Serial storytelling has been an important facet of Doctor Who since it first graced our screens. Before the 2005 relaunch, each adventure was told over several weeks, or in the case of the longer stories, months! However, sometimes whole seasons were structured to form a greater narrative. When the show burst back in 2005, the serialised nature was retained with two-parters and series arcs that built up to a grand finale.
With the upcoming series 13 telling a single story, here are eight other times that Doctor Who has fully embraced serialisation.
When Doctor Who debuted in 1963, it adopted a heavily serialised approach. Not only did each episode have its own title, but from An Unearthly Child to Marco Polo, each adventure ended on a cliffhanger that directly set up the next story. While episodes continued to have individual names (until The Savages), the subsequent adventures were more self-contained and one story leading into the next became less frequent. This would become the standard format, but as this list proves, occasionally the show would return to its serialised roots.
Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor is highly unusual for his era, as it features only two trips in the TARDIS. At the end of the first story Robot and during the conclusion of the season’s final story, Revenge of the Cybermen. Most of the season was centred around a space station called Nerva Beacon and the journeys in-between – and during – stories were taken via the station’s Transmat system. However, the Time Lords intercepted them at one point as they had a mission for the Doctor… To prevent the birth of the Daleks by committing genocide!
The next series of interlinked adventures involved the Doctor being sent off on an epic quest to find all six segments of the Key of Time. The Key was an immensely powerful object, used to maintain the equilibrium of time itself, and had the power to bring all of reality to a halt! Paired with Romana by the White Guardian, the Doctor travelled across all of time and space to find the segments. The only problem? The hidden pieces could be disguised as literally anything! And someone else was after the Key, too…
An epic story of an entirely different kind, The Trial of a Time Lord forced the Doctor to defend himself in court against his own people. If he couldn’t prove his innocence, the Time Lords were going to execute him! With evidence being drawn from his past, present and even future adventures, the Doctor quickly discovered that there was something else going on at court. The Time Lord prosecuting him, a man called the Valeyard, was in fact a dark version of the Doctor from the future, described as being somewhere between his “twelfth and final incarnation” …
Seasons 24 - 26
A more subtle arc than what had come before, the confrontation between the Doctor and the elder God Fenric in Season 26’s The Curse of Fenric had been foreshadowed all the way back in Season 24’s Dragonfire. Despite being from Perivale in the 1980s, Ace first met the Doctor on Iceworld in the far future. She had been pulled there by a time-storm, which we later found out Fenric was responsible for. Fenric’s meddling also extended to Lady Peinforte in Season 25’s Silver Nemesis, allowing her to travel in time to fight the Doctor in her future. In this story, the Doctor was seen apparently playing against himself at chess, hinting at how he had previously trapped Fenric with a chess problem, in an unseen adventure! You wouldn’t have known it at the time, but looking back, all the clues were there!
First seen in a newspaper headline in series 2’s Love & Monsters, the name “Saxon” went on to repeatedly appear during the Doctor’s travels. Saxon ordered the destruction of the Racnoss Webstar, funded the experiments of Professor Lazarus, and even dispatched agents to warn Martha’s mother that her daughter was in danger by travelling with the Doctor.
Harold Saxon was a politician – a popular one – who went on to be elected Prime Minister. He was also a complete and utter fabrication... as the Doctor discovered, after returning to Earth following an encounter with the Master at the end of the universe. In fact, Mr Saxon was revealed to be the latest of the Master’s aliases – and his next incarnation! He’d been using his connections to prepare a trap for the Doctor. And the only person who could free him was Martha – but first, she must embark on a gruelling worldwide trek!
The crack in Amy Pond’s wall was special because if you removed the wall, the crack would remain in place. That’s because it was actually a crack in the very fabric of time and space. It followed the Doctor and Amy across their travels and even killed Rory – but don’t worry, he came back to life (and then died again… and then came back to life – it’s sort of Rory’s thing). Discovering that the cracks were caused by his TARDIS exploding, the Doctor knew there was only one thing he could do. It was time to reboot the entire universe…
Its coming was prophesied by the ancient Gallifreyans. A hybrid of two warrior races, it would stand in the ruins of Gallifrey, unravelling the web of time itself. Commonly believed to be a hybrid of the Daleks and the Time Lords, Davros attempted to force that interpretation into reality, only to be foiled by the Doctor. Little did anyone on Gallifrey realise that the Hybrid was the Doctor and Clara Oswald travelling together. This only became clear when they witnessed the desperate lengths the Doctor would go to save Clara from dying.
In the grand tradition of serialised Doctor Who, the upcoming series comprises six adventures telling a single story, intriguing called Flux. Facing off against many old enemies, and with a new companion in tow, the Doctor’s life will never be the same again…