UK tabloids like the Daily Mail have been gloating for weeks that the new series of Doctor Who has been losing viewers and the ratings are dropping because the Doctor is now female, the companions are people of color and the storylines are too PC.
That is not true.
The premiere episode of the season that introduced Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor drew 10 million viewers in the UK, which is a big deal. The only other show that drew that many viewers in Britain was The Bodyguard, and that was an adult crime drama that featured murder, islamophobia and shagging. Doctor Who is a family show that kids watch with their parents that carries the BBC remit to educate and entertain.
This is what Doctor Who does:
Since the premiere, UK ratings for Doctor Who have held steady at an average of 7 million total viewers every week, which is already up from the last season, which featured Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. In the UK, 5 million viewers and up is a sign of health for a show. The previous season of Doctor Who averaged 4.8 million viewers per week. These days, it’s not just ratings from the broadcast premiere of a show that get counted, but the accumulated ratings from streaming on-demand numbers after the initial live broadcast.
Even in America, ratings for the new season are already double the numbers for the last season. On BBC America, Doctor Who this season averages over 1 million viewers every week. A basic cable show with over a million viewers is a hit for the network. Most basic cable shows get six figures in viewership if they’re lucky, and it’s only megahits like Game of Thrones that get over 10 million viewers, and those are extremely rare. The Walking Dead was the only other basic cable show that got 10 million viewers but not anymore. Its viewing figures are now around 5 million. That’s still a big deal for a cable show, but the drop is one that AMC can’t ignore. We’ll talk about The Walking Dead another time.
Now, you might think Doctor Who’s figures aren’t that big when you compare them to the most popular American shows on the Big Three commercial networks ABC, NBC and CBS, which can get well over 10 million viewers, but those are free commercial channels as opposed to cable channels, which usually require a subscription to a cable service.
There’s actually another factor to consider for why Doctor Who won’t get cancelled anytime soon, and it’s all about money.
For over ten years now, the BBC in Britain is no longer able to produce a drama on its own using just the license fee that every owner of a television set is required by law to pay every year. Every BBC drama series needs a co-producing partner from overseas to fill out its budget, be it PBS stations in America, networks or broadcasters in Australia, Canada, or US cable stations like AMC, FX, HBO, Cinemax, Showtime Starz or even Netflix and Amazon Studios. Doctor Who now gets co-production funding from BBC America, which is a separate entity from the BBC in the UK. AMC owns a 49% stake in BBC America. In the US, Doctor Who is the flagship show of BBC America, the foundation on which the network builds quirky genre dramas that draw in a large female viewership like Orphan Black and Killing Eve.
The most important factor in the continuing survival of Doctor Who is that the show earns the BBC over $100 million dollars a year in merchandising deals, licensing and foreign territory sales. The show is a known brand with a global audience of over 100 million people, from Mexico to South Korea to Africa and Southeast Asia. Toys, books and merchandising are also huge earners for the Beeb. At the end of 2017, BBC Worldwide, the division of the BBC that handles its foreign sales, had struck a deal for the entire run of Doctor Who, starting with Russell T. Davies’ revival from 2005 to the current seasons, to run on popular stations in China where the show already commands growing fanbase that’s much bigger than any following China has for Star Wars.
The success and survival of a TV series is not just about ratings anymore. It’s about how well a show sells to overseas markets now. That’s how business is done for a TV show and Doctor Who is good business for the BBC.
So for all the people who claim that Doctor Who is a failure, that’s not true. Real-life numbers indicate it’s a success. A show does not get cancelled just because you shout about how much you hate it on social media.
And think about it for a second: you are a grown man complaining about a children’s television show.
At least if you’re writing it in the Daily Mail, you’re getting paid for it. But you still come out looking ridiculous. Children don’t read the Daily Mail.
They watch Doctor Who, and are the better for it.