Another series of Doctor Who, another wave of media reports that the ratings are crashing dramatically. The Sun has gone as far as to suggest that the BBC were forcing Peter Capaldi out, blaming his old age for the reason viewers were switching over. While there has been little else to back up The Sun’s claims, viewing figures have seen a decline, averaging 2 million viewers under what Tennant could bring in during the peak of the show’s popularity. With viewing figures declining so drastically, it seems an examination of the show’s problems are in order.
Quite simply, one key reason is that the way we are watch TV is changing. With the advent of iPlayer, Netflix and the like watching programmes live has become increasingly irrelevant for a binge-watch/on-demand hungry crowd. Few dramas have decade-old viewing figures to compare to, and while the press often likes to dramatize the fall in overnight viewing figures it is somewhat of a trend among the TV industry. The show will likely never regain the 10 million plus overnight viewers the revival could pull in over a decade ago, but that is not necessarily a loss, and the BBC is clearly cottoning on by making Series 10 available to binge for a month after it finished.
A brand new female Doctor in the form of Jodie Whittaker signals that the BBC has faith in the show
However, overnight figures aside the overall average viewing figures have dropped, and this must be blamed on the show itself. From personal experience I have seen many fellow viewers become disillusioned with the show particularly after Steven Moffat took over as showrunner, and is something the press have picked up on also. The key complaint is easily that the show has become increasingly over-complex and nonsensical, especially for a family show, with Moffat seen as being self-indulgent with his scripts and convoluting existing mythology. Combined with an increasing number of duff episodes, poor villains and some divisive storylines (see the Monks three-parter, or indeed the Doctor’s relationship with River Song), the problems soon start stacking up.
The Sun was not alone in suggesting that Capaldi himself was the problem – too old, too grumpy, trying too hard with sunglasses and a guitar – a mighty shame as Capaldi is a mighty fine actor and a wonderful Doctor. Even worse was the erratic scheduling – the show has experimented with splitting series in two, spring and autumn launch dates, increasingly later air times and worst of all a complete absence in 2016 save for a Christmas special. With a lack of consistency in both show quality and scheduling, one can see why some viewers have switched off in their millions, despite solid work from Capaldi and some truly great episodes.
However, does this mean the show is in trouble? Even if ratings have dropped somewhat in the UK, they have only continued to grow abroad, especially in America. The show also likely makes too much from DVD sales, merchandising, and overseas licensing for a ratings dip to cause too much trouble – a recent deal with a Chinese broadcaster included the upcoming series 11-15, suggesting that Doctor Who will be safe for many years to come. While viewership may have slipped, a brand new female Doctor in the form of Jodie Whittaker signals that the BBC has faith in the show, and she has every chance to pull those figures up again.