Before we get started, I have to ask. Have you read Erin’s post for today? If you haven’t, then you need to. Our resident physics professor is in and gives us a very cheerful view of her favorite New Who time period.
My answer, however, is not as sciencey as Erin’s. I am not sciencey. Not all of us can be Petronella Osgood, after all. Sadly. But I am a writer. And as a writer, I am certain that I can convince you that the stories set on Earth during the 60s and 70s are absolutely the best thing ever.
I am also, as I’m sure Erin will attest to, quite predictable. And if you’ve read my other posts for this challenge so far, you’ll find that I’m quite partial to the Earth-bound Doctor Who stories that era. Particularly the ones featuring UNIT. So this “revelation” should not surprise you in the least. I know it won’t surprise Erin.
Think for a moment about how you felt when you saw “Rose” for the first time. Or “School Reunion”. Or “The Power of Three”. Or “The Bells of St. John”. Or “Dark Water/Death in Heaven”. Or “The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion”. Or even the beginning of “The Magician’s Apprentice” when Missy has stopped the planes and UNIT is trying to figure out why. These are just a few examples.
What do these stories all have in common?
- They take place on “modern day” (read: current) Earth.
- They deal with common current themes or things that have become weaponized in some way.
For example, in “Rose”, we had normal everyday plastic shop window dummies (or mannequins, if you’re so inclined) coming to life and killing innocent people.
It was terrifying because everything about it seemed so current (you know in 2005). It wasn’t futuristic in a way that makes us think that something so scary could never happen because those surroundings aren’t relatable. They’re completely relatable. It’s here and now and it’s happening. The shop window dummies we walk by every single day without a moment’s thought are now breaking out of their display in your favorite shop–wearing that jacket you’ve been wanting–and are coming to kill you. Scary, right?
Well, here’s the thing. The exact same thing was true in 1970.
They’re plastic, they’re on trend, and they’re on a mission to wipe out anyone who was just popping down to that Tesco on the corner for a moment. Maybe they’re a bit “old school” for your New Who tastes, but you have to remember when this was made. “Spearhead from Space” is set in the 1970s*. And this story first aired in 1970. IT WAS MODERN. As a writer, I can tell you that one of the most important things to do to get your audience’s attention in a story is to make it relatable. No matter how far-fetched the situation may be, you need to ground it in a tiny bit of reality to make your audience feel something. It’s essential in making three-dimensional characters, but doing it with setting can also help the audience get a foothold on what they’re supposed to feel and why. In this case, it’s not only the familiarity of the location but also the cars and shops and other small details that make you stop and realize that this could be happening RIGHT NOW.
And the best bit about the early 1970s for Doctor Who, was that pretty much ALL the stories had that going for them. Because of the budget restrictions, the Doctor was grounded by the Time Lords and trapped on Earth in the 1970s. How convenient. But this meant that everything that happened in the majority of those stories had a greater impact because of that relatable element.
And some of them were really terrifying. Imagine a terrible new disease spreading rapidly and seemingly randomly throughout all of London and even abroad. A plague with the potential to kill millions around the globe at an astonishing rate. A frightening thought, isn’t it? Not entirely unlike the plots of loads of television shows and movies that have made a big impact in recent years. If that interests you, I suggest you take a look at 1970’s “Doctor Who and the Silurians”.
Or are you a fan of Jurassic Park? Dinosaurs rampaging around modern-day Earth? A whole city evacuated reduced to a ghost town while a small group works to save it? They did that too.
Okay, fine. Maybe their dinosaurs aren’t quite as convincing when compared to what we’re used to now. But again, “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” was made 46 years ago. Perspective, people.
This wasn’t just exclusive to the Pertwee era either. Doctors both before and after him visited “current” Earth and got into trouble just as much as he still does today. And speaking of London being evacuated during an invasion, that was what sparked the creation of UNIT in the first place. When a certain something with a penchant for various types of snowmen decided the London Underground was “a key strategic weakness.”
So as much as I love the stories that are set deliberately in the past or the future, the ones that always work the best for me are the ones that quite literally hit closest to home. And in the case of the Classic era, the “modern” Earth stories of the 60s and 70s will always be my favorites.
What about you? What’s your favorite time period for the Doctor to visit? Past? Present? Future? Let us know in the comments!
* Yeah, this is where that whole UNIT Dating Controversy rears its ugly head again. Just ignore it because trying to work it all out in context with everything else is just going to hurt your brain. Trust me.