On October 25th, 2022, Disney and BBC announced that Disney+ would premiere all future episodes of Doctor Who across the globe (except UK, where it remains on BBC). As fans scanned through the press release and the articles in the entertainment trades, one important question remained unanswered. No, not “Doctor Who?”
What about the older seasons?
We are so, so sorry to report that HBO Max will continue to be the streaming home of Doctor Who (2005), The Sarah Jane Adventures, and Torchwood, until July 27th, 2025.
To understand why this is happening, we’ve consulted with the Time Lord himself (itself?) for a history lesson. Prior to HBO Max, the USA streaming rights for Doctor Who catalog were held by Prime Video. This deal started March 27, 2016 when Series 1-8 joined the Prime Video library. In August 2019, WarnerMedia (now Warner Bros Discovery) announced they had acquired the streaming rights for their upcoming launch of HBO Max. This pact also included the spin-offs, Torchwood, and Sarah Jane Adventures as well as additional BBC series including Luther and The Office. Doctor Who Series 1-11 arrived on HBO Max at launch on May 27, 2020.
During all of this time, and even in the earlier days of streaming when Netflix and Hulu held the SVOD rights, one thing had been constant: broadcast rights. Until October 2022, BBC America had been home to all new episode premieres of Doctor Who since the series returned in 2005. What many people missed about the news that Doctor Who was moving to Disney+ is that Disney only acquired the broadcast rights.
That means that HBO Max remains the home of Doctor Who catalog. When BBC America was airing the series, not having the catalog didn’t feel as strange. Since Disney+ is a streaming service and they’re known for binging, it will be very odd to not have the catalog alongside the new episodes. Binging the series will be hard. Potential new fans may be put off entirely by this friction. Surely Disney intends to get the catalog rights too?
We’re 40,000% confident the answer to that is “yes” and don’t seen any possibility they don’t acquire them. The problem is, they can’t have them until WBD’s existing contract is up. For Whovians around the world, this has been a point of stress. Nobody knew how long HBO Max would have the older episodes. Until now.
Once again, we are able to confirm:
Doctor Who Series 1-13 will leave HBO Max USA on July 27th, 2025.
What About Internationally?
It’s extremely possible and even likely that by the time Doctor Who airs its 60th anniversary special on Disney+ this November, multiple countries will have the catalog as well. We do not have knowledge of every country’s prior rights holders, but know that both the classic series (1963-1989) and NuWho (2005-Present) are on BritBox in many places. Just recently it’s been noticed that both series are leaving BritBox Australia on April 1, so we may see them move over to Disney+ in the next few weeks.
There is plenty of history to draw from here. When Disney announced back in 2022 that the Sony Spider-Man films would come to Disney+ USA, people were disappointed internationally. The deal was specified as for the United States. Despite this, Spider-Man and other Sony films started to stream outside the USA during the fall of 2022. No announcement was ever made regarding the international content deal, but it clearly exists. Almost 1 year after the initial announcement, USA has only received 2 Spider-Man cartoon series with everything else going to Hulu or remaining stuck on Starz.
The same thing happened with Disney’s acquisition of the Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Chat Noir rights. Seasons 1-3 were stuck on Netflix for just short of 2 years after the deal was first announced, finally arriving last month. Based off that alone, it’s entirely possible Doctor Who catalog will appear outside the USA long before we get it.
Could Disney Acquire Doctor Who Catalog Rights Early?
There is another possibility, of course. Disney could be determined to gain access to the rights earlier through negotiations with BBC Studios and Warner Bros Discovery. If this were Bob Chapek’s Disney, we’d expect it to happen. Under Bob Iger 2.0, that sort of spending for content has been thrown out the window. You’d have to hope he’s smart enough to see the value in obtaining full Doctor Who catalog rights prior to adding the new episodes this November and that we’re getting close to an announcement, but don’t hold your breath.
One final idea: Disney may have acquired the catalog rights at the same time of the broadcast rights, but did not announce it because of the extensive 2-year wait. It would be rather disheartening to mention that the 60th and Series 14 would all air prior to Series 1-13 becoming available!
Drew Ryan is a film, TV, and Disney geek. He has degrees in English, Student Personnel Administration, and Library & Information Science from Lawrence University, Concordia University-Wisconsin, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Interested in the minutia and licensing of streaming service content, he is always publishing lists, suggestions, and advocating for Disney’s missing library to be added to Disney+. Drew subscribes to Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, HBO Max, and Paramount+. You can find him waxing nostalgic over classic Disney Channel or geeking out over Marvel, CW shows, & Disney on Twitter.