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Series Openers… By the Numbers

Connor Johnston explores the facts and figures revolving around the opening episodes of each series.


For Doctor Who, the first episode of a series is always one of the most important. Re-establishing the universe of the show to the audience that has waited and anticipated new adventures for so long is no easy deed. Not only do series openers need to quench this thirst for Doctor Who after the “dark times” without the TARDIS, but they also need to be of a certain quality to live up to the expectations, hype and atmosphere a new series automatically creates. We are never “over indulged” in a series opener, but given just enough to keep you coming back over and over in the following weeks to continue the adventure. Tonight, as we celebrate the dawn of a new era and the start of a new series, the numbers tell the tale…

Please note to avoid confusion: Classic Who will be regarded as “Season 1-26” and New Who “Series 1-8”

Also: For the purpose of this article, series openers are only attributed to the actor that is acting as the current doctor at the time of the serial premiering, and therefore where the previous episodes regeneration scene is repeated at the beginning of episodes (Example Patrick Troughton in “Spearhead in Space”) or where more than one Doctor appears (Example Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell in “The Three Doctors”) the episode is only attributed to the Doctor who holds the title at the time of the episode’s production.


Prior to tonight’s episode airing there will have been 33 series openers for the 33 series of Doctor Who. These Include; “An Unearthly Child: 100,000 BC”, “Planet of the Giants”, “Galaxy 4: Four Hundred Dawns”, “The Smugglers: Episode One”, “The Tomb of the Cybermen: Episode One”, “The Dominators: Episode One”, “Spearhead from Space: Episode One”, “Terror of the Autons: Episode One”, “Day of the Daleks: Episode One” , “The Three Doctor’s: Episode One”, “The Time Warrior: Episode One”, “Robot: Episode One”, “Terror of the Zygons: Episode One”, “The Masque of Mandragora: Episode One”, “Horror of Fang Rock: Episode One”, “The Key to Time: The Ribos Operation”, “Destiny of the Daleks: Episode One”, “The Leisure Hive: Episode One”, “Castrovalva: Episode One”, “Arc of Infinity: Episode One”, “Warriors of the Deep: Episode One”, “Attack of the Cybermen: Episode 1”, “The Trial of a Timelord: The Mysterious Planet”, “Time and the Rani: Episode One” , “Remembrance of the Daleks: Episode One”, “Battlefield: Episode One”, “Rose” , “New Earth”, “Smith and Jones”, “Partners in Crime”, “The Eleventh Hour”, “The Impossible Astronaut”, and “Asylum of the Daleks”


Only 9 out of 13 Doctors have had their first full-length adventure during a series opener with Doctors number 2, 6, 8 and War (Yes ‘War’ is a number now) preferring less fuss made about their first outing.


Robert Holmes earns the award of “Most Series Openers Written” with a grand total of 5. These include the openers of Season 7, 8, 11, 16 and 23. As of tonight both showrunners of New Who: Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat will be completely drawn for second place on 4 opening episodes each.


A ridiculously low 15 Doctor Who companions have first appeared in a “series opener” – That’s only 20.27% (Just over 1/5th) of all companions! It seems there is really no pattern to the Doctor’s adoption of strays! Some of the companions whose story began with a series opener are Susan in “An Unearthly Child”, Elizabeth Shaw in “Spearhead from Space” and Amy Pond in “The Eleventh Hour.”


Besides Paul McGann and John Hurt (who have not appeared in any series openers) there have been 4 Doctors with only 2 or less series openers to their name. Peter Capaldi and Christopher Eccleston both sit on 1, but are closely followed by both Patrick Troughton and Colin Baker hitting the next lowest score of 2. Patrick’s score is low due to losing attribution for his first series (Series 4’s) opening episodes as he doesn’t debut until mid-way through the series. The reasons for Colin Baker‘s low score however are that he had his run forcefully cut prematurely due to BBC management decisions.


The Doctor with the most series openers is of course the longest running Doctor to date, Tom Baker, pulling up an impressive score of 7. These include “Robot: Episode One”, “Terror of the Zygons: Episode One”, “The Masque of Mandragora: Episode One”, “Horror of Fang Rock: Episode One”, “The Key to Time: The Ribos Operation”, “Destiny of the Daleks: Episode One” and “The Leisure Hive: Episode One”. View the complete spread of series openers by the Doctors below.



89 is the highest Audience Appreciation Index (or AI) Rating for any series opener out of all the 34 (So far). The Audience Appreciation Index (AI) is a score out of 100 which is used as an indicator of the public’s appreciation for a television or radio programme, or broadcast service, in the United Kingdom. This was awarded in Series 7’s “Asylum of the Daleks” written by Steven Moffat. Splitting the 2 eras of ‘Who’ up the highest rating opener for Classic Who is Series 23’s “The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet” written by Robert Holmes and scoring a 73.


On the flip side, the lowest Audience Appreciation Index Rating for a Doctor Who series opener is 52, belonging to Series 6’s (1968)’s “The Dominators: Episode One”, written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, featuring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. Separating the two eras of Who again the lowest score for New Who so far is Series 1’s “Rose” on a still brilliant score of 81. The average AI for all Doctor Who series openers is 62.5 with only 13/33 episodes failing to meet that standard, but only by minor margins.


There have been 11 series openers that have first aired in September including “The Tomb of the Cybermen: Episode One” and “Horror of Fang Rock: Episode One” making it the most popular month for a run of Doctor Who to begin airing. The Second most popular month for our Doctor Who cravings to be quenched with 7 Series Openers first airing is January. This makes February, May, June and July the only months free of any Doctor Who debuts!


So far it is the Time Lord race that has appeared as the most major villains in a opener; including The Rani, The Master, The Valeyard and even Omega. Out of the 33, the race has been represented in 6 openers. Second with 5 villain contributions is the human race, followed by Who-heavyweights the Daleks on 4 appearance, with finally the Cybermen and Autons on 2 Episodes each. Among the main villains of the rest are arch enemies the Sontarans (in Season 11’s “The Time Warrior”), and the Rutans (in Season 15’s “Horror of Fang Rock”) tied, as always, on 1 appearance each.


The highest ranking opener according to the 2014 DWM “First 50 Years Poll” (Featured in Issue 474) is Season 25’s “Remembrance of the Daleks” sitting comfortably at 10th place. The Sylvester McCoy serial achieved an average score of 87.58%.


The lowest ranking opener according to the same poll is Season 24’s “Time and the Rani” which ranks 3rd from the bottom at 239th place. The Sylvester McCoy serial achieved an average score of 45.09%. You can explore the ratings according to the poll in the graph below. (Please note all scores have been rounded up to the nearest whole number.)



A whopping 25 series openers have been set in some way or another on the Planet Earth. Leaving only 9 episodes Earth-free! Among these episodes are the popular locations of Gallifrey, with a score of 3 episodes, as well as Skaro and Telos both being the settings for 2 episodes each including “Destiny of the Daleks” and “Attack of the Cybermen”.


It has taken 33 series openers for the most iconic 2 words “Doctor Who to be said onscreen. “Asylum of the Daleks” is the first and the only (so far) series opener where the first question asked. This is of course during the closing moments of the episode where it becomes apparent that Oswin has wiped all knowledge of the Doctor from the Daleks memory banks. The Episode that has come closest to the pun is “Rose” where the 2 words “Doctor Who” are visible on the home screen of Clive’s website. (TRIVIA: The first time in the shows history where the gag appeared was in episode 2 of “An Unearthly Child” spoken by both Ian and the Doctor himself. )


The highest percentage of fatalities among the guest cast is in Season 15’s “Horror of Fang Rock: Episode 1” with an astounding 100% of guest characters not making it to the end of the episode. Even more amazing is that this episode was not in fact written by Steven Moffat – this is noticeable mainly for the deceased characters lack of coming back to life


The highest rated opener, referring to the number of UK viewers on an original broadcast, is Series 17’s “Destiny of the Daleks” on over 13 million viewers!


On the opposite side of the fence its Season 26’s “Battlefield” that is the lowest rating opener with only 3.1 Million viewers – hardly a representation of the episodes stunning quality. Consequently the largest difference in viewing numbers is between “Battlefield: Episode One” and Series 1’s “Rose” which, on 10.81 million viewers makes for about a 7.7 million difference. “Rose” also happens to have the highest viewer rating for an opening episode of New Who. You can view a specially made graph for this article comparing the ratings of series openers below.



27 series openers have been part of a multi-part serial (aka having more than 1 episode in the story). These include every series opener in the Classic era of Doctor Who, and or Series 6’s “The Impossible Astronaut” , which is the only multi-parter series opener in the revived series.


The companion that has appeared in most season openers is the beautiful Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elisabeth Sladen who sits on 4 with the first episodes of Seasons 11, 12, 13 and 14. Closely behind are Jo Grant (Katy Manning), Tegan Jovanka (Janet Feilding), Amy Pond (Karen Gillian) and Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) each on 3.


Before tonight’s record-breaking debut, the longest individual series opening episode is Series 5’s “The Eleventh Hour”, that runs for exactly 3871 seconds – or 64.5 minutes.


17 opening episodes have taken advantage of a contemporary setting for their plots. This means that the episode has been set within the same decade it airs in. Example: “Terror of the Zygons” which was both set and released during the 1970’s.


Regardless of if they were contemporary or not, the 1970’s is where the most openers have taken place. The decade that style forgot is the setting for 7 opening plots.

100,000 – 5,000,000

The earliest year visited by the TARDIS in a season opener is the year 100,000BC” which quite fittingly is during the ending of the very first episode – “An Unearthly Child: Episode One”. On the other end of the timeline, the furthest into the future the TARDIS has travelled in a series opener is the year 5,000,000ADduring Series 2’s “New Earth”.


Bad-luck to those planning a marathon in the last few hours before the premiere (33 Episodes in a day! You’d need some sort of Time Machine?!) as 2 episodes on this list are currently MIA. Both of the Lost Episodes come from William Hartnell’s Era and belong to Series 3 and 4 – “Galaxy 4: Four Hundred Dawns” and “The Smugglers: Episode One” respectfully. It would be unprofessional for me to suggest hunting down reconstruction of these episodes by simply entering the titles of the episode on Daily motion… so I shan’t mention it at all.


Deep Breath” is the 34th series opener, featuring the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi in his first full adventure and Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald.

You can read the previous “By the Numbers” articles here:

The new Doctor lands tonight!

Step back in time...


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Ollie Walton Harrod
Ollie Walton Harrod

I don't think the first episodes are that important. I don't like it when intense things are done for first episodes; I prefer that to be saved for later. I like the first episodes to be fairly lighthearted (or in the darker Doctor's cases: not as dark). However, as intensity goes, I do like the Series 6 opener, despite all of that I have just said.

I was surprised 'Rose' had the lowest appreciation numbers, of modern 'Doctor Who'. As, despite what I think, other people are not keen on 'New Earth'. Therefore, I ask: What is the audience appreciation number based on. How is that number gained? Is it the number of people who watched the episode upon airing, or what?

I am also surprised 'Asylum of the Daleks' received such a high audience appreciation score. Both because, I wasn't too keen on it, and I'm pretty sure people love 'The Eleventh Hour'.

"Patrick’s score is low due to losing attribution for his first series (Series 4’s)" - you meant 'Season 4' there. Just pointing that out.

I'm really surprised 'Doctor Who' hasn't been said more often in series openers. I just always assumed it was always said. Because in some way or another, it is said a lot. I remember Martha, for instance saying it (in 'Smith and Jones'), but then that must have been something like "Doctor What?" that she asked.

You started making a comment about how Moffat kills a lot of his cast. To which I completely disagree with, as he really doesn't kill anyone. But then you made the extension that they're brought back to life so that kind of made it okay (/humorous). 

The Finn
The Finn

"Even more amazing is that this episode was not in fact written by Steven Moffat – this is noticeable mainly for the deceased characters lack of coming back to life" XD

MrRazza, WANTED: A Lord of Thyme
MrRazza, WANTED: A Lord of Thyme

Great article Connor, though I would take issue with this -> "The decade that style forgot". I really have to award that accolade to the 1980s, not the '70s.

bad geminton
bad geminton

There is quite a bit of misinformation here. Only 2 auton series openers? Did Rose un-happen? And I'm pretty sure that Tennant didn't start with a series opener, unless we're counting the christmas special as being a series opener, which it most certainly isn't. I can't get into a statistic heavy post if I keep seeing things I know are incorrect...


Connor, I could kiss you. Marvelous article! SO much fun!

Baker Street is scared of spiders... KILL THE MOON
Baker Street is scared of spiders... KILL THE MOON

All over the world, Whovians go to the toilet, shush fellow family members, squeal like a 10-year-old girl and take a Deep Breath...

I just want to say, I hope everyone (myself included!) enjoys the episode - try not to explode or spontaneously combust - and see you all afterwards! A new era of Doctor Who is about to begin...

I'd Like a Jelly Baby
I'd Like a Jelly Baby

This article is really good! I particularly enjoyed the Moffat joke about the lack of death in his tenure. However, there are nine zeroes in 5 billion ;) (sorry I'm a bit of a nitpicker)

Lucie Bleedin Miller
Lucie Bleedin Miller

Another brilliant article, Connor! I must say that I am extremely anxious to see how Deep Breath does in the AI scores and viewing figures. Obviously, those things don't determine the quality of an episode, but as someone who loves statistics, I can't wait to see them! Less than an hour, now!


Thanks Connor! Very interesting!! :D  ONLY 51 MINUTES TO GO!!!!!!!!! :D :D :D 

supermoff will kill the moon!
supermoff will kill the moon!

And seeing this is probably the last chance to say it, I hope everyone enjoys Deep Breath and that we'll have lots to talk about tonight and through next weekend :P 


I love me so good facts and stats! Less than an hour to go!


This is awesome. Love the By The Numbers article format. I've done the idea justice Connor.

supermoff will kill the moon!
supermoff will kill the moon!

Great article! Being a wannabe actuary, I do love a few facts, figures and statistics, and these are not just interesting, but well presented and summarised. 

For those interested, the AI scores for all the openers of the revived era are as follows, in order: Asylum of the Daleks - 89 

The Impossible Astronaut - 88 

Smith and Jones - 88 

Patners in Crime - 88

The Eleventh Hour - 86 

New Earth - 85 

Rose - 81 

All these AI scores were calculated using the modern BBC methodology, and all represent great BBC quality. However, the AI scores were calculated completely differently in the 20th century. Even though the classic series has significantly lower AI scores than the revived era, an AI score of about 60-65 was average back then. Just thought I'd state that if there's any confusion. 

But anyway, great article :)

Rainbow Kidneys
Rainbow Kidneys

@Ollie Walton Harrod I guess 'Rose' didn't have a really high AI because it was watched by a really big audience: it has one of the highest viewing figures of NuWho, and right after it, there was a considerable drop in the audience, simply because a lot of people must have watched it out of curiosity, and in the end, didn't like it. So, perhaps that's what gives this episode a lower 'AI'.


You! I mean you've done it justice.