More big changes for Doctor Who as season 11 moves to Sundays


The fact that a female Doctor is about to take over the TARDIS might not be the biggest change on this season of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who‘s new season is apparently all about change.

Not only are we getting the series’ first ever female Doctor in Jodie Whittaker, there will be a trio of new companions, a new showrunner, a slew of new writers and directors, and a story that focuses on new adventures and adversaries rather than classic monsters.

Why should season 11’s airdate be any different?

The BBC officially confirmed that the new season will drop in October, with a premiere simulcast taking place on October 7 in both the U.S and U.K. That’s not only a bit late in the year for a new season of Doctor Who to premiere, but it’s also on a completely different day.

For the first time in its 55-year history — yes, you read that right — Doctor Who will air on Sunday nights.

Who has been a Saturday night staple for most of its run, save a brief midweek move back during the 1980s that pretty much everyone never talks about now. (In fact, some longtime fans blame that schedule shift for the fact that ratings tanked back then.)

So why the switch now?

New showrunner Chris Chibnall has stressed again and again that he wants to make this season the most accessible installment of Doctor Who ever. This means new characters and accessible stories that are easy for new viewers to connect with. It also, apparently, means taking the show where viewers are. Sunday night is still, traditionally, the most-watched TV night of the week. It’s why all those prestige shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld, Mad Men and all the period dramas you love on Masterpiece air there.

Airing Doctor Who on Sunday evening offers the show the highest number of eyeballs possible — even if it does put the sci-fi drama in direct competition with the heavy hitting dramas of the world. It’s possible that Who is going to find itself going up against Victoria in England, depending on when the period drama returns to ITV this Fall. It will also likely face stiff viewing competition from popular series like Poldark, The Walking Dead and Outlander in the U.S.

I guess that means our little sci-fi show is all grown up now.

There’s also an element of stepping up to the next level here. Doctor Who isn’t going to be a genre series that airs on a weekend night no one watches anymore. It’s moving on up — literally — to the mainstream. Or, at least, it’s trying to. Whether this move will result in higher ratings is as yet unknown. Not only is there a ton more competition generally on Sunday nights, many fans already plan to watch the series at a non-broadcast time anyway.

Many were probably already used to DVR-ing the show and watching it later, because they had plans on Sunday nights. Some hardcore fans may have already been tapping into VPNs or live streams to watch the British airing several hours prior to the American one. These grey-area viewing methods may become more popular among those who’d rather spend their Sunday nights with Outlander, for example. Or perhaps these viewers will turn to iTunes subscriptions or BBC America’s next-day online viewing. Maybe Chibnall’s right, and Doctor Who will become a Sunday night ratings juggernaut the way he so clearly wants it to.

Or, as he put it in his official statement:

"New Doctor, new home! 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."

However, this all feels extremely weird. Most hardcore Whovians have rather elaborate Saturday night traditions during the airing of new episodes. (Or, at least, I do.) It’s hard to imagine Doctor Who just becoming another name in a long list of shows we all have to make sure we watch on Sunday nights.

It’s hard enough to get up on Monday mornings now.

And despite the fact that we (finally!) know when season 11 will premiere, we still know almost nothing about it story-wise. We learned that the season 11 premiere is titled “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”, but the BBC didn’t even provide a description for the episode. Ostensibly, the title means that things will likely pick up right where we left off in Christmas special “Twice Upon a Time”, which saw a just-regenerated Doctor plummeting out the doors of an exploding TARDIS.

After that? No idea. Chibnall has been working really hard to keep the secrets of the newest season under wraps, and we may not find out much more about what to expect between now and the season premiere.

Change sure is scary, isn’t it?

Related Story. Doctor Who: Female writers and directors announced for season 11. light

Doctor Who returns — at last! — to BBC America on October 7.