Monday, April 12, 2010

Working On The Time-Shift

Something quite remarkable happened in British broadcasting yesterday. But, unless you're an insufferable ratings-nerd like yer Keith Telly Topping then, like as not, it'll have completely passed you by. The Broadcasters' Audience Research Board released the final, consolidated TV ratings for the week ending Saturday 4 April. Nothing too remarkable in that, you may well say, the BARB release consolidated ratings figures more of less every day. They do, indeed. Carry on reading. Among these consolidated figures was the one for Matt Smith's first Doctor Who episode, The Eleventh Hour. It was a smidgen over ten million viewers (9.59m on BBC1, four hundred and ninety four thousand watching on the BBC HD simultcast). Okay, nothing too remarkable there either - a great figure no doubt, anything over ten million these days is cause for bunting and champagne in the industry as a whole. But Doctor Who has topped ten million several times in the past. This is one of its better figures, certainly, but it's nothing to get over excited about, surely? Except, when you notice how the figures have leaped up from the initial overnights of eight million. You may remember that a week ago pretty much everyone - press, fans and this blogger alike - were saying how brilliantly fantastic it was that Matt's first episode had got, near enough, what first episodes of new series of Doctor Who usually get; about eight million (7.7 watching on BBC1 and a further three hundred thousand on BBC HD). What the consolidated figures show is that, in adding to the eight million who watched it 'live', a further two million viewers (actually, slightly more than that) recorded the show on either a video recorder, a DVD recorder or one of them Sky+ box thingies that I don't know how to operate(!) That's astonishing. It's more than astonishing, it's mind-blowing. We've known for some time that the way in which people consume TV is changing, rapidly. But, most of the focus in this area of research has gone onto things like iPlayer which people can watch on their mobile phones or multiple repeats on BBC3. None of those are included in this figure. The only iPlayer numbers available to date are that in the forty eight hours immediately after its initial broadcast, The Eleventh Hour was watched by a further six hundred thousand people on their computer. Or their mobile phones. Or, wherever. So, we're already heading for an overall 'reach' audience of eleven million. And that's before any viewers for the two BBC3 repeats are added in. Two million time-shifts is completely unprecedented - it's over four hundred thousand more than David Tennant's final episode received, and that was only shown on New Year's Day. Again, it demonstrates just how much over the coming years overnight viewing figures - something that's been the TV industry's only real arbiter of success or failure since the 1950s - are going to mean less and less and things like time-shifting and iPlayer usage will come to mean more and more. Welcome to the future, dear blog reader. It happened today. And, the irony of the fact that the leading player in this revolution was a show about time travel, trust me, that's not lost on yer Keith Telly Topping either.

Doctor Who's regeneration sequences were modelled on bad LSD trips, internal BBC memos have suggested. The Doctor's transformations were meant to convey the 'hell and dank horror' of the hallucinogenic drug, according to a series of fascinating documents published on the BBC Archive website. Regenerations were initially introduced in 1966 to allow writers to replace the lead actor after William Hartnell decided to leave the show. The new, Doctor, Matt Smith is the eleventh actor to play the Time Lord. The papers also reveal the difficulties of bedding in a new Doctor with an initially sceptical audience. In an internal memo dating from 1966, producers outlined to BBC executives how the original Doctor, would be transformed into his successor Patrick Troughton. It also tackled the 'horrifying experience' of the actual regeneration itself. 'The metaphysical change is a horrifying experience - an experience in which he relives some of the most unendurable moments of his long life, including the galactic war,' it said. 'It is as if he has had the LSD drug and instead of experiencing the kicks, he has the hell and dank horror which can be its effect,' the memo added. Although, to be honest, if you've ever seen the regeneration sequence at the end of The Tenth Planet, it looks nothing whatsoever like that! Discussing his appearance, the document stated: 'His hair is wild and his clothes look rather worse for wear (this is a legacy from the metaphysical change which took place in the Tardis).' The documents also reveal how new Doctors have traditionally faced some hostility, or at best, some apathy, from those viewers uncomfortable with change. Some members of the audience felt Troughton 'exaggerated the part. Once a brilliant but eccentric scientist, he now comes over as a half-witted clown,' said one viewer. Another told the BBC's Audience Research Department: 'I'm not sure that I really like his portrayal - I feel the part is exaggerated - whimsical even - I keep expecting him to take a great watch out of his pocket and mutter about being late like Alice's White Rabbit.' Troughton's successor, Jon Pertwee, fared a little better in 1970, although a research report following his first appearance - in Spearhead from Space - declared: 'Reaction to this first episode of the new Dr Who series can hardly be described as enthusiastic.' Tom Baker's debut also drew much criticism. 'General opinion was that the new Doctor Who is a loony - he is an eccentric always, but the way it was presented made him stupid,' said one viewer. Fans voicing disapproval of the process of change. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose! In 1984, Colin Baker proved to be a turn-off after succeeding the popular Peter Davison, with one viewer finding him 'too stern' and another 'too aggressive.' Reaction to Sylvester McCoy's debut in 1987 was even worse. His 'approval rating' was considerably lower than Baker's, although the reception given to his companion Mel, played by Bonnie Langford, was far worse. Roly Keating, the BBC's director for archive content, said: 'The whole idea of regenerating the Doctor was a flash of genius that's kept Doctor Who fresh and exciting for forty seven years now. As we welcome Matt Smith and Karen Gillan into the TARDIS, it's the perfect moment to remember his predecessors and also to celebrate the work of the BBC Archive in preserving these documents and photographs for future generations.'

MasterChef finalists Tim Kinnaird, Alex Rushmer and Dhruv Baker have spoken on Twitter about plans to organise a joint 'pop-up restaurant' project. The trio, who were the final three contestants on this year's show, have proposed working together on a temporary MasterChef kitchen, where the public can eat meals they cooked on the BBC1 food show. 'That could be amazing. Just for a couple of weeks [or a few weeks] and we could cook dishes from MasterChef,' said the series winner Dhruv. 'It could be brilliant. We should probably have a proper chat about that ... There is probably quite alot to sort out - location, timings, staffing, cost, etc. Meet up soon?' Kinnaird commented: 'That's a great idea. We should do that. We do seem to have a ridiculous amount of fun together and we cook better.' Afterwards, food writer Rushmer added: 'Very excited about the prospect of doing a Masterchef pop-up with [Dhruv & Tim] Further details to be confirmed. Blue cheese ice cream will definitely be on the menu.' Ah, I hope that comes off. They all seemed like genuinely good blokes - and, obviously, excellent chefs.

Gavin & Stacey actress Joanna Page has revealed that she wants to land a role in a crime drama. The actress, who played Stacey in the award-winning sitcom, said that she would consider starring in a 'gritty' show like Cracker or Prime Suspect. She told What's on TV: 'I love crime dramas and I've just filmed a Marple. I was over the moon because I got to discover a body and do some screaming. I'd like to be in True Blood, too. It's my favourite programme and I fancy all the vampires.'