Doctor Who Premiere Ratings: A Tale Of Two Continents

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Depending on whether you’re reading the rating news for Doctor Who’s series nine premiere, “The Magician’s Apprentice” in America or the UK, then the show is either a new powerhouse of cable programming or on its last legs.


In the UK, even the BBC’s own news services seemed to delight in reporting that “millions” has deserted the show, which pulled in just 4.58 million viewers live on Saturday night (while apparently grudgingly admitting that critics had given it a resounding thumbs up). That was, undeniably, a massive drop from season eight’s debut to an overnight audience of 6.8 million, and lower than every episode’s overnight for season eight.

Fandom furiously sought to find mitigating circumstances: all the ratings were poor on Saturday night. Even the once mighty X-Factor pulled in just over seven million viewers, and that had to factor in Plus-One figures. The next day, Downton Abbey premiered to it lowest premiere rating ever as well. And, of course, Doctor Who was number one on iPlayer and the catch-up figures (released next week) are bound to be impressive. They always are for Doctor Who. It’s just one of those shows that people watch at the leisure now when they decide, rather than sitting down to watch when it debuts.

All this is true… And there’s no need to panic about cancellation just yet because overnights of four-and-a-half million for a UK drama are very reasonable. However, it would be nice if Doctor Who still felt like the TV event it was once…

Well, it appears that it is. Just not in its home country.


This is not just a good story. This is a fantastic story. No spin needed.

“The Magician’s Apprentice” ranked as Doctor Who’s biggest season premiere ever with two million viewers, which nearly doubled the season eight average for the US. (For comparison that’s on par with many of  The CW’s dramas and better than most of US Syfy’s). 

The episode was also a massive hit on social networks: the episode was the number one “most social drama” (what a bizarre phrase, but you get the idea) of the night – and for the week – based on ListenFirst’s Digital Audience Ratings for Television. It was the number one TV brand on Tumblr, the number one drama on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and the number two drama on Instagram, following The Walking Dead. Are pictures of zombies really that popular? 

Doctor Who is unlike anything else on television, a storied franchise that is as fresh and contemporary as ever, with brilliant writing and superb performances,” said Sarah Barnett, President of BBC America. “We couldn’t be more thrilled that new and returning Doctor Who fans tuned into the live premiere in record numbers and we look forward to bringing more of the Doctor to this passionate audience.”

So don’t worry too much about the UK hoi polloi falling out of love with Doctor Who. There’s still a massive core committed audience here (of a size and passion many shows would exterminate for) and a growing mass of new viewers around the world. Doctor Who may not be water cooler TV any more, but the internet is the world’s water cooler now. And anyway, Andy from accounts only ever watched it because he fancied David Tennant. He wasn’t a real fan…


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