Doctor Who season 13 is going back to its roots with a single overarching, eight-episode narrative – and bringing back the cliffhangers too!
Doctor Who season 13 is returning to the show’s classic format – and it’s a good move. The Doctor Who production crew worked through the heart of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.K., which meant the show has faced enormous pressure. In order to deal with this, showrunner Chris Chibnall has chosen to create a shorter Doctor Who season 13 – consisting of just six episodes, with specials following in 2022.
The Doctor Who season 13 panel at SDCC 2021 gave viewers their first glimpse of the Doctor’s upcoming adventures, with an official trailer drop. The trailer didn’t really reveal much about the show, but the close friendship between the actors shone through in their interactions. A much-touted “special guest” at the panel turned out to be Game of Thrones actor Jacob Anderson, playing a recurring character named Vinder. But the most interesting news was that the format of season 13 is changing significantly – because this time, there’ll be a single overarching story, with cliffhangers at the end of each episode.
Chibnall has returned to the format followed by the classic series, where stories spanned multiple episodes and Doctor Who was well-known for its (sometimes absurd) cliffhangers. There were actually quite a few six-episode stories, but back then Doctor Who episodes were typically only half an hour in length, meaning season 13 will be one of the longest stories to date.
Doctor Who seasons 11 and 12 have proven particularly divisive with the fanbase, and one reason for this is sadly the quality of the writing. Scripts have often felt rushed and incomplete, dependent on third-act twists that weren’t always well-signposted. Even the better episodes, such as “Fugitive of the Judoon,” have struggled in this regard, and Chibnall’s Timeless Child retcon didn’t quite land as he’d have hoped in part because of the narrative structure of the episodes. But Chibnall is much more skilled when it comes to serialized stories, as he’s already proven with Broadchurch, meaning Doctor Who season 13 is playing to his strengths.
Russell T. Davies dropped the serialized format when he relaunched Doctor Who in 2005, in large part because he felt that format wouldn’t work in popular culture anymore. But fashions in popular culture run in cycles, and serialized storytelling is popular again as a result of fantasy and sci-fi shows like Game of Thrones. That means it really is time for Doctor Who to embrace this particular aspect of its past, unlocking the narrative potential offered by this older format. If Chibnall can pull this off, the shorter Doctor Who season 13 can truly be something special.
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