Sunday night saw the announcement of some news that Doctor Who fans around the world have long been waiting for: the unveiling of the new Tardis team – Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and Sharon D Clarke – who will join incoming Doctor Jodie Whittaker for the new series.
But there were also some other interesting details that have been rumoured for some time – namely, that the length and number of episodes in the next series of Doctor Who is changing.
Basically, in next year’s series Doctor Who will consist of one 60-minute opener and then nine 50-minute episodes, making a ten-part series in total (excluding a presumed Christmas special, although that’s unconfirmed at this time). That means fewer episodes in Jodie Whittaker’s series than we’ve seen in the BBC sci-fi drama for some years.
Accordingly, some fans were slightly perturbed by this apparent cutback in their yearly Doctor Who quota.
But are they right to be annoyed? Is this really a big reduction in how much Doctor Who we’re getting every year? Well, not necessarily.
While in many fans’ heads modern Doctor Who is traditionally a 13-part run of 45 minute episodes, the series hasn’t actually been made in this format for quite some time – around seven years to be exact, with Matt Smith’s first run as the Eleventh Doctor being the last time we got a traditional 13-week run excluding Christmas specials (the 2011 series, while having 13 episodes, was split in two over the course of around six months).
In the last few years, the series has instead favoured 12-part seasons of roughly 45-minute episodes, with every one of Peter Capaldi’s outings since 2014 fitting this new format. And when we consider that, the new season doesn’t look nearly so miserly.
After all, each episode is now slightly longer at 50 minutes, and if we add those spare five minutes together we get at least the length of another episode, taking the comparative total up to 11 – and if we add to that the 15 minutes extra in the series opener, well, we’re only actually losing about half an hour from the whole series. Not so bad, right?
OK, OK – it’s true that each Peter Capaldi series usually had at least one episode of an hour or longer (usually the finale) – but even if without that extra fifteen minutes we’re still only short one episode per year, and one can only imagine that the redirected budget from that will be used to increase the production values of the series as a whole.
And in any case, it’s not like Doctor Who has always managed to reach even the 12-episode bar in recent years. Lest we forget, 2016 saw no series at all (and just a Christmas special in December), while in 2012 viewers had to make do with a measly six episodes including a Christmas special, followed by ten (including the Christmas special and the 50th anniversary special) in 2013, thanks to another split series.
And remember in 2009, when Doctor Who fans got just four extended specials for the final run of David Tennant’s tenure as the Tenth Doctor, and no series at all?
Jodie Whittaker’s ten-part series isn’t looking so bad now, is it?
Of course, no fan wants to see the episode count of their favourite TV show decrease, so it’s no surprise that some Whovians have taken the news badly that there’ll be fewer weeks of Doctor Who next year. But really, we shouldn’t see this as a cutback – just a reimagining.
After all, it’s not like 45-minute long, 12/13 part series themselves have always been the norm. The classic series generally went for 25-minute episodes in multi-part serials, with the modern format only decided by ex-showrunner Russell T Davies and his team in 2005 – and given that this minor format change is likely just one part of new showrunner Chris Chibnall’s shake-up of the series, it may well end up making more sense in that context.
Sure, it would have been nice to have 13 episodes for the Thirteenth Doctor, but it’s just as important that Doctor Who is allowed to do what it does best – grow, change and keep on innovating.
Doctor Who will return to BBC1 this Christmas, and for a full series next autumn