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Ten million welcome back the Doctor

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CULT sci-fi hero Doctor Who won the battle of prime time as ten million viewers tuned in to watch the series return after a 16-year absence, figures revealed yesterday.

The much-loved time traveller beat off competition from ITV's Ant and Dec, with guest David Beckham, to claim an average audience of 9.9 million on Saturday.

Christopher Eccleston became the ninth small screen Doctor in a comeback packed with special effects and with former pop star Billie Piper starring as his sidekick.

The series, which was shown at 7pm, had an average audience share of 43.2 per cent and hit a peak of 10.6 million viewers.

Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, which ran against Doctor Who, had an average of 7.2 million viewers, taking a 31.4 per cent share.

The Geordie duo peaked with an 8.5 million audience, 37.5 per cent of the viewing public.

A BBC spokesman said:

"Obviously we are pleased that so many people sat down as a family to watch the return of Doctor Who."

Viewing numbers for the new series beat a 1996 madefor-TV film version, starring Paul McGann, which drew 9.1 million in 1996.

Saturday's audience also dwarfed figures for the last full series of the show, in 1989, when it had an average of 4.2 million viewers, prompting the programme to be axed.

ITV said any comparisons between an entertainment show and a big budget drama would be unfair.

A spokeswoman said: "The audience of 7.2 million for Ant and Dec was up on the show last Easter Saturday, which got 7.1 million viewers, so we have no complaints."

The BBC later admitted that a technical problem caused viewers to hear comedian Graham Norton's voice over the top of the opening credits to Doctor Who.

A glitch meant sound from his Strictly Come Dancing show spilled over into the beginning of the drama.

"There was a problem with the junction between the two shows, which meant Graham Norton's voice could be heard for a few seconds, " said a BBC spokesman.

"It was rectified as soon as possible and we apologise if it affected anyone's enjoyment."

Dr Who fans, Gordon Muir and Andy Waterhouse, from Norton, near Stockton, held a fancy dress party on Saturday to celebrate the new series.

Mr Muir, 43, buys and sells Doctor Who paraphernalia on an Internet auction site and has thousands of pounds-worth of comics, videos and models from the show.

On Saturday, he dressed as a Zygon - one of the Doctor's enemies - to get in the mood.

He said: "Overall, I was really impressed. Obviously the whole look of the show has been updated to appeal to a modern generation of teenagers.

"So certain things have gone. There was no cliffhanger ending, which I was a little disappointed about.

"But it's well-written, well-acted and looks like getting better and better.

He added: "It will take a bit of time getting used to seeing the doctor in a leather jacket."

"I grew up with Jon Pertwee in the role so it's a very different look to what I'm used to.

"The style of it is much more in the vain of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but if it's going to be a success, then it has to pull in a young audience.

"I'm not complaining though. I've waited nearly 20 years for it to come back and I'm just savouring it."

Mr Waterhouse, 38, who dressed as his favourite doctor, Patrick Troughton, said: "The best thing about it was Chris Eccleston. He is the first Northerner to play the part and he really made it his own.

"There was great line where someone asked him how was it that a time lord could have a Northern accent and he said every planet in the universe has a North.

"He and Billie Piper played off each other really well.

"The special effects were excellent and though it looked a lot different, it kept many of the original concepts. All in all I was very impressed."

THE DOCTORS AND THEIR MONSTERS

WILLIAM HARTNELL: 1963-1966 Bad-tempered old timelord careering around the galaxy fighting aliens. Hartnell had his lines pasted around the set because he refused to learn the scripts.

Scariest monsters: The Daleks (The Daleks), the Cybermen (The Tenth Planet)

TOM BAKER: 1974-1981 The nation's favourite Doctor played by Baker who wore the same costume in a horror movie called The Mutations. The only Doctor to have married his companion in real life (Lalla Ward).

Scariest monsters: Davros (Genesis of the Daleks), the Sonatarans, the Loch Ness monster (Terror of the Zygons).

SYLVESTER McCOY: 1987-1989 A return to the zany Troughton era. McCoy's doctor was an eclectic mix of action hero and thinker.

Scariest monsters: Robot clowns (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy), Cheetah people (Survival)

PATRICK TROUGHTON: 1966-1969 Played the Doctor as a cosmic hobo. Played a recorder and wore a stovepipe hat.

Scariest monsters: The abominable snowman (Web of Fear), the Ice Warriors (The Ice Warriors)

PETER DAVISON: 1982-1984 A more traditional hero, Davison wore a cricket-themed costume and loved celery.

Scariest monsters: More Sea Devils (Warriors of the Deep), Sharaz Jek (The Caves of Androzani).

PAUL McGANN: 1996 Hollywood's idea of Doctor Who was very different. Fans were appalled to see the Doctor kissing his companion. Julia Roberts' brother made a poor Master. Nice Tardis though.

Scariest monsters: Errr... you hear the Daleks' voice at the start.

JON PERTWEE: 1970-1974 The all-action Doctor. Comedy actor Pertwee insisted on doing all his own stunts and even designed his own "Whomobile".

Scariest monsters: The Autons (Terror of the Autons), the giant maggots (The Green Death), the Sea Devils.

COLIN BAKER: 1984-1986 A strange schizophrenic characterisation. The show was cancelled mid-run and Baker refused to return for a "guest regeneration".

Scariest monsters: The Rani (Mark of the Rani), the Cybermen (again) (Attack of the Cybermen).

CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON: 2005 At last Doctor Who receives the kind of budget its imaginative authors always needed. Terrific visuals, great cast and fantastic scripts. What more could the fans want?

Scariest monsters: You'll just have to wait and see.

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