GeekPlanetOnline's resident Doctor Who Correspondent Martin Thompson takes a deeper look at the adventures of a mad man in a box, along with his friends, foes and fandom. With over fifty years of rubber monsters, changing faces, dented police boxes, exterminations and pointed goatees to look at, he has more than a few things to say on the subject...
Shortly after landing at Torchwood Tower in Army of Ghosts, the secret organisation impound the TARDIS and take the Doctor prisoner. Now there was, of course, the small matter of the warring Daleks and Cybermen to take care of first but what if the Doctor didn’t get his time machine back and was further detained at Torchwood? A part of me genuinely hoped that the next series would see him stranded on Earth and forced to help out Torchwood all the while searching for his beloved blue box. The Tenth Doctor would be forced to use the quiet cunning we hadn’t seen since The Christmas Invasion to find out where the machine was stashed as well as dealing with the monster of the week. Instead of killing her off, they could have retained Yvonne Hartman as an ongoing foil, introduce a plucky Torchwood recruit as a new companion (hell, Martha’s cousin was already there for a bit) and perhaps a new team of ongoing soldiers and scientists to assist the Doctor. We could have had a retread of the Pertwee years but with a modern twist.
Could you really do that today though? Strand the Doctor for a bit? Certainly, but by mid season he would certainly be off on his travels again as the complaints from fans would come flooding in that he doesn’t visit other times and places anymore. Curiously enough the current series is flirting with that idea right now with the Twelfth Doctor staying on Earth guarding the time vault and having done so for over 50 years. He also has been barred (or pinky promised in any case) from going offworld but of course he can’t resist. This is the difference though; everything is in working order and he can leave if he chooses to. He could pop out to Milliways for some lunch, nip off for a quick Elvis concert and be back before Nardole serves tea. Immediately prior to series 10’s beginning though, the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip saw the Twelfth Doctor stranded in the 1970s and living with the Collins family due to the TARDIS being damaged and needing a regeneration of its own.
When we first met the Doctor in An Unearthly Child he has purposely chosen to remain on Earth while his granddaughter Susan gets an education at Coal Hill School. Doubtless, he would have remained there for a few more years if two of her teachers hadn’t come sniffing around one foggy night in November 1963. In the early episodes, it's clear that he can’t control his machine so I expect no little trips here and there were taken for fear of stranding Susan. The Doctor’s main period of exile was during his third incarnation; the Time Lords found him guilty of interfering in other races in The War Games, exiled him to Earth and forced regeneration. The secret of time travel was also taken from his mind but this Doctor was always tinkering away with his machine, trying to get it working again while teaming up with UNIT as its scientific advisor. Although the Time Lords occasionally sent him on missions it wasn’t until his heroics in saving the universe from Omega in The Three Doctors that he was allowed to go wandering again.
While these days a decision to exile the Doctor would be a creative one, back in the late 1960s it was seen as a last throw of the dice for the show. Earthbound stories were cheaper to make plus the programme was to be produced in colour for the very first time. Writer Malcolm Hulke famously said that the only plots that were open to them for the new format were either "mad scientist" or "alien invasion". To be fair, if he had also thrown in malfunctioning tech, that’s a hefty chunk of plotlines still in use today. The UNIT years are among my favourites of the show and recently I’ve come to the conclusion that this is because of the stability they brought to the series, a grounding in reality that you didn’t get from planet Zog. Perhaps I also just love seeing familiar settings subverted: spaghetti monsters running through power stations or down high streets filled with shops like Woolworths or WH Smith. The fantastic meeting the mundane, which was perfectly summed up by Jon Pertwee’s “Yeti on the loo in Tooting Bec” comment. With Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and Osgood becoming more a part of the show today, a return to a very modern UNIT may not be impossible.
Since then, we have seen the Doctor pitch up for a while through his own choice, mainly in the interest of what he’s investigating at the time; for example, teaching at Deffrey Vale High School in School Reunion. Numerous BBC audios saw the Fourth Doctor taking up residence at Nest Cottage and teaming up with former UNIT captain Mike Yates and his housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey in one of the stranger corners of the Whoniverse. When the TARDIS malfunctions in The Lodger, the Eleventh Doctor was forced to take a room with Craig Owens. He later spent hundreds of years in self-imposed exile on Trenzalore in The Time of The Doctor, protecting the town of Christmas from seemingly every race he’s ever fought. Apart from some spin-off tales, we only saw a brief glimpse in the episode and so not much of an idea of what day-to-day life was like for him.
So what about other times and places? How about sending the Doctor back in time for an extended period? This has also happened fairly recently with the Eleventh Doctor’s chosen Victorian exile in The Snowmen following the Ponds' departure. Further sets of adventures with the Paternoster Gang would also have been welcome before it was decided for him to go travelling again. Having a permanent companion from another era would be also be a nice idea; the Moffat era has seen companions Amy, Rory, Clara and Bill have their cake and eat it by continuing with their jobs and home lives while still adventuring with the Doctor so what if he did the same thing with a character from, say, the 1920s? The Eighth Doctor even travelled with Mary Shelley for a while on audio. At least the earthbound adventures would feel a bit more fresh and additional characters could be introduced however I fear such a venture would be unworkable due to budget constraints.
So how about the future, then? Well, it's a nice place to visit but visions of the future can date terribly. It’s ok to go there for the odd episode but you would need a great worldbuilder at the helm to pull it off and probably set it either a little way into the future like 2025 or travel bonkers-far like the year five billion again, which would be the most likely.
Alien planets, then. Create a whole new society, something properly alien and not just humans with a slight bump on their heads. Strand the Doctor so he has to get to know them, their history and their culture and perhaps visit other parts of their world rather than just the capital cities or vacant outposts he tends to frequent. In The Keys of Marinus, Terry Nation created a wonderfully varied alien world with glass beaches, acid seas and different races. A return to Marinus for a few episodes, perhaps even a trip or two back in time, could be worth it. Give the Doctor one or two companions to act as guides and help him out adjusting to the new climate. Perhaps humanity could even be the invaders one week.
The Doctor is the eternal traveller though and sooner or later, unless he has a mission of real importance, he will get itchy feet and start travelling again because that’s who he is and that’s the point of the series. I doubt he will ever stand still in the way he did in his third incarnation again because television itself has changed and the viewers will start to get feet as itchy as their hero. One criticism of the show when it returned to our screens in 2005 was that we didn’t get any alien planets. Perhaps down the line though a knackered TARDIS in need of repair may persuade the old traveller to stick around somewhere for a bit.