Monday, 19 September 2011

TV Ratings: DOCTOR WHO beaten by ITV gameshow!

Monday, 19 September 2011
I don't usually comment on ratings (beyond the occasional premiere or finale), but I  just had to mention Doctor Who's humbling defeat on Saturday evening by ITV1's long-running gameshow Family Fortunes. Who attracted 5.9m against Fortunes' 6.2m.

Of course, 300,000 viewers isn't much difference in the big scheme of things, and Who will undoubtedly trounce Fortunes when its ratings for "The God Complex" are consolidated across the week (including repeats and iPlayer views), but it still doesn't look good for the BBC. Overnight figures aren't as important as they used to be, and Doctor Who's popularity remains very strong, but the show's still expected to win its timeslot—especially against fairly unremarkable competition like a gameshow.

Who's defeat has again raised concerns that viewers are beginning to lose interest, as the plots have become too complex. I'm a little tired of that argument, because it's all subjective. Some people find Steven Moffat's plots totally baffling and alienating, others enjoy trying to tease apart the mysteries and theorize on developments, while others just sit back and let the visuals and sparkling dialogue compensate for a general lack of understanding.

I'm still of the opinion the show's better when it’s challenging and complex, but I do worry that things are going too far. The River Song storyline was fascinating to begin with, but is beginning to feel very silly and unconvincing. Perhaps the issue with Series 6 has been that the mytharc is really dominating things, and standalone episodes don't get much of a chance to engage people's thinking because we're still chewing on the mysteries that feel more relevant. Still, we had five years of Russell T. Davies comparatively simplistic series-arcs, so maybe it's perfectly reasonable for Moffat to take things many steps beyond?

I just hope his pride in his work doesn't interfere with Moffat admitting (if only in private) that many people can't follow what's happening, and would appreciate less intricate plots, or a mytharc that doesn't feel like it's smothering everything else. (Only "The Doctor's Wife" and "The Girl Who Waited" have been strong enough to completely step out of the shadow cast by River Song and The Silence.)

As we race towards the finale in a fortnight, what do you think? Is the show's narrow defeat by a piffling gameshow proof the audience aren't so keen? Were there other factors on Saturday that led to Family Fortunes winning the hour? Maybe more and more people are happy to watch Who later on iPlayer, so its overnight ratings are weakening? Or was it a particularly fantastic episode of Fortunes, hmmm?