Whovians are nearing a frenzy now that the Season 8 premiere is just days away. Showrunner Steven Moffat was recently asked whether we might see more online "Doctor Who" episodes after the success of last year's "The Night of the Doctor," which featured a surprise starring role by Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. The seven-minute episode served as a prequel to the 50th anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor," and was watched by millions of viewers.
Moffat told SFX magazine that not only is he planning more online episodes, he's no longer treating them as ancillary material.
"I think we now have to accept that online stuff isn't a spinoff anymore," he told SFX. "We used to treat it as a spinoff that maybe some people would watch... But then you suddenly realize something like [online episode] 'Pond Life,' which we took much more seriously, had an audience of over six million. You think, 'Oh wait, that's a TV show!'"
The 2013 season also saw Moffat producing a brief prequel scene for every episode of Season 7. They were meant to be one-offs that set the tone and got viewers excited for the next episode, not unlike a teaser containing footage from the next episode. But since they were comprised entirely of new footage, viewers treated them more like tiny but no less real episodes of the show. Moffat has since decided that the fans were right, and intends to take online content much more seriously from here on.
"The Night of the Doctor," it seems, was just the first major standalone episode to air exclusively online. Moffat says there will be more.
"I've been in to talk to the channel controller of [BBC's online video channel] iPlayer, and said, 'We need proper money for it,'" Moffat explained. "And they're very keen. And we won't call them prequels, we won't call them 'minisodes,' we'll just call them 'Doctor Who.'"
The online episodes may be significantly shorter than the content that's aired on TV, but that makes it no less real. In fact, Moffat said, it can be a strength, not a weakness.
"I actually think 'The Night of the Doctor' is one of the best [shows] we've done, and I don't think it would be improved by being 45 minutes long," he adds. "What more storytelling do we need?"
Moffat posits that the episodes where the Doctor regenerates are always plagued by the same problem: viewers spend the whole time waiting for the death-and-regeneration scene. His intention with "Night of the Doctor" was to play to that, to tell the story of one Doctor's regeneration -- and nothing more. Its success speaks for itself. Future online episodes could be two minutes, ten minutes, or thirty minutes. "It depends on what it suits."
Moffat told SFX that he's come to believe that a paradigm shift is coming for TV, where all of television will one day be made up of downloadable content.