News Categories
Archives

Is the Current Format a Serial Killer?

Guest contributor Graeme Atkinson wonders if it’s time to go back to the classic format.

doctor-who-day-opening-titles

After recently delving back into my archive of Classic Doctor Who DVD’s it occurred to me – would the old format of one single story played out over a serial or season work today in the 45-minute episodic nature of modern programming? I for one am certain that it would. If audiences are able to sustain their interest in a series such as Game of Thrones, 24 or even more family orientated shows such as The Musketeers, Merlin etc, why shouldn’t it work on our beloved show, Doctor Who?

I am sure one of the arguments against it being successful would be that casual viewers would tune off over time, losing momentum with the show if they lost track of important narrative threads should they ever miss a week. However if we are honest, the casual viewer probably only tunes in for the big series arc heavy episodes in any event, the beginning, the finale and one or two in the middle of the run. If every week was important to the series arc and every Saturday the story continued where the viewer left off the week before, it may just pull in more viewers than ever, keeping them hooked and maintaining audience figures at a consistent level throughout the series.

Another benefit would be scope for greater character development. How often have we heard criticism from fans complaining that because of the break neck speed episodes play out at it doesn’t allow some of the minor characters time to really come to the fore and help embellish the story. It seems to me that “We could have done with another 10-15 mins” is the usual cry. I am convinced A Nightmare in Silver would have been better, for example, if Hedgewick’s World of Wonders could have been explored more fully so that the viewer really got a sense of the environment the Doctor was in. Neil Gaiman can do wonders when allowed the time to help ingratiate the viewer into his worlds. Perhaps more scenes with Porridge and other characters where we get to sympathise with their situation could have heightened the drama and tension we felt when the Cyber men begin their attack.

Clarence and the Whispermen: Series 7 Finale PrequelIn The Name of the Doctor, another example, we only get to see hints of Clarence’s encounter with the Whisper Men in a prequel mini episode. Would the episode which was broadcast have benefited from understanding more about this character and indeed some of his backstory? Whilst it wouldn’t necessarily add anything in terms of moving the story along it would surely make the scene where Clarence discloses the line ‘it is a secret he will take to the grave, and it is discovered.’ all the more chilling.

A problem with the current format in my view is that each 45-min episode, for the most part, needs to be resolved by the end making it difficult to provide an equal balance to character and plot development even for skilled screen writers. It certainly isn’t an impossible task though and there are numerous examples of where this has worked effectively. However at a time when head honcho Steven Moffat endorses change to keep the show fresh, stating We haven’t made much of change to Doctor Who since it came back in 2005. I just felt it needs to be a bit more different now. It needs to be surprising again!” at the recent Hay Festival, could a modern twist on this old format help shake things up?

One downside could be the potential lack of continuity in writing style. I imagine with Moffat’s busy schedule it would prove an almost impossible task for him to write 12 episodes plus a Christmas special on his own meaning he would need to draft in a number of other writers to help. Getting a story across in a coherent fashion with multiple people involved in telling the tale could prove difficult. However, with the right blend of writers on board there is no reason why it couldn’t work, just take a look at our friends across the pond. The major shows in the US have teams of writers and this, on its own, doesn’t seem to negatively affect the overall quality of a programme.

If one story played out over a full season was too long for some, how about over four episodes instead with a series arc sprinkled in three separate stories? Perhaps this would be more akin to the earlier classic serial format but rather than the 20-odd-mins or so we get to keep the existing 45. How would this arrangement impact on those that hold the purse strings? Would the budget be reduced given the story may be set in locations limited to the three stories rather than many multiple locations set across twelve? It seem plausible to suggest so.

The minisodes have almost become the arena where Moffat tends to flesh out the narrative gaps left unexplained within an episode. Indeed one of the accusations Moffat seems to constantly get levied at him is the old plot hole argument. However I am not certain that they are strictly speaking, plot holes. In my opinion plot holes are points within a story which can not be explained away. A Moffat script tends to have elements in them which require the viewer to fill in certain gaps by assuming specific events have occurred off screen. The Doctor Who Magazine has a regular reoccurring feature where readers can ask Moffat questions. Those that choose to pose a query tend to ask his view on these off screen incidents, amongst other similar matters. All of this surely means that there is a genuine interest in further exploring elements of a story that can be quickly glossed over during broadcast. Perhaps if we are in a situation where the head writer feels the need to regularly explain points of detail within a magazine or pen separate minisodes to cover off aspects of a tale that are not fully embellished during broadcast we are effectively admitting the current format is not quite fit for purpose.

The split 7a and 7b experiment does not appear to have paid off, but it does show that those in charge appear willing to experiment. It is also great to hear the recent news that the first episode of series 8, Deep Breath will be ‘feature length’. Perhaps it is too late for series 8 but for series 9, wouldn’t it be at least interesting to see whether one or perhaps three stories across a season would bring a new dynamic to Doctor Who?

Step back in time...

COMMENT GUIDELINES

Please be civil and keep article comments relevant and on topic. Flag and report any offensive/trolling behavior, or contact us with details.
Please do not post SPOILERS including anything from leaked episodes! Your account could be banned. For complete details on our comment policy please read.
143 comments
Tardiswatcher
Tardiswatcher

I'd like six stories in a season, each a two parter. More time for each story and character, and probably fewer locations and sets per season. Plus the Christmas Special, any other Specials they could give us, and a return of Confidential (I like to observe the process and people behind the cameras).

Elionu
Elionu

i would really like to go back to the 30-minutes, every week, all year format, if it could be done with writers who actually could write stories with the high quality seen in Seasons 1-12.

southsidemike
southsidemike

A 10 or 12 episode arc would be brilliant, if it were in the hands of one or two writers tops. Look at the mess of Miracle Day -- yeah, I know RTD was probably trying to please Starz US execs who didn't really know or like Torchwood, but too many writers (and studio notes, I'm sure) wrecked what could have been a really great series. Gatiss or Cottrell Boyce or Gaiman working off an outline from Moffat could do great things.

ThisIsMoog
ThisIsMoog

I like the current format but perhaps, as well as single episodes, there should be more three/ four parters thrown in there (or perhaps just one, at the end of the series, to conclude the arc). Maybe, like Series 6 (or Key to Time), there could be a more prominent story arc, and maybe even some recurring characters that return in different episodes in the series.

stargazer0118
stargazer0118

The RTD era worked pretty well, IMO. But then it had more 2-parters, and even a 3-parters which really helped to fleshed out the story. The Specials were also longer, such as The End of Time and that was very benefitial to the characters, but it still wasn't too long or padded. That is the problem with many classic episodes, too much padding like people running around constantly, and that's because the story didn't really require many episodes.  Personally, it bores me a lot when they do that, which is a lot. 


Another problem is that Moffat does good set ups, but then he rushes the conclusions because he doesn't want to flesh out the story more, which in many cases (series 7 was a prime example) it require at least another episode to tell the story really well and flesh out those characters and situations. He TELLS a lot instead of SHOWING, and that's a problematic. Don't know why he doesn't have the patience, his era really needs more 2-parters.

LeeBeing
LeeBeing

It's extraordinary to me to think people can't concentrate on a story that spreads over a few episodes. They managed it from 1963 to 1989! Considering how bewildering Game of Thrones is, it simply doesn't hold water to patronise an audience into thinking we can't follow it.

I MISS the cliffhanger endings where you had to wit a week to find out how The Doctor got out of a seemingly impossible situation. Now it's done in a few minutes with a sonic screwdriver...

Maybe just bring back that format for one series, see how it goes. Trouble is, the series (or 'season' as the American pandering goes) isn't long enough for more than one or two serialisations of a story, although, I think it could work over 3-4 stories... Would hold my interest more, and perhaps we wouldn't suffer season-fillers w uh forgettable monsters?

Unibot
Unibot

I would rather 60 min episodes as opposed to 4 Episodes of 25 mins each. The length of the Classic series allowed for more "unraveling" of  mysteries, but can be dull too if there isn't enough of a narrative to sustain the length. 

SeanBennion
SeanBennion

2 and 3 part stories, character development and cliff hangers. Keep the 45 min episodes but make them better than season 22. 

nmunchers
nmunchers

Personally, while there are some episodes that can use the extra 10-15 mins to tie up some loose ends, I like the current 45 mins episodes. I've tried watching Classic Who and it's actually pretty torturous to watch as it moves at a snails pace. I tune out and then get distracted by my phone. 




However, I wouldn't mind more two-parter episodes (depending on the story of course). And for those episodes that need those extra few mins, I much prefer the minisodes. They're short and concise and feel like a little treat.

gunslinger19
gunslinger19

i think episodes 4-7 could make an interesting 4 parter, but a whole series of 4 parters seems a bit excessive and could alienate many viewers. then again, the format worked beautifully in TORCHWOOD.

KingOfTheInterWebs has Kidneys
KingOfTheInterWebs has Kidneys

I think it'd be kind of nice to have a combination of the serialised format and the current one, simply because one episode is too short sometimes where as other times it can be just right but then there's a 10 part serial (I think the largest serial in Doctor Who's history) might also work if a story demands it and benefits from it but it also could be too long, we basically need a middle ground really, in my opinion. On a semi-off topic note, I finally understand Clarence's line about Trenzalore. (Took me awhile. :P) 'it is a secret he will take to the grave, and it is discovered' well he wouldn't be talking about the secret, because it's a secret he will take to the grave so it can't be discovered but the grave could be discovered. (Yeah... I'm really slow. :P)

TonySimmons
TonySimmons

One episode stories are far too quick and don't allow any development of stories, characters, or a build up to a decent ending.

craig33
craig33

No it's not the wrong format. The old one was good then. The new one will last forever. No need to question it. Silly

The Finn
The Finn

I read somewhere that in the 80's it was realized that more "first nights" seemed to be better for the viewership, hence why the serials were generally shortened to 2-4-parters. That's what I think series 7 part 1 did good, even though the 45 minutes in length did not necessarily work there.

The Administrator
The Administrator

More episodes doesn't really equal better stories. In fact, some classic serials could have benefitted from the current format. Stories often got too long winded and had diversionary subplots to pad out the length that weren't needed for the story.

Mercy Reborn2
Mercy Reborn2

I like the new style of doing things so I hope we stay with it

TheDreamer
TheDreamer

Personally, I find that the old format often made an episode too long winded, and the new format doesn't always leave room for enough story development, often feeling rushed. So, maybe something in between might be good.

They're all my favorite Doctor
They're all my favorite Doctor

I think the ideal thing for this show is the series 1-5 setup. 3-4 two part stories, 6-7 single stories.

The empty child/doctor dances works perfectly as a two-parter, but imagine how we'd all be feeling if "Love & Monsters" had been a two parter!!!

But seriously, "Blink" is a fantastic episode just as it is, and I think it would be weakened by lengthening.

Someone on here has suggested just making episodes whatever length the writers want. I'd be all about that. But I'm not sure how producers and casual viewers would feel about that.

Also, since we're on the subject, let me just say what a travesty is that "the power of three" and "nightmare in silver" weren't two parters. Glad we're at least getting a two part finale.

cyberbrayde
cyberbrayde

Xmas Specials should finish. Not that I hate Christmas. But Christmas is every day for the Doctor. Xmas Specials only influence The Doctor's love for the human race. But I think we're had enough. New Year Special!

Ollie Walton Harrod
Ollie Walton Harrod

I don't like the idea of multi-episode stories (other than the usual) is a good one.

But I do also think that the situations are often solved super quickly with the sonic screwdriver, and the aliens are forgettable.

I'm Richard Nixon.
I'm Richard Nixon.

@LeeBeing Agreed, the "it won't play well in Ohio" thinking really shouldn't apply, and it's insulting to Ohioans. I think that longer story arcs are probably a good way to go.  I'd like to see two or three, 3 or 4 part serials with a Christmas episode to smooth it out.  

TheDreamer
TheDreamer

For me, it isn't the story spreading over half a dozen episodes that is a pb, it's mostly that, at times, they seem to add things that didn't feel necessary in order to fill all the time they were given. A prime example is The War Games where I feel they could have told the story in 6 episodes instead of stretching it to 10... To me - and I am aware that most classic fans love that story and that mine is an unpopular opinion - but all that running around, getting caught, getting sentenced to death, escaping, running around some more, getting caught again (albeit by a different faction) being questioned and locked up, escaping, etc... etc... Rinse and repeat over and over and over again... It got very tedious and repetitive... I loved the beginning and the last few parts but definitely could have done without a few of the others...

And it's not the only episode where I asked myself if some of it was really necessary, where some of it felt like filling time... Etc... It's just the one that stuck to mind even months after I watched it.

PhotonFromOz
PhotonFromOz

@Unibot 

I agree with you about 60 minute episodes.

More 2 parters would be welcome.

Ollie Walton Harrod
Ollie Walton Harrod

That's to do with the writers. Not the episode lengths, or number of episodes per story. The fact that it was fine up until recently is proof of that.

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

@The Administrator Sometimes the diversionary subplots were the best bit of the episode! (e.g. Inferno) Though logically then, you'd make a separate story of the diversionary plot and have 2 shorter stories.

MetamorphmagusWho
MetamorphmagusWho

Maybe if we were to have more two partners and episodes that are slightly longer than they have been previously. If we've only got 12 episodes this series then it could mean that each could be about 5 minutes longer and 5 minutes can make all the difference... sometimes.

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

@thegeorgeyoung Love and Monsters should have been a zero parter :-) 

Seriously, could Power of Three have stretched to 2 parts? It certainly needed more time, but another 45 minutes?

Ollie Walton Harrod
Ollie Walton Harrod

Christmas is not every day for the Doctor. Christmas is an Earth tradition that he likes to be part of every year. And New Years Day is boring. It doesn't really mean anything. All that's happened is another time we've finished a cycle around the sun. Soo??

doctorwhomultiverse
doctorwhomultiverse

Nonsense all his enemies just happen to choose Christmas day to invade :)

CyberSilence
CyberSilence

A two-parter. Part 1 on Christmas. Part 2 on New Years Day.

(Like the End of Time)

Polyphase
Polyphase

@cyberbrayde Agreed, They could scrap the recycled Christmas stories and just make an interesting original episode :)

Ollie Walton Harrod
Ollie Walton Harrod

Yes that is the case with all series', and many episode long stories

Ollie Walton Harrod
Ollie Walton Harrod

I agree that New Year's Day is pointless.

But I'd rather they stick to Christmas Specials.

Easter - I want them to go back to starting at Easter.

cyberbrayde
cyberbrayde

@Notsosmartguy I thought that the New Year Special would be able to propel a future for Doctor Who. A chance to say, this is what's happening, and this is how we're doing it. Kinda like Sherlock's.

Ollie Walton Harrod
Ollie Walton Harrod

The whole point in having Christmas Specials is to have a Christmas themed episode. I do hate the Narnia, and Scrooge adaptations (especially Scrooge, as that is so cliché for a children's series). But I like most of RTD's Christmas Specials, and 'The Snowmen' is good, other than the ending, with the Snowmen defeated by love/happiness - that's becoming an increasingly used thing in Moffat's era. 'Voyage of the Damned' is taken from the Poseidon story, though I don't mind that one as much, as it is a better, and more adaptable story (in my opinion).

Thesilence_1994
Thesilence_1994

I agree, replace the Xmas special with a regular feature length episode.

Ollie Walton Harrod
Ollie Walton Harrod

That's not like the Sherlock's. They didn't do a 'this is how we're gonna do it' type thing. They just aired it on New Year's Day to make it more memorable - People will be more likely to watch it, than if it were aired at a non-eventful time of the year.

Also, it wasn't a New Year's Special with Sherlock. It was just the start of a series (a very overrated series).

Ollie Walton Harrod
Ollie Walton Harrod

That's because Christmas is the reason for the stories. The whole point of having a Christmas Special is that it's Christmas themed.

TheNightmareChild sees into your soul!
TheNightmareChild sees into your soul!

@TakeTheType40 @Polyphase @cyberbrayde I feel like Russell T. Davies' Christmas specials generally did an okay job of just telling a good Doctor Who story that took place during Christmas, and I actually really liked them as a result.  Steven Moffat kind of ruined that with his first two specials, I feel.  He made up for it with The Snowmen, though.