The +7 result for Eve of the Daleks all but confirms it will be Doctor Who’s lowest rated episode of the modern era
The +7 viewing figures for New Year’s Day are now available, including the result for Doctor Who’s festive special. Eve of the Daleks has been seen by 4.4m people so far. That’s down 0.24m (5.2%) on previous episode The Vanquishers. And it’s down 1.96m (30.1%) on last year’s special Revolution of the Daleks. Although Eve of the Daleks had a strong time shift, adding 37.1% to its overnight, with 1.19m extra viewers catching up, it’s not enough to compensate for the very low base that initial overnight left it with. As a result, the episode is currently the lowest rated episode of the 21st century. And with another 0.6m required to avoid it, it’s near certain that Eve’s final +28 number will confirm that fate.
With viewing figures generally down this Christmas for other programs too, it’s possibly more significant that this result also makes this year’s first special #26 in the weekly +7 chart. To be fair, ordinarily, that wouldn’t be a bad chart performance. Doctor Who’s median +7 chart performance since 2005 is #14, with eleven episodes placing lower than Eve of the Daleks. Even David Tennant only placed at #27 with Silence in the Library – a fact that rightly absolutely never gets mentioned in discourse about the story and its legacy today. And there’s still wiggle room for Eve of the Daleks to sneak into the Top 20. After all, Flux finale The Vanquishers was also at #26 at this point, before climbing to #19 in the final results after 28 days.
Eve of the Daleks’ chart performance is particularly surprising compared to the historically strong performance of Doctor Who specials
So the raised eyebrows at Eve of the Daleks’ performance are primarily because of its status as a special. Since 2005, including Christmas, New Year’s, and other specials, the median chart position has been #7, seven places higher than Doctor Who’s overall median. As mentioned last week, the Whittaker era specials are an oddity in performing less well than regular episodes. But even considering that, Spyfall Part One and Revolution of the Daleks were still in the Top 10. The only other special to fall out of the Top 10 before now was Resolution. But at #14 even that was 12 places higher than Eve of the Daleks.
It’s impossible to ever say with complete certainty why viewing figures do the things they do. But there are a number of factors that may have contributed to Eve’s performance. This Christmas was a strong one for the release of prestige drama, with the BBC also experimenting with a type of hybrid binge-friendly model. The Tourist, Around the World in 80 Days, and A Very British Scandal were bigger hits this year than Doctor Who. But, more than that, those drama serials all ran multiple episodes across the week. Between them the three shows occupied six places on the chart above Eve of the Daleks.
With live audiences choosing to watch ITV’s The Masked Singer, it proved impossible for Doctor Who’s time-shifting to catch up
Another possible factor is ITV scheduling celebrity competition show The Masked Singer directly against Doctor Who. In a world where catch-up viewing is increasingly normal, The Masked Singer cuts in the other direction – its elaborate guessing game and climactic reveals of contestants’ famous faces behind their masks making live viewing practically compulsory. Again, Doctor Who did get its usual time shift that we’ve come to expect. But it would seem that if some viewers miss a special on the night, they won’t rush to watch later. (And, in complete fairness, this follows Doctor Who: Flux consistently beating ITV’s entire Sunday lineup)
And, finally, Eve of the Daleks was essentially a standalone episode more like the old school Christmas specials. But that hasn’t been the case lately, with the past couple of New Year’s episodes more enmeshed in ongoing storylines. That may have made casual viewers less likely to turn on Doctor Who as the background to hunting the last purple Quality Street.
There are few viewing figures precedents for Legend of the Sea Devils or the Autumn special
The fact that there are no more regular episodes this year, only two specials, and that Whittaker’s specials regularly under perform her series, might give some fans pause. There are reasons to be optimistic about her final episode, however. As a highlight of the BBC’s own centenary celebrations, it’s likely to be the subject of a huge publicity push. While regeneration episodes, and the chance to catch a glimpse of the new Doctor, always benefit from extra coverage and public interest too. Spring specials, however, are a largely unknown quantity. The only precedent for upcoming adventure Legend of the Sea Devils is 2009’s Planet of the Dead, which had a typically strong performance in the context of Tennant’s specials, with an audience of 9.74m and a chart position of #5.
The final official result for Eve of the Daleks will be available early next month. We’ll have to wait and see if it really does improve its chart position a little. Where the rest of the year will take us then is anybody’s guess.
Doctor Who returns this Spring with Legend of the Sea Devils
Legend of the Sea Devils finds the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Dan (John Bishop) in 19th century China, where a small coastal village is under threat – from both the fearsome pirate queen Madame Ching (Crystal Yu) and a monstrous alien force which she unwittingly unleashes. Will the Doctor, Yaz and Dan emerge from this swashbuckling battle with the Sea Devils to save the planet?