Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford, Kate O'Mara

Read the late 1980s BBC internal report that led to Doctor Who's original cancellation

Contributed by
Apr 26, 2018

Want to take a peek into the BBC's archives at the document that pretty much spelled the end of Doctor Who — at least until it was resurrected in the modern era all these years later?

Back in 1989, the BBC put the final nail in Doctor Who’s TARDIS after 26 seasons on the small screen. The show had been on shaky ground since March 1985 when it was taken off the air for 18 months and it also struggled when it was moved (in 1987) to Monday nights against heavy hitter Coronation Street. Moreover, the popularity of the series had been in a steady decline.

But it was a “not for publication” 1988 Television Audience Reaction Report — which was meant to gauge fan reaction to Doctor Who’s 24th season — that signaled the beginning of the end for the long-running series. The document was compiled not long after Sylvester McCoy had begun his tenure as the Seventh Doctor, with Bonnie Langford’s Mel as his companion. The document was recently unearthed and spotlighted by Den of Geek.

Doctor Who BBC Document Page 1

Credit: BBC Archive

The report revealed that the numbers for the show weren’t great and while viewership was slightly up (.1 million), viewing figures were still below 5 million. The show’s Appreciation Index (which measures a TV series’ popularity scale from one to a 100) was at 60. According to the report, it was much lower than the average of 69 for the 1986 series, and considerably lower than the average of 75 for a UK drama (Coronation Street scored an AI of 74 for the same time period).

Then there was the fact that neither McCoy’s Doctor nor Mel proved to be popular with the viewers. McCoy received a personal summary index figure of 46 at the end of the series while his predecessor, Colin Baker (who was also only moderately popular himself), received much better ratings with a personal index figure of 66. But the biggest problem was with the Doctor’s companion, Mel, who was loathed by most fans at the time — the majority of which literally wanted her to be eaten by monsters.

“Bonnie Langford, who played the Doctor's assistant Mel can only be described as unpopular with respondents,” the report reads. “Indeed 56% of respondents who answered a questionnaire on the ‘Paradise Towers’ story wished she had been eaten — as seemed likely at one point during the course of this adventure. Her summary index rating of 34 compares unfavourably with the 47 she received at the end of the 1986 series. Both figures, it should be noted, are extremely low.”

Although the report notes that while a “core of loyal and enthusiastic fans of Doctor Who remains, their number seems to be decreasing with each successive series.” Even worse, less than half of the sample audience (46%) wanted to see another series of Doctor Who. Ouch.

Doctor Who went off the air on December 6, 1989, with the three-part serial “Survival.” The BBC tried to revive the franchise with the 1996 movie where McCoy returned to regenerate into Paul McGann’s Eight Doctor. However, Whovians had to wait until 2005 for showrunner Russell T Davies to successfully bring back Doctor Who for a whole new generation of devoted viewers, with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor.

You can read the full internal BBC report in the gallery below, and let us know what you think in the comments below.

(BBC Archive via Den of Geek)