A couple of weeks ago, the BBC issued a press release showing that Doctor Who, specifically, Oxygen, sat at number 5 in its list of top-performing episodes per series. Evidently, the show is extremely popular. Figures like this are a huge relief to many Whovians, due to the constant stream of negativity in the media (“It’s mainstream media FAKE NEWS, folks! So, so disgusting…”) about the show’s success.
Over the past few years, many Doctor Who fans have worried at the consistent fall in viewing figures for episodes of the show. That decline has not faltered this year – The Lie of the Land was watched by the lowest ever number of ‘live’ viewers in the history of Doctor Who, 3.01 million (even lower than Battlefield Part One’s 3.1m). Naturally, we’re particularly sensitive to such ratings due to a certain cancellation event in 1989, which has left us with a fear that a horror like that could occur again, if ratings fall.
However, ‘as live’ viewing figures are now, quite frankly, a load of rubbish. For years, people have been watching recordings or iPlayer streams of episodes later in the evening, or the week. Until The Doctor Falls (too exciting to wait), I hadn’t watched an episode ‘live’ since Deep Breath – and that’s me, as a huge fan of the show. Millions of fans and casual viewers across the country are now choosing to watch what they want, when they want. The number of people seeing an episode of Doctor Who cannot in any way be judged from the preliminary viewing figures, as they once were. To be honest, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for them to fall so low.
In 2015, Mark Gatiss, being interviewed for the Radio Times, complained about the growing obsession with ‘falling’ ratings. His words sum up my argument perfectly:
“That’s the modern world we live in and I’m not being defensive, but when you add everything together – timeshifting, plus iPlayer – [Doctor Who’s] ratings are the same as they ever were. But there is no capital in saying ‘Doctor Who’s ratings remain roughly the same’, so people make a story out of it.”
So, with Doctor Who still going strong in the UK – whether being experienced via live broadcast, iPlayer or personal recordings – and climbing to incredible heights internationally, we can reassure ourselves that there is not only still a substantial following, but an ever-growing, worldwide audience. I’ll say it right here: this is the most popular the show has ever been.