What Doctor Who can learn from Black Mirror

They’re both popular British television dramas that have been met with international acclaim and prestige; they’re also both, arguably, science-fiction programs, although of course there’s plenty of room for each to lean into different genres. Arguably, beyond these similarities there’s not a great deal that links these two shows; perhaps, though, that’s what gives one room to learn from the other…

1) Employ contemporary allegories

Black Mirror is known for being a show that offers commentary on the world around us; Charlie Brooker, the show’s creator and writer of most episodes, has called the show a warning about how we could be living if we’re not careful. Stories have tackled ideas as widespread as social media to populism in politics to how society approaches justice and retribution; in many ways, it’s this that makes Black Mirror so impactful.

Doctor Who doesn’t quite follow the same vein, and it doesn’t always succeed when it does try to offer commentary on modern issues. However, when it does do it right, it soars; one of the strongest episodes of series 9 was The Zygon Invasion, which alluded to ISIS, extremism, and the refugee crisis. It proved that Doctor Who could successfully engage with the real world, and provided an argument for why it should do so more often – when it does, it’s bloody good.

2) Develop more of an edge

Edgy” is an easy term to apply to Black Mirror, albeit perhaps a reductive one. Nonetheless, it goes a long way towards describing the twists and turns of the average Black Mirror episode – it’s a show that’s relentless in subverting expectations, and always maintaining a strong impact throughout.

Admittedly, Doctor Who is not going to be able to have the same sort of edge as Black Mirror – one, after all, is a family show, and the other a post-watershed adult drama. The two are a world away from one another in terms of how they’re meant to be approached. And yet, at the same time, there is still something Doctor Who can take from this – an aim to play it a little less safe, and be willing to challenge the audience a little bit more.

3) Greater variation in style and tone

Both Black Mirror and Doctor Who already do this, in fairness; after all, they’re shows that do, more or less, present something entirely new each week. Both can jump from techno-thriller to haunted house story with ease, and it’s one of their key strengths – the ability to regularly do something new is part of what keeps each show so endlessly entertaining, because of the potential it creates, and how it so utterly breaks down any limitations that could be placed on the shows.

However, Doctor Who does still maintain something of a house style, and it might serve them well to shake this up a bit; while found footage style episode Sleep No More wasn’t met with popular acclaim, it was impressive in terms of representing a real break from the norm. If Doctor Who could do more of that, presenting episodes in such a way that they look and feel different from one another, the series could perhaps reach new levels of quality.

Ultimately, both of these shows are fantastic. True, fantastic in different ways, and fantastic independently of one another – but any show should look to its competitors, and ask if there are any aspects of others they too should adopt. After all, learning from those around you leads to a much stronger show altogether. 

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