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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

ungodly numbers of people watched the ‘Doctor Who’ premiere last weekend

How many people watched “The Impossible Astronaut” last Saturday. A lot… though some of the numbers are getting spun in interesting ways.

First and unequivocally, Doctor Who enjoyed its best ratings ever in North America. From Variety:

Returning sci-fi skein “Doctor Who” broke records for BBC America on Saturday. The show premiered to 1.27 million total viewers (live and same-day DVR), making it the most-watched telecast in the history of the Beeb’s Stateside sister net.

And from Doctor Who News Page:

[A] record 538,000 total viewers watched the premier in Canada, up 3% over the previous most-watched Doctor Who episode, making The Impossible Astronaut the most-watched SPACE broadcast this year.

It’s in the U.K. where we start seeing spin. From BBC News:

The first episode in the new series of Doctor Who was watched by an average audience of 6.5 million viewers, according to overnight viewing figures.

On a sunny day in parts of the UK, that was down from the eight million recorded by overnight figures on Matt Smith’s show debut in April 2010.

While final consolidated viewing figures – which include playback on recording devices – will push ratings higher, The Impossible Astronaut could turn out to be the least watched series opener since Doctor Who was relaunched in 2005.

Doctor Who News Page is kinder in the spin:

The programme which has a share of 37% of the total audience, was the highest rated show on BBC One for the day, a remarkable achievement given the early timeslot and the excellent bank holiday weather across the UK. It was more than two million viewers ahead of the next programme on BBC One, Casualty.

To show what a draw Doctor Who is, the programme preceding it had just 1.9 million watching. The BBC One audience jumped from 2.2 to 6.0 million as Doctor Who began, with the audience growing throughout the programme and an average of 7 million watching the final fifteen minutes. At the end of the show, over half of the viewers left BBC One, with the channel seeing its audience plunge from 7.0 million to 3.2 million.

Here’s something that can’t be spun: More than 10 percent of the U.K. population was sitting in front of a television on Saturday afternoon to watch Doctor Who. No regularly airing TV show in the U.S. draws 10 percent of the population. Not even close. Top-rated shows might draw 15 million viewers on a good night… which is only about 5 percent.

Britain does love its Doctor Who.

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