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.