Legend of the Sea Devils sinks below the waves with an unambiguously poor overnight viewing figure
Doctor Who viewing figures discussions are a funny old game. There have always been, and will always be, people who declare the latest episodes ratings an absolute disaster. When viewing figures are unambiguously excellent, there will be commentary from an alternate universe that they’re a flop. It’s a similar situation when viewing figures are merely decent, or just so-so. Honestly describing them in those terms will still attract the ire of those invested in declaring them the worst ever. Even back in 2005, there were those who looked at the overnights for Rose (9.94m by the way) as proof that Russell T Davies’ vision had failed and would most certainly not get a second series.
For Blogtor Who’s part, Blogtor has always sought to report viewing figures accurately. Alongside that we provide all the relevant context you need to understand why a given episode performed like it did. When they’ve been excellent, we’ve said so. When they’ve been simply okay, we’ve said that too. All this preamble is simply to assure you that when we say that last night’s episode was the perhaps the first genuinely poor overnight results for Doctor Who this century we mean it.
Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils was watched by 2.2m viewers overnight.
Legend of the Sea Devils is Doctor Who’s lowest overnight to date; underperforming even in the context of a generally lacklustre Easter Sunday
By some margin that’s the lowest overnight result for Doctor Who since the 2005 revival. It’s a full 0.69m lower than the previous lowest, 2017’s Peter Capaldi episode The Eaters of Light. And it’s down 1.01m (31.5%) from previous episode Eve of the Daleks’ 3.21m. That itself was already a disappointing result for a New Year’s Day. It’s true overnights are themselves no longer terribly important. But it would require an extraordinary turnaround for Legend of the Sea Devils to not keep its wooden spoon placement in the Doctor Who chart in the +7 and +28 results too.
So there’s no context to bring to bear here that stops this being a bad night for Doctor Who. We can say for instance that the top performer of the day got only 5m, indicating generally low audiences for Easter Sunday generally. And that the BBC’s other big Sunday show, Gentleman Jack’s series premiere, was a mere fraction higher with 2.29m. Even the factor of Doctor Who being directly up against Britain’s Got Talent – a show that effectively demands live viewing – may have played a part. But Doctor Who finished #11 for the day, indicating that even within those conditions it didn’t do as well as usual. As does the remarkable fact that the special was actually beaten by a repeat of a year old Antiques Roadshow on BBC 2.
Ultimately, with Series Fourteen already in production, and a whole new team on the way, one bad viewing figure will mean little for Doctor Who
Quite why Doctor Who’s viewing figures should pick now to dip from being reasonably good to undeniably poor is unclear. There’ll no doubt be as many opinions as there are fans. The show’s inconsistent scheduling may be one factor. Casual viewers may be finding it harder to realize when an episode is going to appear. Another may be that the upcoming, well publicized, return of Russell T Davies as showrunner has created a natural jumping off point for the rest of the Chibnall era. After all, nothing that happens in these last episodes is going to matter soon.
Of course, the very fact that we do know Davies is already deep into pre-production on Series Fourteen means we know the show’s future is secure for now. He and the Bad Wolf team will be returning to a very different media landscape than the world of 2009. One where the likes of Voyage of the Damned’s 12.2m overnight may be gone forever. But given his undoubted genius for promoting the show, and the consistency with which his original era was produced with a new series every year, Legend of the Sea Devils may hopefully be the last episode to get a 2.2m overnight for some time.