25 January 2017

Doctor Who' s `Eras`

Once upon a time fans referred to different periods in the series’ history by the Doctor so you would read references to the `Pertwee Era` or the `McCoy Era`. This assumed of course that few creative changes occurred during the period so what people were saying is that all of the Hartnell Era was distinct from the Troughton one and so on. As we learned more about how the show was made- and saw older episodes- it became clear this was a simplistic and inaccurate representation of the creative process and fans started to call different segments by the producer. So, the `Hinchcliffe Era` was referred to as one period artistically distinct from the `Letts Era` for example. Then along came a producer whose reign spanned ten years and as even more about the workings of television became known we found out how vital the contribution of script editor was. 
The Mutants: Part of the Pertwee Era or the Letts Era or the Letts / Dicks Era?

During the decade when John Nathan- Turner was at the helm the formerly exact science of dividing the show started to become less clear because it is easy to split his period into three parts each of which is under the influence of a different script editor. Hence we have Christopher Bidmead’s hard science based concepts, followed by Eric Saward’s penchant for re-mixing the show’s past to create more straight forward adventure and finally Andrew Cartmels’ graphic novel sensibilities aimed at making the show more serious and enigmatic. For sure Nathan- Turner sanctioned and contributed to each but the direction of the show came more from the script –editor. Nowadays people use the terms `Cartmel Era`, `Saward Era` or `Bidmead Era`. What it also means is that we don't tend to refer to the 80s as the `JNT Era` from a creative viewpoint.
This in turn prompted fan retrospectives of the contributions of other script editors. In the case of Barry Letts for example some of the keynote ideas of the period came not from him but from Terrance Dicks or else from conversations between the two.  Hence this time is now called the `Letts/ Dicks` era. We are likely these days to refer to the `Hinchcliffe / Holmes` era to acknowledge script editor Robert Holmes’ particularly macabre interpretations of classic literature and the familiar becoming a threat. This means the former `Hinchliffe Era` is now broken down into more than one thing.
The return of the show in 2005 saw a different set up. The formerly influential script editor’s job is now far less significant when it comes to the series’ creative direction while the producer is now more of a practical enabler whose contribution to the scripts themselves is minimal. Instead we now have the showrunner who has become more influential as an individual than anyone in the series’ past. Both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat controlled all aspects of the writing process; initiating story ideas even if the script is penned by another writer. Davies once claimed he re-wrote every script in one season regardless of whose name was on the writer’s credit. 

Time and the Rani: Not the JNT Era but the Cartmel Era
This `single vision` approach has both benefits and deficiencies. It does mean a more focussed series so that everything moves in one direction rather than what was sometimes a selection of separate stories with no real attempt to connect them. Now continuity is all important. It also allows more sophisticated arc stories to run behind each episode. While the old style series did link stories- for example in the 1975 series or the Letts / Dicks future history – it was never as intricate as it is now.
The downside is that there is less variety and whereas writers used to approach the series with ideas, now it is unlikely they would get them made unless the idea was moulded to fit the series arc. 
Also it is more likely that people will like or dislike whole swathes of the show. In the past you might really like one story, then the next one not so much etc. Now people are heard to praise or dismiss an era more strongly. And we have gone back to longer more simplistic eras- so far there have been just the two- the `Davies Era` and the `Moffat Era`. They have too much power for it to be any other way. A change of Doctor makes no big difference at all unless, as happened with Matt Smith, it coincides with a change of showrunner.
So, once again dividing the show’s history into creative periods has become easy!

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