The TV ratings story for Series 12 reaches its end as the final official results for The Timeless Children become available
It’s April, and that means it’s been three months since Doctor Who returned to our screens for Jodie Whittaker’s second season as the Doctor. Hard to believe, as time seems to slow to a crawl for so many of us these days. But it also means that it’s a month on from this year’s finale, The Timeless Children. And that brings with it the final official viewing figures for Series 12.
The Timeless Children has a final official rating of 5.17m. This is down 0.38m (7%) from the first part of the finale. Ascension of the Cybermen had a final viewing figure of 5.55m (itself almost unchanged from the 5.56m of The Haunting of Villa Diodati). The difference is in part due to unusually weak time-shifting for Doctor Who. 1.46m viewers joined the audience in the month after transmission, compared to the average of 1.83m for the season overall. And it’s tempting to speculate that on this occasion, the controversy and debate online about the episode’s revelations discouraged, rather than encouraged, viewers from checking the drama out for themselves.
This means Series 12 had a respectable average, overall, for such an enduring show
It’s also an unusual steep drop in a season which had been holding remarkably steady throughout its run. The average audience for Series 12 has been 5.93m. This places it eleventh out of twelve seasons, ratings wise. Just Series 10, featuring the Twelfth Doctor, Bill and Nardole, is lower on 5.88m. On the one hand, this is still a respectable secure rating. Moreover, it’s one that back in 2017, would have been a very attractive prediction for 2020. After all, by that point viewing figures had been consistently falling for five seasons in in row, by an average of 0.28m a series. Based on that, a rating of something like 5.32m might have been more expected by Series 12. So actually being up a little to 5.93m is a minor success story.
Comparing recent seasons to older ones, of course, is no simple task
Not that directly comparing series of Doctor Who is a simple task. You’ll notice from the chart that the +28 number was only introduced with Series 9. While people watching on laptops and phones were only included from Series 11. But then, comparing only only the +7 number doesn’t give you an entirely true ‘like for like’ picture either. After all, the reason these measures were introduced is because people were increasingly watching that way in a way they didn’t before. So there’s very unlikely to be extra millions lurking unmeasured for the early seasons. Or even hundreds of thousands, for that matter.
All we can say is that, most likely, looking at the official final numbers understates Series 5-8 a little, but comparing more on +7 alone would overstate S1-4 significantly. So the best approach, it seems. is to split the information out in the chart. This way the reader can judge the trends, and the impact of the +28 measure for themselves.
The drop from the heights of Series 11 is undoubtedly disappointing, however
But there’s no arguing that it’s not a disappointing turn around from last season’s 8.49m – itself one of Doctor Who’s highest ever season on average, by any measure. And the question does have to be asked as to why such a large season on season fall has happened. Considering the similarity to the type of numbers Peter Capaldi was pulling in, one could argue that about 6m is now Doctor Who’s natural resting place. After all, it’s a fifteen year old show. Curiosity and excitement about a new Doctor might create peaks of interest while new viewers try the series out. But they then disappear again as Doctor Who remains stubbornly Doctor Who. If 2018 performed a ‘ratings reset’ for the show, the return to where it was before has been swift.
It doesn’t appear to have the result of some sudden drop in quality, at least. While some have a decided dislike for current showrunner Chris Chibnall’s approach, among critics and fans almost everyone agrees Series 12 was a stronger selection of stories than Series 11. (And that appears to hold true not just among those who loved the previous season liking this one even more. Even people who didn’t think it was their cup of tea found this year’s at least a little improved).
With almost every television show in the world currently pausing production, Series 13 will emerge into a very different ratings landscape next year
It’s possible, though, that twelve months between episodes is simply so large a gap that the show is essentially having to build an audience almost from scratch afterward. It’s notable that in 2009 and 2017, there were previous occasions when such gaps loomed. Then steps were taken to fill them, largely due to this very concern. What that for about the next season, planned to air sometime in 2021, remains to be seen. What we do know is that Doctor Who won’t be alone. With almost every television show pausing production entirely for weeks or months in the midst of the current pandemic (and if you’re reading this in a post-lockdown future, please, go for a walk in a park or out for a drink on our behalf) they’ll all be waiting to see what the television landscape will be like on their return. Doctor Who, at least, has the advantage that its special for this winter, Revolution of the Daleks, has already been filmed.
Doctor Who will return this winter in Revolution of the Daleks
Doctor Who stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham), Mandip Gill (Yaz) and Tosin Cole (Ryan), with Chris Chibnall as Showrunner and Matt Strevens Executive Producing.