Saturday, 29 March 2008

Coming soon...

So the new series is almost upon us, and I find myself becoming quite excited. Not exceedingly so - after all, this is the fourth year in a row and some of the novelty has worn off now. (I'm reliably informed that I texted my girlfriend during the afternoon of 26th March 2005 that I thought I was going to explode! Still, there was a lot of anticipation hanging on that first episode - not to mention the worry that it was all going to be crap...) At least I seem to have got over some of the disenchantment wrought by the horror that was Last of the Time Lords. The new trailers have been exciting and enthralling, and have even gone some way towards alleviating some of my concerns about Catherine Tate.

Mention of Last of the Time Lords brings me back to one of those burning issues from almost a year ago: did the episodes Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords constitute a "three-parter" or two linked but separate stories? I don't think any consensus was ever reached - but after some discussion and debate, I've decided to go with a completely different answer. My friend Nick suggested the other day that Russell T Davies doesn't really write two-part stories in the same way as other writers do - he writes two linked but self-contained episodes, often with a major change of setting, mood or tone. Looking back, I can see that this is true (to a greater or lesser extent) of all his two-part stories - but it's at its most pronounced and obvious in the third series finale. What we really have here is a trilogy of self-contained stories that together form an overall saga. Utopia is the prologue to reintroduce the character of the Master; The Sound of Drums the story of the Master's great triumph; and Last of the Time Lords is the "one year later" story of his final defeat. The "evidence" to the contrary is comparatively slight: a couple of to be continued captions, Phil Collinson calling it "a three-parter" in a podcast - I don't think those can be taken literally. Indeed, to do so is almost to deny the nature of modern television series: the "arc plot" model common to US series, where individual episodes contribute to an overall series storyline, which current Doctor Who has clearly adopted. (You know, sometimes, it seems that fandom still wants to pigeonhole everything according to the way things were in the seventies.) So, as of now, those episodes are listed in The Complete Adventures as three separate stories.

This modern style is starting to extend itself to the spin-off media as well - especially the comic strips. The new comic book from IDW, for instance: so far, each issue has been a self-contained story, although there are clearly things going on in the background that are going to build into an overall arc. To a certain extent, this is also true of the strips in Battles in Time, each instalment being self-contained and rarely ending on an actual cliffhanger - but there, each story sequence tends to be a bit more focused and continuous, the Doctor pursuing each villain or plot to its conclusion. So, I'm still listing each multi-part strip as a single story. (They're my rules, I don't have to apply them consistently...)

Just one more thing I need to mention about the new series - the timeslot! The announcement that it would start at 6:20 has sent massive seismic shocks through fandom, with terrible predictions of disastrous ratings. I love the way that fans suddenly become experts in tv scheduling at times like this! You know, I'm sure the schedulers know what they're doing. They probably expect ratings to be lower in a 6:20 slot - so they're not about to cancel the show if it gets a few million less. What they want is the best possible performance in that slot, and I think they'll probably get it. From my own historical perspective, 6:20 sounds like a fine timeslot for Doctor Who - it's the sort of time I remember it going out when I was a kid. In fact, I can recall thinking three years ago that 7:00 seemed a bit late for Doctor Who - so I've really got no problem with it at all. Roll on Saturday...

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