In a final blow to Saturday night TV, Doctor Who now appears first on BBC iPlayerJames Pardon / Bad Wolf / BBC Studios

It’s 6:27pm, Saturday night, 23rd April 2011. We’re time travelling – appropriate, since we’re returning to the premier episode of Doctor Who season six. It’s Matt Smith’s heyday. It’s the most recorded Who episode ever. It nearly killed nine-year-old me from excitement. Whether you’re a Whovian or not, you’ll recognise the scene: it’s three minutes before your favourite show airs for the first time in a year, live on TV.

As a nine year old who’s been stung by BBC iPlayer before, you can’t count on streaming services. You don’t even know what one is. You need to watch this live. You’ll even watch the end of Countryfile to guarantee you don’t miss a second. You’re shouting up the stairs, one eye stuck on Beeb One, convinced your parents will miss the start and you’ll have to explain who Rory is, again. As you’re squirming in your seat, hopped up on hot chocolate and nerdery – and an obsession with River Song that will make sense in a few years – the rest of the family scrambles onto the sofa. It’s the perfect Saturday night.

At least, that’s how things used to go.

“Used to” because, in a bit of time-warping that might make even the Doctor turn his nose up, each episode of the new season of Who (with Ncuti Gatwa’s infinitely cool iteration of the Doctor) drops first at midnight on iPlayer.

“There’s something fleetingly wonderful about live TV”

Sure, they materialise (insert TARDIS noise here) on BBC One later that day. The family can still gather around the TV tonight to see final episode ‘Empire of Death’ (believe me, I’m psyched). Saturday night viewing lives on, with one of its original bastions – albeit with a timey-wimey twist – still leading the charge 60 years later.

Or is it? Buckle up kids, I’m about to whinge.

Picture that crowded sofa. Would it be the same if one of you sneakily watched the episode 18 hours earlier? How about if someone accidentally heard a spoiler over breakfast? Would you all gasp simultaneously, elbowing each other in a way that really compromises the structural integrity of those crisps you’re holding, if you weren’t all watching with fresh (soon to be square) eyes? Remember the aftermath too: shouting down a landline (remember landlines?) at your friend, desperately trying to determine what the TV gods have in store next week. There’s something fleetingly wonderful about live TV – something irreplaceable.

“The grip of streaming services upon us poor, helpless viewers is undeniable”

That’s not to say it can’t be watered down. This month alone, the grip of streaming services upon us poor, helpless viewers is undeniable: Bridgerton fever is nigh, Dead Boy Detectives is a solid entry, Baby Reindeer is taking everyone by storm and, well, Fallout has Ella Purnell. These are all big TV events, showing original (ish) drama remains alive and kicking. But I feel the same clanging dread whenever another series drops all at once: I’m not angry, just disappointed. I feel the institution of Saturday night TV slipping away, dwindling along with the memories.

Who, specifically its Saturday slot, spawned other family favourites: Merlin, Atlantis, Musketeers… These were wacky and wonderful, showcasing the BBC’s penchant for throwing chainmail at decorated actors and making them prance about in the same wood for five years. In the age of limited series, I doubt we’d get such zany, terrible, fantastic TV.

“We should set aside time to watch TV, to give it the respect it deserves”

We should set aside time to watch TV, to give it the respect it deserves. It’s not just cinema’s ugly stepsister; it’s an institution. It’s a love letter to the kind of characterisation only possible after three seasons, multiple gutting deaths and an episode where someone’s love interest is a paving slab. It’s something we’ll lose, if we’re not careful.

Binge-watching is great. I love becoming a popcorn-fuelled hippopotamus with a bed for a swamp. But binge-watching is also a devaluation of TV as an art form. What does it say about a lovingly crafted episode that you can watch it, wait ten seconds because you’re too lazy to press “next episode” and move on without even beginning to digest it? Binge-watching turns a show from an archive of episodes into a mulchy mess, its constituents rotting into one another indiscriminately.


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When our zombified minds do register something brilliant, it’s impossible to discuss. Binge-watching puts everyone on different tempos: the hardcore ones, who watch everything in one sitting (my friends once missed a plane because they were watching Bridgerton at the gate), those who take a few episodes at a time and the people for whom I have the utmost respect: one episode a week, as the TV gods intended. There’s no speculation anymore. The only suspense is whether, in this late-state binge-watch culture, we’ll get a next season of our favourite shows.

It’s not Who, it’s me. I felt secure knowing there was one Saturday night certainty left. I’m 21 now but, for a few 45-minute slots in the coming months, I can be nine again. “Come on!” I’ll yell, “It’s starting in three minutes! And I disabled BBC iPlayer on all your devices!”