Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special Breaks Records

Show lands a Guinness entry for most simulcasts, tops BBC America's historic highs

UPDATE: NCM and BBC America released box office figures for the movie theater screenings: the 3D-enabled event took in gross receipts of some $4.77 from about 320,000 tickets for a per-theater average of $7,155. That last figure is the most important one—for reference, it beats the stuffing out of every theater around Doctor Who's 660-theater range for the same weekend. In fact, it did more per-theater biz than any movie in more than 100 houses except opening blockbuster Catching Fire. Movie-theater screenings in the UK grossed about $2.91 million.

With day-and-date broadcasts in some 94 countries on six continents (no one wanted the Antarctica contract, apparently) on Saturday, the BBC's 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who set an official Guinness record for most simulcasts ever, and it also managed to log the most viewers for a single program in the history of the BBC America. In the network's target demo—25-54-year-olds—the show garnered 1.2 million viewers. Not bad for 2:50 on a Saturday afternoon.

The episode of the long-running time-traveling sci-fi series, in which everyone who'd ever played the Doctor appears (some in the form of rerun footage, granted), also screened in 11 cities during the airtime via mini-distributor NCM Fathom. The screening, in 3D, got an encore performance in some 660 cinemas the next day and is still playing this evening. The event was billed as the first meeting between the last two Doctors—the same character as interpreted (quite differently) by previous Doctor David Tennant and the current model, Matt Smith.

The blowout doubtless cost the BBC a pretty penny, but it did well domestically for the British network, too. Some 10.61 million Brits tuned in—not quite the most viewers of the evening, with competition reality show Strictly Come Dancing edging it out—making it a banner evening for the Beeb, as well. (The program hasn't done as well on the airwaves since it got a spit-shine from showrunner Russell T. Davies and new Doctor Christopher Eccleston in 2005, if you don't count the holiday specials.)

For the BBC America, it was a chance for the network to show off its library content and drum up some buzz for its own shows, to boot. Doctor Who was a significant plurality of BBC America's programming on Saturday, which probably helped with the premiere of its new SF series, Atlantis; that program bowed to some 838,000 total viewers, making it the network's highest-rated series premiere ever.

The special was something of a last hurrah for Matt Smith, the actor who has played the Doctor for the last three seasons and will be replaced when he "regenerates" into the newly-cast Peter Capaldi, who appears (from the nose up) in the 50th anniversary special alongside old favorites like Tom Baker and more recent ones like John Hurt by means of time travel.*

BBCA has a back end planned for the 50th anniversary celebration, too: the episode will get a lightning-quick DVD/Blu-Ray release on Tuesday, Dec. 10. Merchandising for the show is a serious business—besides having dozens upon dozens of licensing partners cranking out goods for the holidays, BBC ran ads for DVD sets in the movie theaters, as well.