“Doctor Who” is still a Christmas tradition in the United Kingdom, but definitely not as much as it used to be.
“The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe,” which guest-starred popular character actress Claire Skinner, captured just 8.9 million viewers, according to preliminary figures released by the BBC. While that may have made it the third most-watched program in Britain on Christmas Day, it shows a definite decline in Christmas specials for the franchise in recent years.
Although the numbers are still early and are subject to change, the latest “Doctor Who” outing finished 27 percent behind last year’s “A Christmas Carol” with Harry Potter’s Michael Gambon. The audience was 11 percent smaller than those who tuned in to see David Tennant’s penultimate episode “The End of Time” in 2009.
Of course, those numbers are assuming that preliminary figures from this year’s Christmas special remain unchanged when they are finalized next week.
The best Christmas outing for “Doctor Who” was 2007’s “Voyage of the Damned” that featured singer Kylie Minogue and Russell Tovey of “Being Human” fame. The smallest audience before “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” aired was “Runaway Bride” with Catherine Tate, which pulled in 9.3 million viewers in 2006.
While the smaller numbers might be a bit cause of concern, this year’s Christmas special not only went up against some big-time competition (including the Emmy-winning “Downton Abbey”), but actually featured no major names. The first holiday special, “The Christmas Invasion,” was the first episode featuring Tennant, and other years included popular actors or big events.
“Wardrobe” was a little more low key, something showrunner Steven Moffat might have done on purpose after a very intense season that included, among other things, the “death” of Matt Smith’s Doctor.
The sad part is that it could be nine months before we see The Doctor in action again. The next season — the last featuring companions Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill — is not expected to premiere until fall. It would be the longest gap in the franchise since the start of the revived series in 2005. Previously, the longest wait for a new “Doctor Who” was seven months between the Easter special “Planet of the Dead” and the autumn special “Water of Mars” when BBC replaced a regular season of episodes with specials in 2009.
Before the sixth season, the longest wait fans had was six months between the season finale and the Christmas special. That changed this past year when BBC split the sixth season in half, allowing the show to run into October.