Was this the longest story ever?

Well, this brings up a lot of complicated questions, like what do you mean by “longest”? And “story”? And “ever”?

There are various candidates for long Doctor Who stories and opinions differ about what counts as a single story and what doesn’t. If behind-the-scenes production details are key to you, then you might well count The Trial of a Time Lord as four separate stories since that was how it was planned and made. But if you put more stock behind how episodes are presented, than that 1986 season was presented as one story in 14 episodes – until its home video release. You might also consider whether all episodes of a “story” have to be broadcast consecutively. You might even consider the whole of the 16th season to be one long story (“The Key to Time”) since it begins with the Doctor being sent on a quest to locate the pieces of the Key and ends with all six pieces found.

In order to help you make up your own minds, here’s a handy checklist of long Doctor Who stories and where they land on these various criteria. Amuse your friends, annoy your relatives etc.

The Daleks Masterplan (October 1965 – January 1966)

  • Number of episodes: 13
  • Slot length: 25 minutes
  • Rough running time: 13 x 25 = 325 minutes = 5 hours and 25 minutes.
  • One on-screen story title: No, as was standard practice for the era, each episode has its own title
  • Episodes shown consecutively: No, the stand-alone episode without the regular cast “Mission to the Unknown” was shown first, then the four part story “The Myth Makers”, then the remaining 12 episodes of “The Daleks Masterplan”. So you can count this as 12 episodes, instead of 13 if you want, with a total running time of 5 hours.
  • Same writer and director throughout: Terry Nation wrote episodes 0-5 and 7 (counting Mission to the Unknown as episode 0) and Dennis Spooner wrote the rest. Derek Martinus directed Mission to the Unknown and Douglas Camfield directed the remaining 12 episodes.
  • Made as one production: episodes were rehearsed and recorded one a week, as was standard practice for the era.
  • Production code(s): T/A for Mission to the Unknown, V for the remaining episodes.

The War Games (April – June 1969)

  • Number of episodes: 10
  • Slot length: 25 minutes
  • Rough running time: 250 minutes = 4 hours and ten minutes
  • One on-screen story title: Yes
  • Episodes shown consecutively: Yes
  • Same writer and director throughout: Yes
  • Made as one production: episodes were rehearsed and recorded one a week, as was standard practice for the era.
  • Production code(s): ZZ

The Key to Time (September 1978 – February 1979)

  • Number of episodes: 26
  • Slot length: 25 minutes
  • Rough running time: 650 minutes = 10 hours and 50 minutes
  • One on-screen story title: No, there are six stories of four episodes each, except the last which is in six episodes
  • Episodes shown consecutively: Yes
  • Same writer and director throughout: No, each story has its own writer and director, although Robert Holmes writes two and David Fisher writes two, while Michael Hayes directs two.
  • Made as one production: Each of the six stories was made as a separate production.
  • Production code(s): Each of the six stories has its own production code from 5A to 5F.

The Trial of a Time Lord (September – December 1986)

  • Number of episodes: 14
  • Slot length: 25 minutes, but episode 14 was given 30.
  • Rough running time: 355 minutes = 5 hours and 55 minutes
  • One on-screen story title: Yes, episodes are only identified as “The Trial of a Time Lord, part X”
  • Episodes shown consecutively: Yes
  • Same writer and director throughout: No, five episodes are written by Robert Holmes, four by Philip Martin and five by Pip and Jane Baker. Four episodes were directed by Nicholas Mallet, four by Ron Jones and six by Chris Clough.
  • Made as one production: Made as four productions, even though parts 9-12 and parts 13-14 share a production code (all work on parts 13-14 was completed first, then work on parts 9-12 began, even though they shared sets and actors). They were later novelised and released on home video as four separate stories.
  • Production code(s): 7A, 7B and 7C.

Flux (October – December 2021)

  • Number of episodes: 6
  • Slot length: 50-60 minutes
  • Rough running time: 325 minutes = 5 hours and 25 minutes
  • One on-screen story title: Yes and no. Each episode is given the overall title “Flux” as well as a chapter number and an individual title.
  • Episodes shown consecutively: Yes
  • Same writer and director throughout: Chris Chibnall wrote all six episodes and shares credit with Maxine Alderton on episode four. Jamie Magnus Stone directed three episodes and Azhur Saleem the other three
  • Made as one production: Made in two production blocks, one for each director.
  • Production code(s): N/A

Calculating run-times discounting opening and closing credits and episode recaps is left as an exercise for the reader.

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