Donna Williams: In the wake of more let downs from the BBC on Doctor Who, please complete my subtitles survey

Posted on September 17, 2013

I’ve only just recently fired off my formal complaint, but the BBC have already thwarted my attempts to watch Doctor Who yet again. What did they do this time?

At the moment, the BBC are repeating series 7, part 2 on BBC3, and the episodes are available on iPlayer for seven days after being shown. On Sunday, 2nd Sept, I attempted to watch The Angels Take Manhattan. Unfortunately the subtitles were mostly absent, and whilst they would make a brief tantalising appearance for the occasional line, they quickly disappeared again.

I clicked on ‘report issue: problem with the subtitles’ (below and to the right of the programme box). The next day, Monday, I went back to check. Subtitles were still faulty, no change. I clicked on ‘report issue: problem with the subtitles’ again. On Tuesday – you’re seeing a pattern here, aren’t you? Yep, every day until last Thursday I clicked on ‘report issue: problem with the subtitles’ with no apparent effect.

On Wednesday I lost patience with ‘report issue’ and went to the ‘contact page’ (the last option on the ‘report issue’ drop-down menu) and sent a complaint about the subtitles. I received an email confirmation of receipt of my contact. On Thursday, no change. Friday night, the episode was gone.

On Thursday, I did use one of Chakoteya’s transcripts (, basically trying to remember the dialogue and watch the episode, but frankly my memory’s not that good to remember an entire script and half the time I was trying to remember what the next line was only to realise I’d missed it while the camera was panning round.

I got the gist of the episode and of course I remembered some of it from the last time I saw it, but it’s not the same. All that banter between River and the Doctor when the Doctor arrives was mostly lost, as the camera seemed to take more interest in a book, the weeping angel, and the TARDIS in the hallway.

When the camera did stop for a few seconds and focus, they were talking to each other face to face, so now I was trying to lip-read them in profile. For pity’s sake. All I need is subtitles, and I can enjoy the episode on the same level as hearing Whovians. Come on, BBC!

Then, on Monday, I finally got a response to my complaint.


Reference CAS-2297878-RNKP7Q

Thank you for contacting the BBC iPlayer Support Team.

We understand that the subtitles for ‘Doctor Who: the Angels take Manhattan’ were intermittent and not displaying correctly on BBC iPlayer.

Due to rights issues programmes are generally available for 7 days after broadcast and as this programme was last broadcast on 30 August it is no longer available on BBC iPlayer and we are unable to investigate this further.

We received a report on 3 September that the subtitling was faulty and this was escalated to the BBC iPlayer technical team that same day. We regret if this couldn’t be corrected before the programme expired.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

***** **********

BBC Audience Services”

So, to critically analyse this email; they admit to getting a report re the subtitles on the 3rd, and passed it to the technical team that day. Why not email me at the same time, to reassure me it had / would be dealt with? Instead, I got this email, ‘regretting if’ nothing had been done, on the 9th, six days after said report.

Why not email me when they got the report, to reassure me that it would soon be dealt with? Did they perchance suspect it wouldn’t be, and wait until the episode had ‘timed out’ to let me know that as the programme is no available it can’t be investigated further, thus conveniently closing my complaint?

And I fail to see why the fact it is no longer on iPlayer means they are no longer able to investigate it. Does it not make sense to find the problem and fix the subtitles so they’re sorted for the next time it’s repeated? Or find out what the mistake was so they can learn from it? Apparently not.

Also: I clicked on ‘report issue: subtitles not working’ on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before emailing them on Wednesday. Yet they only acknowledge getting a report re the subtitles on the 3rd – on Tuesday. What’s up with that? All I know is, from now on, when I realise the subtitles aren’t working, I’m going straight to the contact page.

And of course:

We regret if this couldn’t be corrected before the programme expired.”

Or as I’m reading it:

We regret that you were unable to fully enjoy the experience of watching a brilliant, emotional episode of your most favouritest programme because the subtitles were crap.”

And as for finishing that email with “kind regards”… Yeah. Kind regards to you too, BBC.

True, this is more an iPlayer issue than a Doctor Who-specific one, but I think it leads back into just how seriously the BBC takes lack of or faulty subtitles on a programme, much less on a flagship programme like Doctor Who.

The various responses to my original article have got me thinking. Several people suggested a survey to see what the wider impact of lack of subtitles is, and I think it’s a great idea. It would add more weight to the complaints against the BBC and the Doctor Who franchise overseers if we can show that lots of people are affected by these issues.

So I made a survey, and here it is:

“BBC, Subtitles and Doctor Who”:

Please pass it on, fill it in, spread it far and wide and let’s send a message to the BBC!

Donna Williams is a Contributing Editor for Limping Chicken. She is a Deaf writer and blogger living in Bristol and studying part-time in Cardiff. As well as being a postgrad student, she’s a BSL poet, freelance writer, NDCS Deaf Role Model presenter, and occasional performer. She tweets as@DeafFirefly

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