Recently, Alison Flood wrote about story shape for The Guardian. The article is called “Three, six or 36: how many basic plots are there in all stories ever written?” Here are the six plot structures identified by the University of Vermont researchers Flood wrote about in her article:
- rags to riches (rise), or comedy, in the classical sense
- riches to rags (fall), or tragedy
- man in a hole (fall-rise)
- Icarus (rise-fall)
- Cinderella (rise-fall-rise)
- Oedipus (fall-rise-fall)
Let’s see if this set of categories applies to a few Doctor Who stories. We can start with “An Unearthly Child” since it’s the first novelization and the one I began with when I started this project.
The first episode of “An Unearthly Child” poses a mystery, or set of mysteries associated with Susan and her cranky grandfather, the Doctor. These mysteries pull Ian and Barbara into the story. The TARDIS itself becomes a trap for Ian and Barbara with the Doctor (effectively) kidnapping them. With this set up, Ian and Barbara’s entire story arc becomes a quest to get back to London 1963. This is the “man in a hole” shape. They are in a situation which they are trying to get out of.
Landing in 100,000 B.C. is the first major hole. The TARDIS team wanders around until they are captured by cavemen and imprisoned in the Cave of Skulls. Again, they are in a hole and have to get out. The socio-political struggle within the tribe itself is just another form of hole. Ian and the Doctor have to make fire for the cavemen in order to get out of that particular hole.
In this serial the formula of capture-escape is set and continued on through the next serial, “The Daleks” by Terry Nation. Again, the TARDIS team lands in a strange place which quickly becomes a trap. The story moves along, trapping the characters in different ways and forcing them to find ingenious ways to get out of the holes they find themselves in.