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DOCTOR WHO’s Move to Sunday Nights Was Inevitable

DOCTOR WHO’s Move to Sunday Nights Was Inevitable

Back in 1963, Saturday nights at “teatime” in Britain was a pretty good time slot for a TV show. It was perfect for family watching. If you have a show for kids, put it on in the early evening—kids can get a little scared, but not too much, and then the adults can watch whatever afterwards. But just as black & white and live-to-tape recording have been left in Doctor Who‘s past, so too has it become time to finally say farewell to one of the oldest and least relevant traditions of the BBC’s flagship sci-fi series: So long, Saturdays; hello, Sundays.

It was announced on Wednesday that series 11 of Doctor Who will premiere on Sunday, October 7, and each of the new episodes will air Sunday nights; in other words, the show is vacating the Saturday evening slot it has held since its return in 2005. In these past 13 years, viewership in the UK has changed drastically, with things like the iPlayer and DVR meaning fans didn’t have to forsake their Saturday night plans in order to watch Doctor Who.

As the years went on over the course of this run, the viewing figures for Doctor Who in the UK also went down—not a ton at first, but it was definitely a trend. The BBC played with putting the show out in the fall versus the spring, and at different times in the evening, but nothing really helped.

And let’s talk about how the show fared in the U.S. When BBC America began showing the series in 2009, and especially in 2010 with the first Matt Smith season, they were pushing it hard to be a contender, and for basic cable it did pretty decent numbers. But with AMC beginning to rake in huge numbers (and accolades) with Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, it proved Sunday nights were a much more prestigious night for TV, and that audiences were willing to make the move to cable for their programs. But to stave off the inevitable loss of viewers due to piracy, BBC America couldn’t move Doctor Who to Sunday nights, which meant they could only get so many viewers.

In the age we’re in now, with downloads much more prevalent and watching things at your own leisure becoming the norm, shows on Sunday night still manage to be appointment viewing. Those AMC shows still get a lot of viewers, but HBO’s Game of Thrones gets gargantuan numbers, and that seems to be the direction series 11 of Doctor Who is shooting for. New showrunner Chris Chibnall has said numerous times that he’s removing the continuity-reliant storylines that plagued the last couple of Capaldi years and is aiming to have a clean jumping-on point for new viewers. Saturday night is for people who are already fans; Sunday nights are for new people to join in.

Case in point, BBC America’s recent hit Killing Eve premiered on a Sunday with a relatively decent 400,000 viewers, and dropped to the high 300,000s for its next two weeks. But then word of mouth began to spread and figures grew until the finale had over 700,000 viewers. For a cable network like BBC America, this is substantial, and they’re betting, rightfully, that a new Doctor (the first woman, no less), a new staff, greater production value, and less need to have seen 55 years of continuity, on a night people are already primed to watch prestige programming, will equal viewing figures they haven’t experienced before.

Sunday night is similarly big for BBC One in the UK; while Doctor Who series 10 generally got in the 5 million viewers range, all of the same reasons series 11 will succeed on BBC America apply to BBC One. Chibnall said in his statement about the premiere date: “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.” Because what else do you do Sunday night? It’s a school night! You should probably stay home and watch TV.

I’m getting more and more jazzed for Doctor Who series 11, and the commitment to moving it to Sunday nights will make it a show more people can find. I remember a feverish push around Doctor Who series five here in the U.S. and it reached a large number of people who might not have found it otherwise. I can only see that same level of excitement happen again, and be bigger, for series 11.

Images: BBC

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor and the resident Whovian for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter!

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