I, Probert

Former GeekPlanetOnline Site Editor Dave Probert is a man with an ear to the ground of the geek community. When that ground starts to rumble, our man in East Sussex has something to say...!


Over the weekend there has been important news behind the scenes of Doctor Who. If you haven’t heard said news (in which case brace yourself) Steven Moffat will step down as showrunner in 2017 and his successor will be Broadchurch creator and writer Chris Chibnall. Not only that but the only episode of Doctor Who that will be broadcast in 2016 will be the Christmas special.

Doctor Who fandom, as a collective entity, doesn’t respond well to change (it’s not especially good with the status quo either if we’re honest) and thus there has been much flapping and hand wringing. Some long term fans are having flashbacks to the 1985 hiatus and declaring the end of days. Most major announcements about the show seem to induce that in some quarters.

I’m not going to address the appointment of Chris Chibnall. There will be discussion aplenty in the years leading up to him taking the reins. I am going to address the move in timeslot. Many fans regularly bemoan the fact that the show is moved about in the schedules but having looked into the numbers behind it, this move makes a lot of sense. More long term fans were happy to see the show move to an autumn/winter slot in 2015, as they felt that was the traditional time of year for Doctor Who. I don't think the BBC moved it there for that reason, though.

The jewel of the BBC’s weekend TV in the autumn months is Strictly Come Dancing and they have always been looking for a way to hold onto viewers after Strictly has finished. Previously this had been the purpose of both Merlin and Atlantis, but despite their best efforts both shows only managed to hold on to approximately half the viewership of Strictly Come Dancing.

Meanwhile Doctor Who was doing well in its spring/summer slot. It was consistently the third most watched show on a Saturday after Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice. It must have seemed to the BBC that given its popularity it might be just the show to keep more viewers watching the Beeb after Strictly had finished. When series eight began at the tail end of August 2014 they must have thought that they were onto a winner, as Deep Breath opened with a whopping 9.17 million viewers and was the most watched show that Saturday.

The second week it dipped to 7.29 million, which was to be expected as that was the weekend that The X Factor began on ITV, but Who was still doing good numbers. This is a trend that continues more or less until Strictly Come Dancing comes back at the end of September. Doctor Who holds its own, but it falls to around the 7 million mark give or take for the rest of the run.

Then 2015 comes around and, bar the first episode, Doctor Who is the show that is directly after Strictly. The viewing figures for season nine see it performing pretty much exactly the same as Merlin and Atlantis had done before it. Doctor Who wasn’t keeping viewers watching the BBC and more than that Atlantis, which had moved to Doctor Who’s old turf of April/May, failed to trouble the top 30 for BBC One at all.

So to sum up Doctor Who hasn’t done much better in the post-Strictly timeslot than any other show that has been there and on top of that they have lost their major weekend draw for the spring/summer season. They must want to improve viewing figures during that season, so they have decided to do that by having Doctor Who return as their weekend centrepiece. That means that Doctor Who is going to be an important part of the BBC’s spring weekend programming, and if it does the figures there that it has in the past (which there is no reason to think that it won’t) then that will pretty much guarantee its future.

There was some BBC press office spin about “National Moments” such as the Olympics and European football tournament and wanting to hold something back for 2017, which isn’t entirely a load of old horsefeathers. Those sporting events will be their big viewing draws this year, so what better time to move the next series of Doctor Who forward to the spring 2017 timeslot? They could have just said that, rather than trying to make out that they were doing Steven Moffat some special favour by giving him a year off screen which just sounds silly, and has already been the subject of mockery from some fans online.

Based on the viewing figures, this move for Doctor Who is not only sensible but good for the future security of the show. Doctor Who will once again be the show that the BBC builds its schedule around in the spring rather than having to play second fiddle to Strictly in the winter. Now it only remains to be seen whether the move will mean that Steven Moffat has more time to craft a swansong to his era as showrunner. This isn’t the end but a new beginning.



Source for all viewing figures quoted is BARB.