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Published on September 21st, 2011 | by Andrew Reynolds

Who’s Complicated?

We asked a hundred people: Who cares that Doctor Who was beaten by Family Fortunes on overnight viewers on Saturday night? You said: “No, don’t be silly, no one with a wireless connection puts that much worth in live figures anymore; no one cares.” Our Survey said…Eh Errrh!

I’m sorry the top answer was The Guardian. Commiseration’s to you. No brand new KIA, no weekend trip to the Seychelles, no washer/dryer combination. You’ve been such a good contestant but I’m afraid we’re going to have to have that argument again.

You see The Family (Fortunes) of Blood have struck and it’s made the broadsheet look to its comments section for guidance as to why the game show that time forgot managed to embarrass the BBC’s flagship Saturday night programme?

Other than a hasty bit of re-editing when it appeared that even the culturally savvy Guardian knew nothing about how TV ratings work (The Guardian amended the article removing the inaccurate: “Ratings ARE down” to a more sober: “The show was beaten by Family Fortunes on overnight ratings last week”) the conclusion to their survey was again: is Doctor Who too complicated?

Of course we wouldn’t be having this conversation if Family Fortunes hadn’t pipped it to the live audience post which just goes to show how unfair it is to suddenly turn around and say the very things that have distinguished this season from the others of the recent incarnation as the one thing that has dragged it down to, well, the exact same correlated ratings as it had before.

Echoing Kasterborous’ own reasoning for the slump in live audience viewers Toby Whithouse, writer of the fantastically complicated The God Complex, doesn’t think the problem lies with the Doctor:

“Surely it’s the fact that the rest of television has become more simplistic. The themes and plots of (as the fans call it) New Who are no more complex than some classic Who stories. The only difference is, Tom Baker’s Doctor wasn’t jostling in the schedules against Red Or Black.”

To The Guardian’s credit, the article doesn’t put much weight behind the ‘over-complication’ of Doctor Who either and instead reiterates former Script Editor Douglas Adams adage that the show needed to be simple enough for adults and complicated enough for children. Commenter and mother Kathy Ball agrees:

“I think it’s because kids still have no boundaries to their imagination or thinking – they question but are still able to free their minds for all manner of absurdity. Plus, they have been nurtured on Harry Potter so outlandish plots and characters are second nature.”

While it may side with the silent ‘content majorities’ of Who fans, as Toby Whithouse calls them,  that have no problem with the complex plotting, there are other ways to instigate a debate rather than regurgitated the non-issue of ratings.

Do you agree? Is Doctor Who too complex? Is this the rise of Vernon Kaye?


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About the Author


Everyone has a favourite Doctor and mine - just for his honesty, his fairness and his ability to not notice the Master's awful, awful disguises/anagrams (Sir Gilles Estram!?!) - has to be the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. The stories didn’t serve him as well as his acting served those stories.

6 Responses to Who’s Complicated?

  1. avatar Tom Z says:

    Well after all Family Fortunes only “beat” Who in the overnights because of X Factor viewers tuning in early on ITV. And of course I don’t need to tell you guys that it’s finals that matter, not overnights, but it bears repeating.

    At the end of the day, the % of viewers who watch a show “live” seems to be inversely proportional to the age distribution of the audience. Thus Doctor Who, which has a younger overall audience than most of the other top shows on TV, makes up a higher proportion of its final audience on time shifts (and arguably iplayer as well). It’s simple when you think about it–there are growing generational differences in the way we watch television– but the press are still several years away from figuring it out themselves.

  2. avatar ChrisL says:

    For what it’s worth, the more complex Doctor Who is the more I enjoy it. I also love long drawn out series arcs and plots that tax the brain and make viewers do more than just watch passively.

    The biggest crime in television is a show that viewers can have on in the background, or one that they can watch whilst doing something else, and still keep up with the plot.
    A show that requires a viewers full attention, and may even get them thinking, is one that they will ultimately get more from.
    Obviously not all shows have to do this and there is a place for “bubble gum for the eyes” shows such as X-Factor and the like, but Doctor Who should be above this banal level and thankfully it usually is.

    Steven Moffat has said that he intends to depart from the series arcs and intricate long winded threads in favour of a more episodic theme. For me that will be a backward step as I would prefer even more complexity in the show. I’d like to see the show really tax the imagination and befuddle the brains of the viewers as it makes them consider difficult concepts and thought provoking plots.
    Not only would it provide better entertainment (IMHO), it may also stimulate the imaginations of the younger viewers.
    Too often the younger audience is underestimated, or even patronised, by television. Kids really can handle difficult concepts and convoluted plots and quite often are inspired by them.

    • avatar January Lost says:

      I concur. It’s seems a bit outrageous of a move to change the dynamic of the show in order to capture a more simplified formula. Isn’t it formulated enough by now?

      In fact, I’m a little concerned it won’t work at all. It’s not that I necessarily like having to wait an entire season just to have one or two dangling threads answered… but it’s better than none! Perhaps a few 4-6 episode arcs with singles to cap might be a good answer?

      There’s only 45mn to offer up a complex and engaging story that offers us an ending we can stomach. A season of single-episodes sounds to me like we should be ready for more shortcuts to real script writing. Blegh!

      Anyway, I’m with you on wanting more from the show. I’d like to see them really push it to the brim and zing us with something amazing.

  3. avatar DavidF says:

    I guess that if Moffat wants to go back to self-contained stories next year, it’s a way of keeping things varied and interesting for himself. That’s important for writers tasked with churning out so many episodes.

    To me, the greatest strength of ‘Doctor Who’ is its patchiness. There are sometimes disappointing stories, but that’s that’s just an inevitable side effect of the enormous variety of story styles the format allows. And you always know that if one episode doesn’t quite come off, there’ll be a good one along soon after. Long may Moffat and other writers continue to play around with their freedom.

  4. avatar stlshawn says:

    Travel all of time and space, there’s bound to be stories not quite as riveting as others.

    I like the complexity of the stories as well. Having said that, i’m not a huge fan of the story arc idea. Maybe the way it was with little hints and whatnot, but not as a complete sideways timey wimey thing.

    45 minutes is barely enough time to put in an entertaining story, one that is complicated enough to stimulate our minds, and magical enough for us fans. I know it may not be fair to the other writers, but look at “the Doctors Wife”. What an incredible story in a short amount of time. I wish that was an hour and a half, imagine how fantastic it would have been then. We would have learned more of the tardis, more of all the characters, it would have been wonderful.

    In a perfect world, DW would be hour to hour and a half stories, one every other day. And each one will leave us saying “wow” and developing a real feel for the characters (lets face it, Rorys been around for a while now, and we still feel we barely know him).

  5. Pingback: Complexity in Doctor Who | Shades of Blank

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