Doctor Who was unceremoniously pulled from the airwaves during the Sixth Doctor’s era, with the BBC blaming falling ratings and excessive violence. But is is true that the Doctor Who ratings were declining during the Sixth Doctor’s time? And which were his most popular stories?
Interestingly, by the time Colin Baker had finished his first full season as the eponymous Time Lord, the Doctor Who ratings were consistent with how they had been during the previous seasons, frequently pulling in audiences in excess of 7 million. This was a far cry from the (then) all-time lows of ‘The War Games’ in 1969 and ‘Full Circle’ in 1981, which saw figures around the 3 million mark.
And whilst the Doctor Who ratings weren’t record-breaking during the Sixth Doctor’s era, he did still see some high numbers. One could argue that he wasn’t the Doctor long enough to win a game-changing viewership, having left after just two seasons.
But if you’re curious, these are the three highest Doctor Who ratings for the Sixth Doctor’s era – whether you like it or not!
3) The Twin Dilemma, part one (7.6 million)
It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the highest Doctor Who ratings for the Sixth Doctor’s era was Colin Baker’s debut episode – ‘The Twin Dilemma‘ part one. The Time Lord had regenerated at the end of the previous story ‘The Caves of Androzani,’ and in a bold move the production team had decided to give the Sixth Doctor a complete story tacked onto the end of Season 21.
But the interesting thing about ‘The Twin Dilemma’ is that it often comes at the bottom of ‘most liked Doctor Who stories’ lists, and has been heavily criticised over the years by fans. And yet the ratings don’t reflect this disdain; the Doctor Who ratings for ‘The Twin Dilemma’ are about the same as they were for many of the stories in Season 21, and in some cases better, (the final episode of ‘Frontios,’ for example, only had 5.6 million viewers.)
So is ‘The Twin Dilemma’ really worthy of its bad reputation? We’ve done a blog post on it here, so you’ll have to read it and make up your own mind (and watch the story as well!) Certainly, the most controversial scene is the one where the Doctor tries to strangle his companion Peri in his post-regenerative confusion – but then, this scene was always meant to be controversial, with the production team deliberately setting out to challenge the Doctor Who viewer.
2) Revelation of the Daleks, part two (7.7 million)
It’s reassuring to see that the Doctor Who ratings had risen by the time Colin Baker came to the final episode of Season 22 (although not if you’re Michael Grade!) And unlike ‘The Twin Dilemma,’ ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ is a story that often comes high on the lists of fan favourites, and indeed it was recently novelised by the original author Eric Saward.
As the title suggests, ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ sees the return of the Doctor’s deadliest enemy (along with their creator Davros) although this is by no means a typical Dalek story. In fact, both the Doctor and the metal mutants are almost side-lined as a number of other interesting sub plots play out, a fan favourite being the one where Orsini, an assassin, attempts to infiltrate Davros’ headquarters to rub him out.
Cannibalism is also one of the themes of this adventure, making ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ by far one of the more adult stories in the series’ history. And yet with 7.7 million people tuning in for its final instalment, it doesn’t seem to have driven many away. This is even more impressive when you remember that ‘Revelation’ is mostly set in a satirical funeral home, inspired by the novel ‘The Loved One’ by Evelyn Waugh.
1) Attack of the Cybermen, part one (8.9 million)
People may have been unsure about the Sixth Doctor after the end of ‘The Twin Dilemma,’ but this doesn’t seem to have impacted the Doctor Who ratings. ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ part one launched Season 22 and saw Colin Baker begin his first full season as the eponymous Time Lord. And it’s not only the Sixth Doctor’s highest-rated episode, but it was also the highest the Doctor Who ratings had been for many years; the last time Doctor Who had scored so highly was in 1981 during Peter Davison’s first season.
But over the years, ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ has been criticised for being too continuity-heavy and overly reliant on its own history. As always with these things, it’s a matter of opinion; one could argue that it’s a bit of a fan treat to see the likes of the chameleon circuit, the tombs of Telos, the Totter’s Lane junk yard, Commander Lytton, Mondas and the Cybermen all converge in an epic season opener! Certainly, the continuity references didn’t drive many people away, with the Doctor Who ratings coming in at a solid 7.2 million for ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ part two.
But the biggest question about this story is who, exactly, wrote it. It’s credited to a woman called Paula Moore, who doesn’t exist, and over the years various people have come forward to claim varying degrees of authorship. The Doctor Who continuity advisor Ian Levine claims that he outlined the story and that the script editor Eric Saward wrote the dialogue. Eric Saward, meanwhile, said in a 2004 interview that he wrote the script himself taking minimal inspiration from Levine, with some contributions from his then girlfriend Paula Woolsey. (We’ve expanded on the mysterious authorship of ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ here.)
So there we are – these are the highest Doctor Who ratings for the Sixth Doctor’s era. Which is your favourite Colin Baker episode? And who do you think really wrote ‘Attack of the Cybermen’?! Let us know in the comments below.
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