Doctor Who Episode | Write Drama Like The Magician’s Apprentice


This post is all very selfish really. I just wanted an opportunity to play The Doctor and take photos.

What is drama? Drama is conflict. What are characters? Characters are people under pressure. If you want to make great drama, place your character in their worst nightmare and see what they do.

For those who have watched Doctor Who for some time, you will be aware that one of his main personality traits is that he can’t bear killing things. He is the Doctor and he saves people. He doesn’t like guns either.

The reason the first episode of the new series had me hooked from start to finish was because it put me in the Doctor’s terrible position from the word go. Essentially, this episode is the Hitler question all over again.

“If you had the chance to go back in time and kill Hitler as a child would you do it?”

In the opening sequence we are faced with a small boy in the middle of what looks like a terrible war. Immediately the audience has empathy. It’s a child in danger. Then the Doctor turns up in his usual way, the hero, about to save this boy from imminent death. And we know he will save him. We are rooting for the Doctor to save him. The suspense is killing us. Until we learn the child’s name. And we suddenly identify with the horror on the Doctor’s face.

The boy is Davros.

Yes! I have to be honest, this one made it all ok for me again. I had felt for a long time that the emotional, deep side of the Doctor had been lost. This is the Doctor I know. These are the stories I love. So, why did it work and how can you apply it to your own writing.

Here are 5 elements you can draw on from The Magician’s Apprentice to make your own writing great!

1) Give your hero an impossible choice. The Doctor has a horrible decision. This holds our attention. This is someone we know. We know how he should act but we also realise that there is more at stake than his own feelings and moral high ground. We are watching the infallible Doctor suddenly very very vulnerable

2) Play on suspense. The idea that the entire episode is one large trap for the Doctor and that the Doctor is in danger by someone trying to find him is set up from the beginning. As Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Never let the bomb go off.” Or words to that effect. We are waiting for something terrible to happen for the majority of the episode…Place a bomb somewhere and make sure your audience knows about it…but don’t let it go off. Just keep telling them it will.

3) Let your audience know the set-up. Apart from the Doctor’s own moral dilemma we were given, the fact that the Doctor is hiding and is in trouble is hammered into our brain for at least the first 20 minutes. Even the Doctor’s enemy/best friend, Missy, is worried for him! That really makes the audience believe there is something to be concerned about. Also there was that horrible snake man out looking for him! Ugh! Make sure your audience knows the snakes…I mean stakes! (Yep, that was pretty bad)

4) Mystery. Why does the old, seemingly dying Davros want to speak to the Doctor? What happened in the Doctor’s past? Did he save Davros? Did he leave him to die? Why did Clara say the Doctor looks ashamed? Why does Davros have the screwdriver? Why do people keep asking the Doctor what he has done? All these questions keep us watching, looking forward to the moment out questions are answered. Obviously these questions all have to be answered at some point down the line. If you’re writing a short film, you will need to answer them sooner rather than later but putting in a question means your audience stays with you to find out what might happen.

5) The Ultimate Conflict. Davros opposes every single thing The Doctor stands for. They hate each other. So the writers have placed them in the same room. What a great premise for some drama. Bring your hero face to face with his enemy and give them a problem that ties them together. Let the sparks fly!

Originally published at on September 21, 2015.