The Cycle of Serial Formatting

So, having run out of new Doctor Who episodes (until the last season arrives from the library), the not-so-small, mobile one and I decided we’d watch a few episodes of the original series, starting with the first doctor.

What I did not know is that each “episode” of classic Who is actually a series of episodes, usually somewhere between 4 and 6. While each episode within an “episode” contributes directly to the same story, the “episodes” themselves seem to be more or less episodic, without a specific order that they need to be watched in.

It’s a weird television format, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it elsewhere. Other same-era scifi shows don’t follow it (such as the original series of Star Trek or Lost in Space) and I can’t say that I’ve seen it in anything since then either. Shows tend to either be mostly or fully episodic, or all episodes in a season/series contribute to the same ongoing plot.

Now, books on the other hand…

Books used to be written in serial form all the time. Dickens did it. Dumas did it. It was cheaper and easier to distribute. But eventually we moved on to “books,” as it were, where a single story comes in a single, large chunk (or, in the case of series, a couple large chunks).

But it seems like now, books are moving back into a serial form. E-publishing makes it easy to put up and change your work whenever you like. I’ve seen people serialize a story, putting up each section individually, and then combine the work into a single novel when done. Some people do this for each book in the series, which kind of brings us back to the classic Who format: a series of serials.

How do you feel about reading/writing serials, Squiders? Have you done any yourself? Read any excellent ones?

Any thoughts on the first doctor?

Have a happy weekend, Squiders.

16 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve read some novellas that continuously use the same characters. They grow across the stories, but each story is self contained. There are some good serials in Blogland, but I have hard time with them. If I miss one it drives me crazy, and I usually stop reading at that point. They have to be really good friends for me to keep up with them. On the other hand, I will purchase them if they come out comic book style with a furtherance in each piece.


    • I’m with you–I find it really hard to keep up with serials as well. There are probably services out there that update you each time something you want to read is updated, but I don’t know what they are, and they probably don’t count ones hosted on blogs anyway.


      • I suppose you could subscribe by email to those. There is also a way to make a list on WordPress for specific blogs. I finally had to make one called Must Reads for days when I’m too busy to browse the thousand or so I follow. You’re on the short list BTW.

      • Aww, thank you!

        The subscribing for serials becomes an issue, of course, if said blog is used for more than just the story.

        I believe you only have to post a chapter at a time for services like Wattpad, which I’ve heard other authors talk about, but I haven’t really looked into it myself.

      • Forgot about them. That is another possibility. Did you get my emails?

      • I did! I’m actually working on it as we speak.

  2. I’ve tried writing a serial myself long ago. Unfortunately I couldn’t keep up with it. Probably for the best since the storyline I had planned out for it has since grown more complex/sensible in my head/notes.

    If I’m reading a serial, I’d honestly much rather just have it be something that’s either already completed or very close to being so, since the couple times I’ve been in the situation where I find something interesting and discover I’m gonna have to wait several weeks/months to get to the end of it have been a maddening experience.

    Also, I likewise got introduced to Doctor Who through the new series and then moved on to watching the classics when I ran out of new material. Though it took me several years, I managed to get through the entire classic series, consisting of ~700 episodes and ~160 stories. Some of the separate stories/serials do follow a consistent continuity, with the first three as a good example— the end of “An Unearthly Child” leads into “The Daleks”, which leads into “The Edge of Destruction”. Though there are several more examples of the end of one serial leading into another, these first three pretty much mark the initial character evolution of the First Doctor; compare him going from someone who wouldn’t hesitate to bash in a caveman’s head to decrying the attempted genocide at the end of “The Daleks” (“This senseless, evil killing!”). Likewise there’s a gap in how the character advances from his Second to Third incarnation; where as before he was clearly new to a lot of the aliens he encountered, once the series starts being aired in colour he seems to have a thorough knowledge of all the creatures in the universe. Then there’s the seasons which technically have separate serials but can be considered holistically as a single storyline, like the Key to Time (season 16) or the Trial of a Time Lord (season 23).

    Going through the classic series and enjoying the serial format, which gives sufficient time to develop each of the story’s and characters’ nuances —and, to a certain degree, the poorer FX budget and technology forcing the creators to make the storylines compelling enough to keep a viewer hooked despite the visuals— also resulted in me becoming rather disillusioned with the new series, which in recent years with Mr. Professional Quote Maker™ Steven Moffat himself seems to have forgotten that in favour of memes and appealing to tumblr people, but that’s a personal gripe, I’ve rambled on for far too long.


    • The waiting is hard, between serial bits. And then you get distracted and forget to check back.

      I don’t have the time nor inclination to watch all 700+ episodes of classic Who, so I’m selecting five episode arcs per doctor to watch, though I suppose if I really like one of the doctors I might dedicate more time to that particular one. For the First Doctor I’ve done An Unearthly Child, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Time Meddler, and The Ark, and intend to do The Tenth Planet as my final one before moving on to the Second Doctor. From my understanding, it sounds like a lot of the Second Doctor’s episode arcs are incomplete, so I’m not sure what arcs I will do there as of yet.

      Aside from the later episodes of An Unearthly Child, the storytelling is pretty good. They certainly have more substance to them than the current episodes tend to. I’ve always been a bit disillusioned with New Who, though, so that doesn’t terribly surprise me. Really the best thing the new series has going for it is the companions.


      • That’s a pretty good selection for the First Doctor. The missing episodes are a shame, in particular for the Second Doctor, as he is one of my favourite incarnations and I consider his two Dalek stories some of the best in the series. Fortunately there’s no missing episodes from the seventies onwards, and since the audio has always survived, even for the incomplete stories there’s always been some effort to present them in a decent format, either by screencap reconstruction or animation. I’d make some recommendations for classic stories but I wouldn’t want to impose.

      • If you could recommend an episode arc from the Second Doctor’s first season, that would be great. People don’t seem to talk about it much, I guess because it’s mostly missing, so all the episodes I’m considering at the moment are from later in his tenure, but I wouldn’t mind sticking in an earlier one.

        I finished The Tenth Planet yesterday. Those early Cybermen are something.

      • In a general scope I’d recommend The Moonbase, another iconic early Cyberman serial of which two episodes survive, but Power of the Daleks and Evil of the Daleks are pretty good, the former because it handles the first post-regeneration cycle, and the latter because it establishes and explores various aspects of the Daleks which would be referenced many times in future. The Faceless Ones is also a favourite of mine because it serves as a testament to how the show can execute a gripping storyline which makes great use of subtlety and avoids going over the top. Unfortunately for all of these there is little to no surviving footage, so I guess it depends on whether you’re willing to work with reconstructions.

        I should also urge you to fit in The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Mind Robber somewhere in your viewing plan, since the former is probably the best regarded classic Cyberman story for pretty much the same reasons as Evil of the Daleks, and in the latter its whole plot is built upon exploring classic fiction and storytelling tropes. IIRC both survive completely.

      • Okay! Thanks for the recs! Here’s my general plan for the Second Doctor, though I reserve the right to modify depending on whether or not I’m enjoying his iteration:
        The Power of the Daleks
        The Moonbase
        The Tomb of the Cybermen
        The Ice Warriors
        The Mind Robber
        The Invasion
        The War Games
        Which is admittedly more than my planned 5, but everyone seems to like the Second Doctor quite a bit (of course, everyone also likes the Tenth Doctor, so maybe I should take that with a grain of salt). And then I’ll worry about the Third Doctor and so forth as I get there.

      • Pretty good selection overall. The Ice Warriors are pretty formidable and memorable villains from the Second Doctor’s era. It would also help to check a summary for The Web of Fear, another sadly mostly missing story, since it features another semi-iconic villain in the Yeti and the Great Intelligence, and introduces soon-to-be Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, an iconic character of the classic series (though he comes back in The Invasion).

        I’d say the Second, Third and Fourth Doctors are probably my favourites, though I also quite like Six because of the more abrasive, individualist yet just approach he brings to the character, reminiscent of the First Doctor (and Nine, the only “new” Doctor I like all-around, since he reminds me of Six).

        I think a lot of what makes the character during this time appeal to me also has to do with the contrast with the newer incarnations; whereas in the late sixties-seventies he was generally likable, appearing friendly and humble yet capable unless someone was being a douche to him, from his tenth incarnation onward he had a frequent tendency to be boastful, fast-talking, self-aggrandizing and lel so randum a lot of the time. I think that has to do with some of the newer writers trying too hard too often to appeal to pathos and humour rather than actual storytelling. On the other side of things, I personally consider the 70s to be the best era of storytelling for Doctor Who, so there’s that to potentially look forward to.

      • Oh, the Great Intelligence–they’re in the new series too. And I’ve heard about the Yeti. And the Brigadier, of course. So maybe I will hunt down a transcript or summary. The reconstructions are painful and I’m already re-thinking actually watching them. (The story for The Power of the Daleks is quite good, though.)

        I am looking forward to being past the lost episodes section.

        It will be interesting to see the older doctors. I watched the ’90s TV movie with Eight and came into the new series with Nine, but the Doctor is hard to like in the new iterations. I’m not quite sure why everyone’s so into him. The companions are lovely, though–I liked Martha and Donna, and Amy and Rory, and of course River and Captain Jack. But the Doctor himself? Eeeeh. Nine grew on me after a bit, and I like Twelve as well, because he reminds me of Nine in a lot of ways. (I’ve not yet watched Season 9, though.)

      • I’ve actually always been really curious about what it is people like about some of the newer companions, specifically Amy, River and Clara. In comparison with a lot of the others, those three seemed to me to be vastly Mary Sue-ish to the point of being insufferable. I’ve heard people give really vague reasons as to why they like those characters, like Amy being a “free spirit” and not a selfish, entitled, inconsiderate egomaniac, and River being some kind of wonder of female empowerment which to me indicates a failure to perceive the difference between a strong female character and a “strong female” character, probably not helped by the fact that she seems to have become Moffat’s pet character to be shoehorned into everything and constantly glorified. Oddly enough I didn’t mind her in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (which, granted, I haven’t watched in years), but then again I am of the opinion that the cogency of the show’s writing took a seriously sharp decline the moment Moffat took over in 2010, with what I’ve mentioned as excessive appeal to emotion and cheap humour instead of, y’know, actual good writing. Clara seems to me to have the same problem as River, but not as poignant. All of these characters also seem to be too easily coddled and forgiven despite their faults, which makes them appear even more Mary Sueish.

        Personally I find one exception to this is Rory, who reminds me of some of my own favourite companions: Ian Chesterton, Jamie McCrimmon, Liz Shaw, and Sarah Jane Smith, all regular humans with sensible personalities who use their own skill, logic and/or wits to overcome whatever problems they find. While this really only resonates with Rory in terms of personality (and he has the overzealous Amy as a foil), he also seems to be perpetually relegated to the fringes of the action, which to me speaks volumes about what Moffat’s regard for that kind of character is.

      • Rory is my favorite of the Moffat-era companions, for sure. Amy I’m not wild about on her own, but I love the interplay of Amy and Rory and how dedicated they are to each other.

        River I really like. Yes, her timeline is a hot mess, but if you ignore that part, I like her because she’s fun, sexy, exciting, a great foil for both the Doctor and Amy and Rory (again, haven’t seen her with Twelve yet), capable, smart, and mischievous. I also like how she’s an “older” woman, especially for television in that sort of role, and yet no one ever comments on that, especially not in a negative manner. I like her character an awful, awful lot, though I do agree that she is often misused. I actually wrote the “Why We Love Reoccurring Characters” post because I’d just watched an episode with River (which made absolutely no sense, but I was still very happy to see her).

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