If you're a fan of Doctor Who, check out my Doctor Who poetry book I wrote to celebrate the show's 50th anniversary HERE!
If you don't know anything about WARS, get a quick rundown HERE!
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Russel T. Davies is putting Together his new version of the Television show Doctor Who. A classic sci-fi series from the 60's it had been in in a sort of limbo between existing and not existing for quite some time after being canceled in the late 80's. It came back for a one off TV-Movie that was meant to be the pilot for a new TV show, but it didn't work out and fans of the show had to wait till 2005 for the show to get new regular episodes. When it came back, the show was re-invented, rejuvenated, and yet still adhered to being the same show it had been when it was a niche show in the 60's. Doctor Who of course became massively popular, and is still going strong with the premiere of the newest actor to take on the leading role, Peter Capaldi, not too long before this writing. Doctor Who as far as we know didn't influence the creation of WARS much, none of the original creators have ever mentioned it as an influence, but it became a success at exactly the time WARS was failing and proving to be exactly the sort of failure the naysayers had anticipated. Both Doctor Who and WARS were new versions of an old concept trying to reinvent themselves for a new market. Unlike Battlestar Galactica, this new version of Doctor Who didn't just last a few years with short lived spin off, it's still going, and had two spin offs that lasted for as many seasons (though not as many episodes because of the lower orders per year of British TV) or more than BSG did, as well as a whole TV show just about making Doctor Who. It even managed a gigantic worldwide 50th Anniversary celebration, with a giant episode screened in Cinemas and posting record breaking viewing figures. Its pretty clear that this is the kind of success that any property dreams it will have, and as fans of WARS looking on at a 10th Anniversary that is rapidly approaching without the hint of anything specifically made to celebrate that Anniversary in the works. Sure, we're far more than grateful for the final trilogy of WARS novellas we'll be getting in 2014, but anniversaries are times to celebrate with something special, and its hard to celebrate when WARS is still trying to get on its own two feet.
Doctor Who has of course earned its new-found place in the throne of geekdom, the new 2005 series has managed to constantly reinvent itself over and over again to keep itself fresh. While this has led to charges that the show is constantly dying, constantly being ruined, and constantly terrible from the moment that the first episode of the revival “Rose” aired on March 26th 2005, to the episode that aired the weekend this was written, “Robot of Sherwood”. The show has been constantly changing, and constantly finding a new audience. The show has done everything from dark gritty war stories to wacky comedies, and has changed its tone from everything from an educational science and history show to one about fairy tales, all while managing to have new fans who love and appreciate what the show has become despite all the changes, even while it always inevitably loses a few who hate the new changes.
However, Doctor Who was also and is also totally recognizable as itself. No matter what there are always some recognizable elements: the Doctor (an alien who travels around the universe righting wrongs and having adventures), the companion(s) (the trusty sidekick(s) of the Doctor who help him out on his journeys) and the TARDIS (a time traveling blue box that can also travel through space). Sometimes the show will try to do stories without one of these elements, but even then it usually ends up being a story about how that element isn't there and what happens when its not. Even while the show changes, it never strays too far from its core. The essential elements are always still there, or right within reach to bring back in at a moment's notice. Its familiar even when its different.
Its amazing how clever Russel T. Davies was when he brought the show back in how he managed to make the show so utterly accessible to new viewers while still respecting the canon of the old series. The way he did it was fairly simple: he simply killed off some of the elements of the setting that were the hardest to explain quickly to new viewers, and then slowly introduced them to the viewers as the Doctor tried to deal with their demise. While it pissed off plenty of fans to have killed off (offscreen!) elements considered so important to the world of the show, the show itself could function easily without them. You just need the Doctor, a companion, and a TARDIS. The audience was totally free from having to deal with the burden of having a massive amount new information dropped on them, and could instead absorb it slowly while picking up the very simple idea of “a guy in a timemachine/spaceship picks up a friend to have adventures with” and gets introduced to the complexities of the world through those adventures.
We're also given a figure to identify with through the companion, the first of which in the revival is Rose, a working class girl with few prospects outside of working a job in a shop for the rest of her life. We follow these new alien worlds the Doctor takes her to and share in her wonder and delight at them, and revel as she meets historical figures. Its all very good fun.
Less talked about is the careful structure of Doctor Who's episodes. In every season of the revival show there is an episode set in space/the future/an alien world, and episode set in Earth's history, and an episode set in the modern day on Earth, and oftentimes these can be found within the first three episodes of a season. By showing these three types of stories to the viewer, the show reintroduces its basic premise of the kinds of stories it tells so that new viewers are always aware of them, while also providing a structure for the show so it always has certain sorts of thematic beats for viewers to latch onto. Its also terribly clever, and it works so well the show hasn't changed that aspect of its structure even while its experimented with different types and lengths of stories constantly.
Its sort of depressing trying to compare all of this to WARS in some ways, because the story of WARS' setting was in many ways secondary to the fact that there was a cardgame. And I mean, of course it was. I'm under no illusions that the stories around the game only exist in order to help sell the card game in the first places, but it does make one wish the stories had reached the level of narrative coherence of something like Doctor Who, even while they were in a different medium far less accessible than television.
Essentially, the different between WARS and Doctor Who is that Doctor Who realized that it doesn't really matter if people understand your setting as long as they care about the stories that are set in it. Doctor Who barely has a setting, it changes constantly, but the characters and their stories remain despite the shifting between worlds. WARS took this approach backwards, and cared first about introducing the setting.
For all I love the brave ridiculousness or WARS' early “essay stories” which I've gushed about previously for how fantastic they are, and for all I love the weirdness of WARS' setting, we come back once again to the tired tired point this blog has reiterated so often I'm not even sure I need to write it anymore: there isn't one story people can go back to and say “this is WARS”. The essay stories focus almost entirely on not just introducing, but dissecting different elements of the WARS setting, and lest we forget, the first real thing we got to look at was a document introducing the setting and the different factions of the universe. Its all very cool, and if you're invested in WARS, you're going to lap up the massive amount of detail there...
...But what if you don't care at all about WARS? What if you're some casual person dropping in on the setting with no real clue why you should care about it? What is going to make you care?
Doctor Who catered to the newbies first, the people who weren't obsessive about it, and it really paid off. WARS was targeted at people who had been playing the Star Wars card game Decipher had already been playing, hoping to get them interested in something new obsessively, but even there we find an issue. You see, Doctor Who has always been similar to Doctor Who. You can always recognize it. WARS is really very little like Star Wars, and while I love the setting for what it is, from a marketing standpoint it probably should have felt a bit more like Star Wars to draw in the people they were targeting. The strangeness of the setting screamed that it wanted new blood, but the way it was marketed screamed that it wanted the old guard. It didn't catch either group with the fervency it wished. All of which is old hat at this point. We know WARS didn't work, and Doctor Who did. Doctor Who celebrated a crazy spectacular 50th, while WARS 10th is filled with hoping that this amazing setting gets more exposure than it has in the past and more stories.
But this article has been fairly doom and gloom, so lets take a glimpse to the future. We're not going to go too far down this rabbit hole, but the latest WARS Novellas have been taking lessons from the Doctor Who model: they Novellas have all featured small groups of consistent characters with one central protagonist running through each of the faction's novellas. This gives them variety as they show different perspectives and cultures, while still holding together a narrative consistency. They've removed some of the more complicated and hard to explain elements by setting the Novellas in the past so that they can be introduced and explained slowly as opposed to all at one. The Grail Quest Books Novellas really seem to be doing everything right so far, and they're a heckuva lot of fun. Here's hoping there is another round of them.
WARS is a terribly rich setting, and like Doctor Who it can tell a vast array of different types of stories. Its exactly the kind of Sci-Fi that should get the chance to go on and tell crazy stories in the future, but due to its obscurity, might not. We can only hope.
Happy anniversary WARS, Happy anniversary Doctor Who, you've both done so well and I love you both. Cheers to dreams of the TARDIS running through the Mumon Rift.
Cheers to a long future for us all.