Doctor Who’s new opening titles have delighted viewers with their retro-styled bombast but removing the show’s cold open has harmed its latest episodes. Doctor Who has undergone some major changes over the course of 2018. The world’s longest-running sci-fi TV show has returned with a new showrunner, a new TARDIS interior, and, most importantly, a new Doctor. As the first-ever female in the title role, Jodie Whitaker's Doctor has charmed fans with her enthusiastic and refreshing take on the centuries-old Time Lord. But, aside from its casting, Doctor Who’s format has also experienced a radical restructuring.
Whitaker’s tenure has seen in an increase in episode length. Each episode is now one hour long, instead of the standard 45 minutes that viewers have enjoyed since Doctor Who was revamped in 2005. Russel T. Davies’ Doctor Who relaunch also ushered in the use of a “cold open.” For the uninitiated, a cold open is the teaser sequence (or sequences) in a TV show that preclude its title credits. They can be self-contained skits – which comedy shows like SNL and The Office have adopted to great effect – or scenes that form parts of the episodes’ narrative, such as Doctor Who.
Though many fandoms tend to be resistant to changes of this nature, these prologues proved to be a welcome addition to Doctor Who’s eclectic formula. Whether it was the Twelfth Doctor’s outlandish arrival in Victorian London (alongside a T-Rex), or the set-up to a joke about an Ood’s malfunctioning communicator, Doctor Who’s writers used the cold open to underscore the drama, the humor, and the horror of the story at hand. However, head writer Chris Chibnall has opted to forgo the pre-credit tease. As such, audiences initially watch the new opening sequence before plunging into the adventure wholesale. And while this move harks back to Doctor Who's pre-2005 style, this alteration has inadvertently worked against the show’s interests.
This is not to say that the new title sequence itself is harmful to Doctor Who. On the contrary, Doctor Who’s iconic time vortex and its abstract shapes have been re-imagined in eye-popping fashion. Coupled with Segun Akinola’s dynamic theme tune, audiences enter the show through a rather spectacular sequence of color and sound. Despite this, each Doctor Who episode in the 13th Doctor’s inaugural season has a markedly gradual pacing, especially when compared to the show’s previous seasons in the post-2005 Doctor Who reboot. Alone this would not be an issue for Doctor Who, but because this change of pace coincides with the show’s longer runtime, Doctor Who misses that small break – that the mini cliffhanger and title sequence provides – to vary the rhythm and emotion of each episode.
Certainly, several episodes in Doctor Who season 11 could have easily adopted the mini-prologue approach. Moreover, they would've undoubtedly benefited from this structure as well. Early on in Doctor Who season 11 episode 4, "Arachnids in the UK," a woman’s corpse is found cocooned in the titular spiders’ webs. With a pre-credit prologue, the episode could have shown the spiders initially hunting and capturing her, heightening the episode's horror and tension before the main plot begins. Similarly, Doctor Who season 11 episode 8, "The Witchfinders," should have depicted Becca Savage’s earlier trials – or even King James on the hunt for witches – and, thus, foregrounded their ruthlessness, and the religious fervor which permeates the story.
Nevertheless, the lack of a cold open seems to be a fixture of the newly rebooted Doctor Who. Rumors are spreading that Chris Chibnall will exit Doctor Who after season 12, but even so, the end of his tenure is unlikely to change the show’s newly altered format. As such, cold opens are unlikely to make a comeback to Doctor Who anytime soon, which is something of a shame. A dramatic opening – which ends just as the famous theme tune begins in earnest – has been proven to heighten the emotion of each Doctor Who adventure. Even so, with many of Doctor Who season 11's questions still unanswered, there’s plenty of things left to excite and intrigue fans in the show’s immediate future.