Doctor Who – A Global Phenomenon: Part 4 UK
Guest contributor Francis Milan offers Britain a Jelly Baby in part 4.
What-ho chaps! Britain here!
How would you define a national treasure? Doctor Who certainly isn’t the royal family, Big Ben or Wimbledon. And it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. (See what I did there? Gah, suit yourself.) As much as all of us would love to consider it an audacious triumph in our tiny island’s history, by my definition, it doesn’t qualify – iconic, though it may be. Coronation Street has been around longer; it achieves higher viewing figures and has produced ten times as many episodes; yet only its most passionate of stakeholders loosely regard the programme a national treasure.
I know what you’re thinking. ‘That pun back there was hilarious!’. Doctor Who’s borderline status as a national treasure is pretty irrelevant. The point is, it’s because of this ambiguity that the show’s success and value is truly immeasurable. I could go on about its 97 per cent brand recognition, or its average television rating of around 8 million – but does that really say anything? Nah. Doctor Who is such a different experience for everyone. I can safely say, our love for the show is greatly led by nostalgia. My experience as a British Wholigan (yes, deal with it) should offer as good an insight as any.
Figuratively and geographically speaking, we Brits are the closest to the show. We feel sentimental, patriotic – the show for us is totally relatable, which is difficult to achieve in another country. We will forever hark back to episodes such as Aliens of London and The Bells of Saint John for their affectionate uses of London as a plot device. There’s Big Ben, which the Slitheen left a gaping hole in (don’t worry, everyone, it’s been fixed now), the Shard, home to manipulative misanthropist Miss Kizlet, and that building in Canary Wharf, which all of my family (even my Who-cynic father) lovingly refer to as Torchwood Tower. Okay, so not ‘lovingly’ per se. We don’t know what it’s supposed to be called. In this way, Doctor Who manages to embed itself into everyday life. People in Britain never say ‘time machine’ – it’s no exaggeration that TARDIS is a much more common term.
Oh, the days I spent, longing to visit that wonderful city. Isn’t it odd that the Daleks always attack London? They must love it as much as me. Sadly, when I did first visit, there was no impending doom, nor was there a middle-aged bloke running around with a screwdriver. Believe it or not, the place in London I was most adamant about seeing was the Powell Estate. Gosh, that’s strange. To be only 100 miles away from the city reinforces my passion and accessibility of the show. On one occasion, I remarked that in a way, viewers outside of the UK can be (or would need to be) the most dedicated of fans.
This leads me on to the negative side of being in the UK. With all of the conventions, proms and experiences right on my doorstep, I feel no compulsion to go and visit them. I mean, there’s always time, isn’t there? Take the prime example: One year, some time into Doctor Who’s 21st Century success, the local newspaper announced that the touring Doctor Who Exhibition (the slightly inferior predecessor to the Experience, and slightly superior successor Blackpool’s Doctor Who Museum – although don’t take my word for it, I only have a rough idea) would be hosted in our city! For the whole year! “Oh frabjous day!” I exclaimed. This wasn’t a conceivable thing – we weren’t a big city, by London or Cardiff’s standard. But my home town would be England’s (because around the same time, Cardiff and Glasgow had them open) proper Home Of Doctor Who. Being a young fan at the time, this was a seriously exciting concept. I could see the Empress of the Racnoss staring out of the window every time I went into the city centre!
I only visited it once. In more or less its final week. If it was an Australian show, however, I would be desperate to go and visit everything Who-ish they had to offer. I’m sure I’m not the only Brit that feels this way.
Then there are the in-jokes. Well, ‘in-’ as much as nation-wide. I’m sure the Scottish jokes appealed to a certain chunk of the audience (ashamedly, they breezed past me). We guffawed (politely) when Rose stumbled across Tony Blair’s flayed remains in a cupboard. We gasped in delight when political commentator Andrew Marr reported on an alien invasion, when politician and Strictly-dancer Ann Widdecombe endorsed the Master’s evil scheme, and when Professor Brian Cox mused upon the existence of extraterrestrial life – the majority of such cameos wouldn’t have been of interest to anyone overseas. The very fact that these people want to appear in the show is a testament to Doctor Who’s broad spectrum of audiences within Great Britain.
Doctor Who will always be a foreign country. Wholigans in Cardiff will think they’re missing all the action in London – and vice versa. The cast and production team manage to convey the magic of Britain beyond the superficial layer of guest stars and landmark cameos. They do it so elegantly, it is barely noticeable. I take my fez off to them.
Oh, okay! I give in! Viewing figures are always interesting to look at…
THE RATINGS-Y BIT
The Classic era was definitely the most diverse of the two eras in terms of viewing figures. Part 4 of City of Death achieved the largest Doctor Who audience ever, with 16.1 million viewers tuning in to watch the Fourth Doctor and Romana foil Scaroth’s plans. [Average rating pictured.] This was only achieved due to a strike by rival channel ITV – so there was very little choice on the box anyway.
Nevertheless, this was a very popular time for Doctor Who. Beyond the strike, the most popular Classic is The Robots of Death, broadcast 2 and a half years earlier, attaining 13.1 million viewers for Part 3.
Doctor Who’s final season in 1989 didn’t exactly leave on a ratings high. Though the succeeding stories fared slightly better (with the last story, Survival, enticing almost 5 million), Season 26’s debut episode, Battlefield Part 1, marked Doctor Who’s lowest ever premiere rating – 3.1 million. [Again, average rating pictured.]
Zooming on into the 21st century – where Who’s first stint on the screen, Rose, attracted almost 11 million viewers! It still remains the revived show’s highest rating for a regular episode. But overall, most people tuned in to watch Voyage of the Damned – on Christmas Day. But what comes up, must come down. Well, for a bit. Silence in the Library saw River’s entrance met by modern Who’s biggest lull. Though 6.27 million viewers is an insanely huge figure for almost any other show!
Anyway. Toodlepip for now – I think I just saw a Dalek glide past my window. Not again!
Doctor Who in Britain:
If you’ve missed any of the other parts in the series, click on the links below. It’s been a blast!