WARNING: The following post contains spoilers for Doctor Who’s sixth series. You have been warned. I should also point out that, despite my employers’ connections with the BBC, I have zero foreknowledge of Series 7.
Oh no! Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat rocked the very foundation of the show by announcing way back in December that there probably won’t be any two-part stories in Series 7. This seems rather silly on the surface considering Moffat’s dedication and utter love for the show, but especially considering how vocal he has been about preserving the atmosphere of the show – the very reason he’s touted for deciding to move the series premiere from the traditional March/April start to some time in the Autumn.
Yet oddly, it’s that very reasoning that has me thinking that perhaps we can’t trust the words that tumbled from Moffat’s mouth last year, especially as he’s already proven himself to be an entirely untrustworthy showrunner. Moffat is very big on keeping secrets from the viewership, going so far as to intentionally mislead the public with announcements of stuff that definitely isn’t happening, which then goes on to happen.
I find it difficult to believe that Moffat would make a statement that effectively brings an end to part of Doctor Who’s enduring appeal. Although the serialized nature of the show has been toned down since its revival in 2005 the cliffhangers have remained an important part of the show. It’s not without good reason that Russell T Davies opted to include three two-part stories each series, a template Moffat kept for the show’s fifth series. Why, then, would he turn around and decide to abandon such an integral part of the show for its 50th anniversary?
Of course, looking at the second half of Series 6, it’s easy to see how he may approach the cliffhangers instead. “A Good Man Goes To War” and “Closing Time” are both great examples of stories that are ostensibly standalone, but that end with cliffhangers that either lead into or otherwise tease the next episode of the show. And what is the first fifteen minutes of “The Impossible Astronaut” if not a cliffhanger for the entire series?
Nevertheless, these cliffhangers are much less overt than in previous stories. Most viewers had more or less figured out that the impossible astronaut was River Song, and so the ending of “Closing Time” lost most of its impact before broadcast.
A good Doctor Who cliffhanger – a great Doctor Who cliffhanger, in fact – leaves the Doctor and/or his companions in a point of absolute peril, a dangerous scenario from which there appears to be no escape, perhaps best summed up by Moffat himself as “The monsters are coming.” In fact some of the show’s best cliffhangers since its return are Moffat’s own; “The Empty Child”, “Silence in the Library” and “The Pandorica Opens” are some of the most memorable and thrilling cliffhangers in the show’s history.
Reaching back even further, classic fan favourites like “The Caves of Androzani” and “Genesis of the Daleks” are defined as much by their episode climaxes as they are by the narrative itself, especially in the former story where the show plays with the audience’s expectation that the then-current Doctor, Peter Davison, is to die and regenerate.
Is Moffat really willing to discard such an important part of the show’s popularity? Or has Doctor Who outgrown the cliffhanger? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t bet money on our intrepid showrunner abandoning this staple just yet. Certainly not when there’s such a major anniversary on the horizon.