Russell T. Davies Defends Doctor Who’s Timey-Wimey New Release Schedule

Russell T. Davies Defends Doctor Who’s Timey-Wimey New Release Schedule

There is perhaps no funnier dichotomy in sci-fi fandom than Doctor Who—a show that has inherently been about the nature of change and the mutability of time for six decades—having a fandom that, by and large, does not cope well with change. But one major change coming into the show’s new season has had UK audiences concerned… enough that Who’s returning showrunner has spoken up about it.

When Ncuti Gatwa’s debut season as the Doctor begins next month on the BBC and across the world on Disney+, it will do so in a staggered release: prioritizing the British series’ new home at Disney. While Doctor Who will still broadcast on TV in its traditional Saturday night time slot in the UK, it will debut first on streaming: launching at midnight local time on the BBC’s streaming service, iPlayer, to coincide with a 7pm eastern launch the day prior on Disney+. Naturally, Doctor Who fans, who are extremely good at letting people know when they’re annoyed about something, have spent the weeks since this announcement debating over the show’s shift in priorities—and concerns about having to spend most of a day dodging spoilers online if they want to watch Doctor Who on broadcast TV, as they have for the best part of 20 years at this point.

“You’re not having to change your habits to fit the show; the show is changing to fit you. And it’s adapting to the patterns of modern TV shows, which I believe will soon be the norm,” returning showrunner Russell T. Davies wrote of the decision in the latest issue of Doctor Who magazine (via Doctor Who TV). “This is the future, and it’s already here.”

Davies further acknowledged that in a global, streaming age, many audiences are already used to choosing how to watch shows—and in turn, how they then safeguard themselves from hearing spoilers before they do so. If anything, British audiences are already used to it for major US series like Game of Thrones or The Last of Us, which in a similar manner as Doctor Who will: a simultaneous streaming release in the early hours of the morning, followed by an evening broadcast more suited to UK time zones. “If you want to stay spoiler-free before Saturday night’s airing, it can be done. I managed to stay spoiler-free when Game of Thrones aired in the UK during the early morning hours. I would watch it at 9pm that night, blissfully unaware,” Davies added. “Perhaps I’m not as active online as you, but managing your online activity for about 18 hours on a Saturday should be feasible.”

But Davies added that this was not a way to dismiss people’s concerns—but simply an acknowledgement that the way people watch TV has changed since Doctor Who returned in 2005, and the audience has always reflected that. There’s no way to craft the perfect release time that will suit every fan in the world at all times. “It’s easy to say ‘stay offline’ when your health or job or nature might make that impossible. And I’m sorry, because then, yes, spoilers, will fly,” Davies continued. “Unfortunately, there’s always been a subset of viewers hitting the spoiler problem, like the tons of people who work Saturdays and on night-shifts. They’ve had to negotiate this for years. So there has never been a transmission pattern in the digital age that’s perfect for everyone.”

“And to be honest. If you’re that online, and cannot change… folks, you stand a high chance of getting spoiled anyway. Before transmission,” Davies concluded. “That’s the modern world. Beyond my control.”

Doctor Who returns on May 10 on Disney+.