By Simon Cable
Losing out to the weather? The latest episode of Dr Who starring Matt Smith (right), Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, attracted a smaller audience than last year's series opener
It was billed as one of the scariest Doctor Who episodes ever. But when the series returned on Saturday, the Time Lord found himself facing an unexpected enemy – the sunshine.
The first episode was watched by an average of 6.4million viewers, according to overnight figures, down by almost 1.5million on the equivalent episode last year.
With many choosing to make the most of the good weather, it meant it was the lowest-rating series opener since the much-loved drama was revived on Easter weekend in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston in the lead role.
However Saturday’s episode, The Impossible Astronaut – which pitted Matt Smith’s Doctor against creepy new alien menace the Silence – still drew an impressive 36.7 per cent of the available audience, with figures peaking at seven million.
And when ‘time shift’ figures for those who recorded the show to watch later are added in, the final figure is expected to be much higher.
When Doctor Who returned to television screens in 2005 after a 16-year absence the opening show attracted a peak audience of 10.5million. The following year, 9.8million tuned in to see David Tennant’s debut as the Time Lord.
The BBC pointed out that low audience figures were recorded across all channels this weekend because of the weather and the bank holiday.
The same fate befell Britain’s Got Talent, which recorded yet another drop in audience figures on Saturday night.
ITV had hoped the show would see a ratings recovery after the series opener last week pulled in 10.9million, a drop of 1.3million from the first show of last year’s series.
However, it recorded a peak of 10.6million and an average audience of just 9million – 900,000 less than last week’s average audience.
Fans say the show has been weakened by Simon Cowell’s absence. He has pulled out as a judge during the audition rounds to focus on the launch of The X Factor in the U.S., but will return for next month’s live shows. Former judge Piers Morgan has also quit.
Doctor Who returned to television screens in 2005 after a sixteen year absence. The opening show of the series attracted a peak audience of 10.5million. The following year, 9.8million fans tuned in to see David Tennant’s debut as The Timelord.
In 2010, eight million watched Matt Smith’s debut, while an almost identical audience was recorded for last year’s Easter Saturday episode.
Scariest yet: Saturday's episode saw the doctor travel to Utah, where he witnessed a gruesome murder
This weekend’s episode was the first time in seven years that ratings had fallen below eight million.
Saturday’s episode began with a dedication to the memory of the late Doctor Who actress Elisabeth Sladen who died of cancer this week at the age of 63.
Ahead of broadcast, the show’s head writer and producer Steven Moffat said the first two episodes of the new series – which feature a mystery alien species known as the Silents – is the scariest opener to any Doctor Who series yet.
He said: ‘The Doctor’s darkest hour is coming. Shows like Doctor Who should have big colourful, memorable moments that make you go, “What the hell?” Well, this is one of them.’
However, fans were not wholly impressed. Eunice Ann Green wrote on the BBC Points of View messageboard: ‘Doctor Who was one of the best programmes and as a family never missed watching no matter where we are or what we are doing.
‘But tonight we lost all interest and feel the cast and stories have had an injustice served upon them. Please bring it back to how and what it should be - that is a great British programme loved by all, not just sci-fi fans.’
Matt Smith replaced David Tennant last year and at 26, he became the youngest actor to be given the role since it began in 1963.
There was a mixed reception for last year’s series, the first overseen by Moffat, with ratings down year on year.
The new series will feature guest appearances from Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville, David Walliams, James Corden, Lily Cole and the voice of Michael Sheen.
The series will be split into two, with seven episodes running until June before it returns with another six episodes in the autumn.
New line-up: New judges Michael McIntyre (left) and David Hasselhoff (right) joined Amanda Holden for the latest series
At the end of Saturday night’s programme, a tribute to Elisabeth Sladen - who starred opposite Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker as the Doctor’s assistant between 1973 and 1976 - was screened on CBBC.
Doctor Who was not the only show to suffer from the fine bank holiday weather this weekend.
Britain’s Got Talent recorded yet another drop in audience figures on Saturday night.
ITV had hoped that this week’s auditions show would see a ratings recovery after the series opener pulled in 10.9million – a drop of 1.3million from the first show of last year’s series.
However, it recorded a peak of 10.6million and an average audience of just nine million – 900,000 less than last week’s average audience.
It is also the lowest viewing figures for the show since 2007.
Gone but not forgotten: Piers Morgan (left) and Simon Cowell both quit the show to pursue careers in the U.S.
It is a blow for ITV, with fans already claiming the long-running show has been weakened since Simon Cowell’s absence.
However, the broadcaster pointed out that television viewing figures were reduced across the board over the holiday period and said that the show still pulled in a 44 per cent share of the audience.
The music mogul has pulled out as a judge during the audition rounds to focus on the launch of his U.S. X Factor series. He will return for next month’s live shows.
Former judge Piers Morgan has also quit. The pair have been replaced by comedian Michael McIntyre and actor David Hasselhoff, who sit alongside Amanda Holden.
Saturday’s show featured 21-year-old former model Pippa Langhorne singing a version of Pie Jesu with her puppy Buddy.
Big break: Singer Pippa Langhorne impressed the judges
Impressionist Les Gibson also impressed the judges after mimicking hosts Ant and Dec, while 92-year-old Ted Hall performed a duet with his 21-year-old granddaughter Grace Bower.
Fans took to social networking sites to complain about Cowell’s absence. Axel Yachef wrote: ‘I hate Simon Cowell but his presence is massively missing from the show.’
Another calling themselves Brooksyonair added: ‘BGT really missing Simon Cowell! Like all 3 judges but they just don’t work together.’