I’m a Doctor Who fan going back many decades — and the 60th anniversary specials are about to land on our shores. Here’s how to watch them down under.
How Do I? covers the basics, because we’ve all got to start somewhere.
Introductory note: I’m staying as spoiler-free as possible, so the ONLY thing about the specials I’m putting in here are the episode names and the name of one of the cast members (but not the role they play). No trailers, no other images, and any comments that are spoileriffic will be deleted before being published. Just so you know. Obey Wheaton’s Law, people.
This is one of those topics that seems to be doing the rounds yet again, with a lot of disinformation or misunderstanding about what’s available where.
That kind of thing makes me cranky, and when I’m cranky, I write about it. So I’m going to break this down into a series of pretty simple questions.
What are the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials?
The BBC has commissioned three special episodes of Doctor Who, timed to (mostly) coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of the transmission of the first episode of Doctor Who “An Unearthly Child”.
The three specials are:
- The Star Beast
- Wild Blue Yonder
- The Giggle
When are the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials being broadcast in Australia?
So… this is where it gets trickier.
Classically, the answer to that would have been “on the ABC and/or ABC iView”… but not this time around.
In the UK, the episodes will have the following transmission dates and times:
|Episode||Transmission Date||Transmission Time|
|The Star Beast||Saturday, 25 November 2023||6:30pm GMT|
|Wild Blue Yonder||Saturday, 2 December 2023||6:30pm GMT|
|The Giggle||Saturday, 9 December 2023||6:30pm GMT|
However, for everywhere except the UK, the specials are exclusive to paid streaming subscription service Disney+.
Disney+ has (at the time of writing) not made it entirely clear when they will make the episodes available. It may be simultaneous with BBC transmission, or — as the older ABC iView deal had it — the minute those episodes conclude.
Here’s how that timing would look if they’re able to simulcast for current AEDT timing (because that’s the time zone I’m in, folks in Brisbane/Adelaide/Perth, adjust as needed)
|Episode||Transmission Date (Australia)||Transmission Time|
|The Star Beast||Sunday, 26 November 2023||5:30am AEDT|
|Wild Blue Yonder||Sunday, 3 December 2023||5:30am AEDT|
|The Giggle||Sunday, 10 December 2023||5:30am AEDT|
If Disney+ doesn’t get the rights to them until the BBC’s finished its first broadcast of each episode, add an hour or so to those times. Mind you, this is guesswork, because right now, just a few days before assumed transmission, if you search Disney+ in Australia for “Doctor Who”, you get…
Which is entertaining given that Neil Patrick Harris is in the new Who specials, but not that helpful.
Update: With a huge nod of thanks towards Puggs — both for the tip-off and the tip (remember folks, support independent media if you want it to be independent!), Disney+ has finally actually added some detail.
I’ve cropped the picture just a little as it has a plot synopsis, and I want to stay true to my promise not to spoil anything, but this is what you get if you search for Doctor Who now:
Which doesn’t tell us much — and it’s equal parts amusing that it’s just “Special 1” and that Doogie Howser MD is STILL the first search term returned. It also doesn’t tell us when in terms of the time of day.
The essential takeaway here is that the episodes should be available on Sundays for Australians, probably early-ish in the morning.
Update: And that’s exactly what happened — and by all reports, both BBC iPlayer and Disney Plus had the first special available at the start of UK transmission time, so we can expect the second two to be available on Sundays from 5:30am.
Though if this morning’s episode is any indication, you may still need to search for it; Disney’s not doing much to promote the fact that it has the specials at all.
Why isn’t Doctor Who on the ABC?
Put simply, money.
The BBC makes a lot of money out of Doctor Who, but it’s also under intense pressure around its finances and especially what its licence fee might look like in the coming years.
As such, it’ll take money from overseas sources wherever it can — and indeed, the original ABC transmissions of classic and new Who were all commercial deals as well.
But who do you think was going to win in a money-flinging battle between the chronically underfunded ABC and the House of Mouse?
I really don’t want Disney+. Is there another way I can watch the 60th Anniversary Specials?
No, they won’t then be rebroadcast on the ABC next Monday or the week after or anything like that.
But they are having physical media releases once all three episodes have aired. So far, all I can see are pre-order options for UK buyers, not Australian ones, and with varying availability dates between mid-to-late December.
The availability of DVD and Blu-Ray options for Australian buyers have been spotty of late, with current distributors Madman Entertainment not listing them as locally available as yet.
However, we sit in the same DVD and Blu-Ray region as the UK, so if you’re super-keen, you could always import once it’s available.
Won’t people get the 60th specials “another way” (Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink, Arrrr)?
Yes, obviously, as with anything else, people are going to pirate these episodes, because people pirate everything and a lot of them have rather entitled attitudes.
But as someone who makes their living in a creative way, I’m not a big fan of saying “just go out and pirate it”.
It particularly annoys me when (and I’ve seen this online, more than once) people proclaim that they’re “the biggest Doctor Who fan ever”… but who won’t pay a cent to actually watch it. If you like a creative thing, support that creative thing. Is that so hard?
Ahem. Speaking of which, if you’re finding this handy or like the way I write and create content…
Smooth, Alex. Smooooooooth.
Honestly, I’m also annoyed at the Disney+ deal and the lack of Doctor Who on the ABC, but in this case, I look at it this way.
A month of Disney+ — enough to see all three specials — runs $13.99 for (if you only watched Doctor Who and could resist the lure of a Doogie Howser MD binge-fest) three hours of entertainment. That’s a pretty reasonably priced movie ticket, right there.
What about 2005-era Who or Classic Who?
The Disney+ deal only covers the new specials and the new season — or series, it seems — with Ncuti Gatwa in the role of the Doctor, not the 2005-era episodes or the classic series that either concluded or paused in 1989 or 1996, depending on your point of view.
Right now, if you wanted to watch the 13 series of 2005-era Who, they’re available across a few streaming services, including Binge, Foxtel Now, Stan and Amazon Prime Video.
I don’t have any particular insight into how long those deals will last, but the reporting around the Disney+ deal indicates that Disney either didn’t have interest or wasn’t willing to pay for the rights to those.
What about the classic Doctor Who episodes? Up until recently, the only place streaming those episodes was subscription service Britbox, but they’ve apparently recently pulled all of those episodes. Which is weird, because Britbox is partly owned by… The BBC!
At the same time, The BBC has made all of those seasons available via BBC iPlayer for UK customers only for the first time. Is there a connection there? Maybe.
I suspect the biggest audience for classic Who are fans like myself who have had seriously lengthy periods of physical availability — I mean, there are Who stories I’ve owned as VHS tapes, DVDs and Blu-Rays by now, not to mention Target novels — and that licensing out such a large and diverse library of content, including slower moving black and white serials might be a bit of a tough sell for the commercial arm of the BBC.
Legally speaking, your best bet there might still be physical media — or emigrating to the UK.