Doctor Who Series 12: Should We Worry About Low Overnight Viewing Figures?

Doctor Who has finally returned to our screens with Spyfall Part One debuting on BBC One on New Years Day. However, it hasn’t taken long for there to be some controversy around the viewing figures. As is to be expected by now, we’ve got some fans really slating the show and some trying desperately to defend it. However, what some have forgotten is that those touted by the media typically under the headline, “THE SKY IS FALLING” are the overnight viewing figures, not the final ones including those who watched it on iPlayer and those who recorded it and watched it later; I was one of the latter as I had to work that evening.

And the festive period could be a tough time to kick off any new series, because of people not being home to tune in or there being a fight for the television remote I know in years gone by, I very rarely got to watch the Christmas specials live. With the exception of The Christmas Invasion, which was my first proper introduction to the modern era of the show and something I was desperate to watch, I’ve never seen a festive episode live. Instead, my grandparents and aunts always like to watch the soaps. Personally, I’d rather watch paint dry!

And while the ratings for last year’s New Year’s Day special, Resolution were higher – 5.15 million people tuned in to see Jodie Whittaker’s first interaction with the Daleks – overnights for Spyfall Part 1 were down to 4.88 million viewers; that’s 21.6% of the television viewing audience of that evening.

The important word to remember there is ‘million’. That’s still a considerable figure considering how many channels there are to view today. And even overnight, Part 1 actually sat as the second highest rated show of that evening, following on from Emmerdale with 5 million viewers. Coronation Street came in third, followed by the opening episode of Dracula with 3. 57 million.

But then we come to consolidated figures, which boosted the number of people who saw Spyfall Part 1 to 6.70 million.

Spyfall Part 2 also stayed steady with an overnight figure of 4.6 million. To some, that might be seem like a dip in the ratings and sure, it isn’t as good as, say, the viewing figures for both Rose (although the television landscape looks a lot different now, compared to 2005) and The Woman Who Fell to Earth which were around 10 million, but 5th January also saw the new series of Dancing on Ice on ITV hit 5.14 million.

Spyfall Part 2 ranked fifth in the most-watched shows of the day, with Call the Midwife, Dancing on Ice: The Launch, and Match of the Day taking the top three spots between BBC and ITV, with Countryfile and Doctor Who following. But again, ranking among the top 5 isn’t a bad place to be, especially considering some of the competition it was up against.

Fans have taken to Twitter to express their disgust or defence of the viewing figures but lists of highest-viewed shows have proved one thing: no matter what the programme, viewing figures come down a number of factors – including if they are broadcast over the holiday period, during bouts of great weather, or competition from other channels. Proof of this is the Capaldi episode, Eaters of Light which only reached 2.89 million people. But it was broadcast over a boiling summer so many people were outside enjoying the sunshine. It doesn’t mean that it was a bad series.

Also, a point that needs to be remembered: Jodie Whittaker’s debut series gradually dropped off in viewers but as Whittaker was the first female incarnation of the Doctor, that brought in millions of more viewers. Now in her second year, people are used to it now, so what might have felt like a novelty to some viewers and fans has now worn off.

And finally, these are only the overnight figures. We’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for the final viewing figures through people recording it, word-of-mouth, or catching up on iPlayer – all of these factors should put Doctor Who much higher on the list.

I do think, though, that the BBC, Chris Chibnall, and co. need to seriously think about their promotional material and when it does come out. If we had a trailer much sooner, excitement for the series would have grown over a couple of months. Don’t get me wrong: the trailers we got were excellent, but had they come out sooner, possibly around the end of October or mid-November, interest in the new series would have probably grown. I know that Chibnall is trying to keep a lot of the new series under his hat and while in no way did we want the Master reveal spoiled (looking at you, Series 10), images of new monsters and characters would also spread interest. We don’t even know the names of all the upcoming episodes!

And leaving the show for a year might have proven a mistake. Had the show debuted the same time of October like it did in 2018, viewers wouldn’t have so long to forget the show.

So while Doctor Who happily seems to remain constant in viewing figures and in terms of money making, and remains one of the BBC’s biggest properties, I think there are few things that need to be changed like the timing of promotional material and getting fans and casual viewers alike interested. However, having said that, I think that people need to understand context – there will always be other channels, other programmes, and other competition. Many things can alter a show’s viewing figures. That doesn’t mean Doctor Who has gotten any worse. It’s exciting again and after a year’s hiatus, the show is back, as bold and as entertaining as ever!