’d introduce at some point the idea that Susan is traumatized from events in her past, probably tied into to why she and the Doctor are separated from their people. This could go a long way to making sense out of why she was regularly breaking down in tears at every sign of trouble, and it could have given her the opportunity for some character growth as she went along, building toward her departure in The Dalek Invasion of the Earth.
In summary, I’d do more to establish Susan’s “unearthly” qualities without completely upending the character we saw on TV.
Ian & Barbara’s Relationship
If there’s one thing that every extended universe portrayal of the Doctor’s other two original companions—Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright—agree upon, it’s that some time after they left the Doctor’s company in The Chase, they got married. This is an obvious and predictable and appropriate outcome for the characters, whose on-screen bond was evident to the audience even if it were never directly discussed.
Well, I’d add to the show a few direct discussions. Not a lot, but maybe two or three scattered through their stories together. And then, something clear and obvious in their departure sequence. Maybe even a kiss in the midst of the little photo-montage of their happy jaunt around London!
My pick for the worst companion departure of all time was Dodo Chaplet, played by Jackie Lane, who let the Doctor at the end of The War Machines in a sequence that she didn’t even appear in. Poor Dodo got left behind to rest about halfway through the story, replaced by the more exciting Polly and Ben. The War Machines concludes with Polly and Ben telling the Doctor that Dodo has decided not to go on with him, and that is it for the character. (Except for an ignominious death in a Doctor Who novel, but that later got undone).
I’d have the character written out properly. At the very least, have her cameo in her final episode, come to tell the Doctor herself that she’s staying behind. That’d give her a little bit more dignity.
William Russell & Jacqueline Hill Cameo
OK, full disclosure, I love Ian and Barbara, and so a lot of my time-meddling wish-list for the series involves them. In this case, I’d include a brief cameo of the characters in a story after they departed, just for fun.
I read somewhere once that there was an intention that William Russell and Jacqueline Hill would make an appearance at the end of The War Machines, presumably in the same scene mentioned above where the Doctor learns that Dodo isn’t coming with him, and that Ben & Polly wander into the adventures in the TARDIS instead.
Well, that’s what I’d have happen. After the Doctor goes inside the TARDIS, but just before Ben & Polly follow, Ian and Barbara are seen walking on a street nearby—too far away to interact, but so they can see what is happening. They see the two young people enter the TARDIS, and watch in amazement as it disappears from view. The laugh as the realize the Doctor is still at it, and then walk away hand-in-hand.
And that’s it—my plans for “fixing” the First Doctor’s run on the show. Pretty minor so far, I know. My plans for the future eras of the program are more elaborate, as you will soon see.