This week Doctor Who shed some more light on the much-anticipated ninth series, announcing the casting of Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams and Cucumber’s Rufus Hound in a new double episode from Catherine Tregenna, Steven Moffat and Jamie Mathieson. Hooray!
But amid the excitement, we couldn’t help but think; ANOTHER two-parter? We already knew that the series opened with one double episode (The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, with a returning Michelle Gomez as Missy), and that Being Human’s Toby Whithouse had written a second one – but three announced so soon? Hmm.
On one hand, this is nothing new – the first few seasons of NuWho traditionally featured three two-part episodes (including the finale). But this time it seems a little different – and could signify a significant shake-up in the structure of Doctor Who.
The BBC tells RadioTimes.com that the three two-parters will run consecutively – in other words, that The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar will be episodes one and two, Toby Whithouse’s as-yet untitled double-bill will be three and four and the newly-announced adventure starring Maisie Williams (The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived) will be five and six.
In previous years no two-parter was ever followed by another, let alone three in a row, so it seems odd to put them together here – unless the WHOLE series is divided up in this way, with double trouble for the Doctor and Clara all the way through.
Showrunner Steven Moffat likes to switch things up. In series seven he eliminated two-parters entirely to focus on “movie poster”-style episodes that were designed to stand on their own feet and involve less episode-to-episode connection.
In series eight he masterminded Peter Capaldi’s darker new Doctor, reminiscent of Classic Who. Is it such a stretch to think he might now be experimenting with a greater degree of serialisation also more in keeping with that era?
Moffat hinted at changes himself in a recent interview with Doctor Who magazine. He said: “We’re changing the rhythm of it quite a bit. For a long while, those 45-minute stories were the backbone of Doctor Who. They felt new and fresh and different. It just started to feel to me, that as a member of the audience, you were getting too acquainted with the rhythm of it.”
“Writing the first two-parter that I had done in years [Dark Water/Death in Heaven, above] I just thought, ‘I’m liking this. This feels more unpredictable.’ Because you don’t know how far you’re going to get through the story…”
He concluded: “The rule I’ve got is that you won’t be absolutely certain whether a show is going to be a two-parter or not.[…] and with each of the two-parters we’re doing, there’s a substantial difference between the two halves.”
Of course we’ll know by the time they air whether each adventure is officially a two-parter but Moffat seems to be talking about the way the extended narrative of a double episode opens up possibilities that the rigid structure of a single episode doesn’t. Who wouldn’t want that for a whole series?
Just look at the double episode he mentions – the slow and creepy Dark Water versus the epic, action-filled Death in Heaven – and you can see the wriggle room and differences in tone he seems to be getting at. Looking back, if we didn’t know better, we very well MIGHT have thought Dark Water was a single episode…
The “movie poster” for a series 7 episode of Doctor Who
The unusual titling of the confirmed episodes would also seem to support the idea of two-parters taking a more central role this series – The Magician’s Apprentice is paired with The Witch’s Familiar, and The Girl Who Died stands alongside The Woman Who Lived, both examples of contrasting wordplay unseen in previous Doctor Who episodes and suggesting a larger plan for the series. Ooh, we do love a mystery.
Of course, we could be well off base with this – it could just be a quirk of the storytelling that the first half of the series is more serialised than ever before. It could also just be a coincidence that the two currently-revealed titles seem to be styled to a particular agenda, and any day now more episode titles could be revealed to blow our theory out of the water.
But it really does seem like change is afoot for Doctor Who, and we’ll be keeping our ears to the ground for any more signs of a new direction.
So watch this space for more updates – like possibly every other episode of Doctor Who series nine, this matter is definitely To Be Continued…
Read more: Why Doctor Who two-parters are the best
Doctor Who series 9 will air in Autumn 2015