Massive change has characterised the upcoming series of Doctor Who ever since it was first announced, from its exciting new Doctor (played by Jodie Whittaker as the first female incarnation of the Time Lord) and its diverse cast all the way down to the writers and other behind-the-scenes staff.
However, one more change has now been unveiled which may be the biggest yet – Doctor Who is leaving its traditional Saturday evening slot and moving to Sundays, with the new ten-part series set to kick off on Sunday 7th October.
“New Doctor, new home!” showrunner Chris Chibnall said of the move.
“Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is about to burst into Sunday nights — and make the end of the weekend so much more exciting. Get everybody’s homework done, sort out your Monday clothes, then grab some special Sunday night popcorn, and settle down with all of the family for Sunday night adventures across space and time. (Also, move the sofa away from the wall so parents can hide behind it during the scary bits).
“The Thirteenth Doctor is falling from the sky and it’s going to be a blast.”
While a time slot change could be seen as a fairly minor alteration it can’t be overstated what a big shift this is for Doctor Who, which has run on Saturdays for more or less every episode (bar specials) since it returned to TV in 2005, making it a stalwart part of BBC1’s Saturday-night schedule for 13 years. As noted by the BBC, “never before in the show’s history has an entire series descended to earth on a Sunday”.
In fact, even during its classic series years (1963-1989) Doctor Who went out on Saturdays for decades, and only later began to move around the schedules (see below).
So why is it changing now? Well, in recent years there have been some clues that Doctor Who has been struggling on Saturday nights, where it was increasingly forced to compete with popular entertainment and reality TV programmes on other channels.
And on Saturday itself, Doctor Who was repeatedly shifted to different time slots, often even within the same series, in an attempt to accommodate other programmes (most prominently Strictly Come Dancing in 2015), sometimes leading to it airing at a much later time than audiences were used to.
“I feel it’s slightly used as a pawn in a Saturday night warfare,” former series star Peter Capaldi commented in 2015. “I feel as if it should go out at 7:30pm or around that time.”
“I see a lot of kids and a lot of families and these families who all love Doctor Who want to sit down and watch it together. I used to do that with my daughter when it came back so it has to be on at a time that’s reasonable for them to do that.”
Former showrunner Steven Moffat also partially blamed the series’ struggling ratings in recent years on such changes.
“I don’t think 8:25pm is brilliant for Doctor Who,” he said in 2015.
“I’m not blasting the BBC or getting cross or anything, but that’s not smart. I don’t think anyone thinks that’s smart. If there’s a slight, and it’s only a slight, drop off, it’s I think, that’s not where Doctor Who’s meant to be.”
So could a new Sunday-night time slot help alleviate these issues? Well, maybe. Sunday evening is certainly a more traditional night for drama with a more captive audience (people go out on Saturdays, but they stay in on Sundays, especially in the autumn/winter), and it would mean Who doesn’t have to contend with the vagaries of Strictly’s scheduling.
In fact, if Doctor Who followed the Strictly results show (which finishes around 8.00pm on Sundays) it might get a good lead-in of viewers from one of the biggest shows on TV. But perhaps more likely, it could run before Countryfile and Strictly at around 5:30pm, returning to its original teatime slot, while also recommitting to its core audience of children, for whom 8:00pm the night before school might be too late.
RadioTimes.com understands that the BBC will be revealing the specific time slot closer to broadcast, so we’ll have more of an idea how it’ll fit into the established Sunday-night schedules then.
Of course, given the rise of catch-up and on-demand viewing, it arguably matters less what night of the week Doctor Who airs on, with younger fans having the option of watching the show as and when they please on BBC iPlayer.
And, as noted above, it’s not like the series hasn’t changed the day it airs at any point in its 55-year history. While classic Who did usually air on a Saturday, in the 1980s the adventures of Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor were often shifted to weeknight slots, and the series managed to survive the change at the time.
Having said that, after a while moving to different days the series did end up returning to Saturdays during the time of Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, and further scheduling changes in the Sylvester McCoy era – which included pitting the Seventh Doctor episodes against popular soap Coronation Street, and burning through stories much more quickly on ever-changing weeknights – are sometimes credited with the series’ decline before it was cancelled in 1989.
Still, however the new time slot affects the ratings one thing’s for sure – this particular piece of time travel is a big new step for the Doctor.
Doctor Who returns to BBC1 on Sunday 7 October
This article was originally published on 5 September 2018