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Why We Need Two-Parters Again

Guest contributor Anthony Retondo on why he thinks two-parters should return.

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There’s a wonderful scene in “Hide” in which Clara declares to the Doctor, “We’re all ghosts to you” There’s no running during this sequence, no action, just two characters having a moment. It only lasts a minute and a half, but in this one snippet we get a better sense of Clara’s character and we’re reminded of the effect the Doctor’s character can have on his companions. Doctor Who excels with character moments. The brilliant, often witty dialogue is one of the show’s greatest aspects, but it often speaks beautiful, poetic words as well. However, this is only when the show takes a moment to breathe. Despite the fact that its premise may be the most ridiculous idea in television history, raw, authentic dialogue has always come first. Words are the Doctor’s ultimate weapon after all.

Series 7 of Doctor Who contained a very disappointing number of these moments. Just when you think the Doctor and Clara might stop for a moment to chat, the monster draws closer and it’s time to run again. It’s a problem. It’s not only damaging to the pacing, but to the heart of the show as well. And it’s not necessarily an issue of poor writing to blame. It’s not poor acting either. It is the exclusion of two-parters.

The entire approach for series 7 revolved around a simple idea – take a mad, ridiculous idea, morph it into a ‘slutty’ title, and present each episode as a singular blockbuster filled with thrills and excitement. While I applaud the idea of experimentation (ambition is the reason this show has lasted 50 years after all) it’s not working out for many fans. The irony of making each episode revolve around nothing but constant action and excitement is that it replaces genuine character moments – and in doing so, it generates less excitement because we never see the effect the action has on those characters. It seems as if the show never takes a moment to simply breathe anymore, and it’s not surprising given the fact that the writers are only given 45 minutes to cram it all in.

It’s a very interesting idea to change the format of the show in this way. It’s almost as if Doctor Who is turning into the embodiment of the protagonist himself – always running, never stopping. However, it’s grown tiring fast, and it doesn’t change the fact that two-parters are important for a show this ambitious. Doctor Who presents huge, crazy ideas, and trying to fit it all in 45 minutes can’t be a simple task. The fact that each episode has to be a grand blockbuster only makes it more difficult. The show needs to take a moment to exhale and let us take it all in.

the-bells-of-saint-john-pics-batch-(3)The decline in character-to-character moments has fractured the emotional connection with the audience and it’s all due to a lack of time. Take Clara Oswald, for example. Jenna-Louise Coleman is a wonderful actor, and her smile lights up a scene, but beyond that, I have trouble caring about her character because we’ve never really gotten to know her. There were a few nice scenes that established her family and her maternal instincts, but aside from that, her character’s inclusion feels awkward at times. If Doctor Who would simply reintroduce two-parters, this would solve all of these problems. With double the time, writers can include the best of both worlds. A story can establish itself at a nice pace, with room for character moments in between. The actual plot of the episode can then compliment the character moments themselves. (Like the crack in time, and how it changed Amy’s character) At that point, you come to a beautiful combination that lends itself to the show perfectly. It’s simply a matter of needing more time to balance out the elements.

Not every episode needs a two-parter of course. “Hide” and “Journey to the Centre of the Tardis” worked wonderfully with the time they were given, but then we have an episode like “The Bells of Saint John” which certainly deserved more than 45 minutes to work with since it was tasked with introducing a new companion. When you have each episode regulated to only 45 minutes, the show begins to feel as if it’s only going through the motions, and never taking the time to stop and make you care. Again there have been exceptions, but I feel this overall approach has not paid off so far. Doctor Who’s charm comes from the characters and the way that the wonderful ideas of each story affect them.

Which brings us to the man himself. Steven Moffat has gone on the record saying he removed two-parters because he see’s no point in them.

“At this stage, everything is a single episode, and the only reason anything will become a two-parter is if we think it needs to be; not so much that the story is too long for 45 minutes, because nothing is too long for 45 minutes, but if it feels as though there are two distinct stages to the story…” – Moffat

The idea that no episode is too long for 45 minutes seems a bit absurd. A writer can certainly tie up enough plotlines in that amount of time, but it’s tricky to balance it with raw emotion. A two-parter is much more than a means for an exciting cliffhanger. It’s a useful tool used to let a more ambitious and needy episode flesh out and flourish. If each episode cannot be longer than 45 minutes, then it only makes sense to allow the heavier ones with a second part instead. There’s a reason that some fans believe Moffat’s episodes have declined in quality since “The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon”, and I personally believe it is solely to due with the lack of two-parters. He has not made one since. (A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler could be argued as one.)

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Imagine if Let’s Kill Hitler had instead been a two-parter. River Song’s slow change from psychopathic killer to Doctor lover would have felt more progressive and natural if it was given more time. This is a perfect example of how useful and often necessary the two-parter is. By making each episode instead a singular, standalone story, they start to feel disjointed among each other. By having another 45 minutes, a writer is allowed more room for slow moments. The characters can stop (sometimes literally) for a second to show how much they care. And once they care, we as the audience care.

Of course, Doctor Who remains an excellent show, and it still offers a unique experience unlike any other, but the lack of two-parters threatens to undermine it’s potential. As ironic as it sounds, the show needs more time.

Thank you very much for reading!

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