Doctor Who: Ranking the Hiatuses!

doctor Who on hiatus

They’re a crucial part of being a Doctor Who fan. And. It’s. Happening. Again.

But how does the latest pause in broadcast weigh up?

IT’S ONE YEAR SINCE DOCTOR WHO SERIES 9 BEGAN IN A HAZE OF ODDLY PITCHED PUBLICITY. You remember: low on any mention of Davros even though that scheming despot revealed his face before the first episode’s titles rolled and high on “same old, same old – just the Doctor and Clara Oswald in the TARDIS”.  A riveting campaign.

Still, it was a whistle-stop series that ninth one. Multi-part stories had taken a lengthy break between Series 6 and 8, but they roared back in 2015. Constant two-parters and linked single-parters meant broadcast weeks flew by like a mid-western café-TARDIS in the vortex. That was compounded by the 12th Doctor’s second run, like Series 8 before it, making a mere 12 parts as opposed to the 13 instalments the show enjoyed for the first seven years of its renaissance. So, we were getting less Who and it was pelting by quicker than ever. That much was clear. But a year on, having a good look around, there’s no not a flash of a scarf, fez or velvet jacket in sight. The Doctor’s not in.

In late winter the 13th episode of 2015, the obligatory Christmas Special, was posthumously revelled to be the last episode of Doctor Who we’d see for a whole year. A whole year we were already a year into. There was to be a pause, a year off, a hiatus. It’s the kind of announcement that Doctor Who fans thrive on. Because they’re used to it. All the better that last year’s Christmas special wasn’t a full pelt classic, but a rather linear one-joke story of nothing much at all. What better to spend a year without Doctor Who, while countless other genre shows over the Atlantic churn out full seasons of over 20 episodes with little perspiration, than rewatching The Husbands of River Song. Doctor Who will return in spring 2017, likely the Easter weekend in April.

But in that spirit of pure, niggled injustice, itself celebrating a 30th anniversary this year while the one year anniversary of Series 9 goes unmarked, Jokerside pays tribute to Who’s years of utter Doctor-less misery.

Brave Heart!

Jokerside’s definitive ranking of Doctor Who hiatuses

11th Doctor hiatus
NUMBER 5 (Joint): 4 June 2011 to 11 August 2011

AKA When Nobody Noticed

Caused by: The 11th Doctor and the Ponds

It was the first sign of a horrid and virulent infection…

How we survived: Well, who noticed? It was just a couple of months. And it’s perfectly normal behaviour to split a series of 13 episodes into two batches and stage mid-series finales and premieres that impressively rendered the whole River Song story arc all the more difficult to follow.

In fact, it was the first sign of a horrid and virulent infection. This most insidious of acts led us inexorably on to Series 7 which dared split itself over two years when already saddled with mid-season companion changes and the misguided restriction to single-part ‘blockbuster’ episodes. But worst of all, that split shifted the show to… Autumn. Who in its natural habitat you might think. Rolling onto Saturday as the nights as drew in. Only it didn’t work out like that. And all the time the execs quietly hoped that shift meant that… No-one would notice we’d lost a year of Who. As of 2017 we reach the 10th series in the 12th year of is revival thanks to this middle-aged crisis.

Yes, it all started with that trip to the States and the astronaut in the lake. As strong as that first half of Series Six is (pirates excluded), very little about it makes sense.

10th Doctor hiatusNUMBER 5 (Joint): 25 December 2008 to 1 January 2010

AKA: The Specials Hiatus

Caused by: The 10th Doctor (and behind the arras, Hamlet)

Insidious and far more intelligent

How we survived: Again, who noticed? Well, everyone. Because while this was less insidious and far more intelligent than the later series splits, it unavoidably resulted in just five hours of Doctor Who in little over a year, the vast majority of it stuffed into autumn 2009. The only thing we could reasonably expect is that the promise of loner specials couldn’t quite live up to their promise at all. And so it proved. That strange year did have one essential function however: giving us an extra year of David Tennant. And it’s a template that’s stuck, unless Peter Capaldi chooses to break it. Matt Smith followed tenant and inarguably left the show one year too early. Barring accidents, it’s difficult to think that any modern Doctor won’t throw in the time-towel after three seasons and a break of some kind. Although those Specials were by far the neatest solution. Read more…

Doctor Who Series 9: The Return to Gallifrey and Chekov’s Hybrid

Doctor Who Hell Bent Rassilon
At least there wasn’t a parallel universe…

And so Doctor Who Series Nine found the doctor where no one thought possible, back on his home planet of Gallifrey. But true to form, the culmination of years of seeding and two sublimely produced episodes wasn’t really about the Doctor’s homecoming at all. As the audience might have expected, it was more about the companion and the return to a mysterious one word story arc…

Travelling to end of time itself, inspired by Hell Bent.

“Tell them I know what they did. And I’m on my way”

WITH THE INNOVATIONS AND MODERNISING OF DOCTOR WHO’S NEW SERIES CAME THE ARRIVAL OF THE ‘FINALE’. That just didn’t happen in the old days, when seasons of serials gave you a denouement-full of finale every four to six weeks on average, mostly once a month. It was almost coincidence when a season closed with a classic story – but then, no production team aimed for a sub-standard story, let alone one to end the year. But with the show’s return in 2015, the wise call to adapt the show to the recognised series format meant an inexorable rise to a finale from the start. It was unavoidable, even if it’s seldom presented itself in the same way over the past decade. But in becoming a series, following the standardised particularly developed by American networks, the emphasis, weight and propulsion simply had to fall towards the story that closed each year. This essay series has already looked at the structure and peaks that developed from reconstructing the show around a series format, and how Face the Raven broke expectation. But in a series of predominantly multiple part stories, that episode commenced a three-part finale. And once again, as the integral difference that marks a series out from a soap, they don’t come much heavier than the finale.

Building up

“At the end of everything, one must expect the company of immortals”

But yes, that build-up throughout each series’ 12 or 13 episodes has come in different forms. Since the show’s return, the emphasis has moved from slow series-long build-ups to full and even half-series finales. Under showrunner Russell T Davies, viewers could expect a resolution that pinned less on an arc than hanging references, strung through the series’ seemingly unconnected episodes like jigsaw pieces of missing bees and big, bad wolves, all stemming from light and romping season openers. Under his successor, Steven Moffat, the show’s seen the introduction of high concept first episodes and mid-series finales. Ever more pressure was piled on each year’s conclusion through arcs and interlinked stories of increasing complexity. Although that looked to have reached its peak during the show’s sixth series, that left heavy expectations for the series that followed. And unfortunately, pressure isn’t always the show’s greatest companion.

Sombre times

“Hope is a terrible thing on a scaffold”

There was a shift after the Eleventh Doctor’s second year in charge of the TARDIS key. After the complexity of the sixth series, series finales were more identifiable by their higher concepts and lower keys. Almost as though the glut of The Impossible Astronaut, A Good Man Goes to War, Let’s Kill Hitler and The Wedding of River Song during Series Six and had worn the format thin. In Series Seven, the half-series finale that bade farewell to the Ponds found a sombre piece in The Angels take Manhattan, despite its showbiz name. A half-series later, The Name of the Doctor stole the drooping crown of sober finales. During the build-up to the show’s 50th anniversary spectacular, audiences might not have expected a crawl through a huge graveyard and overgrown TARDIS tomb, hollow serial killers ruining séances, the Great Stupidity or the Eleventh Doctor weeping at his impending doom in suburbia.

And that approach didn’t fall on the Fields of Trenzalore. A year on and it was more of the same in the two-part conclusion of Series Eight. While Dark Water opened with the sudden and rather inexplicable death of Clara’s beau Danny Pink, it followed the Doctor and Clara pursuit to a maybe afterlife, before delving heavily into dark speculation about death and cremation. The extended finale that followed, the joyfully titled, Death in Heaven, wasn’t only miserable in name; a considerable portion of it was spent in a graveyard. It was a far cry from the bombast of previous series finales. While they were always tinged with tragedy and danger (and so they should be, with their frequent wrap parties for major characters) their gloom had never been so overwhelming.  Read more…

Doctor Who Series 9: Influences leave a Score to Settle

Doctor Who Series 9 Heaven Sent
Something tells me Rachel Talalay’s directing this one…


Heaven Sent broke many rules of rule-defying Doctor Who as it paved the way for the huge series finale of Gallifrey’s return. But was it such a great departure? It drew liberally from the show’s heritage, the considerable creative talent involved and the rich canvas of science fiction. Most importantly, amid the wealth of influences, it was as much a showpiece for the show’s music as it was the Doctor himself.

Trapped in a revolving door, inspired by Heaven Sent.

WHETHER IT’S THE MIDDLE PART OF A THREE PART FINALE OR A SINGLE SLICE OF ANTHOLOGY, HEAVEN SENT WILL BE LONG REMEMBERED. And apart from the evident format breaking, immediately following the departure of one of the New Series’ longest serving regulars, many strands of influences were evident in the penultimate episode of Series Nine. What’s not in doubt is that Heaven Sent is an immaculately produced piece of television thanks to those influences. And rising to the top is the mighty Murray Gold once again. In his tenth year as the show’s music director he’s once again seamlessly provided something so perfect that it’s easily overlooked. But as much as this Heaven Sent is held up as a one-hander for the Doctor, the music was with him every second of eternity.


Inherent horror

“Every 100 years a little bird comes”

The influences that comprise Heaven Sent run thick and thin. It’s a welcome return for director Rachel Talalay. Her entrance to the Who universe with the show’s first two-parter since 2011, Dark Water and Death in Heaven, made for an iconic and memorable finale in the rather downbeat Series Eight.

Heaven Sent is another adventure steeped in horror, just as Talalay’s previous episodes were. Although this time, the action moves away from crypts, the undead and body horror to a haunted house and corridors fit for a stalking veiled slasher. Heaven Sent is slasher horror in many senses of the genre. It’s strange to think of the Doctor’s nightmare as a palace of mystery with a corridor lurking monster, when it may very well have resembled a large, ornate garden in need of tending- as he takes a moment to dismiss early on.

Talalay’s worked extensively on genre television in recent years, but high on her resume is prolonged involvement in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Production duties led to her directing debut, helming 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: the Final Nightmare. That was the deep-end: not only the closing chapter and heightened meta entry of the series but filmed in 3d.

“I’m in a fully automated haunted house, a mechanical maze”

The Veil carries the hallmarks of the slasher genre in Heaven Sent. Haunting the corridors, sticking with a never changing speed akin to Michael Myers, an unknown origin like Jason Voorhees and the product of a dream world like Krueger himself. All that was missing was the slashing, but when that arrived it did so in sizzling and quite graphic quantity. Billions of years of it. Like those single-minded icons of slasher horror, the Veil was part of a code. There was no hidden morality, but its purpose was dictated by the singular aim of unlocking the Doctor’s confession. Unlike most slasher icons, this clockwork fiend never had the capacity to rise to anti-hero.

And of course, this might well have been Dracula’s Castle. It was steeped in the gothic tradition, the bizarre camera point of view that heralded the Veil’s Ghost of Christmas Future march – an update of mirrors that catch a vampire’s likeness. Or a keen reference to ScroogedRead more…

The Golden Age of Cybermen Part 1: From The Tenth Planet to The Moonbase

Golden age of Cybermen The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase

For the Doctor’s 52nd birthday, a time to look at a race of monsters who would have once understood the importance of that number. Our long removed cousins, tragic victims of universal fate. Jokerside looks at the Golden Age of the Cybermen from 1966 to 1967.

The Cyberman arrived in a barrage of firsts and barely left the screen in the years that followed as they made a fair stab at replacing their pepper pot despotic rivals who’d brought Doctor Who to international attention.

Devised from science as much as drama, they collided with the demise of the First Doctor and the arrival of the base under siege story they would become synonymous with. Within three years they were only one shy of the Daleks in terms of villainous appearances. And while the Dalek’s schemes had become ever more diabolical during the First Doctor’s tenure, the Cybermen adopted an understandably more reserved approach while they continually upgraded and altered themselves. It’s a shame that the unsettling surgical mask approach of their first appearance would soon be encased in metal. But at least we’ve not seen a New Paradigm. Arguably…

The Tenth Planet (Season 4, 1966)

“They will not return”

Doctor Who The Tenth PlanetThe first words of the Cybermen. Not malicious, not a direct effect of their actions. Just a factual statement that the two spacefaring humans in question cannot possibly survive. They are proved right.

Three things began with The Tenth Planet, a serial that together with the succeeding Power of the Daleks, form the two most important in Doctor Who’s history. Those serials would test the show’s ability to survive thanks to the brilliant innovation of regeneration. But as hardly a side-line to that, The Tenth Planet marks the first appearance of recurring rogues the Cybermen and the first of a great Who staple – the base under siege story.

The setting is effective, fulfilling the isolation required by a good base under siege story and effortlessly shows the physical superiority of the Cyber race compared to humans. A mean trick in the first cliff-hanger reveals the Cybers to us as they assault face-covered humans – each is a distortion of the other in the Antarctic blizzard. We soon find that these are creatures of necessary logic but their chief tools are physical walloping and cumbersome chest-mounted ray guns.

Silver chic

“You will be wondering what has happened”

The design of the Cybermen is phenomenal. Bulky and inhuman. Their only appearance without metal face plating allows the simplified distortion of the human body to shine through. The eyes, holes, the mouth opening perpetually during their effective monotone, distorted speech. The face that resembles a surgical mask. The identical nature and similar voices that link all Cybermen is very effective in positing their threat and holding up a warped mirror to f humanity. In hindsight it’s touching that we see this early phase of Cybermen, where they still retain individual designations – something writer Marc Platt has developed with great success in Big Finish audios Spare Parts and The Silver Turk. And In the nicest way, this iteration of the cyber race, the Cyber Mondasians, wear their Achilles heels on their… Well, heads and stomachs. The lumbersome lamps on their heads serve to draw power from their planet, an excellently engineered short range and long range system if you think about it. And below the bulky chest unit that we’re told replaces their heart and lungs, and undoubtedly every other major organ in the torso, a large two handled weapon that are as effective when turned against them as they are plowing down humans. And their hands, their horribly human hands… Read more…

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