Doctor Who scheduling split shows Steven Moffat’s genius at work

Steven Moffat, really quite clever

Steven Moffat, really quite clever

I’M becoming more and more excited about Steven Moffat‘s visionary decision to split the usual 13-episode series of Doctor Who into two next year, and not just because of the ‘game-changing cliffhanger’ the Moff has promised.

To me, the most important thing about his announcement is that the game seems to have changed already.

What do I mean? Simply this – it is not everyone who can solve two seemingly insurmountable problems in one stroke while changing an already brilliant thing for the better, with the elegant simplicity of Alexander cutting through the Gordian knot.

Let me explain.

For Moffat’s first series at the helm of Who, I could practically feel his frustration whenever he was interviewed – firstly at factors outside of his control like the sunny weather or the World Cup, taking potential viewers away.

That inevitably led to ‘Who ratings falling’ stories, regardless of truth, but seemed a fact of life, the way things must always be with new Who and its 13-week run, starting every Easter.

The inspired decision to begin in early summer and then break to autumn with its dark, cold, stay-at-home nights – one the Doctor himself would be proud of – has taken care of that.

But then we had the Beeb playing broadcast bingo with one of their most high-profile brands, changing its start time week after week to support other shows in the schedule (and let’s not forget Nortongate).

Of course, we’ve been here before, with RTD also railing against Who’s start-times being messed with.

The difference this time is that Steven Moffat – as well as ruling the Who roost – has delivered the magnificent Sherlock.

This under-the-radar smash hit has made Moffat the golden boy for BBC drama, with Mrs Moff and Mark Gatiss also seeing their stock rise.

However Moffat’s stock must be so high at Broadcasting House now that even in these times of austerity, I’m sure he has the Director General making his packed lunch for him, before couriering it over.

I’d bet the Who budget has also been increased by the cost of a team of strippers too, to dance while he writes. (If so, expect the Doctor to reveal the Go-Go Swinging Pussycat Dance Club room in the TARDIS this time around. Then we’ll see how sexy Amy really is!)

So when he strolled in and calmly asked the Beeb to completely change the way their flagship programme was broadcast, after five years of nothing but critical and commercial success, they had no choice but to agree given his leverage in the Corporation. And the shorter runs should make a fixed start time much easier to agree too.

Quite apart from my belief that it shows the BBC are treating Who with respect, I also think the change will also make for a more exciting series, or two.

I made a case earlier this year for how Who could develop, including longer episodic structures of three or four episodes per story, instead of two-parters at best.

Now with a six and then seven episode structure – separated by a mid season cliffhanger to beat all mid-season cliffhangers, and including Neil Gaiman‘s story too – I think Moff can really go to town and break the familiar into something new.

What’s more, just think of how he may use that cliffhanger to go some way towards finally answering the Silence Will Fall and River Song mysteries layered throughout the last series.

For instance, it has already been implied that River was jailed for killing the Doctor – how’s that for starters? Even thinking about it now has my geek alarm going.

All in all, it reinforces my belief that Moffat was the perfect choice to look after Doctor Who.

A game-changer indeed, and for the better in every instance.

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6 thoughts on “Doctor Who scheduling split shows Steven Moffat’s genius at work

  • Plus Flashforward *stopped production* for months in the lull whereas from what we can gather this next series of DW will still have the usual nine month production schedule (albeit starting later in the year) its just that the back six are being held on to for the summer. I agree, this is a smart movie. It means that it can’t be accused of the usual rubbish ratings in those back six (everyone has forgotten that rubbish weather greeted The Stolen Earth which was one of the reasons those episodes were higher than usual) and the BBC then have something big to highlight their new autumn season.

  • This is NOT genius. This “split-season” stuff is not new. Several shows in the US do this and it has KILLED a few. I think that’s what killed Flash Forward. The fans do not like it. Doctor Who will survive because it has a huge following, but the fans will not like it. It’s really pain to watch a show that puts out seven episodes and then takes a huge break.

    • Thanks for the comment Kermit – love a bit of dialogue on Scyfilove.

      I never said it was new, just that it was new for Who and breaks up the familiar structure (couple of contemporary episodes, one with a historical figure, one Doctor-lite, etc etc) while solving other problems at the same time. That is a bold step but – I think – a necessary one for long-running shows.

      Mid-season cliffhangers and end of season cliffhangers are much more prevalent in US TV, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame them for killing shows.

      In Flash Forward’s case, what killed that was the fact it was overly serious, boring and wilfully obtuse in a ‘people like Lost, we’ll be like Lost, maybe people will like us’ kind of way. It never found enough of an audience either, meaning ratings fell through the floor. Compare that with a show like Chuck, whose fans campaigned for its survival.

      As I remember, they also changed the showrunner three times in rapid succession on FF, good going during one series.

      I guess stopping Who after six or seven episodes could be a strange experience, but given it will only be off air for a few months and not a year or so, I think it will work and will be accepted by the fans.

  • I feel half hearted about it because as a gimmick it can work once or twice, then people will be expecting big ending stories and there will be no room for medium type of stories. Will this new structure allow decent two parters. If its going to be 7 for first half and 6 for next, I don’t think that is enough episodes. Put it this way, by week 5 you’ll be getting into it and then its time to finish. One idea I think they could do is make each series 8 and 8 and make some of the episodes longer because 45 minutes is not long enough. Any other idea I have is to have 13 episodes half and 13 other other half because in America they usually base their tv seasons on 13 or 26 episodes. In all honesty I just want Doctor Who to be great and not get ridiculous and thus they cancel it again. So far I’m a bit uncertain with Steven Moffat’s approach, I like the new Doctor Who logo, but I am not too keen on the Tardis design and I think the stories are too fairy tale like. Series 5 did not have the magic sparkle like Series 1, 2, 3 and 4. I really hope this concept of splitting the shows works.


    • I agree that in a perfect world we would have 20+ Who shows a series, but there’s no way the Beeb could or would do that. For me, while it is a risk I think it prevents Who becoming stale and that is a good thing.

      You could also say this would make every episode count and not be wasted (I’m looking at you, Love and Monsters) owing to the 6-7 split.

      As for Moffat’s approach, I think first seasons are always about setting the scene for any showrunner, and their team (completely new to the show, as were the directors too). I would expect the greater experience they have to show next time around.

      Great comment though dialashop

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