These Tiring Tropes and Plot Devices of Doctor Who


According to the Doctor Who TV review, “The Magician’s Apprentice: The Good, The Bad and The Nerdy” by Gustaff Behr:

Despite having low reservations given the direction of the series lately, there weren’t a lot of things lacking in this episode. This is genuinely a great Dalek story. It really is, but I do take some offense at using ‘the Doctor is dying’ trope yet again. This has been three major storylines in three different seasons, notably Series 6 (Silencio), Series 7 (Trenzalore) and now Series 9 (Skaro).

Also, why do we keep saying this is his greatest battle or darkest hour? I thought Trenzalore was his greatest battle. But River said Demon’s Run was his darkest hour. I’m confused. And these are just two examples. Stop trying to escalate things needlessly. You can create a sense of urgency by just having the characters say ’this is gonna be a tricky one’. Things like ‘this battle will be my last’ is just trailer bait and cheapens the ‘final’ battles and ‘darkest’ hours that have come before.

I thought I would appropriately expand on this so we get the bigger picture that the ‘the Doctor is dying’ trope extends as far back as Series 4 (Your Song Is Ending), and Series 4B (He Will Knock Four Times). Before I do this, however, I will need to address the vantage points of the Executive Producers: Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat.

The Vantage Point of Russell T Davies

Much of what we can understand through his time as Executive Producer is as simple as this: Earth is the center of the Whoniverse. This is shown through most of his major narratives. These include Rose:

Aliens of London and World War Three:


The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances:

The Parting of the Ways:

And The Christmas Invasion:

With Series 2, the show began to expand beyond Earth in stories, but fundamentally, the major stories continued to take place on Earth. These include Tooth and Claw:

The Girl In The Fireplace:

Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel:

Army of Ghosts and Doomsday:

The Runaway Bride:

The Shakespeare Code:

Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks:

Human Nature and The Family of Blood:


The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords:

Voyage of the Damned:

The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky:

The Unicorn and The Wasp:

The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End:

The Next Doctor:

Planet of the Dead:

And The End of Time:

I believe from Russell T Davies is in danger through the eyes of the companion. We are watching the events through the eyes of the companion and relate to the Doctor in this way. Earth is the center of the Whoniverse through the companion.

The Vantage Point of Steve Moffat

This is much different from Steve Moffat’s vantage point. Whereas Earth is the center of the Whoniverse through the companion, in Moffat’s Whoniverse, the Doctor is the center of the Whoniverse and we are watching events through the eyes of the Doctor. This includes The Eleventh Hour:

Victory of the Daleks:

The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone:

The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood:

Vincent and the Doctor:

The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang:

A Christmas Carol:

The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon:

The Doctor’s Wife:

The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People:

A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler:

The Wedding of River Song:

The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe:

Asylum of the Daleks:

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship:

The Angels Take Manhattan:

The Snowmen:

The Bells of Saint John:

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS:

Nightmare in Silver:

The Name of the Doctor:

The Day of the Doctor:

And The Time of the Doctor:

From Steven Moffat’s vantage point, the Doctor is clearly the center of the Whoniverse.

‘The Doctor is dying’: Series 4 and Series 4B


During the episode, Planet of the Ood, Ood Signma prophesizes the Doctor’s oncoming death, with his statement:

Ood Sigma: I think your song must end soon.
Doctor: Meaning?
Ood Sigma: Every song must end.
Doctor: Yeah. Er, what about you? You still want to go home?
Donna: No. Definitely not.
Doctor: Then we’ll be off.
Ood Sigma: Take this song with you.
Donna: We will.
Doctor: Always.
Ood Sigma: And know this, Doctor Donna. You will never be forgotten. Our children will sing of the Doctor Donna, and our children’s children, and the wind and the ice and the snow will carry your names forever. 

This leads to what would be the false cliffhanger depicted The Stolen Earth:


However, because the Doctor doesn’t die in that story, this prophecy remains intact through the rest of Series 4, as seen here with Carmen in Planet of the Dead:

Carmen: Doctor? You take care now.
Doctor: You too. Chops and gravy, lovely.
Carmen: No, but you be careful. Because your song is ending, sir.
Doctor: What do you mean?
Carmen: It is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor? Oh, but then he will knock four times.

This means that the prophecy exists in both parts of Series 4.

‘The Doctor is dying’: Series 5, Series 6, Series 7, Series 8, and Series 9


During Series 5, many stories depict various elements associated with what would be the Doctor’s demise. River Song in Flesh and Stone states the following:

River: It’s a long story. Doctor. It can’t be told, it has to be lived. No sneak previews. Well, except for this one. You’ll see me again quite soon, when the Pandorica opens.
Doctor: The Pandorica. Ha! That’s a fairy tale.
River: Doctor, aren’t we all? I’ll see you there.
Doctor: I look forward to it.
River: I remember it well.

Other elements include the painting by Vincant van Gogh:


These all leads to the Doctor’s imprisonment in the Pandorica:

During Series 6, the Doctor doesn’t just die once, but ‘The Doctor is dying’ trope is utilized three whole times. The first time in The Impossible Astronaut:

Let’s Kill Hitler:

And lastly in The Wedding of River Song:

During Series 7, Trenzalore and his imminent death isn’t touched upon until The Name of the Doctor:

He eventually regenerates in The Time of the Doctor:

During Series 8, things do change making Earth the center of the threat for a change:

With Prologue, we are again facing the Doctor’s imminent death:


6 thoughts on “These Tiring Tropes and Plot Devices of Doctor Who

  1. Trenzalore was his biggest battle. There were two Trenzalore battles: one was when Clara jumped into his time stream, and the second was in a town called Christmas with the tower. The latter is the one that was the biggest battle. It was the Doctor against every bad guy in the history of bad guys, and he maintained the peace (somewhat) for like 900 years. He fought every sort of baddie, and the baddies were even changing themselves to out-maneuver him (wooden Cybermen). He kept sending Clara away, he had no TARDIS, his allies were converted into Dalek’s — it was the Doctor against every Who villain we’ve seen in the NuHu-verse. And if you remember, during that war, the Doctor was aging to death, and he would have died if the Council did not give him a whole new regeneration cycle (leading to this Doctor). The Doctor, the original Doctor died there on Trenzalore, it was the new regeneration cycle granted to him that allowed him to continue, but without it, it *would* have been the Doctor’s biggest and last battle.

    The darkest hour at Demon’s Run is also accurate. The Doctor, fed up with people going after his friends, created an army to fight (something he’s generally against); lost his temper and went off on Col Runaway; and after all of that, he *still* lost his best friend’s baby from being tricked the same way twice in one episode. He went to war, with weapons; people died in his name; he caused the military to try to take on the Headless Monks causing more death; belittled and demoralized a human being to feel better; and was, for that episode, the farthest thing from the Doctor that day: “Never cruel, never cowardly; never give up, never give in”. As River said “The Doctor’s darkest hour. He’ll rise higher than ever before and then fall so much further, and I can’t be with him till the very end.” He took over the base, but failed his friends.

    And the Doctor dying is not as you portray. In most of the stories, I expect his death to mean a new Doctor, not the end of the show.

  2. We enjoy the continues threat of the Doctor dying, and the comfort of knowing that he wont. That predictability is what keeps us tuned in. It makes it dark but still campy. That is the appeal to a lot of fans. It may be over used, it may be a cheap ploy to get fans to tune in, but it is always fun! The excitement of the danger and the satisfaction of escaping it, it is what makes Doctor Who fun.

    • It’s too predicatble. Guest contributor Sam Forshaw to Doctor Who TV (Companions: An Idea For A More Unpredictable Season Format) which best articles my general complaint with the constant re-use of tropes and plot devices that take the fun out of the show:

      “I love two-parters as much as anyone else, but I found one aspect of the last two Series 9 stories quite painful: the cliffhangers are very weak. In The Magician’s Apprentice, the TARDIS exploded, Clara died, Missy died, and the Doctor looked as though he was about to exterminate Bubby Davros. Meanwhile in Under the Lake, we had a slightly toned-down cliffhanger, which was appreciated, where the Doctor was revealed to have died in the past.

      But do you see what’s wrong with that? All of these things are obviously going to be reverted, and that’s jarringly obvious to the majority of the audience. People won’t tune in next week just because of the cliffhanger—because of course the Doctor/Clara isn’t dead, of course the TARDIS isn’t destroyed. It makes the show predictable, and that’s not what we want.”

      The show will lose ratings (as it has), and eventually get cancelled if the fans, young and old alike, find the plots too predicatble. It’s a matter of time.

      • For me, it’s not about the predictability; of course the Doctor’s not dead. But it’s how he cheated death that’s interesting to me.

        Of course, now that fandom has hit it’s pinnacle for all time for the show, it’s kind of hard for any show runner to do anything without everyone across the world knowing it. If he wanted to get rid of a companion, there’s already 10 months of information about the new companion before he does, so that limits what can and can’t be done.

  3. Pingback: A Special Look at: Under the Lake | The Progressive Democrat

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