It’s not every day you get to hear about a TV star critizing their own broadcaster, but Peter Capaldi has lashed out at the BBC for not caring about Doctor Who enough—not in terms of its content, or promotion... but when the show airs in the UK.
The comments come from a recent interview with Newsweek, where Capaldi reacted angrily to the fact that the past few seasons of Doctor Who have aired at erratic times in the UK—ranging from as early as 5:00 pm to as late as 8:30 pm—to accommodate the live broadcast of reality series Strictly Come Dancing (known as Dancing with the Stars in America):
It does frustrate me. If you’re going to have a family show, I think you have to build up a little ritual around it—and that ritual usually starts with having it on at the same time [every week]. Even I didn’t know what time it was on because it got later and later and later.
The BBC is an incredible organization, but... sometimes people there think, That [it’s] looking after itself. And [Doctor Who is] not being looked after. I think maybe their eye was taken off the ball, or the show was seen as a thing they could just push around. It’s not. It’s a special thing.
Now, for the vast majority of our readers this’ll require a bit of explanation. Unlike its mostly cult appreciation in the US, Doctor Who is still firmly regarded as family show in the UK. Having episodes finishing after 9:00 pm, well after the younger children that are considered Doctor Who’s prime audience would be in bed, isn’t exactly ideal for families who want to watch the show together (without recording it and watching it the day after).
But 9:00 pm is also a very specific and important time in UK TV. It’s the beginning of a period called the “watershed,” a period between 9:00 pm and 5:30 am where adult content (explicit sex, graphic violence, swearing, and so on) can be legally broadcast. It’s sometimes called “safe harbor” in the US, and runs between 10:00 pm and 6:00am, but is generally not as strictly enforced.
So having Doctor Who episodes air past 9:00 pm cutoff point is problematic, given that many kids will have to skip Who to go to bed on time, and those who do stay up to watch it run the risk of their favorite show being immediately followed by something unsuitable for children. Losing its key audience to DVR recordings would obviously affect Doctor Who’s “live” overnight ratings, which have been flagging in recent years—something Capaldi also acknowledges in the Newsweek interview. Now the question is this: will the actor’s frustrations with how the BBC handles the show’s timeslot will play a part in his eventual decision to stay on with the series or not after Steven Moffat’s final season?