The Thirteenth Doctor’s return was seen by 4.88m people overnight
The overnight ratings for the first episode Series 12 have now been released. And, fittingly for the start of the first two part story of the Whittaker Era, the viewing figure for Spyfall tells two distinct stories. As a Doctor Who season premiere, they represent one of the biggest season-to-season falls the show has seen. Yet, as part of the New Year’s Day schedule, it was actually an unqualified success. But which story is the most compelling? And where will things go for Doctor Who from here?
Spyfall Part One doesn’t have the lowest overnights of any Doctor Who premiere – that distinction goes to 2015’s The Magician’s Apprentice, on 4.58m. But Spyfall’s 4.88m still places it as 10th out of 12 premieres; not news to set the Doctor Who record books on fire. It’s certainly a far cry from the 8.2 million that watched Whittaker’s debut in The Woman Who Fell to Earth live.
The combination of the unprecedented success of that premiere with the more muted response to the Series 12 launch actually makes this the biggest season-on-season drop of the 21st century. The previous biggest drop was, once again, The Magician’s Apprentice’s 33% fall from Deep Breath. (Let’s not forget, either, that the Capaldi Era’s ratings were regarded as perfectly healthy and respectable at the time). The first episode of a Doctor’s second season has always dropped compared to their first. But Whittaker has suffered just over twice her predecessors’ average fall of 19%.
However, Doctor Who was also the BBC’s biggest hit of the day
Yet, Spyfall Part One isn’t just a Doctor Who episode. It was also a cornerstone of the BBC’s Christmas TV schedule. From a Doctor Who fan’s point of view, we understandably want the show placed where it can perform the best – which, in this case, would be Christmas Day itself. But from the BBC’s point of view, it’s equally understandable to want to place a guaranteed hit on New Year’s Day. After all, it’s a day when it’s traditionally difficult to convince a hungover populace to even turn on the telly.
And, in that context, Doctor Who more than completed its mission. It was actually the highest rating BBC program of the day. This means it beat both EastEnders (4.46m) and the heavily promoted Gatiss/Moffat Dracula (3.57m). That Dracula got such an overnight despite all the anticipation and warm critical response speaks volumes about just how tough the New Year’s Day environment is. Especially with former ratings dependables like Miranda and Mrs. Brown’s Boys failing to make an impression at all.
Meanwhile, Spyfall Part One finished second overall for the day, across all channels. It was beaten, by a comparative whisker, by Emmerdale’s 5m. It’s a success underlined by the fact that Doctor Who and Emmerdale were scheduled directly against each other. With 21.6% of viewers tuning in to the Time Lord’s new adventure, compared to 22.1% opting for the Dales.
Spyfall Part One has potential for strong time-shifting over the coming weeks
Of course, one fact is practically mandatory to point out in every viewing figures anyone has written in the past ten years. Television overnights are increasingly unimportant. People are time-shifting their viewing more and more. And the overnights don’t include anyone watching online. The final official figure that marks success these days is the 28+ Day number, including those watching on laptops, phones and other devices. As the days tick by, we can expect Spyfall Part One’s ratings to rise considerably.
Indeed, there are a number of factors at play which suggest a potential for very strong time-shifting. The New Year’s Day element itself means many will have put off watching until later, of course. While some who chose Emmerdale over Doctor Who will undoubtedly have recorded Doctor Who for later too. Scheduling Spyfall Part Two for this Sunday might play its role too, providing a prompt for people to catch up on Part One first. Especially considering the social media meltdown about that twist and the generally extremely positive reaction to the episode as it aired.
Even if there is simply a regular amount of time-shift viewing then, in many ways these figures represent a ‘return to normality’ for the show. After the white heat of the launch of a brand new era, Doctor Who may well have fallen back to the sort of viewing figures a little above those of the Twelfth’s Doctor’s time. No bad place to be for a show entering its sixteenth year.
One thing we can say for certain is that a clear picture will take a while to emerge. Launching a new season on New Year’s Day has never been done before. And it’s certainly not a strategy without risk. And while it’s been an immediate success for the BBC’s Christmas programming, only time will tell if it’s paid off for Doctor Who itself.
Doctor Who continues with Spyfall Part Two on Sunday at 7.10pm
In part two of this epic spy thriller, a terrifying plan to destroy humanity is about to reach fruition. Can The Doctor and her friends escape multiple traps and defeat a deadly alliance? Jodie Whittaker is back as the Doctor alongside Tosin Cole (Ryan) Mandip Gill (Yaz) and Bradley Walsh (Graham). Spyfall Part Two guest stars Lenny Henry (Daniel Barton), Aurora Marion (Noor Inayat Khan) and Sasha Dhawan (The Master). Chris Chibnall returns as showrunner with Matt Strevens as Executive Producer.