The When of Who

This week Whovian Leap speculates on scheduling and travels through times and dates. 

What is the best time for Doctor Who? All the time obviously! Every rel of every day! Saturday has almost always traditionally been ‘the day of the Doctor’, but what is the right month to start a series and what time should episodes air?

Back the Sixties, Doctor Who was on television practically every month of the year. The show started its tradition as a tea time show and would remain so until Davison’s day. From Pertwee onwards seasons started either in December or January and ran to May or June. This was also the case for Tom Baker’s first season. Then seasons would start either in August or September and would then continue for 26 weeks. 

Davison’s seasons started in January and abandoned the traditional Saturday slot, airing twice midweekly around 7pm. Colin Baker’s first full season moved back to Saturday and ran for only thirteen weeks but with extended 45 minute episodes. This too started in January.

In 1985 Borusa-like BBC Controller Michael Grade made his move and scooped Doctor Who into its own Death Zone. He slashed the season length to fourteen twenty five minute episodes. Baker’s final season return to Saturdays and ran from September to December. The time of year remained the same until the show’s cancellation, apart from Season 25 which started and concluded one month later. Like Davison, McCoy’s episodes generally aired midweek post 7pm. McGann’s first outing, the TV Movie, aired in the UK on Monday 27 May 1996 at 8.30 pm. 

When the series returned, RTD made a point of placing the show at 7pm, so new viewers would know when to tune in, but this start time has become increasingly erratic over the years. In 2005 Doctor Who started in March and ran till June. This would roughly be the pattern until the “Specials” which punctuated 2009.

Moffat’s Who has generally started at Easter, though split series 6B and 7A aired at the end of summer. Capaldi’s first season ran from August to November last year. His episodes generally aired later in the evening than usual, some starting at 7.30 and even 8.30 pm. 

Given the historical precedents, when is the best time for Doctor Who? It is of course a highly subjective matter. Personally speaking, the later months of the year feel right for the show. When it is dark outside, Doctor Who just feels scarier. Besides if there are people having barbecues on bright summer evenings, it means they aren’t watching Doctor Who.  

7pm is the perfect time for the show. Any later might be past the kiddies’ bedtime and even worse clashes with the pub! Some may argue that in the days of catch-up TV all this talk of timing is irrelevant, but others argue that Doctor Who should be event television, an experience to be shared simultaneously by families all over the country and worldwide.

So when will Series 9 air? A recent tweet by one of the show’s producers, swiftly and mysteriously deleted, suggests a September start for this year. Will the Twelfth’s adventures continue to be broadcast late in the evening? Sooner or later, we will find out. After all, it’s just a matter of time.

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