New Year special – writing sins that scupper a story Part 2: Doctor Who, The Runaway Bride

Weak story links, lazy plotting, wrong point of view, unsatisfying endings… Although Chez Morris we’ve taken time off from writing, we’ve seen some DVDs that have roused me to write posts of protest. So, to keep your critical faculties ticking over until life resumes as normal, I thought I’d share them with you in this five-part mini-series. (And yes, beware spoilers…)

Today: Doctor Who Christmas special – The Runaway Bride

In some ways I liked this as Russell T Davies is a slick, economical storyteller. I admire the way he takes a few intriguing ingredients and builds a script. In this case they are the rock that seeded planet Earth when the solar system was being formed, and ancient particles that have been deleted from the universe. I can imagine Davies daydreaming in school physics lessons and thinking ‘can’t we do something more interesting with the boring old atom?’. He mixes in a bit of showmanship and mayhem at London landmarks (and some soap opera, which I’m a little more doubtful about).

However, although he’s good at the big picture, he’s slipshod with details – and these undermine the whole story.

Writing sin 1: inconsistency in the pseudoscience We’re going to get technical here, so pay attention. Remember the deleted particles? They are attracted to the TARDIS. So one minute the bride, who has been secretly dosed with the particles, is walking down the aisle to get married. The next, she finds herself teleported to the TARDIS – which kicks off the whole story.

But later we meet other characters riddled with the particles who aren’t teleported anywhere.

The Doctor makes a flimsy attempt to explain this by saying the bride’s stress hormones and endorphins activated the particles in some way, but that’s a fudge. It’s obvious as a Dalek in your living room what the real reason is – if the other characters teleported too it would cause story chaos (and inconveniently get them out of a tight spot they weren’t supposed to escape from).

If you invent science, it has to be robust and stick to its own rules. If you find the rules are inconvenient, you can’t add exception clauses in small print. It’s particularly bad to bend them with a dose of exposition from a character who miraculously knows everything (and is therefore a get-out-of-gaol card whenever you like). If your pseudoscience rules don’t work the way you want, you have to rewrite them at a fundamental level or find another solution.

Writing sin 2: absurdity The big baddie is an alien spider creature who is millennia old. Despite this, it inexplicably knows the vows in the modern Church of England wedding service – and makes gags about them. This is clearly Russell T with his pantomime boots on, and it’s irritating. Yes, I do realise a Christmas special needs gags, but they need to make internal sense. Otherwise they smack you out of the world of the story. Oh yes they do.

Tomorrow, or next year: Salt

Until then, Bonne Annee x

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  1. #1 by erikamarks on January 1, 2011 - 1:18 am

    Roz–this is too funny–Ian and I watched Salt last night and when I came to the end of this wonderful post, my first thought was to reference a bit of a storyline convenience from the movie, and lo! you are about to detail something on the subject tomorrow–so I’ll refrain and look forward to your pick first!
    Look forward to more in 2011!

    • #2 by rozmorris on January 2, 2011 - 8:38 pm

      Hi Erika – do come back and share what you made of Salt. It is, ahem, peppered with flaws…

  2. #3 by Ann Marie on January 1, 2011 - 2:34 am

    I had to go lie down for a minute when I saw you were critiquing Doctor Who, but I’m all right now . . .😉

    They’ve got at least two urgency problems with their premise: the Doctor’s a genius and he can time travel. I think Matt Smith does a better job as an actor portraying discovery and/or distraction–why he doesn’t figure out what’s going on right away. And it seems like they’ve been taking more care with the storylines to mean the Tardis isn’t always a get-out-of-jail-free card–whatever was going on in “The Lodger,” it can’t lock on to a target, etc.

    And otherwise, can we have T-shirts made: “Be consistent with your pseudoscience!”

    • #4 by rozmorris on January 2, 2011 - 8:47 pm

      Hope you’ve recovered, Ann, from today’s choice🙂
      Agree about the get out of jail free cards. As if the Doctor’s genius and his encyclopaedic knowledge of the universe aren’t enough, and the TARDIS, they also let him do whatever he wants with the sonic screwdriver. The old Doctor + TARDIS had limits, which meant the stories had to be solved in clever ways. The RTD reboot relies too much on waving a magic wand.
      I haven’t yet seen any Matt Smiths as I get all the series on DVD, but I’ve heard he’s a bit more genuinely strange.

  3. #5 by Jonathan Moore on January 5, 2011 - 1:33 pm

    This year’s crimbo special was much better, with the brilliant line as the Doctor is about to retrieve the sonic screwdriver from a shark’s mouth: pay attention – I’ve only got two goes at this and then it’s your turn.

    It did however have a massive flaw that could have been covered: the scrooge character goes from being a young boy to being Michael Gambon, but the family of his love interest only age a few years. I kept waiting for this to be explained and it wasn’t. Most distracting.

    • #6 by rozmorris on January 5, 2011 - 1:38 pm

      At our rate of DVD watching, we’ll probably get to that Christmas special next year! And then no doubt I shall forget you made this excellent comment and write a ranting post all about it.
      Good shark line, though.

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