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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Old vs. New Doctor Who

Lately I've been watching a lot of the revived Doctor Who series and I want to take some time to reflect on the differences between the classic old series and the new revived series. Before the fights begin, I just want to say I do prefer the new series for reasons that I will outline below, however this does not mean the old series is completely without merit. The point of this review is more about comparison and contrast between the two. Hennyways let's get started.

The main difference between the old and new series is the story pacing. The old series took a much slower pace in telling stories than the new series, and this can be reflected in how long the usual story takes to be told in the old series. On average, it would take four half-hour episodes of the old Doctor Who to complete a plot line, so about two hours to tell a complete story. By contrast the new series will usually take a single one hour show to tell a single story. Now, there are plenty of examples in the new series with two-parter episodes, but in terms of speed the new series just feels faster. It's all right to take time to build suspense and plot, but I feel the new series does a much better job using their time to tell a story than the old series.

While we're on story, a thing a like about the new series is the over-arching plot that ties together the entire season. While the old series did have recurring characters, The Master, companions, Daleks, Cybermen, and so on, there was no seasonal plot to tie the different stories together. Usually it was a collection of stand-alone stories united simply by the Doctor and some recurring characters. I feel that the over-arching plot provides much better motivation to watch the series through to the end rather than a collection of stand-alones. The old series is good at what it does, but in terms of story I like what the new series does better than what the old series does.

I want to mention special effects because with sci-fi series special effects are an important aide in telling the story. One thing you'll notice in my reviews of sci-fi is that special effects are not top on my list of priorities. Yes, good special effects are fantastic and look pretty, but it's important that they help tell the story. A bunch of special effects with no story is just a lights show. Bad special effects can be forgiven if the story is superior. Also, I'm definitely not going to say that the new series completely wins the special effects fight for forever because I've seen plenty of obvious blue screens and laughable CGI in the new series.

A final topic I want to touch on is the doctor's companions from the old and new series. The new series does a much, much better job with the companions than the old series. The reason I say that is that in the old series, the companions had pretty much three jobs.
  1. Look pretty
  2. Let the Doctor tell you exposition
  3. Get captured, hypnotized, otherwise placed in mortal peril so the Doctor can rescue you.
It's nice to have a fish-out-of-water character following the Doctor around. They understand space travel, future technology, or Sontaran society as little as most of us, so having it explained to a character helps us, the audience as well. The main issue I have is that the Doctor's companions in the old days, on a rather regular basis, became damsels in distress. Yes, it's suspenseful, however if it happens all the time it gets a little old. The main benefit of the new series is that the companions aren't just damsels in distress. Yes, they get captured, yes, they get in trouble, but they usually are more useful. For the most part, the companions from the new series are more effective in helping the Doctor solve problems than the older ones. I consider this to be a major benefit for the new series over the old.

Anyway, so the main differences between the series are how they tell their stories and the job of companions within the story. I may go into this a bit more thoroughly at some later point but I think I've prattled on enough here.

If you're a fan of the Doctor feel free to chime in and let us know what you think.

Survival guide for Adventurers:
Never touch a liquid you can't identify.


  1. I like the fourth Dr. the best, played by Tom Baker. :) He was awesome. A close second would be....Sylvester McCoy who played the seventh Dr.

    Nice post Ben!

  2. The first 'new' doctor is my favourite: Christopher Eccleston.
    The other new doctors are too pretty boy for me.

  3. Second Christopher Eccleston! I've seen them all old to new and for the new episodes he really gave the Doctor a fresh spin. The other new Doctors seem to be trying too hard to rehash past Doctors.

  4. Have you seriously watched classic who?? your argument is incredibly flawed and you contradicted yourself a lot as well.

    The new companions cannot survive without the Doctor during their adventures, whereas in classic who they regularly went off by themselves and had their own adventures.
    Yes they often required saving but if you do a tally of how many times Sarah Jane (classic companion) saves the Doctor vs how many times he saves her he only wins by one save, how is that being a damsel in distress!?!

    We agree that the new who stories are faster paced but that does not make them more enjoyable, you feel no emotional connection with the characters or story if you know the story is going to be resolved in forty five minutes. Classic who kept people coming back for more every week because the stories were engaging and you cared about the characters, even the supporting characters.

    Special effects can never take the place of a good story, case in point bloody Star Wars!! The original trilogy was awesome with what we would now call sub-par special effects while the new trilogy sucks. Yes new who can make the planets more believable but they sacrifice plot and drama to do it. Even the sonic screwdriver is being used to death, it is a screwdriver and was never intended to be much more than that.

    New who is riding the last of the timelords story arc to death, and the season long arcs are becoming tedious. Why must every companion be a saviour of the universe, or the most important person in the world? Why can they not be good people (except Rose cos she is a b***h and Amy who is a s**g) and let that be it?

    If you like new Who that is fine, jog on, but I don't think the reasons you have given here adequately show why it could be considered better.

    1. I agree, the new ones go way to fast. If you take your eyes off it for a second your lost. I love the first five doctors with the slower pace. John Pertwee and Tom Backer were the best.

  5. Hey there, you present your arguments in a balanced way, its nice to find a well-written blog for a change!

    I have to say though in the words of Harriet Jones, MP/PM, I completely disagree if you don't mind. As T&P say above, I am so over the season arcs. I am so over River Song. To me story telling has become a rare event in new Who; only stories like Blink actually bother to tell a story; trash like ROTC/TAOS goes nowhere.

    And I prefer the slower pace. To quote another phrase, here's to the slow path. Everything these days is so fast and frenetic, there's no time to slow down and really savour the characterisation, the storytelling, the themes. There's a reason that certain classic stories continually rank over new-Who ones, such as Genesis of the Daleks, Caves of Androzani, and Talons of Weng Chiang. Its because you get time to let it all sink in, people actually have proper motivations for their actions. In the old days they actually got time to rehearse, adding value to the end product, unlike today.

    And to confirm what I say, the best story by far is Vincent and the Doctor - a story which conforms to the Blink/Talons format of richness in story-telling.

  6. Oh and in the classic series, you're not bombarded with Murray Gold's constant blaring.

  7. I probably didn't make this very clear in my original argument, but I don't hate the old series. They're both great TV series and the old Doctor Who has done a lot to defining the sci-fi and time travel genres. I was just saying for myself, personally, I prefer the new series. Again, it's a matter of opinion so tastes are going to vary, but I'm certainly not trying to put down the old series. Well, okay, maybe I'm a little annoyed with the companions. When I wrote this review I had recently finished the season with Donna who I personally liked as a companion. I know a lot of people didn't like her because they pulled a lot of plot stuff out at the end, but I really liked seeing her develop as a character. But companions aside, I think it's great that people still like Doctor Who.

  8. The old series took 4 to 6 episodes per story on average, but each episode was only 25 minutes. If you were to divide the new series 2 parters into 25 minute episodes, you would get 4 episodes for each 2 parter and 2 episodes for each stand alone. Likewise, the "Last of the Time Lords" trilogy would be a six part story. I prefer the slower pacing, and will never understand why Davies chose to convert to episodic format. The classic series' longevity relied heavily on it being serial format. One "story" might encompass 4 to 10 episodes, but even then the end of that story would end in a cliffhanger, leading into the next story. The average for a series in episodic format is 7 to 10 seasons. There have been a lot of stories in the new series that would have been terrific if they would have had the freedom to be spread of 4 to 6 episodes. "The Eleventh Hour," "The Beast Below," "Victory of the Daleks," "The Curse of the Black Spot," "The Doctor's Wife," and "The Wedding of River Song" to name a few. Moffat, Raynor, Gaiman, Gatiss and Roberts are all great Doctor Who writers, but I think alot of times their visions of what their writing gets skewed when its crammed into 45 minutes. Davies actually turned down Keith Temple's first draft of "Planet of the Ood" because he felt it was too much like the old series.

  9. I find the representation of the future so much more real in the old series than in the new, when the Daleks first poped up in the new series the humans still had G36 Assualt Rifles? Why not lasers etc and the buildings techonology or look of it look fake where the old series they made it seem realstic, also stories wherent so structred so it wasnt predictable and linear which I loved the old series for but I am a fan of both

  10. I don't care what you old guys think Matt Smith is my doctor, therefore he will always be the best for me. You guys got your doctors i got mine. And on another note special effects do matter more than you think. They are way better than any of the previous series plus the stories are epic as hell. 5 years ago i would have said that Star trek was the best sci-fi of all time, i would have said doctor who is too damned cheesy.Really you cannot deny this; you look at the enterprise and you say cool spaceship, you look at the Tardis and you you say its just a stupid phone box. It took a boring day and nothing on the TV for me to watch Doctor Who. I was stuck as a new whovian from there on end. You can tell the difference in special effect between Matt Smith's and the David Tennat series that the 11th doctors looks better. My point being that the newer series attracts more people simply because it looks way better than any of the crappy stuff you would see in the old series. So the same good stories without that cheap ass look of the old series.

  11. I too like the slower pace of the old series. The stories and characters have more time to develop. The stories in the new series often seem "shallow" in comparison.

    The main thing I didn't like about the old series was the corridors, corridors, and more corridors. It gave me a claustrophobic feeling. My mother always used to say watching Doctor Who was like watching a play on camera.

  12. i havent seen the original series so my argunent is completley invalid.
    wel ive seen episodes of the original series. l am a young guy, if i am going to wat a week for a new episode of my favourite show to air, i want something to happen. i much prefer the new who, and im sorry to break it to you, but there will never be the old who again, so you people should get used to the new series.

    another great thing about the new series is the humor, david tennant was hilarious as the tenth doctor.
    honestly his first line was "New teeth, thats weird". ya gotta love him

    I am also quite new to the series, ive watched 5 or 6 episodes from the original series and about 2 seasons of the new series. mind you i started watching the show 3 days ago.

    1. david tennant was the least funny doctor, he was just an unfunny version of 4

  13. Comparing the old companions to the new companions is kind of irrelevant. You're talking about a show that for a good chunk of it's production was set in a time where there was still that patriarchal attitude towards the 'helpless' female; to look back on it now, sure they seem like nothing more than the damsels in distress, but they're a product of the age. That being said, there were plenty of times where the companions' knowledge helped the Dr resolve a problem.

    Personally, I dislike the new companions. Not because of personality or anything like that, but I feel that the love-affair and pseudo-intimate type relationship is not in keeping with the classic dynamic. The Doctor didn't need romance. Still it's not enough to make me hate the show or anything like that.

    I didn't feel that over-arching story lines were necessary to enjoyment. It's kind of naturally assumed these days that a TV show must have some sort of long-term story arc. To me it was snapshots of his adventures through time.

    Overall, the classic series wins over for me. Some of the revelations of The Master and the more soap-operatic moments ruined a little of the Doctor's mystery. Still the new ones are alright.

  14. They are both good, expecially if you count that BBC did not really have a grat budget or the technology in the beginning of Doctor Who,
    Who remembers the episodes with Tom Baker in wich tanks were just toys put right in front of the camera?

  15. I have to say I prefer the new Who to the old. Watching the old Dr. Who, the acting, especially that of the companions, is artificial or even wooden at times. As another poster noted, it's like the theatre on TV. Like the old Star Trek it's not very natural. (I love old Star Trek, but I get the criticisms younger viewers make of it)

    As for special effects, for me it's not them so much as the rest of the polish. I'm from the States and one thing that always struck me about TV from the UK was the poor production values. The sets and sound stages etc. look like a high school production. It's very distracting. It's fine for a comedy or historical drama but for a Sci Fi show, it's terrible.

    That said, the stories are good enough to carry the show and the truly outdoor scenes obviously don't suffer as much from poor production. So, I'm no hater, but I do have to almost make myself watch the older ones and try hard to suffer through the low budget production. It's more forgivable in the 60s and early 70s but by the late 70s we were giving you Battlestar Galactica and by the 80s the Next Gen and from a production values perspective you can't even compare them to their contemporaneous Who episodes. I think one has to be older than me (40s) not to see it.

    I do recognize some of the negatives that some of the old-school Who folks mention, such as the romance, sticky sweet themes and "holy crap "place companion's name here" is the most important person to have lived themes are a bit over the top but I can forgive all of it since I'm entertained so thoroughly throughout each show. I'm really looking forward to an older, probably more serious doctor though. Let's see what kind of Christmas present we get.

    1. the acting is fine there's just a few poor actors, but to be fair the worst acting in the whole series goes to the character of chloe in NEW SERIES episode fear her.

      uk shows have less budget, than american shows, so we devote time to good plots in stead of sets which we can't afford to get good.

  16. i'm sorry but the old series is infinitly better than the new

    the reason why old series stories were longer was because they had a more complicated plot, the new series has less time to fill and actually manages only to do about 3 minutes worth of plot at best, the rest is just filled with rubbish emotion.

    the ark element is awful, it means that all stories have to fit in to a generally rubbish ark, meaning that most episodes fail to be good because of the ark.

    also the new series companions are awful [except martha], and also the companion is supposed to be the things you listed, because otherwise then they basically become a worse version of the doctor.

  17. I wish Ben was still with us! He would love to discuss this with you.

  18. I've watched all the classic episodes from Bill to McGann and New Who. Original Who up to the 70s was most entertaining for me and my four favourite doctors are 1-4. 80s era was not bad either...But not a fan of Russel t davis writting on the show or what he did with the come back, got bit better with Moffat as it felt little more like the classic series again. But still ain't been the same for since the 70s and 60s.