Is Doctor Who getting too scary or too complicated? A minor backlash is brewing

Illustration for article titled Is Doctor Who getting too scary or too complicated? A minor backlash is brewing

When Steven Moffat took over as showrunner of Doctor Who, he seemed to be making a conscious effort to keep the breezy family-friendly tone of his predecessor, Russell T. Davies. But now that Moffat's settled in, that's changed.

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Moffat's second season of Doctor Who launched with a two-part story that was both darker and more confusing than anything RTD had done — and certainly more so than any of RTD's season openers. We vastly preferred this to Moffat's earlier efforts as showrunner — because it's better to see Moffat being himself rather than trying to copy Davies — but the British press is less certain.

The Daily Mail points to the show's ratings, which are continuing to fall off a bit*, and says these "disappointing viewing figures" may prove the show's "plotlines are too scary and too complex for its largely family audience.

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Writes the Mail:

An unnamed father told how his two children, aged nine and four, have now asked to record Doctor Who and watch it on Sunday mornings because it is too scary to watch close to bedtime.

Another unnamed viewer, writing on a dedicated fan site, told how her six-year-old daughter, previously an avid fan, now never wants to watch the programme again because it is too scary.

The mother added: ‘Steven M seems to have no interest in making it enjoyable for children and just seems obsessed by how scary and complex he can make the storyline.'

Meanwhile, the Guardian has a debate between two writers, one of whom insists the "new Doctor Who is too dark and convoluted... At present the writers seem intent on proving how clever they are through too much complexity and too many cheap shocks." He's rebutted by another writer, who claims that "it's important for kids to learn about fear."

As backlashes go, this is pretty minor, and will probably blow over. But given that the BBC is taxpayer-funded and constantly under attack by politicians, you do have to wonder if Moffat is going to be under pressure from within the BBC to make the show more light-hearted and newbie-friendly next year. Probably a lot depends on whether the show continues to lose viewers over the course of the year — and especially, whether people will come back after a lengthy gap halfway through the season.

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* - Before anybody points it out in comments, there are other factors behind the falling ratings, including an earlier-than-usual 6 PM airtime, and abnormally nice weather. And yes, more people are watching the show time-shifted or via the BBC's online "iplayer." And yes, the show is still a hit by any standard. However, the numbers do seem to indicate serious attrition among casual viewers — as this SFX article says, the numbers prove the show is appealing more to die-hards and less to random family viewers.

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DISCUSSION

James Whitbrook

Jesus, since when did reporting on the non-finalised figures become the norm for this show? Oh wait, it's the Daily Mail, who will take any opportunity they can to slight the BBC. The same tabloid who also last year claimed that Karen Gillan was the first Doctor Who companion ever to be attractive, and how her attractiveness was causing millions to switch off. Because there's never been an attractive girl in the show ever before.

Really, rather than a newspaper, the Daily Mail is in fact actually a guide on how to be a complete and utter idiot that happens to be offered in daily installments.

The ratings show the series is just as popular now as it was in 2005 - the affecting change in overnights isn't something that solely reflects on Doctor Who (although for the BBC Doctor Who is pretty much the flagship indicator for the general mood of the british viewer and their approach to TV), it's leaving its mark on British Television as a whole. More and more shows, especially non-time sensitive programmes like dramas, are gaining higher timeshifts as people have the technology in their living rooms to dictate when they want to watch a show, services like the iPlayer, ITVplayer, and 4 on Demand have massively grown in popularity over the past 5 years... initial overnights are fast becoming irrelevant to modern day television viewing. The BBC realises that (which is now why they rely more on what they internally call 'Live +7' figures to determine a programme's total reach, combining overnights, final BARB ratings, iPlayer requests, etc. over the seven days of a show's original airing), just as every other big TV company in the UK does at the moment.

If you take the time to actually look at the facts of the matter, you'd see exactly the same thing that's been occurring since 2005: Doctor Who is still massively popular, to the young and to the old, to the hardcore and to the casual. As some have said, this is making a mountain out of a molehill - which is only natural for something so insanely popular as Doctor Who.