What the 9th Doctor Taught Me about Writing

My husband is a photographer. Lately, I have found him stopped in front of tabloids, hair dye, and flyers as he examines the photos on them trying to figure out how the lighting was accomplished and what post-processing was done to the photo. I began thinking why can’t a writer learn from good writing?

Growing up I had my share of Star Trek and Buck Rogers, but I only saw a little bit of Dr. Who. I know shameful of someone who loves scifi! I knew there was a man called The Doctor who traveled in a blue phone booth and there was an odd shaped metal box-like robot that was the enemy. I may even have learned the name Dalek. Later in life, I watched an episode where London was overgrown in jungle and a teacher and her students ran around with their journals trying to stay away from pre-historic looking creatures. That was the extent of my Dr. Who experience until this last week. My husband had surfed through Amazon Prime and found season 101 of Dr. Who. We began watching episode after episode. To be quite truthful, I’ve fallen in love with the ninth doctor. I love his humor, the way he cares for Rose, and his smile. In the process though, I began to look at what draws me to him as a character. What makes The Doctor good writing? I’ve come up with several characteristics that will span any type of writing.

1. Realistic

Sure we’re dealing with an alien and time travel in Dr. Who, but if you really watch him, you’ll see how down to earth the character really is. He has anger, compassion, humor, and people problems just like the rest of us. As a writer, my characters must be believable. If they aren’t then I have problems. Some people have criticized the characters of the Dragon Courage series that they are too goody two shoes. So, I’ve tried to explain why they are doing what is right, even when it may be easier to do what is wrong. With The One Who Sees Me, I did my best to think of what Faru would have felt and how she would have acted in her position and still stay true to the Biblical account of her story.

2. Flaws

Even The Doctor has flaws. This became evident in episode 6. Rose and The Doctor are pulled out of time travel and find themselves in an alien museum far underground in Utah. A distress call caused the tardis to appear here. The Doctor is amazed with all the exhibits, until he sees the Dalek. At first he shows extreme fear upon seeing that the creature is alive. Then when it cannot harm him, he gloats over it. His lack of compassion is contrasted with Rose’s first encounter with the robot. She has no fear and reaches out in love to help it.

This episode was the one that caused me to begin to really think about writing. The way The Doctor was portrayed touched my heart. If anything it made him human, if that’s not sacrilegious to say. The pain and fear he expressed with the thought of becoming like the Dalek pierced to my inner being. I began to wonder what I could write into my characters that would work the same way. What flaws could my characters have? What inner griefs haunt them? I believe I have improved in this area since I first began writing. I had a vague idea that this was to be, but I didn’t consciously consider it as I wrote Dragon’s Future and Dragon’s Heir. However, in Dragon’s Revenge, I thought of Ben’hyamene. What would it have been like to live with the pain of knowing he had betrayed all that he now held dear? I tried to make that flaw a part of his character. I also used the same thought processes in Kyn. What changes does he go through now that he is the Frithwyn, or peace friend?

3. Humor

Since I haven’t seen many other Dr. Who episodes or seasons, I don’t know if this point is something prevalent throughout all the doctors or not, but the ninth doctor has a unique sense of humor and a joy of living. His smile breaks out at the oddest moments, lighting up his face and endearing me to him. My fourteen-year-old has only watched three episodes with us, but he can quote several of the humorous points. I will say humor is one of my weaknesses. I enjoy a good laugh and can see the humor in many situations, but I’m awful with telling jokes. I was very glad for the opportunity to take a workshop on humor. The presenter stated that writing humor is just like any other point of writing. It is a craft that you must practice. By trial and error, it will improve. So, I am going to focus on including more humor into my writing, even if it’s irony or juxtaposition.

4. Special items

The Doctor has several special items. Most obvious is his tardis. This time machine is something that no one else has. It enables him to be who he is. Without the tardis, he would be one sorry excuse for a time lord. But with the tardis, he can travel to wherever he wishes, okay as long as his watch works. Another special tool The Doctor uses is a sonic screwdriver. This device has gotten him and Rose out of many jams so far in the season. Sure there was a time in 1941 London that he wished it was something bigger than a screwdriver, but it worked for what they needed.

Especially when writing fantasy, characters need special items. These items define them and make their world more believable. Dragon’s Future has calamadyn. Dragon’s Heir has the talisman passed down from generation to generation of the El’Shad’n. In Dragon’s Revenge Kyn uses his teas and tisanes to help heal people. He also has his special healing ability which will come into play in Dragon’s Cure.

5. Accent

The Doctor obviously has an accent. According to Rose’s mother, it is a northern accent. I can hear each character in my head because of their distinctive voice. In writing, my characters should have a clear voice as well. In Dragon’s Future, I was accused of writing very formally. In reality, it’s how I speak. I’ve had an exchange student say my speech is distinct from others around me. Whether that is from learning a second language or my Mid-West upbringing. Either way, how I write is a reflection of how I speak. As I create worlds, I think of how characters should sound. This is most noticeable in Dragon’s Revenge where the people of the Carr drop the letter ‘h’, the final ‘g’ on a word, and the ‘f’ of the word ‘of’. Seeing it in writing can be a bit confusing at first. It made for an interesting time even as I wrote the book. I would get into the story and write the dialogue and then forget who was speaking. Later, I had to go through and change things.

"img="quote from Dragon's Revenge"

These five things are what the ninth doctor taught me about writing. I’m sure as I continue to watch the season, more things will come my way. That’s okay. As a teacher, I endorse life-long learning. What better way of learning a craft than studying from gifted writers and actors?

What's your take?