BBC America to air “Doctor Who” this Saturday.

The first of the set of Doctor Who specials to bridge the gap between the end of series four and series five is set to have its North American debut this Saturday on BBC America.

The announcement, which was made at least a month ago, is a rather major one as far as BBC America is concerned. Up until this point, first airing rights for episodes of the new Doctor Who show have been bought by NBC/Universal, with the show airing Friday nights on the Sci Fi channel. As this year progressed, there was no word on the NBC/Universal front as to when Sci Fi would run the 2008 Christmas episode of Doctor Who, called “The Next Doctor”, or even if NBC/Universal had made the purchase.

Then came word from BBC America that not only had they picked up first airing rights to not only “The Next Doctor”, but also all four of the 2009 specials that follow the story into the beginning of series five, which is set to start next year. “The Next Doctor” is set to air this Saturday night, June 27, at 9PM EST, with the following special, “Planet of the Dead”, set to air on July 26th. No airdate for the final three specials this year have been confirmed, but the next episode, “The Waters of Mars”, is expected to air in November, with the final two airing between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

BBC America made the purchase of these episodes of Doctor Who as part of a larger overall purchase of science fiction programming to help draw attention to their new HD channel. “Planet of the Dead” was the first episode of Doctor Who to be recorded and broadcast in HD, and will be a major draw for BBC America HD. Other programs to be shown on BBC America soon include Torchwood: Children of Earth, the third series of the Doctor Who spin-off series, and further episodes of Primeval.

The remaining Doctor Who specials for this year will bring to a conclusion David Tennant’s time playing the Doctor. Tennant began playing the role in 2005, with a brief appearance at the end of the first series of the new incarnation of the show. He returned for a brief segment filmed for a charity telethon, and made his first appearance in a full episode with the first Christmas special, “The Christmas Invasion”. Matt Smith is set to take up the role of the Doctor in series five, which begins next year.

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