Monday, 22 June 2015

TGT Debate - Are More Two-Parters Better?

Last week we debated whether Daleks were still scary. 66% of you thought that they weren't scary anymore, while 34% of you are still hiding behind the sofa.

For the upcoming Series 9, Moffat has promised more two-part episodes, with only two single episodes. Will this change to the format prove popular? Well, we'll have to wait until Autumn to find out, but for now, we're going to argue whether more two-parters is better.

"We need more two-parters!" argues Suman

Doctor Who has already experienced several format changes over the past couple of years, with two lots of split series and the ‘blockbuster’ single episode approach to Series 7. Although these experiments with the show’s structure are to be commended for trying to do something different with Doctor Who and keep it fresh, one unfortunate side effect of them was the loss of the regular two-parters we became so used to during the Russell T Davies era of the show. 

More two-parters for Series 9 is therefore a highly welcome move, compensating as it does for the ones we’ve missed out on! It’s also a move very much in keeping with the general feel of the show at the moment - Peter Capaldi’s older Doctor has a definite air of Classic Who to him, and there was a clear shift in Series 8’s tone to match. More two-parters is a logical continuation of this trend, and also gets as close as New Who probably ever will to the multi-part story structure that Doctor Who used almost exclusively for its first 26 years. 

Ben may argue that an increase in two-parters means fewer stories to enjoy overall. While this is very true, on the flipside what we do get is more of many of the elements that make up a high quality Doctor Who story. Two-parters allow for greater variations in pacing, with quieter and more introspective moments in amongst all the action, moments that Peter Capaldi has already shown are particularly suited to his portrayal of the Doctor. Two-parters also create room for more character development which allows us as viewers to spend more time with - and subsequently care more about - the fates of some of the many guest characters that Doctor Who introduces us to on a regular basis. 

Two-parters make for more ambitious and involved storytelling, as the extra time gives writers the chance to fully explore a plot and take it in new and exciting directions. They also make for more unpredictable storytelling; with single episodes the knowledge that there’s not long left until the end can often mean that we’re just waiting for the plot to be neatly wrapped up, while splitting a story into parts removes this security from viewers and helps to build tension. 

Cliffhangers can help to ramp up this tension even further, and certainly they are so often the source of some of the show’s biggest moments, as well as some of my favourites. We’ve had shock regenerations from the Tenth Doctor in The Stolen Earth (well, almost) and a certain little girl in The Impossible Astronaut. We’ve had epic speeches from the Ninth Doctor in Bad Wolf and the Eleventh Doctor in The Time of Angels, despite a cartoon Graham Norton trying to steal Matt Smith’s thunder in the case of the latter! And we’ve had some truly jaw-dropping reveals, not least just last series when Missy finally unveiled her true identity. The few two-parter cliffhangers Steven Moffat’s era of the show has given us have left us baffled as to just how on earth the characters would get out of their latest predicament – as in The Pandorica Opens and Dark Water – so more of these in Series 9 can only be a good thing, not just in terms of maintaining fan excitement throughout the series but also ideally encouraging more of the show’s casual viewers to tune in again to see what happens.

Doctor Who in more recent years, however, has also given us cliffhanger moments even when the episode in question isn’t part of a conventional two-parter – the reveal of River’s identity in A Good Man Goes To War, for instance, or the tantalising glimpse of John Hurt in The Name of the Doctor. In both cases the episodes they led on to could be said to form part of the same story despite retaining their own distinctive plot, location and characters, and with Moffat’s claim that there’ll be a ‘substantial difference’ between the two halves of each two-parter in Series 9, this style of storytelling could well be what plays out on screen later this year.

Whether we get conventional two-parters or something more abstract, more of them in Series 9 is an intriguing and for me a welcome change in the show’s format, and for all of the above reasons has in my opinion every chance of success provided the execution matches up to the ambition!

"We need less two-parters!" argues Ben

As much as I love two-part episodes, there's one obvious flaw with them: you get less stories per series. In series 9, 10 of the 12 episodes will be two-parters. This means we only get seven stories instead of a possible 12. I don't know about you, but I like to have lots of Doctor Who stories to watch. When I want to watch an episode, I would rather have more choice of episodes than less choice and longer episodes.

Recent Doctor Who has prided itself in being able to tell a full story in 45 minutes. Television has changed over the years, and these days things are quicker paced. Whereas in classic Who Pertwee would spend 40+ minutes stuck in a prison cell, escaping and being captured again (i.e. Frontier In Space), the Doctor's adventures are much quicker, with more focus on the important elements of the story. Although two-parters give more time for story development, this is not always the case. Sometimes extending this to 90 can stretch the episode too far, with more filler and padding than good, strong story.

More single stories allow for more ideas from more writers. Single episodes means more writers per series, giving more writers an opportunity to showcase their creativity with their stories. There is no shortage of ideas for the show, with stories being able to be set in any time or place, so two-parters are effectively restricting the amount of different adventures we get to see. There is also a risk with two part-episodes. If the viewer doesn't like the first half of the episode, they're unlikely to enjoy the second half of the episode. 

Suman has suggested that two-parters give more opportunity for character development. Whilst this may be true, surely the characters would be able to develop more when put in different situations? Would a character that's been to the moon and 17th century Earth be any less developed than a character who just stayed on the moon? In terms of character development, it is down to the writer and how well he can grow the character over the course of 45 or 90 minutes.

I cannot deny that two-part episodes are a good idea. We get the cliff hanger and a nice long story, which makes it feel like a special episode. Two-parters have traditionally been used for series finales, because it adds that extra bit of tension between the two weeks. But if the majority of the episodes are two-parters, could this make them less exciting and more of a norm? I like to have a two-parter now and then as a special treat.

Overall, I agree that two-parters are a good idea, but I think they should be limited to one or two per series to allow more episodes to shine and make these two-parters feel special.

So, you've heard our views, but what do you think? Are you a fan of two-parters, or would you prefer more single episodes? Vote in the poll and let us know your comments below.