Updating the Doctor(s)

This spring, we learned that the charming three-story brick townhouse whose ground and basement floors Nell and I have occupied since September 2007 was being sold. As a result, we four will move into a nearby Brookline apartment (nicer and with a spectacular view of Boston, to be fair) at the end of July.

While that was happening, I was finishing an essay on the manifestations of film noir in the resurrected Doctor Who I would love to have published in the Film Noir Foundation quarterly e-magazine or other equally-solid periodical. If nothing else, it will better contextualize this photograph.


To prepare for the move, I undertook a massive purge of my office space, throwing out/recycling at least one full trash bin of detritus. Some items I re-discovered will likely be fodder for an upcoming post.

Needless to say, things have been hectic around here.

But given the revelatory side effects of moving, my essay and the full-episode debut of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor—the first to be played by a woman—this fall (see the 12th Doctor’s “brilliant” regeneration here), I decided to dig deep into my own timeline (here, here and here) for this post. Specifically, I updated (all data as of July 17, 2018) and edited those original Doctor Who posts into a single continuous narrative:

Along the lines of my Charlie Chan film ranking, I collected data on the relative popularity of the 144 episodes of the resurrected Doctor Who[1], from “Rose” (March 26, 2005) through the 2017 Christmas special “Twice Upon a Time.” Excluding John Hurt’s War Doctor, there have been four incarnations of The Doctor during this time period: #9-12. These 144 episodes comprise 10 12-13 episode Series plus 13 Christmas specials and four specials, three featuring the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) as well as the November 2013 50th anniversary epic, in which Doctors 10 and 11 (Matt Smith) teamed with the War Doctor to save Gallifrey, The Doctor’s home planet.

For each episode, I collected four values:

  1. Its BBC “Audience Appreciation Index” (AI) score, an integer from 0-100 revealing how much the (British) audience enjoyed each episode when it first aired. Higher scores indicate greater enjoyment.
  2. Where the episode ranked that week (Chart), with a lower score indicating more viewers.
  3. Its weighted-average Internet Movie Database (IMDB) score on a 0-10 scale, with 10 being the most favorable) and…
  4. The number of IMDB “raters” whose scores were averaged. The higher the number of raters, in principle, the more “compelling” the episode—though higher ratings could also simply reflect a longer rating time frame.

The goal is to assess the relative popularity of individual episodes, both when first released and with hindsight, as well as of the Series and Doctors. I decided to ignore “Chart” values as they were difficult to compare over time.

Table 1 provides details on each Series. It excludes the 13 Christmas specials (2005-17—“Twice Upon a Time” technically marks the start of Series 11), two 2009 10th Doctor specials (“Planet of the Dead,” “The Waters of Mars”) and “The Day of the Doctor.”

Table 1: Doctor Who Series (2005-17)

# Dates # Episodes Doctor Primary Companion(s)
1 March 26-June 18, 2005 13 9 Rose Tyler
2 April 15-July 8, 2006 13 10 Rose Tyler
3 March 31-June 30, 2007 13 10 Martha Jones
4 April 5-July 5, 2008 13 10 Donna Noble
5 April 10-June 26, 2010 13 11 Amy Pond/Rory Williams
6 April 23-June 4, 2011;

August 27-October 1, 2011



11 Amy Pond/Rory Williams
7a September 1-29, 2012 5 11 Amy Pond/Rory Williams
7b March 30-May 18, 2013 8 11 Clara Oswald
8 August 23-November 8, 2014 12 12 Clara Oswald
9 September 19-December 5, 2015 12 12 Clara Oswald
10 April 15-July 1, 2017 12 12 Bill Potts

Individual episodes. Overall, the resurrected series has been very well-received with a “global” IMDB rating of 8.7 (173,072 raters). Upon first airing, average AI score was a remarkable 84.8, with a very small standard deviation of 2.7 (all but six episodes between 80 and 89). Enthusiasm has not diminished over time: average IMDB score is 8.13 (sd=0.8), with 110 (76%) between 7.0 and 8.9. Two highly-regarded episodes—2007’s “Blink” (9.6) and “The Day of the Doctor” (9.4) each attracted ~15,000 raters (median=4,132; 106 [74%] between 3,000 and 4,999), accounting for the discrepancy between “overall” IMDB ratings.

Table 2: Most- and least-admired Doctor Who episodes (2005-17) when first aired

Title Series-Episode Doctor AI Score
Journey’s End 4-13 10 91
The Stolen Earth 4-12 10 91
Forest of the Dead 4-9 10 89
Doomsday 2-13 10 89
Silence in the Library 4-8 10 89
Asylum of the Daleks 7a-1 11 89
The Parting of the Ways 1-13 9 89
The Big Bang 5-13 11 89
The End of Time: Part Two 10th Doctor Specials 10 89
14 Episodes 3  to 50th Anniversary 10 (8), 11 (6) 88
16 Episodes 1,8-11 12 (14), 9 (2) 82
Twice Upon a Time 11-Christmas 12 81
The Eaters of Light 10-10 12 81
World War III 1-5 9 81
The Long Game 1-7 9 81
The Woman Who Lived 9-6 12 81
Heaven Sent 9-11 12 80
The Unquiet Dead 1-3 9 80
Sleep No More 9-9 12 78
Rose 1-1 9 76
Love & Monsters 2-10 10 76
The End of the World 1-2 9 76

According to Table 2, British audiences did not immediately warm to Doctor Who’s resurrection (with Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor): the first two new episodes (“Rose,” “The End of the World”)—are tied with the execrable Series 2 episode “Love & Monsters” for lowest AI score; five of the first seven are in the bottom nine. There was also a severe drop-off in the reaction to new episodes with Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor: 18 (45%) of his episodes rank in the bottom 27 in AI score.

Meanwhile, four of the five episodes with the highest AI scores came as the 10th Doctor’s song was ending: the two-part Series 4 finale (“The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End) and the two-part “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead.” The top nine is rounded out by four other “finale” episodes: “The Parting of the Ways” (9th Doctor’s regeneration), “Doomsday” (Rose Tyler [Billie Piper] trapped in a parallel universe), “The End of Time: Part Two” (10th Doctor’s regeneration) and “The Big Bang” (Series 5 finale), as well as the first episode of Series 7a, “Asylum of the Daleks.”

If AI scores are a fixed (British audience) starting point, then the IMDB ratings (flaws and all) in Table 3 represent evolution in regard for Doctor Who episodes over time, after they have been watched and re-watched, shared with others, and discussed at length.

Table 3: Doctor Who episodes (2005-17) with highest/lowest IMDB ratings

Title Series-Episode Doctor IMDB Rating # User-Raters
Blink 3-10 10 9.8 14,970
Heaven Sent 9-11 12 9.6 7,138
Forest of the Dead 4-9 10 9.5 6,471
Silence in the Library 4-8 10 9.4 6,198
The Day of the Doctor 50th Anniv 10/11 9.4 15,365
Doomsday 2-13 10 9.3 6,099
Vincent and the Doctor 5-10 11 9.3 7,441
The Girl in the Fireplace 2-4 10 9.3 7,637
5 Episodes* 3,4,5,7,10 10 (2), 11 (2), 12 (1) 9.2 2,642-5,746
4 Episodes 1,3,8 9 (2), 10 (1), 12 (1) 7.1 3,990-4,475
Evolution of the Daleks 3-5 10 7.0 4,017
The Idiot’s Lantern 2-7 10 6.9 4,197
Victory of the Daleks 5-3 11 6.9 4,075
The Curse of the Black Spot 6-3 11 6.9 3,957
The Lazarus Experiment 3-6 10 6.7 4,054
Love & Monsters 2-10 10 6.3 5,035
Fear Her 2-11 10 6.2 4,445
In the Forest of the Night 8-10 12 6.2 3.624
Sleep No More 9-9 12 6.1 3,254

      * The Family of Blood (3), Journey’s End (4), The Big Bang (5), The Name of the Doctor (7), World Enough and Time (10),

        † Aliens of London/World War III (1) Daleks in Manhattan (3), Kill the Moon (8)

Twenty-six resurrected Doctor Who episodes have an IMDB rating of 9.0 or higher, topped by “The Day of the Doctor,” Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” the penultimate Series 9 episode “Heaven Sent” and, of course, “Blink.” The extremely high number of “Blink” raters would seem to confirm this is the episode most often used by Doctor Who fans to introduce the show to non-fans. Somewhat less often used this way (ranked 3rd and 4th in raters) are the bittersweet episodes “The Girl in the Fireplace” (Series 2) and “Vincent and the Doctor” (Series 5). The heartbreaking “Doomsday” rounds out the top eight. My personal favorite episode, “A Good Man Goes to War” (Series 6), is tied for 14th with a 9.1 IMDB rating.

Bringing up the rear are nine episodes with IMDB ratings between 6.1 and 7.0, three from Series 2 alone: “The Idiot’s Lantern,” “Love and Monsters” and “Fear Her.“ This remarkably uneven series featured these three episodes AND “Army of Ghosts (8.5)/Doomsday,” “Girl in the Fireplace” and “The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit” (8.8, 8.9); Series 3 episodes “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks” and “The Lazarus Experiment” are similarly poorly-regarded. Rounding out this list are two 11th Doctor episodes (“Victory of the Daleks,” “The Curse of the Black Spot”) and two 12th Doctor episodes (“In the Forest of the Night,” “Sleep No More”).

These three rankings clearly overlap: “Doomsday,” “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” “The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,” “The End of Time: Part Two,” “The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang,” “A Good Man Goes to War” and “The Day of the Doctor” remain among the most admired and oft-rated episodes, while “Sleep No More” and “Love and Monsters” are still best forgotten. On the other hand, an episode like “Heaven Sent,” which was relatively poorly received when it first aired in November 2015 (AI score=80), is now the 2nd-highest rated episode on IMDB!

A correlation coefficient (r) measures how well too measures “agree” in a linear way. R ranges between -1.00 and 1.00; if r is negative, then as one measure increases, the other decreases, and if r is positive, as one measure increases, the other measure increases. When r=0.00, the association is completely random.

The correlation between AI score and IMDB rating is a solid 0.44, while that between IMDB rating and number of raters is an even-better 0.48. These associations are seen more clearly in Figures 1 and 2 below. The correlation between AI score and number of user-raters was a more modest, though still positive, 0.24 (data not shown).

Figure 1: AI Score vs. IMDB Rating, Doctor Who episodes, 2005-17 (n=144)

Doctor Who Figure 1

Figure 2: IMDB Rating vs. # Raters, Doctor Who episodes, 2005-17 (n=144)

Doctor Who Figure 2

Evolution of regard. Comparing each episode’s AI scores and IMDB ratings will show which episode’s appeal has increased over time, and which have declined. To do this, I converted each value to its z-score (number of SD above/below average—this allows valid comparisons between values with different scales); every z-score has average=0 and SD=1. For example, “A Good Man Goes to War has an IMDB rating of 9.1. Subtracting the average of 8.1 from 9.1, then dividing by the SD of 0.8 yields a z-score of 1.2, meaning this IMDB rating is 1.2 SD more highly regarded than average.

Figure 3: AI Score vs. IMDB Rating (z-scores), Doctor Who episodes, 2005-17 (n=144)

Doctor Who Figuere 3

More than half (60%) of resurrected episodes are still either better regarded than average (both z-scores>0, n=47) or less well regarded than average (both z-scores<0, n=39). Once again, “Blink” and “The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End” were, and remain, highly regarded, while “Love and Monsters” and “Sleep No More” were, and remain, episodes best to avoid.

Thirty-five episodes (24%) went from above average to below average in regard (lower right quadrant of Figure 3), most notably the Series 3 episodes “Daleks in Manhattan” and “The Lazarus Experiment.” The former declined 2.1 SD from a respectable AI score of 87 to a well-below-average IMDB rating of 7.1, while the latter dropped 2.3 SD (85 to 6.7). The only episode to drop as many as 2.0 SD is “The Curse of the Black Spot” (86 to 6.9). Other episodes to decline at least 1.5 SD to become less well-regarded than average are: “Planet of the Dead,” “The Poison Sky,” “The Vampires of Venice,” “Night Terrors,” “Partners in Crime” and “The Doctor’s Daughter.” These disparate episodes are split between the 10th (6) and 11th Doctors (3), though nothing else obviously links them. I quite like “Partners” and “Daughter,” the latter especially because it is how Tennant met wife Georgia Moffatt (the titular “daughter”), who is the daughter of Peter Davison, the 5th Doctor.

Finally, 23 episodes (16%) went from below average to above average in regard (upper left quadrant of Figure 3), most notably “Heaven Sent,” which increased an astonishing 3.7 SD (80 to 9.6) in less than three years; this episode—the Groundhog Day of Doctor Who—rewards repeat viewing. The only other episode to increase at least 2.0 SD is “Listen” (82 to 9.0), one of the 12th Doctor’s earliest and most personal adventures. In fact, five of the seven other episodes to increase at least 1.5 SD to become more well-regarded than average—“Hell Bent,” “The Doctor Falls,” “The Husbands of River Song,” “Extremis” and “Twice Upon a Time”—feature the 12th Doctor. Perhaps his imminent departure from the series prompted this positive reevaluation; “The Empty Child” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” round out the list.

Series: As seen in Table 1, there have actually been 11 resurrected Doctor Who Series, as Series 7 was split into two halves: one with companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), and one with companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman). While Series 6 featured a nearly three-month gap between the first seven and the final six episodes, I consider it a single Series because it the same companions and a unifying story arc.

Further complicating the demarcation of individual Series’ are the 13 Christmas episodes, three 10th Doctor specials and the 50th anniversary special. It is not clear into which, if any, Series these episodes should be placed.

Table 4: AI Scores and IMDB Ratings, Doctor Who Christmas and Special Episodes (2005-17)

Title Date Doctor AI Score IMDB Rating
Christmas Specials
The Christmas Invasion 2005 10 84 8.2
The Runaway Bride 2006 10 84 7.6
Voyage of the Damned 2007 10 85 7.7
The Next Doctor 2008 10 86 7.6
The End of Time: Part One 2009 10 87 8.2
A Christmas Carol 2010 11 83 8.6
The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe 2011 11 84 7.4
The Snowmen 2012 11 87 8.5
The Time of the Doctor 2013 11 83 8.5
Last Christmas 2014 12 82 8.4
The Husbands of River Song 2015 12 82 8.6
The Return of Doctor Mysterio 2016 12 82 7.5
Twice Upon a Time 2017 12 81 8.3

10th Doctor Specials (after Series 4, excluding Christmas)

Planet of the Dead April 11, 2009 10 88 7.6
The Waters of Mars November 15, 2009 10 88 8.7
The End of Time: Part Two January 1, 2010 10 89 8.9

50th Anniversary Special

The Day of the Doctor November 23, 2013 War, 10, 11 88 9.4

For simplicity, I assessed individual Series’ using only the 128 episodes listed in Table 1; the AI scores, IMDB ratings and number of raters for the 16 non-Series episodes are listed in Table 4.

Figure 4: Average AI Scores and IMDB Ratings, Doctor Who Series’ (2005-17)

Doctor Who Figure 4

Series 1 started slowly (Figure 4; AI scores are divided by 10 for an apples-to-apples comparison), although four of the final five episodes rank among the most well-regarded now (“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances,” “Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways,” average IMDB score=9.0).

While Series 2 is now slightly less well-regarded than Series 1, and average IMDB rating for Series 3 drops to 8.03 without “Blink,” Series’ generally became better-regarded through Series 4. This latter Series is the best-regarded of the resurrected Doctor Who, both when first aired (average AI score=88.1) and now (average IMDB rating=8.46). It started slowly: while “Partners in Crime” through “The Unicorn and the Wasp” (n=7) have a solid AI score average of 87.3, their average IMDB rating is only 7.84. Starting with the brilliant “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” however, the six episodes through “Journey’s End” have an astonishingly-high average AI score (89.0) and IMDB rating (9.18)! Outside of the three-episode sequence “The Name…” (88, 9.2), “The Day…” (88, 9.4) and “The Time of the Doctor” (83, 8.5), this is the pinnacle of the resurrected Doctor Who, rivaled only by the conclusion to Series 9.

Following the 10th Doctor’s regeneration, however, Series’ 5 and 6 dropped back to Series 3 levels. The latter Series had two distinct parts: the seven-episode sequence of The Impossible Astronaut through A Good Man Goes to War have solid average AI score (86.7) and IMDB rating (8.26), which drop to 85.7 and 8.10, respectively, for the final six episodes (Let’s Kill Hitler through The Wedding of River Song).

Starting in Series 7a, these measures diverge, with average AI score jumping to 87.2 and average IMDB rating dropping to 8.10; the Series started (Asylum of the Daleks, 89, 8.7) and ended (The Angels Take Manhattan, 88, 9.0) well, though it faltered in between (n=3, 86.3, 7.60). The advent of companion Clara Oswald in Series 7b appeared to spike a further decline in regard, which only deepened when she teamed with the 12th Doctor in Series’ 8 and 9, excepting the average IMDB rating of 9.03 for the three-part Series finale (“Face the Raven/Heaven Sent/Hell Bent”). Finally, Series 10, with the first openly lesbian companion (Bill Potts [Pearl Mackie]), signaled a return to Series-8-level regard.

By contrast, Christmas episodes were less admired at initial airing (average AI score=84.1 vs 85.2 for all other episodes) and now (average IMDB rating=8.05 vs. 8.15 for all other episodes). The other four Specials, however, were—and, excepting Planet of the Dead, are—better-regarded.

Figure 5: Average AI Scores and IMDB Ratings, Doctor Who Doctors (2005-17)

Doctor Who Figure 5.jpg

Doctors. Figure 5 displays average values for all 9th (n=13), 10th (n=47), 11th (n=44) and 12th Doctor (n=40) episodes; excluding Christmas episodes and Specials made no appreciable difference.

While websites like WatchMojo.com suggest David Tennant’s 10th Doctor is the best-regarded Doctor ever (rivaling Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor), this is not necessarily borne out by the data. There is a clear demarcation between the 10th and 11th Doctors, on one hand, and the 9th and 12th Doctors on the other. And while the 10th Doctor edges his next incarnation on both average AI score (86.3 to 86.0) and IMDB rating (8.19 to 8.15), the values are not materially different.

Summary. The Doctor Who resurrection did not find its footing until late in Series 1. The 10th and 11th Doctors were held in modestly higher regard than the 9th and 12th Doctors, even if the ends of Series 1 and 9 are very highly-regarded now. The pinnacle of the revived series is the latter half of Series 4, although the most highly-rated episode currently is “Blink” (Series 3), followed by “Heaven Sent” (Series 9) and “The Day of the Doctor (50th anniversary special). “Blink” and “Day” also have received the most IMDB user-ratings by far (~15,000 each). By contrast, it is best to avoid the Series 3 episode “Love and Monsters” and the Series 9 episode “Sleep No More.” While many 10th Doctor episodes have lost stature over time, a similar number of 12th Doctor episodes have done the opposite. Finally, average AI scores and IMDB ratings of 84.8 and 8.13, respectively, are remarkably high, demonstrating just how well-received the Doctor Who revival has been.

For those who are interested, here is a PDF of the data I used in these analyses.

Doctor Who Episode data, 2005-17

Until next time…

[1] The “classic” series aired from November 1963 to December 1989, with only one 1996 television movie—intended to be an American series pilot—before its triumphant return in 2005.

8 thoughts on “Updating the Doctor(s)

  1. I love Brookline! My cousin used to live there so I got to visit numerous times. I used to get off the plane, jump on the train, and get off only 2 blocks from his place (he lived near the Staples store).


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