Short Trips – Why I love Doctor Who’s Minisodes

Yeti

Image Credit: Adapted from MangakaMaiden Photography (CC BY 2.0, Flickr)

Image Description: A Yeti Costume

By Matthew Kemp

There once was a short Who vignette,

A Prequel released on the Net,

Before River’s Wedding

The monster we’re dreading

Called Sil-… I tend to forget 

“For some people, small, beautiful events are what life is all about!” The Fifth Doctor, Earthshock

When does a story begin? And when does it end, for that matter? Though the main TV episodes of Doctor Who are of course the most prominent part of canon, over the years there have been many short pieces that elaborate what happened to characters before, after, and sometimes within these episodes. They have been called many things, including shorts, bonus content, extra material, prequels, sequels, or very occasionally, amuse-bouches… Personally, I prefer to call them minisodes. These minisodes come in many sizes and forms, and are disseminated over a variety of platforms. They can add a little dash of depth to a character, a pinch of poignancy to a departure, or give an opportunity to try an experimental art form. I have always loved these little vignettes and the recent lockdown has prompted a beautiful and heart(s)-warming revival.

20th Century Who didn’t have many examples of a minisode, with only a few stories being preceded by a specially filmed teaser. For example, The Web of Fear had a, now lost, trailer with the Second Doctor saying that if the young viewers’ parents should get scared then they should hold onto their hand! A few stories have been given prequels or sequels during reruns and releases on DVD, but the minisode really came into its own during 21st Century Who, when broadcast methods were plentiful. A highlight of Children in Need Night, during the BBC’s charity telethon, was, of course, their Doctor Who segment, and I, without fail, bought every DVD box set in case they had some minisodes stashed away as a scrumptious mini-easter egg… As technology has developed, we’ve jumped from having Series 2’s ‘TARDISodes’ (another fantastic name) sent to phones, to recent minisodes being released on iPlayer and YouTube – what will they think of next?!?

Some minisodes are incredibly important. The 2005 piece for Children in Need Night, which goes by many names including Born Again, gave us the first full scene of David Tennant as the Doctor. It shows Rose’s initial scepticism about the Doctor’s identity starting to fade as the tradition of the post-regeneration TARDIS crash hurtled them into The Christmas Invasion. Later, Pearl Mackie first appeared in Friend from the Future, an introduction to her character Bill Potts, which was then fit snugly within 2017’s Pilot. 2007’s Time Crash brings the Fifth and Tenth Doctor together for the first time, before they would soon be respective future father/son-in-laws. Trivia aside, it is the first multi-Doctor story of NuWho, with many a Moffat-loop and timey-wimey plot device. But of course, the minisode that changed the game was 2013’s The Night of the Doctor. After years of listening to Paul McGann’s exquisite Eighth Doctor audio plays from Big Finish, that massive hit of excitement as I first heard his voice made me jump around my room so much that I nearly missed the whole thing! As with any minisode, efficiency is needed to tell so much story in so little time, and this fiftieth anniversary prequel packed in the Doctor’s change from reluctant bystander to grizzled warrior, giving us the regeneration sequence we never thought we needed.

The Night of the Doctor came near the end of Matt Smith’s time as the Eleventh Doctor, who had a large plethora of minisodes in his own right, and, personally, I think there are some lovely hidden gems within these. The Comic Relief specials Space and Time show a mind-bending TARDIS-within-the-TARDIS conundrum; Bad Night and Good Night show what the Doctor gets up to whilst his companions are asleep; and First Night and Last Night sow the seeds of the inevitable parting of the Doctor and River Song, referenced later in The Husbands of River Song. Pond Life cracks me up every time with the Doctor laying down some beats in the studio along with some classic Ood antics; the Paternoster Gang get a trilogy of prequels to their big comeback in The Snowmen and She Said/He Said tries an experimental form of the Doctor and Clara analysing what they think of each other. One of my favourites in Chris Chibnall’s P.S. which gives Rory an emotional farewell message for his father – always brings a tear to my eye.

Rory recently made another appearance in Neil Gaiman’s prequel to the lockdown rewatch of The Doctor’s Wife in which he references his and Amy’s son from P.S. – it’s all connected! This, along with many other brilliant additions to the minisode canon, from Moffat’s hilarious Strax Saves the Day to Davies’ deliciously political sequel to Rose, have brought joy and togetherness in a time of need. Along with Whitaker’s recent Public Service Announcements, performed in character within a cupboard, these shorts show that Doctor Who is the perfect show to help us through these uncertain times. Doctor Who is more than just any old TV show, it’s a story that never ends…

“We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one” The Eleventh Doctor, The Big Bang

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