Monday, 8 September 2014

Great Myths about Doctor Who #457 - "The Sky Is Falling!"

A story familiar to all of us is surely that of Doctor Who's falling ratings.  We've all heard the rumours at one time or another, that viewers are finally leaving the series, and the ratings are dropping.  The new series isn't as well received as the last…or was it the one before?  You may not quite remember when you heard this rumour (or was it on the internet…or in a newspaper?), so let me remind you.

30th May 2006.  Doctor Who has been on the air for 1 year, and already things are going badly…according to The Guardian.

"Doctor Who loses momentum"

It's another mystery for Doctor Who - where have the viewers gone?

BBC1's Doctor Who revival has been lavished with critical praise and awards, but there are signs midway through its second series that viewers may be tiring of the time travelling sci-fi drama.

Saturday's Doctor Who, the seventh out of 13 episodes in the second series, had the lowest audience share of any instalment yet since the show returned last year to rave reviews and big audiences.

[This was The Idiot's Lantern,]… a fairly typical Doctor Who storyline then, but one which only attracted 6.3 million viewers and a 32% audience share.

[About the same as "The Doctor Dances" a year ago, "Daleks in Manhattan" a year later, "The Sontaran Strategem" the year after that, "Vampires in Venice" in 2010…]

Doctor Who has shed 2.3 million viewers and 10 share points in two weeks, since the Cybermen episode of May 13, which got a ratings boost to 8.6 million by following the Liverpool v West Ham FA Cup final on BBC1.

A week later the second and concluding episode of the Rise of the Cybermen two-parter dropped to 6.9 million viewers and a 36% share.

[Correct.  About the same as "Boom Town" a year before, "The Sound of Drums" a year later, "Planet of the Ood" in 2008, "Flesh and Stone" in 2010…and "Deep Breath" in 2014]


However, lest anyone accuse me of bias, let's see what the Daily Mail said on the 4th April 2010, after Matt Smith's first outing:

"Matt Smith's Doctor Who debut equals David Tennant's 8million viewers as critics praise first show"

More than eight million people tuned in to watch Matt Smith's debut as Doctor Who last night as he took over the role from David Tennant.

Smith, 27, wowed in his first appearance in the iconic part and critics are already declaring he could be the best Time Lord to date.

Their verdicts will be music to the ears of BBC chiefs, who have been anxiously waiting to see if the 11th incarnation of Doctor Who would be as popular as Tennant.

In fact, Smith secured exactly the same viewing figures as the Scottish actor did when he first officially took over the role in April, 2006.

[Technically correct.  Well no. Not correct at all really. Firstly, although "The Eleventh Hour" did get the same overnight viewers as "New Earth"… "the Scottish actor" actually took over the role at Christmas 2005, where "The Christmas Invasion" received 9.4 million viewers.  

Secondly the Final viewing figures for "New Earth" were 8.62 million, whereas the final figures for "The Eleventh Hour" were 10.08 million…incidentally also beating the final figures for that Scottish actor's actual Christmas debut (9.84 million)]


So what does The Daily Telegraph has to say a few months later on the 29th June 2010?

"Doctor Who loses 1.2m viewers"

The latest Doctor Who series has lost 1.2million viewers compared to the previous one, the latest figures show.

It gained an average of 6 million viewers compared to the previous incumbent David Tennant’s average of 7.2m.

[That would be Tennant's last but one series (if you ignore the Specials Year).  Series 4 – Overnight average of 7.2 million.  And yes they are almost correct again – Series 5 averages 6.11 million Overnights.   

But what about Final figures?  Well Series 4 was watched by 8.05 million, Series 5 by 7.7 million.  So why the big difference in Overnights? Could it be that in 2010 more people are recording Doctor Who and watching it later than in 2008?]

The last show in the latest run was screened on Saturday night and had just 5.1m viewers, although it was on at the same time as a World Cup football match on ITV.

[And there we have it. 23% of viewers recorded "The Big Bang" and watched it later (this is known in the business as "Timeshifting"). 

In fact the average Timeshift for Doctor Who has been steadily increasing over the years, probably as more households buy equipment that can record TV programmes, such as TIVO, Freeview with Hard Drive or DVD-R, Sky+. Average Timeshift in 2008 was about 10%.  In 2014 it's about 28%]

Despite the apparently disappointing figures, managers at the BBC claim overall viewer numbers are the same because many people watch on the internet or after recording it at home.

[Oh. Yes. What I just said.]


So Overnight figures are increasingly less relevant than Final figures.  Surely the tabloids know this by now?  Well no.  Not if it gets in the way of a good headline. Here's the Daily Mail again, a year later in April 2011.

"New Doctor Who episode billed as scariest yet sees ratings FALL by 1.5m"

It was billed as one of the scariest  Doctor Who episodes ever. But when the series returned on Saturday, the Time Lord found himself facing an unexpected enemy – the sunshine.

[This would be "The Impossible Astronaut", and actually they mean 6.5 million, but let's not quibble. They've pinpointed the exact reason why 26% of viewers chose to record it rather than watch it while the sun was shining outside]

The first episode was watched by an average of 6.4million viewers, according to overnight figures, down by almost 1.5million on the equivalent episode last year.

[Again correct.  Although the equivalent episode last year was Matt Smith's debut…you know, the one where he got the same figures as the "Scottish actor" did…according to the Daily Mail.]

With many choosing to make the most of the good weather, it meant it was the lowest-rating series opener since the much-loved drama was revived on Easter weekend in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston in the lead role.

[Again technically not wrong. But less relevant. With Timeshifting on the increase, Overnight ratings are never again going to be as high than they were in 2005, 2006, 2007 etc. 

I mean come on, what is the point of having Freeview or Sky with hundreds of channels, and the ability to record them all, if you don't use it?]


And a week later on the 3rd May 2011, the Mail continues the horror story of Doctor Who's inevitable demise, with some possible explanation as to the drop in viewers.

"Now Doctor Who scares off another one million viewers"

It has been one of the BBC’s success stories of recent years.

As Doctor Who begins its latest series with disappointing viewing figures, however, some fans are asking if the plotlines are too scary and too complex for its largely family audience.

[I'm sorry, but… too scary for a family audience? What does that even mean?]

Early figures for the second episode of the new series starring Matt Smith as the Doctor and Karen Gillan as companion Amy Pond show that more than one million viewers turned off the show.

It secured 5.39 million viewers – down 1.01 million on the series opener the week before. Overnight figures for that first episode were down by almost 1.5 million on the equivalent episode last year, although ratings released yesterday showed it had a final total audience of 8.86 million.

[At last! The Mail has discovered Final Viewing figures!...]

Even so, the apparent downturn in popularity has led to doubts among some avid viewers over the plotlines being pursued by executive producer and main writer Steven Moffat.

[…but they have nothing to do with popularity.  Oh well…]


Surprisingly 2012 is almost devoid of "Doctor Who Ratings Disaster" headlines.  But, as we reach April 2013, and a new series , The Week magazine has this to say:

'Boring rubbish': Doctor Who sheds a million viewers

Rings of Akhaten 'worst ever' episode say fans, while original director says show has become too 'sexual'

THE BBC'S Doctor Who has shed a million viewers in a week and some fans have branded Saturday's episode – the second featuring the Time Lord's new assistant Clara Oswald – the worst ever.

The episode, titled The Rings Of Akhaten, was watched by 5.7 million people compared to the 6.7 million who tuned in to the show at Easter.

[For once they've erred on the positive side.  The episode actually pulled 5.5 million overnight…the same as "The Power of Three" and "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" at…umm…Easter, "A Good Man Goes to War" in 2011, and in fact "The Satan Pit" in 2006.  

I'm not sure where they're getting the 6.7 million from, unless the mean the average of the first half of Series 6?  Nope, that's 6.25.  Haven't a clue then.]

The Sun says the ratings slump is bad news for Jenna-Louise Coleman, the actress who plays Oswald, as well as Neil Cross, the "respected scriptwriter", who wrote the episode.

[Laughingly the article ends with an promise that "further concise, balanced comment" can be found in the magazine version!]


May 2013 and has the Daily Mail taken on board its revelation about Final viewing figures two years ago?  Probably not.

"INSIDE THE BOX: Exterminate Doctor Who boss, BBC is urged"

Only 4.6million people have tuned in to some episodes, and though the BBC insists the resurrected drama has eightmillion viewers, even this is well down from the tenmillion when the show was revived in 2005

[Good on the Mail, they're actually referring to the 10.08 million Final viewers that "Rose" received in 2005!  

Except of course they're comparing it to the 4.6 million Overnight figures received by "some" episodes.  By which in fact they mean "one" episode – "The Crimson Horror"]

Tomorrow’s episode, The Name Of The Doctor,  will set up November’s movie-length 50th anniversary episode, which sees the return of popular Doctor David Tennant and his companion Billie Piper.

However, Tennant’s appearance will be a one-off, and existing Doctor Matt Smith, who is highly regarded, is expected to leave to launch a film career.
A Beeb source says: ‘The 50th anniversary episode seems a good opportunity for him [Moffat] to bow out. Either way, something dramatic needs to take place to improve ratings.’

[I'm curious as to where this "Beeb source" gets his or her figures from. The average Final ratings for Series 7 are about 7.8 million…making it the 3rd most watched regular series of Doctor Who since 2005, behind Series 4 (8.05 million) and Series 1 (7.95 million). 

Surely something dramatic should have been done a long time ago to improve the ratings of Series 2, 3, 5 and 6?]

But a BBC spokesman said: ‘The show has the highest audience share of all dramas on any channel this year and is in the top three most requested shows on iPlayer.’

[The BBC Spokesman appears to know more than the Beeb source. Is it possible the Beeb source was...made up?]


Before we leave May 2013 behind, here's an online article from Yahoo!  Presumably sourced from the above Daily Mail story…with a little artistic embellishment.

"Has Doctor Who lost it? Will the 50th anniversary episode bring viewers back? - BBC apparently set to fire Steven Moffat"

Ratings for the second half of season seven have continued to plummet, and now there are concerns from the BBC that the show's creative quality has taken a nosedive, and dodgy storylines have become way too common, with Steven Moffat at the helm.

When the Doctor regenerated onto our screens under the stewardship of Russell T. Davies with Christopher Eccleston as his ninth incarnation, the show repeatedly had ten million people glued to their seats in giddy anticipation.

[Ten million? For "repeatedly" read "once".]

But the BBC has now reported that this figure has plummeted to between 4.5 and eight million viewers, and insiders are apparently worried that the show is in decline.

[Aside from the fact that only one episode of Doctor Who has ever had Overnight figures as low as 4.5 million (2010's "The Hungry Earth") most TV programmes these days would give their eye-teeth to "plummet" to 8 million viewers!]


And so here we are in 2014.  Three stories into a new Series 8, with a new Doctor, and already the Finals are on a par with previous series. The Overnights are of course lower, reflecting the continued increase in TV Timeshifting (the average so far is 27.5%, the highest for any series of Doctor Who since 2005). Surely even on the 31st August can manage a little bit of optimism?
"Doctor Who’ Down 1.59M UK Viewers In Sophomore Outing"

"Into The Dalek", the second episode of Doctor Who‘s new season averaged 5.2M viewers on BBC One on Saturday night from 7:30-8:15PM local. The sophomore turn by Peter Capaldi as the 12th Time Lord earned a 24.7 share. It was BBC One’s most watched show of the day, but 1.59M, or 23.4%, down on last week’s season 8 launch.

Most watched show of the day? Pah! 1.5 million down on the series opener.  Bad bad Doctor Who!  Cancellation on the way!