The term “bottle episode” is a strange one. Those expecting TV shows about alcoholism or a pub fight a là Kingsman: Secret Service may be somewhat disappointed, but basically, the name refers to episodes that are filmed almost exclusively in one location with the central cast. Bottle episodes are designed to be as cheap as possible, which means that there should be no guest stars and no new sets used at all.
The original idea behind bottle episodes was to keep production costs down, saving money for expensive, climactic finales, but the format has since become a staple of television. The term was first coined by the original Star Trek series, which featured a number of episodes set solely in the Starship Enterprise, presumably to save money for more of those dime store alien costumes. Starship Enterprise, “Ship-in-a-bottle,” bottle episodes… you get the picture.
Although a key aim of bottle episodes is to cut down costs, some classic shows have utilized the format to take things back to basics, revitalizing their characters by honing in on the dynamics that made them so popular to begin with. Some of the more famous bottle episodes won’t be found on this list, but what you will see is an eclectic mix of shows from both the UK and US which push the boundaries of the format in new and exciting ways.
What I’m really trying to say is… sorry Star Trek fans. Maybe next time.