It was just a few years ago that I was able to give you an actual preview of the season of Dotor Who to come. North America used to have to wait weeks, if not months, before the episodes that had aired in Britain aired over here. Thanks to the magic of downloads, I was able to get my fix early.
Not this year. Now, the BBC has been able to pull off a bit of a coup. Doctor Who will debut at around 7 p.m. (GMT) on Saturday, April 23 on BBC 1. Then, just six hours later, at 8 p.m. EDT the same day, Canadian viewers will get to seem the same episode on Space. One hour later, Americans get their fix on BBC America. Save for 200 Doctor Who fans who get a special preview showing of the first two episodes of the season in a Chicago theatre (lucky sods), we’ll all be witnessing the Doctor’s latest debut basically together.
I think this says a lot about the strength of the show as a worldwide cultural phenomenon. In the revival’s first five years, the show has charged to the top of the ratings in the United Kingdom, but it’s only now that interest in North America is sufficient that networks are clamouring to get the episodes out as soon as possible. Perhaps reflecting the increased interest by Americans, the show features actual location shooting in America (not just the couple of scenes done for Daleks in Manhattan).
And with Steven Moffat at the helm, Matt Smith anchoring the lead role, and a whole season under their belts, the upcoming season has the feel of the work of individuals who have had their practise run, have had a lot of fun, but have also worked their bugs out and are about to get serious. Moffat is out of Davies shadow. He has successfully overseen the construction of a multi-layered season spanning plot, and he’s left tantalizing loose ends for the new season to pick up on. We’re promised that we’ll learn the truth about River Song, and we’re promised that we won’t forget about the silence that will fall.
There will be some changes to the structure of this season, however, compared to seasons past. The show that starts up on April 23rd will run for just seven weeks before ending on a mid-season cliffhanger that won’t be resolved until the series picks up for the remaining six episodes, in the autumn. This may sound cruel, but it may be good for the show. Although the series ratings have remained among the top ten or twenty in the UK, there has always been a bit of a drop off in the last few weeks as the seasons drag into late June. The long summer hours tend to keep Britons away from their television sets more than North Americans, and there’s a good argument to put a hold on new episodes in early June, waiting until the autumn when audience numbers pick up again. This split-season technique may also give the cast and crew more time to film, while at the same time making it easier for the series to celebrate the show’s fiftieth anniversary (November 23, 2013), possibly with the season finale of the eighth revival season (anybody want to lay odds on if this is when Matt Smith’s Doctor regenerates?).
The mid-season cliffhanger changes how the season will be written, however. Steven Moffat is writing five of the thirteen episodes this season, including the two-part season premier. As he’s also tackling both ends of the mid-season cliffhanger (episodes 7 and 8), this leaves him only one more episode at the end of the season. So either the season finale is self contained within episode 13 (which would be a remarkable departure given the pattern of the last five seasons), or he’s sharing the finale duties with Gareth Roberts, who is writing episode 12 (an episode which features SPOILER ALERT the return of The Lodgers’s Craig Owens, played by James Corden. It should be noted that the season trailer at the end of A Christmas Carol featured a shot set inside the console of the mysterious timeship that featured in that episode. END SPOILER ALERT).
If you want more spoilers about the season to come, you can start looking here, but Moffat has been playing his cards close to his chest. Will River’s reveal take place in the opening two-parter? Or will it be a part of the mid-season cliffhanger? And how integrated is the season’s plot? There are rumours that the two-parter running immediately before episode 7 (written by Matthew Graham) will lead directly into Moffat’s work and that, as mentioned before, Moffat and Roberts are collaborating on the season finale. I can offer little but to say that time will tell.
I am, however, excited. Moffat crafted a decent debut season, and Matt Smith quickly found his feet and established himself as a wonderfully brilliant and scatterbrained Doctor. After seeing A Christmas Carol, both men seem to now be comfortable in their own shoes. And yet they face the challenge of a different season structure, and a different dynamic within the TARDIS. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are returning as the newlywed couple Amy and Rory Pond — something never tried before in the history of the series. The chemistry feels good, and there’s excitement in the air as all the principles embark on something they haven’t tried before. And I’m excited too. For me, It’s a wonderful time to be fan of this series.
Upcoming Episode List
1. The Impossible Astronaut (by Steven Moffat, directed by Toby Haynes)
2. Day of the Moon (by Steven Moffat, directed by Toby Haynes)
3. The Curse of the Black Spot (by Steve Thompson, directed by Jeremy Webb)
4. The Doctor’s Wife (by Neil Gaiman, directed by Richard Clark)
5. The Rebel Flesh (by Matthew Graham, directed by Julian Simpson)
6. The Almost People (by Matthew Graham, directed by Julian Simpson)
7. A Good Man Goes to War (by Steven Moffat, directed by Peter Hoar)
8. Title TBA (by Steven Moffat, directed by Toby Haynes)
9. What Are Little Boys Made Of? (by Mark Gatiss, directed by Richard Clark)
10. Title TBA (by Tom MacRae, directed by Nick Hurran)
11. The God Complex (by Toby Whithouse, directed by Nick Hurran)
12. Title TBA (by Gareth Roberts, directed by Steve Hughes)
13. Title TBA (by Steven Moffat, directed by Adam Smith)
For those mourning the sudden departure of new Doctor Who at the beginning of June, take heart: a new, ten-part mini-series of Torchwood (entitled Miracle Day) will debut a few weeks later, giving diehard fans something to sustain them as we wait for the fall season to arrive.