Introductions to Doctor Who and Avoiding the Info Dump


About a month ago I was watching the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special "Day of the Doctor". Jasmine, my eight-year old daughter, wound up joining me and watching most of it - she didn't quite get it having only a vague idea as to what it was about but she still couldn't pull her eyes away. She had a ton of questions and I promised her I'd watch an episode with her that made no assumptions on experience.

Yesterday Jasmine and I watched "Rose", the first episode of the new series. She absolutely loved it. And the format was, of course, perfect. You've got an established franchise but you are relaunching it after a long dormancy. There's some die-hard fans out there who will be watching it but you need to go far beyond that fan-base. So you start with a viewpoint character who is a surrogate for this audience. And you don't dump all the history and lore of the program all at once. Instead you release it as you need to.

Jasmine liked it enough that she wanted to watch another episode so we also watched the second episode, "The End of the World". For this my wife and eldest daughter had just returned from a shopping trip and wound up joining us. My wife is a Doctor Who fan from way back but our older daughter has just minimal knowledge. And despite not being a "science fiction geek" she too loved watching it, groaning as Britney Spears' "Toxic" played as the Earth burned. Moreover it was interesting to see that despite missing the first episode she was still able to enjoy this story on its own merits.

While I love long and intricate stories (I'm eagerly looking forward to the next season of Game of Thrones) watching with my daughter did remind me that sometimes its possible to overdo this and wind up locking your potential audience out. I think this is something that happened with the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, which began with a massive info dump, had references to Skaro, Gallifrey, the Master, Daleks, the Eye of Harmony, Regeneration, etc. Moreover it started from the perspective of the Doctor. I think Paul McGann did a fantastic job portraying the Doctor but I also feel the 1996 movie was a disservice to his talents - indeed he showed he was definitely worthy of the role in under seven minutes with the recent "Night of the Doctor" web-special.

As a gamer who also every once in a while flirts with writing fiction the, I find the cleverness in how Doctor Who was re-introduced worthy of imitation. Whether in gaming or in fiction, when one creates a detailed background there's a huge temptation to show off all your work. But even in a sandbox style gaming experience it's clear that it is far too easy to overdo this and overwhelm the player (or reader). Even as the new show has progressed it has periodically made certain it has good jumping off points for your new viewer.

Tomorrow it's "The Unquiet Dead" for Jasmine and me. Excellent timing with Christmas right around the corner.

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