Is Doctor Who Series Nine Following A 'Classic' Era Format?

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The rebooted Doctor Who that began in 2005 with Rose is a very different beast to its predecessor. Russell T Davies' vision of a 21st Century Doctor Who heralded many changes. Gone were multi-episode stories, each seemingly having no connection to the last, while series finales tended to end with the departure of one major character. Today it is faster-paced, the majority of episodes built like the 'movie of the week' format of series seven (or 32 for the purists).

In the majority of stories, the Doctor and his companion have defeated the baddie within the 45 minute time frame - with only the occasional two-parter of late. In fact multi-episode stories feel like a rarity these days, with the series eight finale Dark Water and Death In Heaven the first two-part story since series six's The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People almost three and a half years earlier.

Classic Who in comparison was a series of three, or four or even six-part episodes. Rarely was there a theme between one story or another, just a flow of different genres each series, from historical to futuristic adventures that Doctor Who does so well.

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The other thing about 'Nu Who' as the post-reboot Doctor Who has been 'affectionately' called is the story arc. Bad Wolf in season one, Torchwood in season two all the way through to the impossible Girl arc in season seven and the Promised Land in series eight...each series of the show has had a theme running as an undercurrent through multiple episodes. The story arc isn't something new to the show; the entirety of Tom Baker's series 16 was taken up by the search for the Key to Time, while the four stories of Colin Baker's second series - 23 - formed the Trial of a Timelord. But generally each story bore no resemblance to the last, even in the good old Earth-based UNIT stories of the Third Doctor.

For ten years Doctor Who has run with the same theme, to varying degrees. But for the ninth series - the eleventh year in Nu Who's history - that model looks to be shaken up considerably.

The clues were there when it was announced that Steven Moffat would be writing the opening two-parter The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar. Considering how great his series six opening, Silence-introducing, Doctor-killing two-parter was, this news was exciting news indeed.

But then it was announced that this would be followed by what Moffat called “a brilliantly creepy two-parter by Toby Whithouse … one of our scariest adventures yet!” Given the show's penchant for fast paced episodes, two two-parters back to back feels like a complete deviation from the norm.

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It gets even more interesting when you consider episodes five and six. Series eight fav favourite Jamie Mathieson will be writing The Girl Who Died while Torchwood's Catherine Tregenna will be penning The Woman Who Lived. The theme running through the titles suggest a connection of sorts, only compiled by the fact that Rufus Hound and Game Of Thrones's Maisie Williams will be starring in both. Even more intriguingly, David Schofield will be playing the character of Odin - Norse God or something else? - in episodes five and six.

So the question is, are we looking a three two-parters in a row? A classic Doctor Who mix of multi-episodes running through the series? Again, the answers may lie with Moffat himself who had this to say when quizzed about the seeming abundance of two-part stories in series nine.

“We’re changing the rhythm of Doctor Who quite a bit. For a long while, those 45-minute stories were the backbone of Doctor Who. 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. With each of the two-parters we’re doing, there’s a substantial difference between the two halves.”

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You'll get no arguments here on that one. Of the most fun elements of classic Doctor Who are the big cliffhangers that left audiences hanging week after week. As a viewer I have only experienced 'Classic Who' on DVD - my childhood memories of the Seventh Doctor and Ace being quite vague - but even I can appreciate the big moments; the fifth Doctor hurdling the ship towards the planet's surface in the third part of The Caves Of Androzani or Davros torturing Sarah and Harry in order to obtain the Fourth Doctor 's deepest, darkest secrets in part four of Genesis Of The Daleks. And it might seem a little silly now, but the shocking reveal of the Dalek at the end of the first episode of their introductory tale remains one of the show's most iconic cliffhangers.

Of course that doesn't confirm that we are looking at multiple two-parters or even a modern three-parter ala Utopia, The Sound Of Drums and Last Of The Timelords from season three. If we are, that would follow the exact formula of classic Who; remember of course that the majority of episodes were 25-minutes, making a two-part modern story similar in length to the four-part standard formats of old. Do we have three multi-episode stories running one after the other?

Interesting, some of the Fifth and Sixth Doctor stories actually went with the 'Nu Who' length of 45 minutes on original broadcast. Perhaps we're seeing series 22 in action again, only with a much better cast and stories than the Sixth Doctor and Peri's first full year?

But is Moffat confirming all two-parters or a mix with standalones too? We know Mark Gatiss is writing a single story in 2015. Is that part of a quasi-connected two parter with someone else writing the other half? Perhaps, considering what we know about episodes five and six, we are getting both.

“That 45-and-out rhythm has served us incredibly well for ten years, but there is a slight sense sometimes, about 35 minutes into the episode, you expect the hero music." Moffat has also gone on to say. It’s just making you slightly unsure you’ll get through the story by the time the music comes up. We’ve all got to be on our toes, can’t be relaxed.”

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Connected episodes then? Again, this was not uncommon in classic Doctor Who. Look at the excellent Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane story The Seeds Of Doom. The Krynoid remains the underpinning threat in all six episodes but there is a marked difference between parts one and two and the remaining four. The Antarctic-based first episodes play out like a homage to The Thing, while the remaining story plays out in gloriously sunny England as a kind of Day Of The Triffids-style affair. Is this what Mathieson and Tregenna's episodes will be like?

Then there is Missy. Given her amazing chemistry with Peter Capaldi in series eight and her wonderfully psychotic performance, it was no surprise that Michelle Gomez's female Master wasn't going to stay dead for long. Though it was surprising that she would be back so quickly in the opening two-parter and perhaps - as rumoured - for many more episodes too. Again, this feels very much like the Third-Doctor era, where the Master was a recurring threat in many stories, in particular every story of series eight. The Jon Pertwee Doctor / Roger Delgado Master dynamic is something Moffat has certainly referred to when discussing his reasons for bringing Missy back so soon.

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“I was thinking of the story of the first two-parter and I was thinking that she fits, she should be there. That character, if you get it right, does put a different light on the Doctor.I was looking back at the old Jon Pertwee/Roger Delgado ones and what’s fascinating about that is that they only ever play it as friends. They never, ever play it as enemies at all. They’re just two gentlemen having fun with each other. The Doctor’s best friend is a murdering psychopath, that’s actually quite fun.”

That classic Master as a recurring presence in the Doctor's life? Cliffhangers every week? Multi-episode tales? The darker, more challenging material of series eight already felt like a tonal shift towards the classic era with Peter Capaldi easily feeling like one of the Doctors of old. With these new elements, we could be seeing a Doctor Who in 2015 that feels very different to the previous ten years, bearing more resemblance to the eras that came before it. As a fan of both classic and Nu Doctor Who, I can't wait to see what series nine - or is it 34? - brings.

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Last updated: 06/08/2018 16:54:56

Doctor Who

The long-running BBC TV science fiction series that started in 1963 and recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary. 2017 saw Peter Capaldi regenerate into the show's first female Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker. The Thirteenth Doctor's first season debuts in 2018, with Chris Chibnall replacing Steven Moffat as the current showrunner.

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