16 June 2017

`Bold` Chris Chibnall, low ratings, next Doctors and The Fan Show

Incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall has been talking for the first time about his appointment hinting that his approach will be radically different to his two predecessors. For all the debate that’s gone on about the merits or otherwise of Russell T Davies’ versus Steven Moffat’s  Doctor Who the basic format has remained the same. It looks like this will not be the case soon. Chibnall has said he didn’t expect to get the job because the ideas he put forward were so different to the pattern of the past 12 years he thought the BBC would never go for it.  This has been interpreted as the series becoming one long standalone story like Broadchurch for example. To which I’m sure the response might be- `Trial of a Time Lord`.This was the only time such an exercise was attempted and look what happened. I’m sure Chris Chibnall remembers too.  It is very difficult to imagine a Doctor Who story of such complexity anyone could write that would inhabit 12 x 45 minute episodes yet also be affordable unless the series was to become like Twin Peaks with plots that develop at a snail’s pace.
Maybe what Chibnall is really taking about is recalibrating the show to an older audience? 

Think about it- there’s lots of research that has concluded younger people watch less TV than anyone else and what they do watch tends to be on YouTube. Many of them never even watch a produced, packaged series instead preferring interactive games or content made by people like themselves. Now think about all those people enthusing about how amazing the likes of Game of Thrones or Fargo or Jessica Jones are. They’re nearly all people in their late 20s, or older, in other words adults. Perhaps the childrens’ audience is lost to a series like Doctor Who now and its only survival route is with older viewers?
The programme could certainly do with a boost of some sort if this year’s ratings are anything to go by. Of course, trying to analyse TV ratings nowadays is a tricky business. Where once the overnight figure was paramount recent years have paired it back to being nothing more than an initial sounding. The `real` ratings are the consolidated ones that take into account other forms of viewing. In the case of Doctor Who iPlayer watches usually bump up any episode’s initial overnights by 2 million or so. Now people have started arguing that even these should not be the final ratings and we should instead wait anything up to a month to see where things sit. 
Whichever way you slice it though the ratings for the 2017 series are down on the previous one which was also a drop from the one before that. It’s not just the ratings though. There is a certain mood music about any programme, a palpable buzz or absence of one, that will tell you more than ratings will. For years overall television ratings have been falling as multiple channels / platforms / formats emerge to separate our viewing habits. So we need to rely on less tangible indicators.  Do people who are not fans enthuse about the show at school in work, on the train, in coffee shops? Do you personally find it to be the best thing you see all week? Only the eternal optimists would think Doctor Who is as popular now as it was a decade ago. The rest rarely agree on why. Is it too many so called timey wimey stories? Is it too complicated now? Too fan / continuity orientated? Is it that Peter Capaldi is too old? Is it just that after 14 years people have moved on? Could be all, some or even none of these.
I can’t believe it’s nearly three months since I last mentioned the next Doctor and we still don’t know who it is! Since March we’ve had a parade of names of which Phoebe Waller Bridge was the prominent one so much so that, like Kris Marshall before her, betting was suspended. Then she said it wasn’t her. Another of the potential female Doctors, the formidable Maxine Peake, has also ruled herself out while Luke Treadaway’s one word reaction to a rash of stories suggesting he was favourite for the role was classic. “Really” he tweeted. Which shows just how accurate all this speculation is. It is starting to look like this is being mostly driven by agents planting news stories and fans just coming up with wish lists. 
For what it’s worth Sacha Dhawen, Tom Rosenthal and Tom Ellis were the most recent `favourites`. Wouldn’t it be funny if after all this the next Doctor turns out to be someone not on any of these lists at all! Or perhaps it’s been staring us in the face and it’s Matt Lucas. As to when we might find out well it could be at the end of `The Doctor Falls` or while they’re filming the Xmas Special. As the next series starts filming in November we’re bound to know by then. The reactions of fans are more easily predictable; the casting will of course simultaneously be “an inspired choice” and “a disaster”!
In between episodes it really is worth catching the online series The Fan Show.  Eschewing the old `Danny Hargreaves blows something up / how a green screen works behind the scenes format favoured by the old Doctor Who Confidential, this programme simply interviews a couple of people involved in that week’s episode. Hosted by the affable Christel Dee it puts its guests at ease and proves to be interesting and entertaining every time. The most recent episode had a lively chat with Matt Lucas and Mark Gatiss. The Fan Show, despite its name, manages not to be too fannish meaning anyone who enjoys Doctor Who can watch.

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