Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

What constitutes a series of Doctor Who nowadays?

I mean sure, there's usually an easy-to-spot run of roughly weekly episodes each year, but since the show's cancellation in 1989, there have been a few too many curve-balls.

First of all, between 1990 and 2004, after 26 seasons, Doctor Who was pretty well off the air for fifteen years. There was a two-part telethon story in 1993, and a TV movie in 1996, but they didn't count.

Then in 2005 it came back for its twenty-seventh series, which has confusingly been referred to ever since as 'series one'.

The point of numbering any group is to make them each unique, and therefore distinguishable from each other. Doctor Who now has two season ones. In fact, at time of writing it now also has two season twos, two season threes and two season fours, with its second season five already in progress.

Sure, that system may work if you've never heard of the original 1960s/1970s/1980s series (or even 1990s if you lived in a country where the TV broadcaster was a bit behind, such as New Zealand), but sooner or later, you will hear of them, and then the new numbering will fail you.

All you have to do is run an internet search for a DVD of "Doctor Who season one", and suddenly you won't know what you're buying.

Then the Christmas specials started. They weren't too much of a problem, because the precedent for adding these to the end of an adjacent series had been set back in 1983 with the broadcast of the stand-alone 90-minute anniversary story The Five Doctors. This has always been considered a part of the preceding series 20, simply because it was made as part of that production block, albeit broadcast seven months later. Problem solved.

So, as the modern Christmas specials were being routinely made on the beginning of each following series, that's the series into which everyone considered them to fall. Whew.

However in 2008, after the close of series four / 30, Doctor Who went over to a specials-only format for a while. The show broadcast five overlength editions to celebrate Christmas, Easter, November, Christmas and New Year's Day, complete with 'next time' trailers and ongoing storyline.

Clearly, that's called a TV series.

Yet it's not being described as such. Wikipedia lists them simply as specials, and even the production office continued using codes that described them as continuing series 30 / four.

So they should be considered a part of that series, which was now apparently broadcast over two years from 2008 to 2010.

No, wait, I've forgotten something. The 2007 Christmas special still has to be added to the start of the 2008 series proper. That means that this series actually ran from 2007 to 2010!

Oh, and Time Crash...

Okay, I can accept that. The real point here is...what? "Music Of The Spheres"? What the heck is "Music Of The Spheres"?!!???

Look don't confuse me. The real point here is for us all to understand what we're each talking about, so although it's more logical to think of these five episodes as their own stand-alone 2009 series, I'll go with the flow and add them all onto the end of series four / 30 in my listings.

Whew again.

Hey, waaaaaaaitaminute…

So what about that 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann? Which series does that fall into? And that 1993 two-parter Dimensions In Time, considered upon its broadcast as outside the canon because its plot was so thin, but then grudgingly accepted when the standard of the show's revival was similarly shallow? (and also when later accepted telethon specials utilised the original cast)

Do these two stories go on the end of 1989's season 26, or the beginning of 2005's season one / 27? They weren't made as part of either.

For indexing purposes, I'd list them on the end of 26, simply because they both feature Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor. You gotta admit, they're safer there than on the start of Christopher Eccleston's mid-travels opening.

Doctor Who's fictional canon has been muddled at the best of times.

I guess I shouldn't be so surprised when it's real-life history gets similarly surreal.

"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... timey wimey... stuff."

UPDATE: Two and half years after this post I uncovered 16 episodes of Doctor Who Monster Files... *SMACKS FOREHEAD*


2 comment(s):

At 1:02 pm, Blogger Maurice Mitchell said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who's confused. To me it's an unbroken series, but, since they started over with the numbering it's led to confusing moments when I was writing on the new season. I never thought to add the specials. Agh. It makes my brain hurt.

At 8:16 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Ah, but I don't think it is an 'unbroken' series. There's that huge gap between the eighth and ninth Doctors. If they ever go back and make those episodes, then that'll make season one / 27... um...



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