A battle for Saturday night television supremacy is set to commence when Doctor Who materialises in the slot reserved for The X Factor.
The first salvo in the ratings war will be the most evil collection of Daleks yet assembled as the BBC bids to obliterate ITV’s most popular show.
The seventh series of Doctor Who since its 2005 revival is expected to begin a week on Saturday with Asylum of the Daleks, which finds Matt Smith’s Time Lord trapped alongside the exterminating machines deemed too insane to join their brethren.
But Doctor Who will battle for Saturday night viewers against the The X Factor, which suffered a ratings wobble last year, following Simon Cowell’s departure from his judging role to oversee the US version of the talent show.
This year ITV1 is scheduling The X Factor alongside Red or Black?, the controversial roulette-based game show presented by Ant and Dec, which is also co-produced by the absent Cowell.
The Doctor Who team has responded with a series of CGI-fuelled “blockbuster movies”, featuring daleks, dinosaurs and the Weeping Angels, the alien foes created by head writer Steven Moffat.
With schedules being finalised, BBC1 and ITV1 bosses are said to be keen to avoid a direct clash between X Factor and Doctor Who, which would annoy viewers. Dr Who is expected to screen before X Factor’s 8pm slot.
But the BBC, on a ratings high after its Olympic coverage, plans to hit ITV with a Saturday night “double-whammy” of Doctor Who followed next month by Strictly Come Dancing, which outperformed X Factor last year.
The BBC won’t change its plans to accommodate ITV. A spokesman said: “Our priority is delivering the best Saturday night schedule for BBC1 viewers and both Doctor Who and Strictly Come Dancing are at the heart of our Saturday night Autumn line-up. Exact transmission details are still to be confirmed but clashes with other channels are sometimes unavoidable.”
The X Factor averaged 12 million viewers last year compared to the 8 million who watched the BBC drama. Doctor Who is the most watched programme on the BBC’s on-demand iPlayer, racking up more than one million online views each week.
The new Doctor Who series is split into two parts, with an initial five episodes building to the “heartbreaking departure” of Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, the doctor’s assistant. Jenna-Louise Coleman will be introduced as the Doctor’s new companion in a Christmas special and will be spirited off in the Tardis for eight episodes next year.
The 2013 shows will mark the sci-fi series’ 50th anniversary and a special episode uniting previous Doctors, including David Tennant, is widely anticipated. The episode could be broadcast on Saturday November 23, Doctor Who’s “birthday”.
Moffat said Doctor Who, which has become the most downloaded show in the US, had to come back with a bang. “We've been off the air for longer than usual, so it was an easy decision to come back with Doctor Who at its most iconic and that means Daleks,” the executive producer said. “Lots and lots of scary Daleks.”
He added: “We’ve got Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (it's what you've always wanted), we've got a glorious western with a Cyborg Gunslinger, the most unusual invasion Earth story ever, and location shooting in New York for the Pond finale.”
The Daleks, last seen in a 2010 episode, may have got too cuddly, Matt Smith suggested. “Steven has written an absolute belter and we have made the Daleks scary again, something I am not sure we got right before,” the actor playing the 11th Time Lord said.
Whilst Doctor Who returns with confidence, The X Factor has ground to make up. This year’s judging panel is led by Gary Barlow with Tulisa Contostavlos and Louis Walsh joined by Nicole Scherzinger. The Take That songwriter admitted that the talent on display last year was disappointing. “I thought we were missing four or five better singers in our final 12,” Barlow said. “But this year is going to be amazing and the first live show is going to be unbelievable.”