Yep, it’s that time of year again.
While ‘Doctor Who’ is currently on hiatus (and will remain so for at least the next few months), the fact that we’re now almost certainly closer to the season premiere than last year’s Christmas special means that the rumor mill is in high gear. And right now, those rumors are focused on when we’ll be properly introduced to the Thirteenth Doctor. In addition to whispers of a teaser trailer, that also includes speculation as to when, exactly, the season will air.
The BBC, of course, is notorious for waiting until the last possible moment to announce premiere dates for ‘Doctor Who’. Right now, all we know for sure is that the season will consist of ten episodes – the first of which will clock in at sixty-five minutes, with the remainder running the usual fifty minutes – which will begin airing this autumn. Strictly speaking, the season lasts from September 23rd to December 21st, 2018, though it might be best not to take that already broad premiere window too literally, as past “autumn” premiers have seen ‘Doctor Who’ reach the airwaves as early as late August.
That’s as specific as the BBC has been to date. “But wait,” you might be thinking, “I heard ‘Doctor Who was going to premiere in October. Doesn’t this idiot get paid to know that stuff?” And that’s just rude. Words hurt, you know? But yes, a photo from a recent BBC Worldwide showcase did include a note saying that ‘Doctor Who’ would “deliver” in October. But, as the Radio Times explains, when BBC Worldwide (the BBC’s commercial arm, responsible, among other things, for licensing and overseas distribution) talks about a show having been “delivered,” they usually mean that it is ready for distribution to foreign buyers. Put another way, it should almost certainly be ready to air by October, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will actually be airing in October.
Now, if we assume that the eleventh season will begin in October (if not later), that places the end of its ten episode run sometime in December. This, in turn, brings us to a subject we’ve heard even less about than the season premiere: the Christmas special. Every year since the series’ 2005 revival, ‘Doctor Who’ has produced a Christmas special, but it’s June and we’ve heard nothing about the 2018 special. That includes a lack of confirmation that one will even be happening. This has naturally resulted in speculation that the show might skip the special this year, or that showrunner Chris Chibnall simply isn’t interested in doing them for one reason or another. None of that is official. All we know for sure is that the eleventh season is ten episodes in length, which apparently does not include a special. But the 2018 Chrismas special (assuming there is one) could just as easily be counted toward the twelfth season’s episode order. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor did not include a Christmas episode, but we still got one that year in the form of ‘Last Christmas’.
It’s also possible that the 2018 Christmas episode could come as part of the regular order instead of a separate special. This would mark a break in tradition, but again, it wouldn’t be the first time. It would be the second, following ‘The Feast of Steven’, the seventh episode of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ storyline. In contrast to modern specials, ‘The Feast of Steven’ was something of an interstitial episode. When it was realized that an episode would air on Christmas day, the production team put together a lighter, more comedic episode that provided both a break from the larger storyline and ensured that viewers who were unable to tune in on Christmas (in the days before reruns and home video) wouldn’t miss anything of consequence.
In addition to a Christmas episode being worked into the regular run of the season, it’s possible – though unlikely, unless the season kicks off exceptionally late in the year – that we could see a “mid-season” Christmas special. Again, there is a precedent for this during the Moffat era, specifically the seventh season, which aired its first half in late 2012, followed by a second half in early 2013. In between the two halves, the show aired its customary Christmas special, in that case, ‘The Snowmen’.
However, the Radio Times has “had it pretty much confirmed” (though there has yet to be any official word to this effect, the Radio Times is essentially the next best thing) that the upcoming season will air entirely in 2018, with Chibnall hoping to run all ten episodes weekly with no breaks. Assuming that to be the case, we can approximate a start date. Assuming that there is a Christmas episode this year, and assuming that it is not one of the ten confirmed episodes, the season would have to wrap by the week of December 16th-22nd at the latest. Assuming the series retains its traditional Saturday timeslot, that means the first episode would have to air by October 20th in order to prevent the regular season’s scheduling from conflicting with the Christmas special.
‘Doctor Who’ will return later this year for its eleventh season. This season will see the arrival of new showrunner Chris Chibnall and the Thirteenth Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker. In addition to Whittaker, the new season will star Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gil. Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on the upcoming season of ‘Doctor Who’ as it becomes available!