Doctor Who in North America

Doctor Who in North America

Doctor Who in North America refers to the broadcast history of the long running British science fiction television series "Doctor Who" in the United States and Canada.

The beginning

"Doctor Who" had an early Canadian connection as the series was conceived by Canadian expatriate Sydney Newman while he was the British Broadcasting Corporation's Head of Drama. Newman maintained a guiding influence over the program until he left the BBC in 1967.

The series made its North American premiere in January 1965 on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) with the broadcast of William Hartnell's first 26 episodes, fourteen months following their first airing on the BBC. The CBC did not renew the program and it would not reappear on the network for 40 years.

The BBC series was originally sold to television stations in the United States in 1972, with Time-Life Television syndicating selected episodes of Jon Pertwee's time as the Doctor. Unfortunately, the series did not do well, despite an interesting write-up some years earlier in "TV Guide". Apparently, program directors of the commercial television stations that picked up the Jon Pertwee series did not know that the program was an episodic serial, and so it was constantly being shuffled about in the programming schedules. In 1978, Tom Baker's first four seasons as the Doctor were sold to PBS stations across the United States. At least four commercial stations (WOR in New York, KPRC-TV in Houston, WTVQ in Lexington, KY and WVEC in Norfolk, VA) also aired the show for a few years. This time, though, Time-Life was ready to have the Doctor poised for American consumption, by having stage and screen actor Howard Da Silva read prerecorded prologues and teasers for the next episode which would inform the viewer as to what was going on. To accommodate the teasers (which were made out of clips from the next episode), up to three minutes of original material was cut from each episode. Originally mistaken for a British comedy (along the lines of "Doctor in the House", "Good Neighbors", "Benny Hill", and "Monty Python"),Fact|date=February 2007 PBS program planners took the show at face value, but it soon achieved cult status.

In Canada, TVOntario (TVO) aired the program starting in 1976 with "The Three Doctors" and continued with the rest of the original series on a weekly basis until 1991 with series airing two to three years behind the BBC. TVO was also available to many viewers in the United States living in states bordering the Great Lakes. In order to fulfill the network's mandate as an educational broadcaster, TVO's transmissions of the Third Doctor's stories were hosted by Dr. Jim Dator while the first season of Fourth Doctor stories were hosted by science fiction writer Judith Merril, who called herself the "UnDoctor". Both hosts would fill out the show's half-hour time slot introducing each new episode and, afterwards, discussing it critically for several minutes often explaining how a story was at variance with scientific concepts or how it related to science fiction genres. [ [ Science Fiction Writer Robert J. Sawyer: Judith Merril: An Appreciation ] ] [ [ Judith Merril 1923-1997 ] ] [ [ Judith Merril ] ]

In the mid 1980s, as more stations began to show the existing 1960s episodes, Lionheart (the program's American distributor in the 1980s) dispensed with the older Time-Life prints containing the Howard Da Silva narrations. Lionheart also offered stations the choice between the standard 25-minute episodes, or a longer version that some stations termed "Whovies". These "omnibus editions", or, "movie versions" as they were also known, edited multi-part serials into a single, feature-length film, by cutting out the opening and closing credits, as well as the recap of the cliffhanger, between episodes. (Some edits were clumsy, particularly during Davison-era stories that frequently would have scenes interrupted by partial credit sequences, or feature the sudden appearance of the "electronic scream" sound effect that usually accompanied cliffhangers). This was the most common format used for PBS broadcasts of the series in the 1980s and 1990s. The shortest of these, representing two-episode serials, ran approximately 45 minutes. The longest "Whovie" release, a compilation of the 10-episode "The War Games" serial, ran for an uninterrupted four hours, though it was more often shown in two two-hour segments; the 14-episode "The Trial of a Time Lord" was, however, broadcast as four parts, divided, as with the novelizations of this story, into the serial's four major plotlines. This practice carried into the earliest VHS releases in the U.S. and the UK, particularly the first release of "The Brain of Morbius" which was considerably truncated. It was roundly disliked by many fans and the practice was dropped by the early 1990s.

The program became a part of 1980s geek chic, as popular as "Star Trek" was in the 1970s.Fact|date=July 2008 Conventions, personal appearances of cast members and production staff as well as the national airing on PBS of the 20th anniversary special "The Five Doctors" two days before the BBC sealed the success of the program in America. In November 1983, on the weekend after the airing of "The Five Doctors", four actors who played the Doctor (Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison and Colin Baker) and many of those who played the Doctor's companions over the series' first two decades on television appeared at a standing-room-only event in Chicago, the start of a Thanksgiving Day weekend celebration that continues annually.

In 1986, BBC Enterprises organized the Doctor Who USA Tour, a two-year traveling exhibition of props and memorabilia from the program, showcased in a 48-foot trailer decorated with alien landscapes from the show, as well police box entrances, and a mock-up of the TARDIS interior. Many tour stops included guest appearances from cast members.

The statewide PBS chain New Jersey Network was the most enthusiastic on the series, scheduling pre-1970 serials as well as being the first to broadcast the new season on the program in 1985. NJN staff member Eric Luskin hosted and produced three documentaries on the series, the latter a "behind the scenes" look at the production of the 25th anniversary story "Silver Nemesis".

On November 22, 1987, during a broadcast of the serial "Horror of Fang Rock" on Chicago, Illinois PBS affiliate WTTW-TV an unknown hacker wearing a Max Headroom mask jammed WTTW's broadcast signal and replaced it with their own audio and video for 88 seconds, concluding with the masked man being hit on his bare butt with a fly swatter. This incident was investigated by the Federal Communications Commission but the culprit's identity was never determined. [cite news
first = John
last = Camper
title = Powerful Video Prankster c-c-c-could become Max Jailroom
url =
format = reprint
work = Chicago Tribune
date = 1987-11-27
accessdate = 2006-09-08
] [cite web
url =
title = Doctor Who and the Video Pirate
accessdate = 2006-09-08
last = Spychalski
first = Thomas
work = Doctor Who In America/Worldwide
] [cite web
url =
title = Max Headroom Pirating Incident - WTTW Chicago - 11-22-87
accessdate = 2006-09-08
date = 2006-07-23
work = YouTube

Once the series ceased production in 1989, the number of stations carrying "Doctor Who" naturally dropped, although the program's popularity had been waning in the United States for some years. As most stations were in the practice of purchasing the omnibus "movie versions" of the series rather than the fourteen episodes produced annually in its last four years, stations only received four feature-length stories each January. In the 1990s, fewer PBS stations carried "Doctor Who", although a few continued to broadcast the series. In the mid-1990s WXEL in West Palm Beach, Florida aired several episodes never before broadcast in America.

Later years

National awareness of "Doctor Who" temporarily increased when the Fox network broadcast a new television movie on May 14, 1996. The movie, a co-production between the BBC and Universal Pictures, received a moderate amount of publicity in U.S. media, including a prominent story in "TV Guide". The producers of the movie had hoped that it might serve as a "backdoor pilot" for a new series of "Doctor Who", but sub-par ratings in the U.S. prevented this hope from being realized. Many reasons are given for the ratings failure of the TV movie, most of which focus on strong, "sweeps" competition from programs on other channels, including a pivotal episode of the popular sitcom "Roseanne". However, it failed not just against its competition on the night, but against other movies broadcast in the same time slot in other weeks. It netted about a 5.5 rating, or about a 9-share. Fox's "Tuesday Night Movie" slot was generally garnering an 11-share during this period.

At the same time, Fox was also broadcasting the dimension-hopping science fiction series "Sliders" which was facing its own struggles for renewal following average to middling ratings. [cite web
last = Nollinger
first = Mark
date = 1996-12-07
url =
title = Still Sliding Despite a Bumpy Ride
work = TV Guide
publisher = reprinted at Sliders fansite
accessdate = 2006-06-14
] Coincidentally, "Sliders" was owned by Universal Pictures, but when it came to supporting one series or another, the studio predictably backed the one that it wholly owned rather than the one it for which it was merely a co-production partner. As a result, when the new Fall schedule was announced, "Doctor Who" was not on the list. [cite web
last =Sullivan
first =Shannon Patrick
url =
title = Doctor Who (1996)
work = A Brief History of Time Travel
accessdate = 2006-06-14
] Universal did try to find "Doctor Who" a home on another broadcast or cable network, but were unsuccessful by the time their relationship expired with the BBC on December 31, 1997.

The television movie was the only instance to date of a "Doctor Who" adventure ever being terrestrially broadcast across the United States at the same time.

The original black and white Hartnell and Troughton-era episodes aired daily on the Canadian science-fiction channel Space on a following the channel's launch in late 1997 however the black and white episodes did not attract the hoped for viewership and were dropped after a year.

By the early 2000s, only a small percentage of the 1980s-era tally of PBS stations still carried the program. In late 2004, the BBC began to stop sending any more episodes to PBS stations and not to renew current contracts as they expire. According to a report by the BBC, this was due to negotiations with commercial U.S. networks to broadcast the new series of "Doctor Who". This meant that PBS stations had only their in-house libraries of "Doctor Who" stories to draw on, and several public television stations stopped broadcasting the programme altogether. By early 2006, only Maryland Public Television and Iowa Public Television still aired the classic series. After it became clear that the Sci Fi Channel would not be purchasing the rights to the classic series, BBC Worldwide offered the show to American broadcast channels again. KBTC & KCKA in Washington began broadcasting the show again in June 2006.

On December 19, 2006 it was announced that BBC Worldwide and Vuze, Inc., a peer-to-peer technology firm, had a content agreement [cite press release
title = Azureus Announces Content Agreement with BBC Worldwide
publisher = Business Wire
date = December 19, 2006
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-28
] [cite news
title = BBC moves to file-sharing sites
work = BBC News
publisher = BBC
date = December 20, 2006
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-28
] and that legal copies of several BBC series; including "Doctor Who" are to be distributed by Azureus' Zudeo software to its U.S. users sometime in the future. At present it is unclear whether the series covered by this agreement is the 'Classic' series, the 2005 series, or both.

The new series

In 2005, media reports suggested that the Sci Fi Channel had expressed interest in the picking up the 2005 series revival, but ultimately did not do so that year. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation subsequently became the only North American broadcaster carrying the program that year, debuting it on April 5, 2005 to strong ratings. The Canadian broadcasts are formatted slightly differently than the UK version, with the addition of commercial breaks, introductions specially taped by Christopher Eccleston (Billie Piper also taped one for the Christmas special) and behind-the-scenes footage during the closing credits (mostly taken from "Doctor Who Confidential") in order to pad the 45-minute instalments to fill a 60-minute time-slot.

Initially, the Region 1 DVD release announced for February 14, 2006 was limited to Canada, with the US release delayed until a broadcaster could be found. When none seemed forthcoming, BBC Worldwide announced that the US DVD release would be available at the same time as the Canadian one. [cite web
date = 2005-11-30
url =
title = DVD for the USA
publisher =
accessdate = 2006-06-14
] In the interim, however, Series 1 was picked up by Sci Fi, so while the Canadian DVD release went ahead as scheduled the US DVD release was pushed back to July 4, 2006. [cite web
date = 2006-01-12
url =
title = Doctor Who checks into SCI FI
publisher =
accessdate = 2006-06-14
] [cite web
date = 2006-01-13
url =
title =SCI FI To Air New "Doctor Who"
publisher =Sci Fi Wire
accessdate =2006-06-14
] Series 1 began airing on Sci Fi on March 17, 2006. [cite web
date = 2006-03-17
url =
title =SCIFI.COM Schedulebot
accessdate =2006-06-14

In the Sci Fi Channel's broadcasts of Series 1, the episodes (which appear to run off the same master tapes used in Canada) were edited for time, and for added commercial breaks, although the cuts made for US broadcast appear to differ from those made for Canadian television. With commercials, the total runtime per episode is one hour. In addition, the "Next Time" trailers are edited out in favor of original Sci Fi teasers run on the right two-thirds of the screen while the original credits are "crushed" to the left.

The initial Sci Fi Channel broadcasts of Series 1 attained an average Nielsen Rating of 1.3, representing 1.5 million viewers in total.cite web
date = 2006-06-13
url =
title =Who Boosts SCI FI Ratings
publisher = Sci Fi Wire
accessdate =2006-06-14
] Although these ratings were less than those reached by Sci Fi's original series "Battlestar Galactica", "Stargate SG-1" and "Stargate Atlantis", they reflect a 44% increase in ratings and a 56% increase in viewership over the same timeslot in the second quarter of 2005, as well as increases of 56% and 57% in two key demographics. [cite web
date = 2006-03-28
url =
title =Ratings rise for SCI FI Friday season finales
publisher =GateWorld
accessdate =2006-06-14

"The Christmas Invasion" aired on the Sci Fi Channel on 29 September 2006, along with the first episode of Series 2, "New Earth". [cite web
url =
title = SCI FI Gets "Who" Season Two
accessdate = 2006-08-10
date = 2006-08-10
work = Sci Fi Wire
publisher = Sci Fi Channel
] They were subsequently followed by the rest of Series 2, which completed airing on 22 December 2006. The second series did not fare quite as well in the ratings, averaging a 1.05 household Nielsen rating. [ [ Breaking News - Mixed Results for USA, Sci Fi Winter Launches | ] ]

The third season began airing on the Sci Fi Channel on July 6th, 2007. [ [ Sci Fi Channel Unveils Its Biggest Summer Yet With New Original Series And Returning Hits ] ] The first two episodes of season three, "The Runaway Bride" and "Smith and Jones", earned 0.9 Nielsen ratings. [] Later episode "The Lazarus Experiment" earned a 0.8 rating, but the last two episodes and of the season, "The Sound of Drums" and "The Last of the Time Lords" both earned 1.0 ratings. The third season averaged 1.3 million viewers. []

The season four premiere episode, "Voyage of the Damned", earned a 1.1 rating and captured 1.48 million viewers, making it the best-rated season premiere since the pilot and the episode with the most viewers since 2006. [ [ Breaking News - 'DOCTOR WHO' RETURNS TO SCI FI WITH BEST SEASON PREMIERE SINCE SEASON 1 | ] ] The season finale earned a 1.0 rating and 1.26 million viewers. Season 4 as a whole was rated 25% higher than season 3 in household ratings, and 17% higher in number of viewers. []

The cable/satellite network BBC America began re-airing the entire 2005 series in the US since November 21, 2006. In December of the same year it was announced that US PBS station KTEH 54, which services San Jose, California, had acquired the rights to broadcast the 2005 episodes, [cite news
last = Benjamin F
first = Elliot
title = US PBS Station Gets New Who
work = News
publisher = Outpost Gallifrey
date = 19 December 2006
url = | accessdate = 2006-12-28
] making it the first public television station to publicise this acquisition of the new series. This news was shortly followed by a press release from CET, another PBS station this time servicing Cincinnati, Ohio, that they too had acquired the Eccleston episodes for broadcast.cite press release
publisher = CET official website (
date = December 22, 2006
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-30
] The episodes will air on Thursdays, beginning in Spring 2007, however a specific starting airdate has yet to be announced. On February 20, Outpost Gallifrey reported that another 38 PBS broadcasters, in total 40, have announced that they have acquired the rights to the Eccleston episodes and that they could begin to broadcast them as early as March 1.cite news
last = Benjamin F
first = Elliot
title = 40 PBS Stations Airing Eccleston DW Episodes So Far
work = News
publisher = Outpost Gallifrey
date = 20 February 2007
url =
accessdate = 2007-02-21
] On March 3, 2007, KERA-TV, the PBS station in Dallas, Texas, aired the episodes "Rose" and "The End of the World", as well as the episode "Bringing Back the Doctor" of "". [cite web |url= |title=Program Information |accessdate=2007-03-04 |work=KERA-TV website ] In addition, WTTW 11 in Chicago has been airing repeats of the new series. Episodes typically air on Saturday evenings at 10:00 P.M. Further PBS stations have acquired the rights and begun airing the series at various times.

The Sci Fi Channel began airing Series 4 on Friday, April 18, 2008. [ [ Doctor Who | SCIFI.COM ] ] The CBC will air the fourth series beginning on September 19, 2008 and is repeating the first three series on its digital channel bold. [ [ CBC: No News Yet on Series 4] , Doctor Who Information Network, accessed May 1, 2008] The CBC is not given an "in association with..." screen credit during the closing credits of series 4 episodes, unlike its credit during the first three series.


Initially, the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, the British "Doctor Who" fan club had North American chapters but by the early 1980s decided to divest themselves of international components for administrative reasons. As a result, national fan organizations sprang up in North America, including the North American Doctor Who Appreciation Society (which took over from DWAS), the Doctor Who Fan Club of America (which organized regional weekend events with an actor headlining the event), the Friends of Doctor Who, and the Canada-based Doctor Who Information Network (which was originally a DWAS chapter). Most of these organizations folded by the 1990s (Friends of Doctor Who lasting to the end of that decade) although the Doctor Who Information Network still continues (celebrating its 25 anniversary in 2005) and is now the longest-running "Doctor Who" fan club in North America.

Local fan groups also developed, some disbanding when the series ended production, others which are still running; among those still in operation are the Prydonians of Prynceton (New Jersey), the Guardians of Gallifrey (Florida), Doctor Who New York and the Gallifreyan Embassy of Long Island (New York), the Atlanta Gallifreyans (Georgia) and the Time Meddlers of Los Angeles (California). Other prominent fan groups have included the Unearthly Children (Pennsylvania), Friends of the Time Lord and UNIT (Massachusetts), T.A.R.D.I.S. (Arizona), the Legion of Rassilon (Northern California), Emerald City Androgums (Washington state), Motor City TARDIS (Michigan), the St. Louis CIA (Missouri), Space City Time Lords and the International House of Daleks (Texas) and the Chronicles of Who (Illinois). Many others have existed over the years.

Fan support of the 'Classic' series, while not as pronounced as in its heyday in the 1980s, continues, especially in light of the current revival of the program. As of 2008, three annual events continue in America that are exclusively devoted to both 'generations' of the series: the popular Gallifrey One (which has been running annually since 1990) which takes place in February in the Los Angeles area, the smaller Chicago TARDIS (begun in 2001) taking place in late November, and the Sci Fi Sea Cruise which runs out of different ports annually to destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean. Although not exclusively devoted to "Doctor Who", the Massachusetts-based New England Fan Experience (formerly United Fan Con) in early November also features one or more actors from the series each year, while the start-up Georgia event TimeGate Atlanta also focuses on the program as well as other series (such as Stargate). Another announced convention, Hurricane Who, is set to begin in late 2009 in Florida. San Diego, California's annual Comic Con (the largest media-oriented convention event in the Western hemisphere) has also featured related guests, especially from the Doctor Who spinoff series Torchwood, due to that show's current popularity on BBC America.

Many expressions of fan interest have moved online exclusively. Though the series is a product of the United Kingdom, North American support for the program online has been as fervent and, in some cases, more prominent. Shaun Lyon's Outpost Gallifrey website, statistically the most popular fan-created Doctor Who website in the series' history, originates out of Los Angeles and continues to support its extremely popular discussion forum community. Dr. Siobhan Morgan's "The Doctor Who Homepage," one of the earliest Doctor Who information pages and still a widely-regarded portal site, is based in Illinois. Shannon Patrick Sullivan's "A Brief History of Time" and Dominique Boies' "The Doctor Who Guide," both popular Doctor Who reference sites, are based out of Newfoundland and Ontario, Canada, respectively. More recently, the Doctor Who pages of, the website of the Sci Fi Channel (which broadcasts the new series episodes) attracts hundreds of fans to its own forum community. Dozens of other popular Doctor Who web pages continue to thrive, and the earlier UseNET newsgroup rec.arts.drwho - a central source of Doctor Who discussion during the 1980s and 90s - still attracts fans.

In the late 2000s, new media developments led to several worldwide internet radio and podcast broadcasts. One of the largest, Doctor Who: Podshock, hosted by Ken Deep and Louis Trapani, originates out of New York while featuring international co-hosts in the USA, Canada and United Kingdom. Meanwhile, Joey Reynolds' American Who webcast has been hosted on select public radio stations as well as internet radio channels.


ee also

*Doctor Who DVD releases, including North America (Region 1) releases
*Max Headroom pirating incident

External links

;General Sites
* [ Doctor Who] at SCIFI.COM
* [ Doctor Who] on BBC America
* [ Outpost Gallifrey]
* [ The Doctor Who Home Page] (Nitro 9)
* [ A Brief History of Time (Travel)]
* [ The Doctor Who Guide]
* [ "This Week in Doctor Who"] , weekly listing of Doctor Who airings worldwide

* [ Gallifrey One] (February, Los Angeles, CA)
* [ Chicago TARDIS] (November, Chicago, IL)
* [ New England Fan Experience] , formerly United Fan Con (November, Boston area, MA)
* [ Sci Fi Sea Cruise]
* [ TimeGate] (May, Atlanta, GA)
* [ Hurricane Who] (Orlando, FL; begins October 2009)

;Fan Organizations
* [ Doctor Who Information Network (DWIN)] (Canada)
* [ Prydonians of Prynceton] (New Jersey)
* [ Time Meddlers of Los Angeles] (California)
* [ Gallifreyan Embassy of Long Island] (New York)
* [ Doctor Who New York] (New York)
* [ Guardians of Gallifrey] (Florida)
* [ Atlanta Gallifreyans] Georgia

* [ Doctor Who: Podshock]
* [ American Who]

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