Tuesday, May 16, 2006


What Links Politics, Football and Doctor Who?

When ‘your team’ wins, it takes a heart of stone not to feel a rush of tribal jubilation at the victory. I’ve spent my entire life having no interest at all in football and actively resisting school and family pressure to gain one, but I can more than understand the ‘group loyalty’ feeling that comes with it. I didn’t watch the Cup Final on Saturday, but for once I rejoice in it as part of the same ‘team’ as Doctor Who: high ratings for both gave ITV1 its lowest Saturday audience share of its entire 51 years. Deleted; relegated; – or, as across the afternoon its share of those watching fell to a mere 4.7% (behind BBC2), political readers will understand that ITV1 lost its deposit.

Across the whole day it managed just 11.8% of viewers to BBC1’s 36.4% (though both the football and Doctor Who hit well above that). The football averaged about six and a half million viewers, with over eleven million at its height, while the return of the Cybermen to Doctor Who was watched by an average of over eight and a half million viewers, peaking at nine and a half. ITV1’s top-rating programme crawled in at under four million. Though ITV spokespeople have called it a “blip” due to the Cup Final, it’s just three weeks since their third worst Saturday ever – on which the Doctor Who Victorian werewolf episode Tooth and Claw received over nine million viewers, one of the ten highest-rating programmes of the year so far – and the previous couple of records broken were just last year, when the likes of Live 8 and (again) Doctor Who left viewers deserting ITV1 in droves.

I’m reminded of last year’s Dead Ringers ‘ITV1 continuity announcer’ when, following ITV1’s highly promoted ‘answer to Doctor WhoCelebrity Wrestling falling below two million viewers, an eager voice invited viewers to watch Celebrity Coffin-Nail, where z-list celebrities would take turns to hammer the nails in ITV’s coffin.

I know it’s unseemly to rejoice in such a rout of a defeated enemy, but it’s satisfying, no? I remember when Doctor Who was being hammered in the ratings instead of the third-most-watched show on TV, and while it’s not quite ‘seeing the Tories being thrashed at last in 1997’, at least this time my side are winning rather than just the others losing. I’m also taking the opportunity quickly, as the BBC are doing their best to stuff up the Doctor Who audience next week. The high ratings so far have been a particular miracle when you consider that usually the best way to torpedo a programme is to muck about with its timeslot, so people don’t know when to tune in for it: in five weeks so far, Doctor Who has been shown at four different times (7.15, 7.20, 7.00 and 7.23 on Saturday, held back from 7.00 because of extra time in the Cup Final).

This Saturday, Doctor Who is to be broadcast at 6.35.

Unlike last week, the BBC’s not even promoting it with trailers that might inform the potential audience that if you tune in to see the next episode at the same time the last one started you’ll have just missed the whole thing. Last Saturday’s delay helpfully meant that BBC3 had to knock back their tie-in programme Doctor Who Confidential (goodness knows what they filled the space with, and they still managed to start it before the main show had quite finished) and BBC4’s further tie-in programme Machine Men just started anyway, meaning it was half-done before most of its audience turned over. Kudos, though, to them for doing a documentary on robots as an excuse to promote Cybermen and their own A For Andromeda, both of which are jolly good but neither of which are robots ;-)

My main hope for audiences coming back anyway is that they’ll have been so excited by Saturday’s Rise of the Cybermen that they’ll make to the effort to check the time for the concluding episode, The Age of Steel. If you missed Saturday’s, it’s repeated on BBC3 this Friday night, and though I’ve rarely been all that sold on the emotionless man-machine hybrid Cybermen, they bowled me over. Very well-written, very well-acted by lots of familiar faces, very well-directed with an atmosphere of building menace, though for me it’s often the music that does it, and here the score comes in to great effect at two memorable points. One is as the homeless are led away for the brutal operations that will convert them into Cybermen, over a sinister montage of industrial piping shots (the director’s trademark) the overseer plays ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ to drown out the screams, which is memorably horrible and makes me glad I’d not seen it before the dentist last week. The other is building up to the climax, as the newly created Cybermen go on the march, where they not only look terrific but have a stirring theme made up of a remorseless thump overscored with a sinuous, almost oriental melody. This leads up to a particularly pitiless cliffhanger; for once, there was no ‘NEXT TIME…’ trailer in the credits to reassure you that our heroes will be running around next week, and while I’m usually unimpressed by the sort of tantalising end where the monsters declaim ‘Destroy them next week,’ this took pains to have already eliminated the usual get-outs. The cavalry aren’t coming – they turned up, their guns were useless against Cybermen, and now they’re surrounded too; and the Doctor isn’t going to talk his way out of it, because he’s already tried that and failed, too. I'm on tenterhooks for Saturday, and desperately avoiding finding out what happens next.

You might also have noticed that the rather nice Mickey appears as near naked as they could show on a Saturday tea-time, meaning that despite Rose being called “naked” a few weeks ago when a t-shirt and jeans weren’t sufficiently Victorian, it’s all the male TARDIS travellers since the series came back last year that have actually been stripped in the show…

Update: woo hoo! The final viewing figures boosted Rise of the Cybermen from over 8.6 million viewers to more than 9.2 million, a 44% share of those watching at the time. It was the sixth most-watched programme of the week on any channel… A chart placing which Doctor Who has only bettered once before, and that was in 1975. Gosh. Oh, and ITV1 stayed at the bottom.

Did you notice that the Doctor was holding something in his left hand? No idea what. Perhaps the crystal from the Tardis?
Scheduling for this season has been atrocious; I'm sure it wasn't this bad last year. Thanks for pointing out the earlier screen time.
Richard’s come up with the same theory, Martin, but, shh! People won’t be scared enough ;-)

Glad to be of service, James, and I'm more than a little worried that ratings will collapse simply through inept scheduling. The BBC, incidentally, gets private ratings on what their audience think of shows as well as how many people watch them; Rise of the Cybermen got an audience appreciation rating of 86%, which is the second-highest figure any Doctor Who has received – not across this year, but across all forty-three – and among the highest they have on record so far for any programme in 2006. So if ratings dip, I’ll find it hard to believe that it’s because people didn’t think much of it and aren’t interested in finding out what happens next.

Last year, I think only the scary two-part story about the gas-masked ‘Empty Child’ was away from the 7pm start, and that, too, was due to Eurovision – I don’t object to shifting it once a year for that sort of regular event, but I’m a bit cheesed off that the BBC’s suicidally not warning people it’ll be on nearly an hour earlier this week than last. Mucking about with the schedules so much that it’s on at a different time five weeks out of six, though… That’s a bit mad.
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