Doctor Who ratings have always been a popular topic among fans, and the Tenth Doctor era is one of the most-viewed in the series’ history. But why did so many people tune in, and which were his most successful episodes?
Undoubtedly, one of his most popular was the 50th anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ although arguably this is not strictly a Tenth Doctor episode given that Matt Smith is the incumbent Doctor. But it saw some of the highest Doctor Who ratings of all-time with some 12.8 million people watching on BBC One, although the final figure is probably a lot higher than this, given that it was simulcast in 94 countries.
But if we look at the ‘canonical’ Tenth Doctor adventures, we can see that David Tennant achieved high ratings from the start. Indeed, his first episode – ‘The Christmas Invasion’ – was watched by 9.84 million people; these Doctor Who ratings were boosted by the fact that this was the first Christmas special in Doctor Who history, and the first episode with David Tennant at the helm.
That being said, the Tenth Doctor spent much of the episode in bed, suffering from a post-regenerative crisis. Instead, the spotlight fell on his companion Rose as she tried to deal with an invasion of blood-thirsty Sycorax. ‘The Christmas Invasion’ was also the first episode to feature an original song as part of its score (unless you count the epic ‘Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’ from ‘The Gunfighters’!)
And whilst Doctor Who ratings have always tended to be higher for festive episodes, some of David Tennant’s more conventional stories also performed well. By far the most memorable of these is the Series Four finale ‘Journey’s End,’ which was seen by a staggering 10.57 million. These Doctor Who ratings came off the back of an epic cliffhanger in which the Tenth Doctor, having been fatally wounded by a Dalek, collapsed on the floor of the TARDIS and started to regenerate.
Naturally, viewers were intrigued to find out how the Doctor was going to get out of this one, particularly as nobody was expecting a regeneration. Indeed, the viewing figures rose by 2 million after the previous episode ‘The Stolen Earth,’ which saw a whole roster of former companions join forces against a Dalek invasion. In fact, ‘Journey’s End’ concluded something of a Doctor Who cross-over, with the spin-off shows Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures overlapping for the first time.
Otherwise, the highest Doctor Who ratings for the Tenth Doctor era came during the festive specials. Following ‘Journey’s End’ we have David Tennant’s final story ‘The End of Time.’ Told over two parts, the adventure was seen by an average of 11.92 million people, with 12.27 million tuning in for the final instalment. Together, these two episodes formed a movie-length epic, and saw a dying Master trying to take over the world with some 6 billion clones of himself.
As well as featuring a regeneration, ‘The End of Time’ also saw the Doctor reunite with many of his past friends, including Captain Jack Harkness, Sarah Jane Smith and Rose Tyler. It was also notable as the last to be produced by the showrunner Russell T Davies, who had been overseeing the show since its return in 2005.
Interestingly, in terms of Doctor Who ratings, his era proved to be one of the most successful in the series’ history, beaten only by Graham Williams in the late 70s. (But, in Williams’ case, his ratings were frequently boosted by the fact that the rival channel ITV was on strike!)
It remains to be seen if Russell T Davies can repeat his Doctor Who ratings success when he returns to oversee the show in 2023.
That being said, ‘The End of Time’ didn’t represent Davies’ highest Doctor Who ratings. This two part story was beaten by an earlier Christmas special ‘The Next Doctor,’ which aired in 2008 and was seen by 13.1 million people. Undoubtedly, many people tuned into this story to see if (as the title suggested) the identity of the Eleventh Doctor would be revealed, with viewers having recently learned that David Tennant would be leaving the role.
As it turned out, David Morrissey was the eponymous ‘next Doctor,’ although not in the way that some were expecting (spoilers.) Otherwise, ‘The Next Doctor’ was notable for the return of the Doctor’s old enemy the Cybermen, who hadn’t been seen since the 2006 story ‘Army of Ghosts’ and ‘Doomsday.’ The episode also introduced the Cyber King – an oversized version of the iconic monsters that quite literally towered over the streets of Victorian London.
However, David Tennant’s highest Doctor Who ratings came halfway through his era. A year before, the festive special ‘Voyage of the Damned’ topped the rankings with a staggering 13.31 million. This adventure stood out for many reasons, not least the casting of singer Kylie Minogue as the episode’s guest star. It also marked the first time a Doctor Who episode had appeared on iPlayer, or indeed any programme; ‘Voyage of the Damned’ was the first show to be made available on the BBC’s now-famous platform.
And like ‘The End of Time,’ ‘Voyage of the Damned’ was movie-like in its length and scope. The story revolved around a spaceship version of the Titanic, and saw the Tenth Doctor and a disparate band of passengers trying to make their way through the craft’s stricken frame.
It was also the first Doctor Who story to feature the character of Wilfred Mott, played by Bernard Cribbins. He turned out to be the grandfather of future companion Donna Noble, and would go on to become a companion himself in ‘The End of Time.’
To date, no episode of New Who has beaten the Doctor Who ratings record set by ‘Voyage of the Damned.’ It is not only the most successful episode of the Tenth Doctor’s era, but also the most successful episode since 2005, coming at a time when David Tennant was at the peak of his popularity as the famous Time Lord.
What is your favourite episode of the Tenth Doctor’s era? Let me know in the comments below.
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