Doctor Who: Are You Watching?

To many people (lazy journalists - I'm looking at you) viewing figures seem to matter above everything else.  In Issue 8, we'll be going through the Series 6 viewing figures in full.  In the meantime, here's our summary of the viewing figures of Doctor Who from 2005 to the mid-series break in 2011.  This article originally appeared in Issue 6 of Fish Fingers and Custard.

(If you don't care about any of this, we'll be having the usual fives and toilet humour in the next Issue.  We have something for everyone. Like an episode of Doc Martin)

“DOCTOR WHO SLUMP IN THE RATINGS” scream the tabloid media. Well that’s not exactly true is it? By the sounds of it, the media would have people believe that Doctor Who has seen a Heroes-style slump and had its figures slashed by 60%. Not true, in fact Doctor Who has never been so popular. It’s currently smashing all kinds of records for BBC America, Space (Canada) and the BBC IPlayer.

So to dispel this myth we actually went out and did some research into the viewing figures, with a cup of tea and several chocolate digestives. Now I understand that press-types don’t comprehend what research is, not when you can copy and paste people’s views from a message board or Twitter anyway, so I’ve broken it down into an easy-to-understand guide. I’ve decided to look at the regular series of Doctor Who - NOT the specials. I think looking at 13 regular episodes of Doctor Who will give us a better insight into viewing figures, as they’re broadcast over consecutive weeks and rely on pulling people in to tune in each week. The Specials are (on the whole) one-off episodes which are broadcast standalone and on a significant day in the calendar, so adding them to the figures would be unfair.

I’ve decided to calculate all the figures of each series, add them together and then average them out to provide us a figure to work with. I’ve also displayed the highest and lowest figures of each series, which will help to show how consistent with its figures each series is.

Viewing Figures

So according to the above, Series 3 is statistically the lowest-watched series so far. It’s interesting to note that BLINK has the lowest viewing figures of the series at only 6.62 Million. The numbers are pretty consistent throughout the series though (in fact, Series 3 is the most consistent) with only 1.9 million separating the highest and lowest figures. Series 5 is the next lowest, with 3.64 million separating the highest and lowest figures. I think its worthy to note however, that there was a 2 year gap in between Series 5 and Series 4, with the specials in between. Those 2 years saw an upturn in people investing in new technologies, such as PVR recorders, HD digital services and the BBC IPlayer, but more about that later.

Audience Share Index (AI)

The BBC doesn’t just take viewing figures into consideration when reviewing programs, unlike commercial channels who rely on good figures to attract advertisers. The BBC also uses an AI (audience appreciation) Index which sees a number of people marking an episode out of 10, before a percentage is calculated. This is an important marker to gauge to how much the general audience (and I must stress the GENERAL Audience, as Doctor Who is made for them, not some fanboy smashing at his keyboard when replying to a cheeky tweet from Steven Moffat) enjoys the episode. An ‘average’ rating is 70, whereas anything above that is considered ‘very good’, with 85+ considered ‘excellent’ (no Cyberman voices, please)

I’ve done the same calculations to the AI rating throughout the series, as the above viewing figures

The figures above show that Series 4 was the highest rated amongst viewers, with Series 3 next, followed by Series 5. This is very interesting if you note that 3 & 5 had the lowest viewing figures of any series so far. Series 1 lags behind somewhat, but I think this is a case of the series being fresh and not established yet - from Series 2 onwards, people are used to the series and that will affect their ratings. Whether or not the AI is a fair system (91% for The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End?) is another question, but the BBC like to take these figures into account and they’re all constantly high, so no worries here.

The Audience Share

Now, the audience share is probably the most crucial rating for any television program. The percentage gives the figure of how many households, who were watching television at the time, were watching a particular channel. This helps us to get a better idea the proportion of people who were watching, as high viewing figures doesn’t automatically mean a huge share of the audience, the same going for low ratings. With Doctor Who broadcast over the summer these days, the figures are always going to be a bit erratic. We do like our weather over here in the UK. When we get some that is.

Bizarrely, despite being broadcast alongside the FIFA World Cup, Series 2 has the largest share of the audience. Although some episodes were directly preceded by a game, so a large percentage may have carried over. Then again, ITV would show a game at around 7pm, so the figure is still very impressive. Series 1 is adrift by just 0.32%, with Series 3 (the lowest rated series, in terms of viewing figures) just 1.37% behind. I think it’s also interesting to note that Series 4, with its high figures, saw its average audience share down from the previous year, whilst a gap of two years saw a 1.81% drop off from Series 5.

Series 6

At the moment Series 6 is averaging 7.65 million and the figures have been pretty consistent, with 2.1 million separating the highest (The Impossible Astronaut) and the lowest (The Almost People), which was quite an unusual dip for the series. Overall, along with Series 3, it’s currently the most consistent with its viewing figures and it should be interesting to see if the 2nd half continues in the same vein. The AI is currently very high and is second only to Series 4 and again, is very consistent with only 3% difference between its highest and lowest figures. The audience share has seen a significant drop of 1.91% from Series 5.

It’s difficult to say what state the figures of Series 6 will be once all 13 episodes have aired, but we will, of course, work them out in due course. With it being ‘half-time’ in the series, a shift to the autumn and darker and colder nights should see an upturn in figures. As there are only 6 episodes remaining (rather than 7), the average figure will be higher if the series continues to attract a consistent 7 million viewers. The AI for series 6 is so far the 2nd best placed after 7 episodes. Now it’s very difficult to say whether these figures will rise or fall, as the AI is based on the actual quality of the episodes, as voted for by supposed neutrals.

Impact of The BBC iPlayer and On Demand Services

I think it’s worthy to note that PVR recordings ARE included in the figures whereas iPlayer figures are NOT. People don’t need to tune in at whatever time Doctor Who is on now, which will affect the figures somewhat. The iPlayer itself was introduced during the 4th series of Doctor Who in 2008, since then the number of people using the IPlayer has rocketed in the 2 year gap between Series 4 & 5 - Series 5 lost an average of 300,000 viewers on Series 4. If you consider the IPlayer figures (more about that below), then Series 5 would seem to have been watched by MORE pairs of eyeballs than Series 4. If we go back to the missing 300,000 and compare them to previous years, then Series 5 comes out quite nicely. It’s actually 200,000 up on Series 3 and only 90,000 adrift of Series 2, all this AND with the iPlayer and other outlets to battle against.

The opening episode of Series 5 (The Eleventh Hour) was notable for smashing iPlayer request records, with 1.27 million people streaming the episode from the BBC Website IN A WEEK and is still the record-holder for the BBC with over 2.5 million requests. Every episode of Series 6, apart from the Almost People, has had more than 1 million requests, with The Impossible Astronaut’s 1.7 million only being beat out of the Number 1 spot of iPlayer request in 2011 by an episode of Come Fly With Me. It’s clear to anyone, that Doctor Who is one of (if not THE, considering the number of episodes) most popular programmes over the BBC’s various platforms.

Series 7

Series 7 is already confirmed and, at the time of writing, seems to be split up to run in 2012-2013. Now I’m not going to go into the politics of this (you can read that elsewhere) but from the figures I’ve shown here, another gap could potentially harm figures again. What the show needs now is some consistency and we just don’t have that at the moment. It’s always on early in the evening and always at different times. This is not meant to be a criticism of Steven Moffat, but RTD was always up against the BBC on this issue, and normally won. See the Series 4 figures for an example. Consistency is the key to keeping something successful and the episodes are very consistent with its figures but to get these higher, it needs to be on at a consistent time, or else people won’t be bothered to watch it live. If this is a creative decision by Steven Moffat, then I do hope he knows what he’s doing!


It’s clear from the figures given that the number of people watching Doctor Who live on BBC One has fallen. On the other hand, it’s also clear that new technologies such as the iPlayer, PVR’s and Catch-Up Services severely affect viewing figures, not just for Doctor Who, but for almost every other program on television. It’s a result of the age we live in, where sadly, people just don’t get around the television to watch something live anymore, as it’s a lot easier to catch it later. As mentioned, the iPlayer only came into being during 2008 and only really established itself after Doctor Who’s ‘gap year’ in 2009. Doctor Who is a program that is perfect for gathering families around to watch and anything above a 30% share in the television audience is still an excellent figure, considering that means almost 1 in 3 people watching television at the time, will be watching Doctor Who! It’s a shame that Doctor Who has set itself unbelievable figures in the past, so that when they fall, people say it’s on the decline when they don’t know the full facts.

Doctor Who is still the highest rated program outside the ‘Big Two’ soaps (Coronation Street and Eastenders), reality shows and major sporting events. The current audience share of 34.9% (lets just call it 35) means that 35 out of 100 households, who are watching the telly at the time, watch Doctor Who. That’s an incredible figure and if you don’t think so, I would like you to show me another teatime drama series that achieves higher figures over a similar period of time.

There’s no reason to be concerned with the viewing figures, historically Doctor Who has always had differing viewing figures each year. Series 6 in 1968 only had an average audience of 6.5 million and this is with just THREE channels to watch at the time. A year later colour television and Jon Pertwee were introduced, but even then figures were still on the level, or even lower, than they are today. For Doctor Who today, to get 7+ million at 6pm, in this multi-channel age, is just extraordinary and fan or not, you just can’t argue with that. It may sound like I’m making excuses for the show (I know you cynical people will be thinking so) but just look at the figures in-depth and you’ll come to the same conclusion.

I strongly believe that the above figures prove that Doctor Who is in an healthy state going forward and with a Seventh Series confirmed, the BBC seem to think so too.

So to borrow a phrase from a well-loved Doctor Who writer DON’T PANIC

With thanks to The Doctor Who News Page and The Mind


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