Matt Smith had a spiel in one of his Doctor Who episodes that Eleven only does “big days”, like Saturdays for example. A meta reference to the Time Lords’s traditional outpost as part the UK’s diet of weekend viewing, perhaps. For a time traveler Saturday Night might be a state of mind.
From 23 November 1963 to 21 March 1981 every episode of Doctor Who had its first screening on BBC1 on a Saturday evening. It’s part of the legend, the institution, so to speak. The holy grail of tv scheduling was to get that Basil Brush-Doctor Who-Generation Game- Starsky and Hutch-Match of the Day line up. Except there are two Doctors who were never Saturday Night warriors.
Tom Baker’s departure in 1981 signaled more than a change of face. For 18 seasons Doctor Who had been a Saturday night fixture but when Peter Davison re-materialised for the 19th the new face wasn’t the only change.
The new adventure, Castrovalva, kicked off on a Monday evening, January 4, 1982. A Monday! Would it be possible to get home from work in time?
But wait there is more! The episode ended on a cliffhanger as usual but the next episode would reach our screens tomorrow, Tuesday. Shades of a soap opera - Doctor Who was now a twice weekly show. This was the new order of things, this was how we watched the Fifth Doctor.
Celery civilisation had arrived! Peter Davison was the first bi Doctor.
Theatrical trade mag The Stage posited the theory that it was a sign the show was pegged for cancellation. The swine! But they might have been right in some respects.
Ratings wise, the new approach resulted in bit of a pick up for Doctor Who. Season Twenty saw a slight shift to Tuesday and Wednesday with a slight dip in viewers. A Daleks story, Warhead, was lost to industrial action.
The anniversary episode The Five Doctors got its premiere in Canada on November 23 and was shown in the UK on Friday, November 25 as part of the annual Children in Need telethon.
Season 21 saw a shift to Thursday and Friday. There was an exception as Resurrection of the Daleks was shown on two consecutive Wednesdays in bumper 45 minute episodes that provided relief from the Olympics. The season ended with the first four episodes of Colin Baker’s Doctor. The first regeneration to occur on a day other than Saturday.
Brash and sparkly, Baker’s first full season saw Doctor Who returned to Saturday night where he was routed by The A-Team. Ouch! Dare I say things got interesting after that. Saturday was cruel to the Sixth Doctor.
Season 24 materialised on a Monday night with the Seventh Doctor wigging up to impersonate his predecessor in an improvised regeneration. This time we only got one episode a week. This was the new order of things.
Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor moved to a Wednesday night for the 25th and 26th seasons, sandwiched against the might of soap opera Coronation Street. Though it should be noted Corrie ratings dipped by a couple of million on Doctor Who night. This has been referred to as “death by scheduling.”
As for the 27th season, well we had a bit of a wait for that ...