Doctor Who is a growing and vital phenomenon here in the states and around the globe, but in the United Kingdom it’s a pop-culture staple. Episodes routinely draw at least 6 million viewers (in a country with a population roughly a fifth the size of ours), and the annual Christmas specials often top 10 million. Over here, it’s still kind of a nerds-only show, but over there it’s like Star Trek: Everyone knows about it, even if they don’t particularly care.
So, UK fans of the series, now its 10th year since reviving in 2005 after a 16-year absence from The BBC, got a little worried when the numbers for this year’s season premiere, “The Magician’s Apprentice,” were a little…soft. The premiere pulled in an audience of 4.58 million, which grew to 6.54 million with repeat broadcasts, according to Doctor Who TV. Not too shabby, until you look at last year’s season premiere, “Deep Breath,” which brought in 6.8 million live viewers, and a total audience of 9.17 million on the night. Clearly, Doctor Who hit a slump, but is there reason to worry? Not according to executive producer Steven Moffat, who blamed the dip on two things: Lack of a big event to kick off and guide the season, and…rugby.
“I don’t want to get on anyone’s case but that wasn’t our best-run launch. This year is not a new Doctor year, it’s not an anniversary, or a new companion year,” Moffat told Radio Times. We can just concentrate on making Doctor Who, which is quite nice in a way. But it’s dangerous when you don’t have that special extra bit to launch a show with. The way it always goes is our highest episode is the first one, but this is the first year we’ve gone up mid-season – after the rugby died down. Our ratings went up with episode five.”
As Doctor Who ‘s TV numbers show, Moffat’s right. After hitting quite a slump with the second and third episodes, Who rebounded. Its numbers are still somewhat low compared even to the premiere, but hey, that’s a premiere, and that brings me to Moffat’s other point. Doctor Who is a show in a very unique position, in that it has this built-in evolution that the public, particularly in the UK, really rallies around. When Peter Capaldi was chosen as the Twelfth Doctor, there was an entire television special devoted to nothing but the reveal. It’s an Event Show, and as Moffat notes, this season was one without a real “event,” apart from the departure of co-star and “Companion” Jenna Coleman. Last year, the show had the benefit of celebrating the arrival of a new Doctor in Capaldi, and the year before that it had both the departure of Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith and the much-touted 50th anniversary special that saw the return of Tenth Doctor David Tennant. Those are both hard acts to follow, particularly when the Rugby World Cup is on, but Moffat’s not worried, and I doubt we should be either.
Doctor Who‘s season finale, “Hell Bent,” airs Saturday at 9 p.m. EST / 8 p.m. Central on BBC America.