Revised sci-fi series finds dedicated audience

No storyline is too outlandish for “Doctor Who.”

A week ago the Time Lord traveled back through the centuries to meet another great British cultural icon, William Shakespeare, no less. In the most recent episode, broadcast locally last weekend, audiences were presented with a nightmare vision of what New York might be like in the year 5,000,000,043.

But the genuinely remarkable thing about “Doctor Who” is its continuing and ongoing success in Blighty. The new season is regularly winning an audience share of around 40% — a hefty 8 million-plus viewers.

The ratings defies all those ubiquitous predictions about the demise of TV as audiences, especially teenage viewers, apparently stampede online.

It is one thing to mount a successful revival of a show that helped to define television’s so-called Golden Age some 40 years after the original series (“Doctor Who” ran continuously on the BBC from 1963-1989), but to keep that show hot when the two co-stars — Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper — that launched the revival in 2005 have both quit puts “Doctor Who” into an entirely different dimension.

Season three of the reborn “Doctor Who” bowed in the U.K. March 26 on the BBC’s flagship web, BBC1.

David Tennant, the Scottish actor best known for his TV roles, is on board as the 10th incarnation of the Time Lord, having replaced Eccleston in season two. In lieu of Piper is rookie actress Freema Agyeman, cast as medical student Martha Jones.

Piper’s gutsy portrayal of the doctor’s assistant, Rose, graced seasons one and two, and was reckoned to be a key factor in keeping teen viewers hooked. Fears that audiences would find a better place to spend their time as “Doctor Who” carried on minus Piper have quickly evaporated.

BBC toppers drew enormous satisfaction from indications that the third season of “Doctor Who” may turn out to be the most successful yet for the 21st century remake.

Exclude the soaps “Coronation Street” and “EastEnders,” “Doctor Who” was Britain’s most popular TV show for the week ending April 1, as well as being the world’s longest-running science fiction TV skein per se.

As ever, any attempt to deconstruct why a certain show reaches hit status is fraught by complex calculations but many believe the writing remains a key reason for its popularity.

The man who created the revived “Doctor Who,” and who writes many of the episodes, Russell Davies, recently said that from the early days strong scripts accounted for the secret of the Time Lord’s longevity.

Davies is co-credited as “Doctor Who’s” executive producer but, in reality, this Oxford-education TV junkie is involved in all the key creative calculations.

Not for nothing was a recent British newspaper article that interviewed Davies headlined “Master of the Universe.” On current form, Davies may even end up stealing the Doctor’s thunder.

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