Doctor Who Christmas episodes linked to lower UK death rates

Science and Health

A captivating Doctor Who episode aired during the festive season, particularly on Christmas Day, appears to be correlated with lower death rates in the subsequent year across the UK, as revealed by a study published in The BMJ’s Christmas issue. The findings shed light on the potential positive impact doctors can have by working during the festive period, prompting speculation about the benefits of broadcasting new Doctor Who episodes annually, ideally on Christmas Day.

The Doctor Who phenomenon, celebrating its 60th anniversary, has become a cultural staple, captivating millions of viewers worldwide. In the UK, where many doctors diligently work over the festive period, the influence of this dedication on population health remained unclear until this study.

To investigate the potential health impact of doctors working during the holidays, Professor Richard Riley, a Biostatistics expert at the University of Birmingham, examined the association between new Doctor Who episodes aired from December 24 to January 1 and the subsequent year’s age-standardized death rates from the UK’s Office for National Statistics. This study capitalized on the show’s 60-year history, treating it as a natural experiment to gauge the influence of one doctor working over the festive period.

The analysis focused solely on televised episodes from 1963, excluding spin-off series, books, comics, and audio stories. Over the 31 festive periods from 1963 to 2022, including 14 episodes on Christmas Day, time series analyses revealed an association between festive period broadcasts and subsequent lower annual death rates.

Last-Minute Christmas Gifts (credit: UNSPLASH)

Christmas episode linked to fewer deaths

Episodes aired on Christmas Day were linked to approximately six fewer deaths per 10,000 person-years in England and Wales and four fewer deaths per 10,000 person-years in the entire UK. The reduction was more pronounced during the consistent broadcast period from 2005 to 2019, with an average of seven fewer deaths per 10,000 person-years in England and Wales and six fewer deaths per 10,000 person-years in the UK.

Although the study doesn’t establish causality and pertains to a unique doctor character, Riley suggests that watching a caring doctor on screen might encourage health-seeking behavior. The findings underscore the significance of not taking healthcare provision for granted.

Riley advocates for broadcasters like the BBC and Disney+ to consider the potential health benefits of airing Doctor Who episodes, especially during the festive period. If the findings generalize globally, streaming new Doctor Who episodes worldwide could be an opportunity for Disney+ to contribute to reducing mortality rates.


In a linked editorial, researchers acknowledge the serendipitous nature of the findings but suggest that providing compassionate, timely healthcare can indeed make a significant difference. They praise the Doctor in Doctor Who as a representation of the best in healthcare, inspiring better choices and lives both on and off-screen.