Sep 24 2011 3:00pm

These 5 Writers Should Take a Crack at Doctor Who

As science fiction formats go, Doctor Who seems the most open to a diversity of writerly sensibilities. Though the post-2005 Who seasons contain loose story arcs, the show is still largely made up of self-contained stories that simply drop this mad man in a box into a fantastic scenario. The original Star Trek had a similar planet-of-the-week format, which allowed for a number of science fiction writers to adapt their stories to Trek’s format.

Contemporary Who fans have grown accustomed to seeing a group of familiar scribes: Toby Whithouse, Mark Gatiss, Chris Chibnall, and so on, however, this season featured a one-off episode from immensely popular author Neil Gaiman! This seemed to work infosar as it was nice to hear a slightly different voice on the show. What if even more new voices were allowed in the TARDIS? Here are five writers who might deliver unique and memorable Doctor Who adventures.

Dan Brown

These 5 Writers Should Take a Crack at Doctor WhoSure, he’s a complete hack with a tendency for weaving pseudo-history into a globetrotting conspiracy, but Dan Brown does know how to write an exciting plot. (And it’s not like Doctor Who goes out of its way to avoid hand-wavey science. Plus, the line between pseudo-history and science fiction history is pretty fine.)

If Brown’s more thriller-esque techniques were reigned in by the more family-friendly vibe of Doctor Who, he might actually produce something singular and unique. Maybe Dan Brown could be the writer to depict the “true story of Easter.” The 10th Doctor did mention he was there! Or what about Joan of Arc? Hell- what if the Doctor had to fight against the masons? With this in mind, the Three Families action from Miracle Day certainly had a Dan Brown thing going for it. Perhaps the Torchwood team could stand to gain a new member in the form of Dr. Robert Langdon.


Tina Fey

Moffat famously made a name for himself in the industry with the creation and writing of the comedy show Coupling. Though some of Coupling comes across a bit dated now (mostly owing to the fact that all the worst elements were re-appropriated in Friends) it has undeniably compelling plots and snappy dialogue. If this is an important criterion for television writing, then Tina Fey makes Moffat look like he’s standing still. A quirky comedy plot that involves space or time travel? Tina Fey would likely excel. Her episode wouldn’t even have to involve space or time travel too much, as the more “mundane” episodes of Doctor Who, like “The Lodger” and “Blink” are often some of the best. Tina Fey’s hypothetical Doctor Who episode could easily involve an everyday struggle spinning out of control, a hallmark of both 30 Rock and Doctor Who. As a bonus, it could also star Tina Fey in a guest role! A Liz Lemon style character would also probably totally accept the existence of the Doctor and the TARDIS without batting an eye.


Joss Whedon

As Russell T. Davies has attested, the success of 2005 Who owes a lot to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. More than any of his creations, Buffy made SFF into something other than a nerdy boys club, and melded domestic drama with a fantastical premise to an extent that viewers had rarely seen before.

Contemporary Doctor Who has learned a lot from the Buffy approach to storytelling and Whedon would excel in this environment. He’d likely deliver an episode that provided a sense of real danger, and you wouldn’t be sure that the Doctor would wrap everything up, or that someone important wouldn’t die. Hell, he might even be able to do something new and interesting with a classic enemy like the Daleks or the Cybermen. As long as Whedon resisted the urge to have really, really sexy girls kicking ass in the style of Buffy and River Tam (as aped by Jenny in “The Doctor’s Daughter”) everything would likely be great.


Warren Ellis

Comic book visionary Warren Ellis might seem a little too racy for Doctor Who (although that’s kind of like saying water might be a little too wet) but just imagine the setting of something like Transmetropolitan in a Doctor Who episode! Ellis is no stranger to exploring the weirder edges of science: living nanoclouds, alternate steampunk realities, a gun that fires a baby universe at its target, space shuttles given the name Awesome as an official designation... And the man loves space exploration unabashedly. (Check out his highly touching graphic novel Orbiter for proof.) The speculative ethical questions Warren Ellis brings to the table are highly original and would propel Who into an interesting area where the science fiction started to become complex social commentary. Not to mention, a story from Warren Ellis will move fast, have great dialogue, and likely be darkly funny. (The odds of someone threatening to do something violent to or with someone’s butt are fairly high, as well.)


Nicholas Meyer

Though not really in the spotlight post-Star Trek, writer/director Nicholas Meyer still has some pretty legitimate writing chops. In 2003 he adapted the screenplay for The Human Stain based on the Philip Roth novel of the same name. Then in 2008 he adapted another Roth novel, Elegy. Both films are fantastic and full of wonderful, gripping scenes that convey complex human drama. And though Doctor Who has drama, some of it does occasionally degenerate into melodrama. Meyer famously re-wrote the script for The Wrath of Khan, which resulted in one of the most introspective Star Trek film of the bunch. Meyer’s Who episode wouldn’t be about the science fiction concept necessarily, but more about how the people were affected by the fantastic. He’s also done time travel before: directed the 1976 film Time After Time. Finally, Meyer is a Sherlock Holmes aficionado, responsible for three wonderful Holmes pastiches. Moffat loves Holmes. Meyer loves Holmes. The Doctor meets Holmes in a Meyer/Moffat joint? Pefection.


We came up with a ton more names that we’d like to see behind the wheel of Doctor Who, but we’re curious as to what everyone else thinks. Who comes to mind for a guest writer on Who?


Madeline Ashby
1. MadelineAshby
Great choices! I'd also nominate The Welch-Ehasz team from Futurama and A:tLA. Elizabeth Welch Ehasz in particular does great work, even with only twenty-two minutes of episode available. Also Sera Gamble and Eric Kripke from Supernatural. And Darin Morgan, who wrote the best episodes of The X-Files.
2. heyoscarwilde
Alan Moore...?
Josh Smith
4. Master_Moridin
How about Terry Prachett? Better yet, get the Neil Gaiman and Prachett to work together on an episode or two.
Ian Johnson
5. IanPJohnson
@3: That was my initial thought. Also it would be interesting to see an episode written by NK Jemisin, or possibly Mark Twain. (I know, I know, that last one might be a little hard to get ahold of. I can't take my TARDIS back to late 19th/early 2oth century America– I've still got beef with Teddy Roosevelt.)
6. JCHicks
Joss Whedon, hell yeah! He's good with the tough girls. I bet he could do more with Amy in one hour than has been done with her over two seasons.
7. Edwardian Adventurer
I'll agree with Warren Ellis and Nicholas Meyers. The rest, I'm not so sure.

Hands down, I would love to see Grant Morrison's crazy mind run wild with Doctor Who.
8. Alexander K.
Seriously? Dan Brown?
Jennifer B
9. JennB
As a fequent lurker at, I have become very curious about Doctor Who, so last week my husband and I watched the first two episodes of the 2005 series on Netflix. It seemed so hokey. Every "fight scene" made me roll my eyes. We kind of decided that it is probably not for us, but for some reason I really want to like it. It seems so popular and, after all, it is the longest running series ever. If you stick with it, does it get better? Should we have started in a different place?
Gabby Jagoriles
10. _GabeKarl
Brandon Sanderson for some good character driven story, Grant Morrison for some gritty crazy story like Ellis (they should do a back to back episode, that would be fun), I do not know about Neal Stephenson and the short format, but it would be fun to have him do a 4 part arc, Haruki Murakami for some surrealism, Joe Hill 'nuff said, any popular Japanese mangaka (like Hiroya Oku of Gantz fame), and Stan Lee for some quirky awesome old school story
Gabby Jagoriles
11. _GabeKarl
@9 . JennB welcome to the club, I had the same feeling too when I first watched an episode of Doctor Who ... but may I suggest sticking to the same Doctor until he becomes the tenth or if you would like skip number 9 and head straight to 10 .... don't worry about the fight scenes focus on the story .... it gets better
Chris Meadows
12. Robotech_Master
Interesting note: Davies actually approached J.K. Rowling to write an episode, but she declined.

Really, I'd like to see just about any modern SF novelist given a shot at it just to see how they'd do. John Scalzi would probably be a great choice, as most of his works mix deadpan humor and action in a way that would work great with a show like Doctor Who. Catherine Asaro or Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have done great things blending SF and fantasy tropes—just the thing for a show like Doctor Who that so often straddles the line itself.

Perhaps a military SF writer like David Weber, John Ringo, David Drake, or Michael Z. Williamson could be tapped for a story that would present a military unit as more than either cannon fodder (recent UNIT stuff, "The Time of Angels") or bad guys ("Demons Run"/"A Good Man Goes to War"). Though I suppose that might be a bit of a stretch given the show's general anti-war stance.

I'd like to see what any SF or fantasy novelist could bring to the table. Stepping outside the usual writing stable might bring in some very interesting new ideas.
Jennifer B
13. JennB
re GabeKarl @ 11
You are talking about the actors right? Start watching or stick with it until the point where a new actor (David Tennent??) takes over. We'll keep watching and see how it goes. :-)

So many people love this show so much, I know that I must be missing something.
Matt Ries
14. mattries37315
Okay longtime lurker, first time poster.

Dan Brown, um, no don't taint Doctor Who with him.

Tina Fey, I would boycott that episode b/c I don't like anything she touches.

Josh Whedon, could do a great one-off episode or an episode that has elements involved in the season story arch if given an overview by Moffat.

Warren Ellis, can't comment b/c first I've heard of him.

Nicholas Meyer, the man associated with the best original crew Star Trek films, would also be an excellent choice. Now thinking about it, the Doctor meeting a Holmes-like individual in Victorian London could be a memorable episode or two.
15. Nos
No to Dan Brown, and add Jane Espenson.
16. Smaug's Li'l Brother Puff
I would love a Tina Fey Who episode muy grande, but I don't think Moffat and the BBC would ever roll American, would they? How about Sue Townsend (Adrian Mole)?

How about Stephen Fry? Terry Jones? Stewart Lee?

Whedon? Love Firefly, but overall he's as overrated and boring as zombies and vampires. Sorry. Okay, maybe if it's the episode where you're killing off a beloved companion.

As for this: "Though some of Coupling comes across a bit dated now (mostly owing to the fact that all the worst elements were re-appropriated in Friends)...", did you mean "appropriated from Friends"? because I thought Friends was about a decade older. Doesn't really matter, as I can't stand Friends, just curious.
Brian Mann
17. hypnoskills
Howard Tayler. Dr. Who goes to the Schlockiverse!
18. BenMech
I have a crackin' good idea for a Who writer:

Nick Park (the Wallace & Gromit creator).

Also, since BOTH Matt Smith and Billie Piper played in the Sally Lockheart Mysteries (Billie in the lead and Smith as a companion of sorts), what about His Dark Materials mastermind Phillip Pullman?
19. mutantalbinocrocodile
Second for N.K. Jemisin, who could do some really interesting things with an alien-planet scenario. Would have to get her to write PG (not coming from someone who was offended by The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but it's not exactly family reading) but there's so much more there than just the sex, however much people end up talking about the sex.
20. JoeNotCharles
Warren Ellis, like every other major British comic author, has written for Doctor Who. Although not very much, as far as I can tell - his Wikipedia entry only mentions a "Doctor Who one-pager".

(Actually, it's kind of odd that Neil Gaiman never wrote for the Doctor Who comics back before he was famous for Sandman...)

Here's a list of stories written by some of the big names mentioned. I don't know if they're complete: (who of course has written for the TV show as well, but I figure I should list him since he's also a high-profile comic book writer outside of Doctor Who)
21. JoeNotCharles
Oh, my suggestions:

George R. R. Martin - extensive TV experience, and a background in both horror and very otherworldly SF

Terry Pratchett - I would LOVE to see his take on the fairy-tale Matt Smith era!

Vernor Vinge - can you imagine the TARDIS getting stuck in the Slow Zone? A great concept to import into Doctor Who!
22. Edward Brennan
Kelly Link or Carol Emshwiller for the odd fantasy. China Meiville for the thought provoking. Tom Stoppard would be an interesting choice especially on a more historically minded episode. Michael Chabon or Jonathan Lethem. Charles Stross might be intersting too.
23. a-j
Christopher Priest was apparantly approached during the 6th Doctor's time.
Iain Banks could be interesting.
Pat Mills from the comics world.
Across the Atlantic, how about Aaron Sorkin?
24. a-j
Oh, and Kim Newman should do a sequel to Patrick Troughton's Mind Robber story returning the Doctor to the Land of Fiction.
26. Kevin J Marks
Why has no-one mentioned Jo Walton of this parish yet? Her track record in almost-historical novels and fantasy and of course the faerie boundaries of Wales make her a natural writer for the Doctor.

Then there's Connie Willis - imagine the Doctor crossing paths in the Blitz with her Oxonian time travellers. Her intricate plotting would fit in with Moffat's time travel jigsaw puzzles very nicely.

Charlie Stross would also be a fascinating choice, whether in eldritch present bureaucracy or far-flung space future.
Ian Gazzotti
27. Atrus
I would love to see a Doctor Who script by Cat Valente. It would fit very well with the 'postmodern fairy tale' vibe they have going in these last two seasons.
Joseph Kingsmill
28. JFKingsmill16
How about JJ Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. They have really done a fantastic job with Fringe.

Also J. Michael Straczynski, he did a great job with Babylon 5 and could add some solid story writing. Especially as long as you allow him to finish his story arc.
Michael Walsh
29. MichaelWalsh
23. a-j Sunday September 25, 2011 02:45am EDT : "Across the Atlantic, how about Aaron Sorkin?"

Good lord, it all be dialog at a really fast clip. Really good dialog granted.
Ashley Fox
30. A Fox
Mmmm, seems theres an awful lot of speculation here on how to improve the quintessentially British Doctor americanizing it! Purrrr-leese, that like, totally, sucks! We'rent the 80's bad enough?

Quite interesting when you consider the thematic arc of the current season, the first and last eps being in America, the Dr facing his death and contrast that with this years push for an American audiance.

(There are obviously commenters here, who have suggested others! lol)
31. Fogeyman
Whedon, yes. Meyer, yes.

32. Antinomic
How about Seanan McGuire?
33. Wiredwizard
George R.R. Martin
Jim Butcher
Felicia Day
Joss Whedon
Simon R. Green
34. scfi reader
dan simmons-hyperion scared the daylights out of me.
harlan ellison
jo walton
35. Misreall
Tina Fey is a great idea, but FYI guys, Coupling came way the hell after Friends, and indeed was meant to be a British take on the Friends concept.
36. Ryber
John Scalzi, hands down
Jo Walton
37. bluejo
Kevn J Marks: That would be because I hate Doctor Who. I've always hated it, but I hate it slightly worse now that every time I mention having been to see my family in Cardiff people ask me if I've seen a tardis (or a dalek) while I was there. I'm very unlikely to write any tie in ever, but Doctor Who would be right at the bottom of my list.
Stephen Dunscombe
38. cythraul
If Brown’s more thriller-esque techniques were reigned in

Reined in. No 'g'. The thing you use for steering horses (reins), not the thing a monarch does (reigns).
39. AI1
Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game and series, the Maker series)
Jonathan Stroud (The Bartimeus trilogy)

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