One of the things I like about Doctor Who is that the story engine basically allows the series to tell any kind of story in any setting. The basic conceit is that in every episode, an ancient time traveler and his companion (usually a contemporary human) find themselves in a completely new location. Typically, they’ll find themselves in the middle of an existing conflict.
The very first storyline took the characters to the caveman era. The next saga was a planet full of dangerous Nazi-inspired aliens that hated all outsiders. Some of the most popular storylines in the series’ 50+ year history have included a conspiracy during the moon landing, the lead’s friendship with Madame De Pompadour, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche in Victorian England, an encounter with a strange child in London during the blitz, in addition to sagas in the far future or on alien worlds. Enemies include evil robots, shadows that can devour flesh, replicas of soldiers from various eras, mad scientists, and rogue time-travelers.
You could probably start with any type of story, and stick the Doctor into it. What I started wondering about is what other series allow for this type of variety.
Cloud Atlas/ The David Mitchell Verse
David Mitchell’s done something interesting with Cloud Atlas, and Bone Clocks, featuring connected stories from different eras. The end result is that there can be stories that seem to feature different genres. Cloud Atlas has a maritime adventure with a poisoned businessman who learns about the horrors of slavery, a drama about a young musical genius’ conflict with an elderly composer in the 1930s, a 1970s journalism caper in California, and a literary satire in contemporary London as a foolish old man is tricked into being committed to a nasty nursing home. A bold twist is that the last two stories are set centuries in the future, featuring a sci-fi rebellion, and life after the apocalypse. The Bone Clocks has stories about a woman caught in a conflict between two immortal races, starting in 1984 when she’s fifteen years old, and ending in 2043, when global warming has taken a bad turn. With Mitchell, there’s tremendous variety in the same book (or the film adaptation) allowing for a mix of literary fiction (with chapters inspired by Melville and Pyncheon) and sci-fi. This is allowed by the exploration of the future, as well as the past. Without the genre expectations of an ongoing series, he has greater flexibility in that he can do stories without action or bad guys, as well as stories in which that’s all handled very well.
Silver Age Marvel/ Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Marvel films have made a fortune with 2-3 movies an year, as well as various TV spinoffs, but they managed to avoid overexposure by keeping each series distinct. Iron Man is high-tech action. Thor is high fantasy. The Captain America sequels are military/ espionage, while the first was throwback action-adventure. The Guardians of the Galaxy is Star Wars with more Han Solos. The Avengers is a team series. The Hulk is a monster film. Antman is a caper. Doctor Strange is urban fantasy. Spider-Man is teen drama (and also the one film character with a secret identity, which used to be the norm for superheroes.) The Netflix shows feature street-level vigilantes.
This has its toots in the source material, as Stan Lee and company created a shared universe of explorers (the Fantastic Four), weirdos in a boarding school (the X-Men), an elite World War II military unit (Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos) in addition to all the characters in the MCU.
The series is mostly about the individuals affected by their encounters with the lord of dreams, but because he’s been around for a very long time, that allows for stories set in many different eras. And the nature of dreams means that other stuff can happen, as the dreams of a young woman in contemporary America might include a fully realized fantasy world. When you add this to the DC Universe, a world of superheroes and demons, anything can happen. Sometimes Dream is the protagonist, but it’s often someone else’s story. It kinda makes sense how creator Neil Gaiman ended up writing such a good Doctor Who episode given his practice here.
Every issue of Planetary features a riff on something, as super-powered archeologists explore the secrets of the Wildstorm comic book Universe. These secrets tend to involve takes on something that was popular at the time a story is set (a James Bond-esque spy’s adventures in the 1960s, Sherlock Holmes, modern Hong Kong action) so that in the end, they’ve basically encountered every type of adventure fiction of the last 100+ years in a world and a profession where that makes a lot of sense.