Five Bottle Episodes Perfect For Lockdown - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Five Bottle Episodes Perfect For Lockdown

How's that self-isolating going?

Bottle episodes, ones which usually feature only the main set and cast members, are a fairly common way to allow as much of the budget as possible that a TV show may have to go to the more expensive episodes produced in a season. In short, a cost cutting exercise. Scott Brazil, executive producer/director of The Shield, described bottle episodes as...
"...the sad little stepchild whose allowance is docked in order to buy big brother a new pair of sneaks".
But just because the budget is low doesn't mean the quality of a bottle episode has to be poor, far from it. May writers and production teams have come up with incredibly exciting installments, made all the more tense and/or claustrophobic by the confined space available and 'bottling' up the action.

So during these times of self-isolation and containment within four walls, join us as we look back at five of the best examples of this TV trope, beginning with a bit of classic Doctor Who...

Doctor Who: Edge Of Destruction
The third ever Doctor Who story, The Edge of Destruction, was broadcast in two weekly parts on 8th February and 15th February 1964. The series had only been picked up for thirteen episodes by the BBC and the previous two stories had contained eleven episodes between them; hence, a two-part story was needed. It also needed to be produced on a shoestring as very little budget remained. David Whitaker wrote the scripts in two days, featuring only the four main characters and taking place entirely inside the TARDIS.

10 million viewers tuned into the first part, most had joined the Doctor's adventures thanks to the previous serial, The Daleks, which had already secured the show's future before The Edge Of Destruction was broadcast. Controversially, the serial's sequences in which Susan uses scissors as a weapon "digressed from the code of violence in programmes"...

Susan discovers Ian's eaten the last Hob-Nob and there are no Tesco delivery slots for three weeks!

The Edge Of Destruction depicts the four main characters turning on each other and acting strangely when the TARDIS is taken over by outside forces. It's apt viewing during this time as it can be quite hard to maintain sanity when stuck within four walls for weeks on end with the same people. Fortunately none of the TARDIS crew resorted to injecting themselves with bleach to solve the problem! (DO NOT inject yourself with bleach!!)

The X-Files: Ice
Several early episodes of The X-Files were conceived as bottle episodes, including Space, Darkness Falls, and the excellent season one story Ice.

Many of us are fortunate to be at home with family and loved ones, and if you're in the UK you will know that the weather has been unseasonably good, meaning if you've got a garden or outside space then you've likely been making the most of it. Spare a thought for those in freezing climates, then.

The plot of Ice shows FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigating the death of an Alaskan research team. Isolated and alone, the agents and their accompanying team start experiencing impulsive fits of rage. No bats or pangolins were involved though, as you'd expect from The X-Files it's the existence of extraterrestrial parasitic organisms that drive their hosts into insanity.

Ice was inspired by an article in Science News about an excavation in Greenland, and series creator Chris Carter also cited John W. Campbell's 1938 novella Who Goes There? as an influence. Although the producers thought that Ice would save money by being shot in a single location, it actually ended up exceeding its own production budget.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: The Box
Many, many comedies have produced classic bottle episodes; from Community's Season 2 meta-example Cooperative Calligraphy, to Seinfeld’s The Chinese Restaurant, and the Friends bottle episode The One Where No One's Ready (which is the best example from Friends as they produced plenty of episodes with just the main cast and the apartment sets), but arguably the best comedic bottle episode example comes from the fifth season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

In The Box, Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) spend the night interrogating Phillip Davidson (Sterling K. Brown), a dentist who is accused of being the prime suspect behind his partner's death. The interrogation turns out to be more difficult than expected when Davidson manages to have excuses for everything.

For his performance in the episode, Brown was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. And if you're in need of a bit of light relief during these difficult times then you could do much worse than mainlining Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Netflix.

Breaking Bad: Fly
Pretty much every episode of Breaking Bad is a stand-out episode - they're all just so good! But the third-season episode Fly may just be the best.

Directed by Rian Johnson, Fly was produced as a result of Breaking Bad's considerable budgetary restrictions and being unable to afford the $25,000–$35,000 needed to move the production trucks to a new location. Series creator Vince Gilligan remarked:
"We were hopelessly over budget ... And we needed to come up with what is called a bottle episode, set in one location."
Featuring just Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) (plus a few extras), Fly takes place almost exclusively in the secret laboratory used to cook crystal methamphetamine. Gilligan noted that the limited setting and cast allowed for a slower pace and deeper exploration of character traits and motives:
"Even if financial realities didn't enter into it, I feel as a showrunner that there should be a certain shape and pace to each season, and the really high highs that you try to get to at the end of a season — the big dramatic moments of action and violence, the big operatic moments you're striving for — I don't think would land as hard if you didn't have the moments of quiet that came before them. The quiet episodes make the tenser, more dramatic episodes pop even more than they usually would just by their contrast."
We're all experiencing those quieter moments right now (although I suspect most of us aren't cooking meth whilst doing so) so it's good to keep this in mind - these moments of quiet and isolation will pass and the highs (again, nothing to do with meth) will return and likely "pop" even more than they ever did.

Doctor Who: Midnight
We're finishing where we came in, returning to the world of Who but in it's modern format.

Since The Edge Of Destruction, Doctor Who has produced occasional bottle episodes, none of them surpass the atmospheric Tenth Doctor adventure Midnight though. Apart from bookend scenes at a holiday resort, it is set entirely on a shuttle bus with a monster depicted only via sound effects and the acting of the guest cast.

Midnight is a bit of a tour de force for David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, arguably at his peak portrayal of the character. It's tense, it's claustrophobic and it features an unseen enemy. I think many of us can relate to that right now. An unseen foe who we want to keep away.

I truly hope it does stay away from your door. Stay safe. Stay inside. And stay well.

Which are your favourite bottle episodes? Let us know in the comments below.

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