But Is It Art?: The Extra BitsBy Graham Kibble-White

First published July 2009


In this  month’s Doctor Who Magazine, I’ve written a feature which examines whether or not the long-running sci-fi serial is actually good television.

Yes, of course, we know Doctor Who is brilliant, but does that necessarily mean it can hold its head high alongside I, Claudius, Cathy Come Home or even Blue Peter? By talking to a range of TV experts, I aim to find out… So buy the magazine.

Alongside the article as published, I also submitted a ream of supplementary ‘evidence’. DWM’s editor, Tom Spilsbury, ultimately opted not to use this stuff – in the main because the central narrative was already insanely long and I guess it’s dubious how relevant to the main text all the additional content was. However, he did give me permission to publish it here on OTT as a kind of Doctor Who Magazine DVD extra. As did Nick Setchfield and Dave Golder from SFX magazine, both of whom freely contributed their time for this piece. Thanks, all.

So, for your interest, here’s how I came up with a mathematical formula to ‘prove’ which are the most successful Doctor Who stories of all time… And then here’s what I did with that info.

Behold SIDRAT!

DWM unveils its patented mathematical formula for measuring how successful Doctor Who stories – and the elements contained therein – actually are!

Get ready for a spot of Adric-style number-crunching…

We’ve taken the TV chart positions and AI scores* upon week of broadcast of every single Doctor Who episode and fed them into the DWM super-computer. Then we’ve bolted them onto a scoring system based on Strictly Come Dancing (we were keen to be able to cite academic precedent).

Hence, out of 200 Doctor Who stories, the one with the highest-ever chart position (that’ll be last year’s Journey’s End, which aced it at number one) scores 200 points. The story with the next-highest gets 199 points, then 198 points and so on. Consider this ‘the judges’ vote’.

We then run the AI figures through the same process, meaning the story with the best-ever AI (erm, Journey’s End again, at 91) gets the full 200 points, and so on. Call this ‘the viewers’ vote’.

Both scores are then added together, before being converted into a percentile figure to produce what we’re snappily naming the SIDRAT score. That, obviously, stands for Success In Doctor (Who) = (Chart) Rating + AI Together.

As a combined measurement of both quality and viewer popularity we think it’ll catch on!

* Actual viewing figures have been discounted from this process as, with such huge changes in TV-watching over the years, and the collation of ratings, a comparison of Sixties and Noughties data is meaningless. Where AI info wasn’t recorded (that’s 98 individual episodes, meaning whole stories such as Day of the Daleks and Castrovalva miss out) stories are scored by chart position alone.

A journey through each of the Doctor’s most successful stories

To get a sense of how each Doctor’s highest SIDRAT-scoring tales fitted into the TV landscapes of the time, we look at what ITV were scheduling in direct opposition, and what else was going on in the TV landscape. Plus, because we couldn’t resist it, we pit each story into combat against the very best offered up by rival fantasy shows of the era – with Nick Setchfield and Dave Golder from Europe’s best-selling science-fiction magazine, SFX, adjudicating the winner of each bout!

The Dalek Invasion of Earth
Dalek Invasion of Earth

SIDRAT score: 65.35%

Broadcast: 21 November to 26 December 1964

Meanwhile on ITV (London): Thank Your Lucky Stars

TV events during transmission weeks: BBC2 launches; Sydney Newman, Head of BBC Drama (and Doctor Who founding father) refutes accusations he’s shelved a series of TV plays (“Not at all. Many of the plays will be done… Soon I hope! Give us some credit!”); the press report a Doctor Who casting development (21-year-old Maureen O’Brien to join as Vicki); The boss of ITV company Rediffusion – and recently defected BBC Controller of Programmes – Stuart Hood – vows to beat his old channel in the Christmas telly wars.

Most-watched TV shows (according to TAM): Coronation Street (ITV), Take Your Pick (ITV), Double Your Money (ITV), The Plane Makers (ITV), Val Parnell’s Sunday Palladium (ITV).

Nick SetchfieldVersus Quatermass and the Pit (22 December 1958 to 26 January 1959, BBC1):

“The Dalek adventure has the high concept but is it really much more than a publicity photo op? Kneale’s tale beats it with an itchy mix of tweed, Woodbines and Lovecraftian paranoia.” – Nick


The Wheel in Space
The Wheel in Space

SIDRAT score: 37.8%

Broadcast: 27 April to 1 June 1968

Meanwhile on ITV (London): (Part One to Three) Sword of Freedom; (Part Four and Six) Time for Blackburn!; (Part Five) Eamonn Andrews with Results Round-Up

TV events during transmission weeks: It’s announced big screen ‘Dr Who’ Peter Cushing will play Sherlock Holmes in an upcoming 16-part BBC drama; Sydney Newman (him again) reveals: “The BBC have been trying to sell Doctor Who in a big way for years – Americans are charmed by it, but they won’t buy it because it’s a serial”; Rodney ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ Bewes is signed up as a vulpine minder for the debut of The Basil Brush Show; Harlech Television launches in Wales and the West of England – it would soon rename itself HTV and, in the Eighties, bring us the Doctor Who-baiting Robin of Sherwood.

Most-watched TV shows (according to TAM): The Des O’Connor Show (ITV), Coronation Street (ITV), Opportunity Knocks! (ITV), Take Your Pick (ITV), FA Cup Final (BBC1), The Saint (ITV), World in Action (ITV)

Nick SetchfieldVersus Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever (6 April 1967 on US TV, 26 July 1969, BBC1):

“Trek trumps Who. Roddenberry’s baby is in its passionate, primary-coloured pomp while the Troughton tale feels like a tired runaround in shadows. And without Harlon Ellison’s huge, heartbreaking story of time, love and consequence, we’d never have had Doctor Who’s Father’s Day (2006)…” – Nick


Planet of the Daleks
Planet of the Daleks

SIDRAT score: 71.78%

Broadcast: 7 April to 12 May 1973

Meanwhile on ITV (London): (Part One and Six) The Protectors; (Part Two) The Julie Andrews Hour; (Part Three and Five) The Mike and Bernie Show; (Part Four) The Comedians

TV events during transmission weeks: Sir John Eden, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications announces the basic question of whether or not this is the right time to allocate the fourth terrestrial TV channel is itself still undecided; The Independent Broadcasting Authority reveals that in the autumn some ITV programmes in the Midlands will carry a small symbol in the top right hand corner of the screen indicating if a programme might be disturbing for the viewer; Blue Peter wins The Sun’s TV awards as top children’s programme

Most-watched TV shows (according to JICTAR): Love Thy Neighbour (ITV), This Is Your Life (ITV), Coronation Street (ITV), Opportunity Knocks! (ITV), Eurovision Song Contest (BBC1), Shut That Door! (ITV)

Nick SetchfieldVersus The Tomorrow People: The Blue and the Green (4 February to 4 March 1974, ITV):

Who for me. The Blue and the Green has an evocative sense of Seventies teatime creepiness – Findus gothic? – but Terry Nation’s tale has smart invisible Daleks, icecanoes (icecanoes!) and some gently intelligent commentary on heroism. Beat that, Homo Superior!” – Nick


The Ark in Space

The Ark in Space

SIDRAT score: 74.26%

Broadcast: 25 January to 15 February 1975

Meanwhile on ITV (London): Talent show New Faces

TV events during transmission weeks: A trade union delegation visits the Home Secretary, in an attempt to persuade a reluctant Government the BBC must have more – much more – money, and quickly; The 24-part Space 1999, produced by Gerry Anderson and directed by Sylvia Anderson, reaches it final stages of filming at Pinewood after 15 months on the floor; Hazel Holt reviews Doctor Who for The Stage: “It’s holding its own, I think, though to those of us who saw William Hartnell’s original doctor, precise and formal, Tom Baker’s reincarnation doesn’t have the same distinction. Plenty of authority, though”.

Most-watched TV shows (according to JICTAR): Love Thy Neighbour (ITV), This Is Your Life (ITV), Coronation Street (ITV), Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game (BBC1), Cilla’s Comedy Six (ITV), The Val Doonican Show (ITV),The Life of Riley (ITV)

Nick SetchfieldVersus Blake’s 7: Terminal (31 March 1980, BBC1):

The Wirrn have it. Blake’s 7 delivers a masterclass in end-of-season cliffhangers but Ark is a sustained piece of small screen unease – a coiled, claustrophobic exercise in creeping fear (it must have influenced Alien, surely?). And in Tom Baker it has an all-conquering weapon of pure starpower.” – Nick


The Five Doctors
The Five Doctors

SIDRAT score: 55.38%

Broadcast: 25 November 1983

Meanwhile on ITV (London): Max Bygraves giving away “biiiig moooney!” in his first series of Family Fortunes, followed byThe A Team

TV events during transmission week: Word gets out caricature model-makers Roger Luck and Peter Flaw are working on a 13-part series financed by Central TV that will use puppets as a basis for satire… the controversial Spitting Image will reach the screen the following year and run until 1996.

Most-watched TV shows (according to BARB): This Is Your Life (ITV), Coronation Street (ITV), Benny Hill(ITV), Give Us a Clue (ITV), The Paul Daniels Magic Show (BBC1)

Nick SetchfieldVersus V (1 May to 2 May 1983 on US TV, 30 July 1984, ITV):

“No contest. Sledgehammer Nazi metaphors and rodent-gobbling über-bitches fall beneath the might of Who‘s 20th anniversary nostalgia-fest. Sure, Terrance Dicks’ plotting is pure Dungeons and Dragons, but there’s bottled magic here.” – Nick


Revelation of the Daleks
Revelation of the Daleks

SIDRAT score: 50.75%

Broadcast: 23 to 30 March 1985

Meanwhile on ITV (London): Student-friendly quizzer Blockbusters, followed by Robin of Sherwood

TV events during transmission weeks: Doctor-in-waiting Paul McGann is to star in The Monocled Mutineer, written by Alan Bleasdale. He’ll appear alongside Timothy West and Penelope ‘Harriet Jones’ Wilton. Filming begins on April 18 for 20 weeks in Wales, the West Country and a pit village in the north of England; Howard Stableford is revealed as the new presenter of BBC science show Tomorrow’s World.

Most-watched TV shows (according to BARB): Coronation Street (ITV), The Two Ronnies (BBC1), Last of the Summer Wine (BBC1), Only Fools and Horses (BBC1), Dallas (BBC1), Emmerdale Farm (ITV)

Nick SetchfieldVersus Robin of Sherwood: The Swords of Wayland (6 April 1985, ITV):

“Tough call. Richard Carpenter’s mystical reblooding of the Robin legend would have skewered any other Sixth Doctor tale – it even lobs Dame Rula Lenska and Satanic nuns into the fray – but for once Who outguns it with a sly brew of mordant black comedy and still-chilling setpieces. And Orcini’s brilliant.” – Nick


Remembrance of the Daleks
Remembrance of the Daleks

SIDRAT score: 45.25%

Broadcast: 5 to 26 October 1988

Meanwhile on ITV (London): Coronation Street

TV events during transmission weeks: Thames TV upset journalists by excising the final reveal from preview copies of its Michael Caine-starring Jack the Ripper; “I’m Richard Madeley and this is my wife, Judy Finnigan” – ITV embraces the AM with the launch of magazine show This Morning; Delta and the Bannermen’s Stubby Kaye guests on talent quest New Faces of ’88

Most-watched TV shows (according to BARB): EastEnders (BBC1), Neighbours (BBC1), Coronation Street (ITV),Bread (BBC1)

Dave GolderVersus Star Trek: The Next Generation: Yesterday’s Enterprise (February 19 1990 on US TV, 29 January 1992, BBC2):

Trek wins by a nose. It’s one of the franchise’s finest ever episodes, combining both a time travel paradox and an alternate universe in a lean, mean script. Remembrance is great in many respects (and has some amazing visuals), and even sports a Trek-like subtext about racism, but loses points for a cop-out ‘this has all been prepared’ climax which undermines all the drama.” – Dave


The TV Movie
The TV Movie

SIDRAT score: 80.05%

Broadcast: 27 May 1996

Meanwhile on ITV: Des O’Connor’s box-opening game show Take Your Pick

TV events during transmission week: The BBC looks at revitalizing Saturday nights: “We have lots of exciting plans but we want to keep them under wraps for now”; Turns out those plans don’t include mustachioed funsters The Chuckle Brothers, even though the double act have their eye on 5.30pm Saturday evenings, claiming: “We would love to bring back that Some Mother Do ‘Ave ‘Em slot… But the BBC is not willing to re-create the opening for us at the moment.”

Most-watched TV shows (according to BARB): EastEnders (BBC1), Coronation Street (ITV), Emmerdale (ITV),The Bill (ITV), National Lottery Live (BBC1), The Knock (ITV) and… Doctor Who (BBC1)!

Dave GolderVersus Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Hush (December 14 1999 on US TV, 21 December 2000, BBC2):

“No contest.Hush is one of the finest episodes of anything ever, combining wit, emotion, chills and arresting imagery with consummate ease. The US Doctor Who movie has a nice TARDIS set and a gag about shoes.” – Dave



SIDRAT score: 87.40%

Broadcast: 26 March 2005

Meanwhile on ITV (London): A pimped up Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, packed with celebrity cameos and ‘Little Ant and Dec’ interviewing David Beckham

TV events during transmission week: For the first time in its history, ITV broadcasts the Oxford/Cambridge boat race, having snaffled the rights from the BBC in 2004; EastEnders celebrates its 20th birthday… six weeks late; the country gears up for two royal weddings: Charles and Camilla and Ken and Deirdre’s in Coronation Street; a news flash following Doctor Who announces the death of former prime minister Jim Callaghan.

Most-watched TV shows (according to BARB): EastEnders (BBC1), Coronation Street (ITV), Doctor Who (BBC1),Emmerdale (ITV1), Heartbeat (ITV1), Life Begins (ITV1), Holby City (BBC1)

Dave GolderVersus Stargate SG-1: Window of Opportunity (August 4 2000 on US TV, 11 October 2000, Sky One):

“Rarely would I ever choose any episode of SG-1 over Doctor Who, but here, sadly, I have to make an exception. SG-1 gets enormous mileage (and some real belly laughs) from its Groundhog Day scenario. Rose is a damned fine reintroduction to the Doctor, but plastic Mickey… oh dear.” – Dave


Journey’s End

SIDRAT score: 100%

Broadcast: 5 July 2008

Meanwhile on ITV (London): Now they’re not really trying: Kindergarten Cop followed by You’ve Been Framed

TV events during transmission week: The UK gets into a tizzy over the possible prospect of the Tenth Doctor regenerating; Yorkshire TV celebrates its 40th birthday; Rafael Nadal wins Wimbledon in a four-hour, 48-minute final (the longest in the tournament’s history); BBC1’s archaeological drama Bonekickers debuts to dire reviews.

Most-watched TV shows (according to BARB): The number one-rating Doctor Who (BBC1), Wimbledon 2008(BBC1), Coronation Street (ITV), EastEnders (BBC1), Midsomer Murders (ITV1), Emmerdale (ITV)

Dave GolderVersus Battlestar Galactica: Crossroads pt 1 and 2 (March 18 to 25 2007 on US TV, 1 May 2007, Sky One):

“Ah. Chalk and cheese. Can I wimp out and declare a dead heat, depending on what you want from your SF? Hard as nails? Or gloriously uplifting bubblegum fun? If I’m forced to choose, I’d go with the Who. For all its faults, Journey’s End is a multilayered confection of delight, like a party on a bouncy castle with all your best mates.” – Dave