Doctor Who’s seasons and series have waxed and waned for over five decades. Face the Raven set a new bar, with a companion departure seemingly setting up a maybe-two part finale. Choosing statistics over grief, this essay looks at the show’s changing approach to confounding expectation and compounding the drama.
Taking 45 minutes out, inspired by Face the Raven.
THE CLOSING SCENES OF FACE THE RAVEN WEREN’T EXACTLY UNEXPECTED, BUT FEW WOULD DOUBT THAT CLARA’S INFLUENCE WILL STRETCH TO THE END OF SERIES NINE AND PROBABLY BEYOND. EVEN ADRIC MADE AN APPEARANCE AT HIS FINAL DOCTOR’S REGENERATION. AND HE WASN’T AN IMPOSSIBLE GIRL. That precocious mathematician wasn’t even the first of the Doctor’s companions to perish, it’s safe to assume that honour went to Sara Kingdom, adventuring for all too brief a time alongside the First Doctor during The Dalek’s Masterplan. But Adric’s was the most laboured and ill thought out demise. Sleep No More may have bodged the opening title replacement the week before, but it’s impossible to imagine the sapping horror if Face the Raven had rolled silent closing credits. But if the intervening 33 years between Adric and Clara’s departure have taught us anything about loss and companionship in Doctor Who, it’s that there are many fates worse than death.
Always a show of commendable contrariness, Doctor Who often celebrates what other shows consider a misfortune. The loss of a lead or many lead actors may sink other dramas, but for Doctor Who it’s very much the life juice of its longevity. Not just the most imaginative programme on the box, but one with an unquenchable thirst for change. We’ve seen huge events in the fabric of the show tie in with major occasions many times before, but somehow Face the Raven decided to fly in the face of convention and rob the New Series of its longest serving companion two episodes from the series’ end, during what might in most series form the two-part finale. That doesn’t look so strange in the eclectic structures that the New Series has adopted since 2010, especially considering Clara’s three unconventional entrances. But back to that change piece, Series Nine sees things greatly changed from not just the Classic Series years, but even the format adopted when the show returned in 2005.
And within these structures, borrowed and sometimes blue like the TARDIS, sub-even trends wax and wane, like the much coveted episode 10 rule set by Blink that burned out brightly and quickly within a few years. There’s lots to consider when plotting out the structure of a series as reliant on change as it beholden to its heritage.
The rise and fall of the Classic Series
Built on quantity as much as anything else…
Doctor Who was built on quantity as much as anything else. The first three seasons covered three quarters of the year each, back in the glorious days when almost every individual episode warranted its own title. That makes naming something like The Daleks with any accuracy particularly fraught. The seasons then simplified, but still ran from autumn through to the following summer all the way to the arrival of colour. With the appearance of the Third Doctor in 1970, the show dispensed with Christmas and ran six months from January to June until the Fourth Doctor’s arrival soon saw it tilt back to December through May and then even further to autumn through spring (with the honourable exception of the disrupted Season 17). That was a broadcasting structure that stuck until the show’s hiatus in 1985. Splattered in between were repeats, particularly during the 20th anniversary year and notably the November broadcast of The Five Doctors in 1983 – 32 years ago this week. Continue reading “Doctor Who Series 9: Companion Closure – What’s in a Series?”