TV - Doctor Who: Possession is Taking Over

Rings of Akhatan

Our Doctor Who expert, Steve Hendry, discusses possession and duplicates. We just hope he wrote it and he hasn't been cloned as one of him is more than enough...

If I told you, during the World Cup, that I was going to discuss possession and duplicates, you may think I was about to use my weekly column to find spare stickers for my Panini™ sticker album. In fact, it struck me the other day when I was barely enjoying The Android Invasion that these two tropes are criminally overused in Doctor Who, and I thought I’d mention it. Stories very often revolve around the villain or villains of the piece controlling the minds or duplicating the bodies of leading characters, and this has seemingly increased in frequency since 2005.

That isn’t to say that these methods of storytelling can’t work effectively, Terror of the Zygons being the classic series’ stand-out example of wholesale facsimile being used superbly. It is, after all, the Zygons’ party piece, and it was used effectively again in Day of the Doctor and ever so briefly to great comedic effect in The Power of Three. At the opposite end of the spectrum however (and there are plenty in between), we find The Sontaran Stratagem. This is a story I really like, and it offers so much- UNIT, Martha, Wilf and the return of the Sontarans themselves. The story is a smart variation on the type of environmentalist-inspired stories written by the late, great Malcolm Hulke back in the 1970s and features a terrific cliff-hanger halfway through. David Tennant and Catherine Tate are in sparkling form from start to finish, so what more did TSS need? Precisely nothing, yet Helen Raynor inexplicably decided to factor in the cloning of UNIT troops and staff, including Martha Jones. It was an utterly needless addition to the story, and contributed nothing to it whatsoever. One of the Sontarans’ defining features is their unswerving belief in themselves as the universe’s ultimate warriors, so why would they clone puny humans when more Sontarans would surely be a better option?

More original takes on these tropes are rare and therefore more memorable. Who has reached the point where it has recycled entire stories through a reliance on them (Planet of Evil/42), yet Angel Bob in Flesh and Stone is a fresh variation on possession of a human by an alien villain and affords us the chance to hear an ordinarily mute villain communicate with The Doctor. The fact Steven Moffat has only used this plot device once is a credit to him though. It is part of the Weeping Angels’ uniqueness and effectiveness that they are so different to mouthy gits like the Daleks . There is no chance for The Doctor to talk them into a suicidal foul-up, it’s a straight battle to avoid death or worse; even the Daleks never sent anyone to Hull. Midnight, The Unquiet Dead and The Waters of Mars are other examples of higher quality, more original slants on possession that have been taken in recent years (Mars freshened up another Who staple as well- the base under siege story).

Neil Cross’ two scripts last year oozed originality, the fact it took me three viewings of The Rings of Akhaten to decide I liked it (after two more I adore it) is my issue, but its sheer ‘new-ness’ is what kept me coming back to it at all. Similarly, Steven Moffat’s Silents are surely the perfect antidote to the overuse of possession and duplication as a means of invasion by stealth, and similar lines of lateral thinking really ought to be followed in order to be avoiding these in the pursuit of more original ideas. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest it would be a great experiment to ban possession and duplication for a whole season and see what genuinely original ideas appear as a result.

Images - BBC.

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