I love Doctor Who two-parters. Even Aliens of London/World War Three in Christopher Eccleston’s first series, which I wasn’t able to see the second part of for years because we just videotaped the “BBC3 starts at 7pm” message instead of the episode. Nightmare. It’s only recently I’ve been able to talk about this it was so troubling.
Of course, the style doesn’t suit every story and plenty of great episodes stand alone, but two-parters in Doctor Who allow the plot to breathe a bit more, develop characters and generally make the series feel like it’s acting on a larger scale than in normally does. I think they’re a fantastic way to show the Doctor’s adventures – but for a while it looked like they were gone for good.
It went wrong for me in 2011. Series six of Doctor Who started with a great two-parter (The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon) and then had another pretty good one halfway through (The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People), but then the second half of the split series had none – not even the finale…
The split series seven had none at all, and overall the series spent about three years without any double episodes. Imagine my anguish.
Why did this happen? Well, the idea from the show-makers (at least from series seven onwards) was apparently to make and market the episodes as standalone adventures with less of an arc (which some people struggled to follow in series six), and so two-parters were out and the “movie poster” episodes were in.
As Steven Moffat told Doctor Who magazine in 2011, “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.”
“I was looking at the facts and stats and it’s not true that the two parters save us money. We’ve assumed it for years. They don’t save us money at all. Not a penny. So what’s the point in them?”
“I want to be able to say, every week, we’ve got a big standalone blockbuster, and then a trailer that makes it look like nothing compared to what’s going to happen next week! That’s the form for next year. I want slutty titles and movie-poster plots. I want big pictures and straplines.”
Personally, I think the series suffered slightly. If anything, keeping certain stories to one episode actually made them less cinematic, and maybe even feel a little rushed in places. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill’s farewell episode The Angels take Manhattan, for example, seemed to struggle to fit in all the exposition, emotion and action to make the story work and for me it was a bit of a damp squib. “Bring back two-parters!” I silently roared in my head.
Finally, series eight heard my plea and ended with a pretty great two-parter (Dark Water/Death in Heaven) – so I was satisfied. But all the confirmed two-parters in series eight (The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar and The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived as well as Toby Whithouse’s untitled story) have me properly EXCITED. They’ve got great titles (which seem to complement their counterparts, incidentally), a great cast and – best of all – great ambition. Here’s hoping for even more double trouble in the episodes and years to come.