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Series 6: Split Decision

Why is Series 6 being split? We know the official line but could there be other reasons behind the change? Guest writer Simon Castle explores the possibilities.

By now the whole world and his dog knows that the “thirteen episodes in Spring/Summer” format that has supported Doctor Who since it returned in 2005 has been ripped clean in twain for 2011, as we will get seven episodes in spring, followed by six more in autumn. Not only that, but according to Steven Moffat, these form two separate series, each with its own thrilling finale – not to mention a cliff-hanger to last us all summer. But why is this split happening? Some possible reasons are examined below:

It’s about narrative.

Hopefully, the purpose behind the split is as Moffat tells us: he wanted to present us a huge cliff-hanger finale and the only way to do that was by splitting the series. After all, finishing a normal 13-episode series with a cliffhanger would mean having to deal with the Christmas episode either as or before the resolution, the latter meaning we have to wait a full nine months for the tension to be resolved. As much as he clearly likes terrifying people, that sort of torture could be a step too far for him. Splitting the series allows him to present this inventive new style of narrative without those problems.

It’s about season change.

A commonly held opinion about Doctor Who is that broadcasting it in the months it has been is a mistake. The early evening Saturday slot in the late spring/early summer means many people are out enjoying the sunshine and late nights rather than watching the show as it airs, leading to lower overnight ratings. Even those inside watching Doctor Who are viewing in the daytime, which is less scary than when it’s dark out. Worse, as a series goes on this problem gets exacerbated – with 2010’s series finale showing on either side of the longest day of the year! Moffat may share this opinion and want to put the show in the autumn; this move could be the middle step in adjusting the seasonal slot.

It’s about difference.

While we can hope that the new style is for one of the reasons above – a means to an artistically motivated end – it could always be a less noble reason driving the change. It may be that Moffat simply wants to shake things up a bit and put his own mark on his years in charge. If that is the case, we can just sit and hope that he has the skill to make this work well for him…and us!

It’s about accountants.

Practical concerns could also be the driving force. It’s common knowledge that Doctor Who hasn’t as much budget as it would like, and doing this rearrangement just may lead to them getting more money from the BBC for the overall thirteen episodes.

It’s about time.

Whereas the idea of more money is unfounded speculation, something this split will clearly do is to give the team more time to make this coming series – although possibly at the cost of the time for episodes beyond the six in autumn. It may be that the team realised more time was needed – especially given Moffat is a busy man with his work on Sherlock as well…

It’s about the split.

Of course, the real reason behind this may be more subtle than any of the above. The original press release said that “the next series of Doctor Who … will be split into two blocks”, but when Moffat started talking about it, he insisted it wasn’t going to be one split series, but rather two shorter series. What if far from being just his take on it, that naming is actually the purpose of this entire action? Again, this is sheer speculation, but what if one of the cast – or indeed crew – has a contract saying they will be involved in the show for a specific number of series? If that person wanted to leave earlier than their contract said, and they had the support of the executive producers, what better way than saying there were to be two series in 2011 – causing the contract to expire at least thirteen episodes and one year earlier than if keeping to the previous format!

So which of these reasons is it? With no evidence, it could well be any of them – or it could be some combination, or even something else altogether.  At this point, all we can do is sit back and watch what happens, and hope that even if the change is for a less artistic reason than for the strength of the narrative, then Moffat will still make it work in his favour. However, given his track record with using difficult circumstances to his advantage (the wonderful opening banter between the Doctor and River in The Time of Angels was written last minute to help make up the episode length, and his response to being given the low-budget, Doctor-free episode for 2007 while busy with other work was to write Blink) I certainly am hopeful that whatever the reason, we’re in for an original and exciting treat in 2011 – and of course a truly agonising wait over Summer.

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