Probic Vent Ood For Thought


Doctor Who’s popularity over five years

If there were any doubts over what a slick machine Doctor Who has become under Steven Moffat and his revolving-door production team, have a gander at this graph of search terms over the last five years, tracking the relative popularity (in Google search frequency) of Chris Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi.

Granted, this isn't strictly a measure of their popularity solely in terms of Doctor Who, but all of the peaks in these charts represent some big new from the programme. The first heralds Smith's arrival, with subsequent high points for Tennant's departure, the 50th anniversary and Smith's final episode. However, one of the peaks bows the rest out of the water: the announcement of Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor.

It's a phenomenal response to the news, albeit with an absolutely vast BBC campaign behind it generating unprecedented interest in Capaldi's arrival. It's debatable what we can take from this, but I think it tells us a lot about how important Doctor Who is to the BBC - and how much of a part the internet has to play in the continuing popularity of its greatest hits. Having said that, we can see that the programme has made significant year-on-year gains.

To be fair Doctor Who lends itself particularly well to this medium but the fact the announcement regarding Capaldi dwarfs the announcement of Smith by a factor of three suggests the Beeb has recognised - and very much courted the power of the web and social media.

What else? Well, it's interesting to note that Tennant tracks ahead of Smith at virtually all times, even after Tennant vacates the TARDIS. Eccleston, perhaps unsurprisingly doesn't have a huge volume of search engine hits, nor does Capaldi until he gets the Sonic Screwdriver.

As Smith's career has arguably been driven mainly by Who - and as he was The Doctor during the BBC's harnessing of the net in pushing its shows - let's have a look at how the respective actors have done around the world.

Perhaps it's no surprise that English-speaking countries have taken to the show, but the breadth of the international popularity is as surprising as Ian Levine maintaining a dignified silence on Twitter. South America, south-east Asia and Scandinavia all seem to have gone timey-wimey too.

Meanwhile, searching by news illustrates how social media and the web have overtaken traditional news sources - Smith's arrival easily outstrips Capaldi's. No Doctors have any meaningful coverage outside of English-speaking countries in news searches either.

Meanwhile Youtube searches indicate that the series remains popular across the board, with the unusual exception of Eccleston - perhaps he's too long ago for the internet generation to get a handle on, or perhaps his relative lack of episodes meant here not as much penetration - from Tennant onwards there's been a deliberate tactic to target online video with mini-episodes, trailers and exclusive content.

Meanwhile the surviving classic Doctors are fairly well represented. Colin's spell in the jungle, Sylv's Hobbit excursion, Paul's Night of the Doctor and Tom's return in the 50th special all generated notable peaks, thought it's interesting to note that they all maintain a certain level of interest.

Also, nice to see the departed Doctors are still popular on Teh Internets. A pleasant reminder that, here or not, they live on across the web.

Lastly, a reminder of the power of memes - and why you will always hear these bloody catchphrases.


The Airzone Solution

The Airzone Solution was, if you were a Who-starved fan in the early 90s, probably the most exciting thing that happened in fandom since that leotard picture of Nicola Bryant emerged.

Featuring four ex-Doctors and a host of other Doctor Who talents it's fairly explicitly a rip-off of Edge of Darkness down to its plot, themes and even incidental music. The pre-occupations of the narrative are easily identifiable from the period, namely environmental collapse and corporate/governmental conspiracies.

Peter Davison plays investigative journalist Al Dunbar; Colin Baker is star weatherman Arnie Davies; Sylvester McCoy is nervous eco-warrior Anthony Stanwick and Jon Pertwee plays journalistic legend Oliver Trethewey.

It is rather peculiar mix and it's hard to imagine anyone who's not a fan taking a huge interest. Nevertheless there's a lot of good stuff here. Colin Baker is particularly good in another opportunity to show how good he can be and the other leads are solid and throw themselves into it; Nicola Bryant is a million miles away from whingey Peri.

There's a nice cameo from Michael Wisher and a very good turn from Alan Cumming as Mandelsonian spook. Look out too, if you dare, for a sex scene between Nicola and Colin, one of the worst bits of acting ever from Gary Russell and Bill Baggs managing to assemble four Doctors together on the programme's 30th anniversary – something the BBC notoriously failed to do to any real extent.

The music by Alistair Lock and some directorial flourishes from Baggs also catch the eye but unfortunately the production is undermined by some of the amateurish moments in the script, plot, direction and general production. There are no howlers but the overall impression is of something decidedly fannish.

Further, the production values don't stand up at all. The sound is particularly poor; the lighting, while better, doesn't always look right either and the quality of the picture typical of early 90s videotaped dramas.

Nevertheless, with the prospect of new Doctor Who as remote as ever – this being a time when it seemed Who might be gone for good – the Airzone Solution was a welcome addition to a Who-less world.

I suspect that BBV – Baggs' production company – envisaged potential sales to an ITV franchise, or a commission to base a similar series with a larger budget, but it never came to pass.

Still, along with Shakedown, Downtime, and other series such as The Stranger and Auton, this is a fascinating curio from Doctor Who's dark days. The BBC offered up the risible Dimensions In Time in 1993 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of what is now its flagship show. Idiots.

Watch The Airzone Solution here:

Hush child stop addlepating me!

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