Survivors of the Flux sees a small rise from last week and keeps Doctor Who’s place in the Top 20. Meanwhile we look at how other major shows of the past ten years have dealt with the general audience decline
Survivors of the Flux now has a final official viewing figure of 5.32m. That’s up 0.31m (6.2%) on the final number for previous episode Village of the Angels. And it’s an additional 0.49m from Survivors of the Flux’s +7 result, for a total time-shift of 1.5m. This is 39.3% of the total audience for the episode, and continues a trend of strong catch up viewing for Doctor Who: Flux with an average of 42.1% across the first five episodes.
This result for Survivors of the Flux also means Doctor Who: Flux keeps its place in Top 20 chart. Survivors of the Flux is at #19 for the week, and #4 for the day, behind Strictly Come Dancing, Top Gear and Showtrial. As with most episodes of Doctor Who this year, it beat everything on ITV that Sunday.
Doctor Who’s audience is undoubtedly smaller than ten years ago, but is actually weathering the ratings storm better than most?
With most of the results in, this is a good time to examine the general state of British TV audiences. With one episode to go, the average viewing figure for Doctor Who this year has been 5.7m. That’s certainly less than in recent decades, with the average audience since 2005 being 7.61m. The point has been repeatedly made that the way people consume media has changed radically the past few years. And that consequently television audiences are down across the board.
But it’s a little hard to picture how well, or badly, Doctor Who is doing within that changing environment. Is it simply disguising a larger than normal collapse in audience sizes? Or is the show actually holding up better than most? Doctor Who’s ability to maintain a position in the charts is one way to look at that. But let’s also look at some other major shows and how their audiences have changed over the past few years.
Three key years, 2011, 2017, and 2021 can be used to show how audience sizes have changed
First of all, a word about methodology. Let’s take three key years: 2011, 2017, and 2021. The +28 metric was introduced as the official rating in 2014. So we’ll be using that for the later two years and the +7 number for 2011. However, as we’re concerned with comparing different shows to each other, we’re still comparing like for like in each year. And Blogtor Who will flag up when we’ve had to rely on the overnight numbers, and again compare Doctor Who’s overnights where only the overnight for the other show is available.
Finally, and this can’t be emphasised enough, viewing figures analysis is essentially a bit of nerdy numbers based fun. Barring something extraordinary happening, the show’s future is secure in the medium term, and its viewing figures have never dipped below being ‘very healthy.’ There is no battle to save or sink Doctor Who reflected in the below numbers, though it’s understandably exciting to some to frame it that way. Having established all that, let’s take a deeper look at the numbers themselves.
This year longtime ratings champion EastEnders failed to defeat Doctor Who in the ratings
A decade ago, in 2011, when Doctor Who viewing figures ranged from 6.7m to 10.8m for Matt Smith’s first year, the BBC’s flagship soap opera EastEnders’ own numbers ranged from 5.7m to 11.4m. Fast forward to 2017 and Peter Capaldi’s final year of episodes had an audience ranging from 5.1m to 8.3m, and EastEnders from 4.6m to 7.8m. Both had experienced drops, yet EastEnders’ largest audiences are now smaller that Who’s smallest.
And now in 2021, the lowest rated episode of the show this year came in with an overnight of just 1.7m, while a typical EastEnders episode concurrent with Doctor Who’s run was getting about 3-3.5m viewers in the +28 day chart, often only two thirds of Doctor Who’s audience each week, which ranged from 5.01m to 6.6m. Even the EastEnders Christmas Day episode, once so iconic the Tenth Doctor made jokes about “the best Christmas Walford’s ever had” had an overnight of 2.9m last week. That’s 0.6m less than Doctor Who: Flux’s lowest overnight, and 1.5m less than its highest.
I’m a Celebrity is still one of the UK’s biggest shows, but its audience has shrunk substantially over the past few years
So one of the BBC’s top rated shows has gone from a bigger audience than Doctor Who ten years ago, to within the same range as Who five years ago, to not having a single episode beat any of Doctor Who’s most recent run. But is that an isolated example? Well, to go back to 2011 again, ITV’s ratings powerhouse I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here was averaging 10.1m viewers per episode. In 2017 that had barely moved to 10m, but over the past five years it’s reduced to 7.6m. So while Doctor Who audiences may have dropped 7% over the past five years, I’m a Celeb, while still the bigger show, has shrunk much more with 25%.
At one point the Mrs. Brown’s Boys Christmas Specials would regularly pull in more viewers than Doctor Who’s. Will the same hold true for their respective New Year’s Day Specials this year?
2011 also saw Ireland’s established comedy Mrs. Brown’s Boys traverse the Irish Sea to land on British television screens for the first time. Its Christmas specials almost immediately became an institution of their own, with 8.2m tuning in to watch that first special the same year 10.8m watched The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe. In 2013 they hit a high with 11.4m while 11.1m watched The Time of the Doctor. By 2017 both shows played to smaller, but highly respectable, Christmas audiences: 7.9m for Doctor Who’s Twice Upon a Time and 8.5m for Mrs. Brown’s Boys.
But in 2021, Mrs. Brown’s Boys Halloween Special on the 29th of December was seen by 3.7m compared to The Halloween Apocalypse’s 6.4m two days later. This year’s Mrs. Brown Christmas special has an overnight of 2.7m, with New Year’s Day specials for both shows still to come. We’ll have to wait and see to confirm if Eve of the Daleks outperforms either or both of them, though Blogtor Who will be sure to tell you next week.
Doctor Who has shown a remarkable resilience in an increasingly crowded media
EastEnders, I’m a Celebrity, and Mrs. Brown’s Boys. Shows which were once bigger than Doctor Who but haven’t weathered the stormy ratings of the past few years as well as Who. Two no longer bigger than Doctor Who, and another with a much smaller lead than before. These are just three examples, and there are exceptions of course. Jaws dropped at Line of Duty’s ability to add more and more viewers with each passing series precisely because it’s so rare.
But these examples illustrate the general trend. And it’s a trend that means Doctor Who’s ability to retain as much of its audience as it does makes it precious. With the future already secured to 2024, it’s exciting to speculate about what the second reign of RTD will bring. But Doctor Who has already demonstrated the loyalty and love of the British public for it, and that’s something to be rather proud of.
After this week’s final results for Survivors of the Flux, next week we’ll have the final results for The Vanquishers and a complete overview of Doctor Who: Flux’s performance. Plus, of course, there will be the initial overnight viewing figures for Eve of the Daleks.
Doctor Who will return on New Year’s Day with Eve of the Daleks on BBC One at 7pm and on BBC America and AMC+ in the US
Sarah (Aisling Bea) owns and runs ELF storage, and Nick (Adjani Salmon) is a customer who visits his unit every year on New Year’s Eve. This year, however, their night turns out to be a little different than planned as they find themselves joining forces with the Doctor, Dan and Yaz in a fight against the Daleks.