How Star Trek and Doctor Who improved my story telling

I’m a huge geek.

I grew up with Star Trek – The next Generation. As it was aired for the very first time in Germany I was 8 years old and was hooked from the first episode, despite the strange Cheerleader attire of Deanna Troi. I remember running home from school to not miss the episode that would start at 2:30 pm, only minutes after my last class. I made it every time. After that, the story just went on with Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and even Enterprise. The only show I didn’t really get into was TOS, but I loved the movies – so that’s something.

Of course, it didn’t stay with Star Trek. Series like Lexx, Firefly, Stargate and many more followed but for the most time of my life, Star Trek was my bae. And then came Doctor Who. I had never seen the original series at the point or even heard of it – yeah Germany is lacking great geek stuff. I was hooked from the first episode – again. While we were waiting for new seasons we had to get our Who fix and watched the movie, borrowed Jon Pertwee episodes from a friend and enjoyed them thoroughly. I have loved every Doctor I have seen so far, even the “unpopular” ones.

Assimilation² Cover crop
Part of the Assimilation² Cover. The copyright of this image’s publication belongs to IDW Publishing, under license from CBS Paramount Television and/or Paramount Pictures.

While I watch a lot of TV and movies, these two shows have shaped my life. They were teachers, friends, lifelines and more to me, the characters became a second and then third family. And I still am fully immersed through my cooperative writing Star Trek Role-playing Group Starbase 118. When thinking about how I started my writing to where I am now I can honestly say, that these two shows helped me with my writing. But why?

Those of you who know the shows might know already. Both Star Trek and Doctor who have strong characters with their own plot-arcs, developments, and goals. And then there are characters without these elements so you can see the difference right away. For example, Worf had much more story than for example Geordie. Or Doctor Who’s Mickey has more of an arc than Donna’s mother. And I am a huge fan of character development and stories. So observing the series’ ways to develop their characters has been a huge help to find ways to do that.

These shows also have relatable and likeable characters, just as much as characters that we can really hate on. I believe that Star Trek and Doctor Who both have fantastic plots that develop and evolve characters throughout single episodes, seasons and the whole show. The writers even managed to bring in Villains that we can relate to, that make us understand how they tick, why they became who they are. Who wouldn’t understand the intentions of Gul Dukat when it comes to his daughter, while at the same time hating on him for it. One of the favourites among my friends was Garak the Tailor, who was dubious and loveable at the same time. Who did not shed a tear when realizing the true driving force behind The Master, while being shocked by his maniac attempts to take over Earth? Or when Rose finds out what is in those Dalek tanks, I admit I cried and felt sorry for them. That is some great villain writing right there.

Every episode has its own timeline. The introductions, getting to the meat of the story, continuing with a plot twist (something happens that causes them trouble) and the way to get out of it, and then the fading out/resolution. But as every fan of almost every show knows, there is not only the timeline of each episode. But a timeline of the season, or series of episodes that belong together. Writers do the same, nobody wants to give away everything too early, or drag things out too long. If you are writing a series, you want to make sure that the first book doesn’t resolve the problem already. Star Trek TNG did not have it that much, other than multi-episode plots, but where you can see that really well is in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, especially in the last season. And Doctor Who has a lot of that as well, even more so.

Another element that I really enjoy is returning elements, be it bad boys or allies. In Star Trek, we have the Borg, Klingons, Romulans, the Dominion, Cardassians, Breen and many more of these returning baddies. In Doctor who we see the Daleks, Cybermen even the Autons return a few times, and not to forget other characters like Bonny, Mickey, The Master. To me, it is the element of “Oh hey I know them!” that connects different stories together making it all obviously the same universe. It brings together the whole history of the show.

And last but not least, movies, as well as TV-Shows can teach us a great deal about pacing and structure of a story, for single episodes, multi-episodes and seasons. We learn about stages in the story (introduction, twist, climax, fade out), for short-term plots and long-term plots. We learn how to foreshadow, how to bring in surprises and how to come to a satisfying conclusion (at least most of the time).

When you start writing, one of the advice pieces you’ll get over and over is to read a lot. Who wants to write, needs to read. And while I agree with that, don’t underestimate the teaching power of some great Television.

Doctor Who - David Tennant

Do you have favourite shows that do this for you? Maybe some other shows or movies taught you a lot about writing or helped you to put your story to life? Tell us in the comments, maybe you’ll bring a gem into the lives of other writers like my friend brought Doctor Who into mine.