Who’s Watching Who?

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Guest contributor Simon Birks takes a look at how Doctor Who can secure its future and avoid cancellation.

Saturday nights in 2005 took an unexpected turn for the better (and having been brought up on some dreadful Saturday night TV, that was a blessing in itself!) when a Time Lord materialised from his imposed hiatus and started running once more. Since then, there have been the superb episodes and the less than superb episodes, and, of course, quite a few in- between. And exactly where each episode is positioned in this comparison is solely up to the viewer; we all have our own points of view, thank the (Time) Lord!

But how else does this programme affect us? As a reader of this site, then it probably affects you more than most people. I’m guessing a lot of Doctor Who viewers tune in on a Saturday evening, watch, get entertained and then flick over to the next show to be entertained again. To them it’s a great piece of TV which fills forty-five minutes, and little more. Then there are us, the people who need to know more.

I am one of these people. I must fit into a popular demographic, male, 40’s, works in IT. It is true to say that I was around for the classic series, though my forgetfulness means that the only real memories I have are of the Sea-Devils coming out of the water, and the Green Slime (although this may be because I had the paperback novel). I did watch Doctor Who, and yes, it was from behind a cushion, but it didn’t hook me back then.

It’s not just me who watches our television when it’s on today, though. My sons do, too. They would be another primary demographic, 11 and 13 year old boys. They love it and are scared by it in equal measures. They’ve collected the stickers and the cards. They have the sonic screwdrivers and the action figures. They watch the trailers and the prequels. They play the games. In this modern day multimedia world they can spend almost every waking hour immersed in everything Gallifreyan.

And then there’s my fiancee. Here’s a demographic that the BBC must have only dreamed of back in 2005; women. But, of course, she’s just as hooked as the rest of us. The acting, the drama, the humour, the romance. They have a universal appeal.

So, what’s next?

Doctor Who still has good audience figures and is not in any immediate danger. Any show that seems to be automatically guaranteed a Christmas Day time-slot must be doing well. But can they achieve better? Because it’s only with consistently high figures that the show is guaranteed longevity. And there will always be a natural tailing off of viewers, so attracting new ones is a must.

A New Doctor

Matt Smith will inevitably leave in the not too distant future. It’s a huge part of the show and you can see how making the Doctor regenerate is a master stroke. But of course it’s a high risk, too. Get it wrong, and cancellation is only a short 13 episode-run away.

A New Companion

We’re getting one of those soon, and that’s good. The Pond’s have had a good story, and River Song one of the strongest female characters ever to grace science-fiction. But a new companion will be a shot in the arm for sure.

New Timings

With the change in season from Spring to Autumn, the figures will probably go up. It’s a sensible, if slightly frustrating, move. And it sounds encouraging that there will be fewer two-part episodes. Resolution is a good thing. It helps the current way of watching TV where people catch up on demand.

New Structures

Would creating fewer longer episodes help? I personally wasn’t a great fan of the specials a couple of years back, but that was mainly due to the stories. The great thing currently is that Steven Moffat knows how to write films well. So maybe there’s a case for a couple of extended episodes every now and again to make it more of an event – not at the expense of a series though. I feel there should always be some kind of serialised run each year. Children thrive on consistency we are always told.

New Media

Over the last couple of years we’ve been inundated with new ways to get involved in Doctor Who. Games, online episodes, prequels, toys, screenwriting competitions and exhibitions. These are sensible, though each has a price-tag attached. It makes Who a bigger target to shoot down in many ways, so they have to be careful. But are there other avenues they haven’t exploited yet?

New Viewers?

So, if we have boys, men and women tuning in, who can Who target next? I’m not sure on the figures for the amount of girls who watch, but could their perception filter be improved? And how about the older demographic? These are difficult areas, but maybe they shouldn’t be ignored totally. Maybe in here somewhere lies a key to swelling the audience even more.

Too Little, Too Late

We all love Doctor Who. We all want it to continue long into the future. But we can’t rest on the laurels of past successes. Too many shows call to their fans for support when they get into difficulty. So, perhaps if we act now, those desperate calls won’t be needed for Who.

So What Can We Do?

There is something we can do. Something low cost, immediate, and even social. We can spread the word. We love to come onto this site and talk about it amongst ourselves, but maybe if we mention it a little more outside of the fandom, it may generate more interest from the ‘grassroots’ level. Without the fans, there is no show – that saying has never been so true as it is today, and word-of-mouth is a powerful tool, as are recommendations. So, Who followers, I ask you to go out and spread the word, and maybe, just maybe, we can do more than just appreciate a great show, we can do something to secure its future too!