community. did. it. first.

Internet, Pop Culture, Humanity. Can we please have a talk about this? (I’ll talk about an issue I have with the latest Dr. Who by referring to other works to avoid spoilers) Working in a continuing series of any kind of fantasy/scifi/speculative fiction is tough. Standard dramas and sitcoms have a fairly easy run of making their content flow continuously because they’re essentially about people and their relationships with each other and the world around them. That means that as those people grow and evolve you get a kind of continually evolving picture to portray as those elements interplay on each other.

Scifi/Fantasy/Speculative fiction is essentially about the setting; the speculation and how that interacts with the people. How do people react when there’s a computer that knows everything? How to people trust each other when a wizard can control a mind? If other people have super powers and I don’t, am I of less value than them?

That relationship is much harder to evolve to present new content because for any of it to make any sense the audience has to believe that the world is still following some set of rules; “Only wizards can use magic/You can’t interrupt your own timeline/Exceeding warp 10 makes the bad kind of explosions happen”. These rules often make it hard to surprise the audience, making it difficult to keep things fresh. There are two main approaches:

Make it like another genre just in the same setting “It’s a cowboy show, just set in space/It’s an fantasy political intrigue show/it’s a war themed hat simulator” so that you can move back to the focus on the people’s relationships.

Add a magical rule bending machine like a blue box or a big round gate or just even a spaceship that takes you to different settings where the rules are different.

This second approach allows for a continually shifting vista exploring the rules, effects and foes to fight in the different settings. When this is done well it is gorgeous but it take a lot of work to execute properly. Furthermore you risk numbing the audience’s surprise reflex as they build up a resistance to the novelty of infinite worlds among multiverses.

What lowers the risk of this and makes writing a lot simpler is reusing elements that have been seen before in previous encounters and using these new environments to present them in a new context. Daleks and Cybermen, Klingons and Borg, Goa’uld and Ori all have strong themes that can be explored from many different angles.

So often, however, writers assume that because we sometimes get bored of seeing these same foes, these same rules etc, that they should change it up to “keep things interesting”. This is where you get Transformers that can look like people, Daleks that can fly, Zombies that can think and run fast. Sometimes these decisions are popular and sometimes they are not. What I argue however is that they are, as a rule, detrimental and unnecessary. If you want to break your own rules by letting time travellers meet themselves, allowing the scary night monsters to come out into daylight’s shadows and allowing the spaceship to turn it up to 11, you need to give your audience a hell of a lot of rationalisation and forewarning. If your hero or villain is going to overcome his kryptonite, I want some fucking foreshadowing in earlier episodes and not in an “omen” way, but in a “real effects of preparation” way ala “Vote Saxon”, not “suddenly my gun doesn’t work against them”.

Breaking these rules and changing these bad guys is a huge deal, and when you suddenly hand them an ability like telepathy or instadeathrays you make them scary for a moment, true, but they’re now a slightly more generic bad guy. Everyone can imitate humans, everyone has an¬†impenetrable¬†shield, everyone can control minds, everyone has instadeath rays.

These weaknesses, rules, and limitations are an important part of what makes a foe and a setting thematically different to one another, they are equivalent to personalities and when you sacrifice breaking those rules for cheap surprises you water down the ideas behind the enemies you’re portraying. The equivalent in drama is personality. An awkward character CAN be charismatic but it’s a big deal, either due to extremely unusual and well explained circumstances or it’s the final major step on the moon after a long journey through the outer space of personal development.

TLDR: A drama between characters who all have the same personality is boring. So is speculative fiction where all the bad guys have the same secret weapons and no weaknesses.

Sorry for writing such a long rant, I didn’t have time to write a short one.

Reblogged from Cassum ab Acegiak: doppledeaner:

community. did. it. first.

Internet, Pop Culture, Humanity. Can we please have a…

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