Christopher Eccleston calls time on 'Doctor Who'

With his cool-headed time-travelling skills and penchant for comely assistants, Doctor Who last week won his way back into the heart of the nation following a 16-year absence.

But despite the success of the opening episode, Christopher Eccleston, the actor who played Doctor Who, has decided he does not want to continue.

Only four days after the return of the show, Eccleston made the decision not to return to star in a second series in order to avoid being "typecast" in the role. Instead, the 41-year-old, who is renowned for his roles in serious dramas, is reportedly keen to focus on his "artistic aspirations".

"We can confirm that he is not returning for the second series as the Doctor because he does not want to be typecast," said a spokeswoman for the BBC. "He is always looking for new challenges." It was not clear yesterday whether Billie Piper, who plays the Doctor's assistant, would appear in the second series. David Tennant, the actor starring in the drama Casanova, is in discussions with the BBC about becoming the new Doctor Who.

Nearly 10 million people tuned into the first of a 13-part run of Doctor Who on BBC1 last weekend, making it the biggest audience for the programme since Tom Baker's heyday in the 1970s. The BBC announced yesterday that a second series had been commissioned.

Eccleston was the ninth actor to play Doctor Who in the cult series, which was axed by the BBC in 1989 when viewing figures fell to four million. Confirming his departure, Eccleston said: "The audience's response to the new Doctor Who has been incredible - I'm really proud to be part of it - and I hope viewers continue to enjoy the series."

However, it appeared that the BBC may have been taken by surprise at Eccleston's decision. Jane Tranter, BBC's head of drama commissioning, reportedly told a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch yesterday that she planned to speak to both Eccleston and Piper about their future plans.

"Now we've got to start talking to Billie and Chris about what they want to do," she told The Guardian. "I think Chris is fantastic as Doctor Who. But we've still got another 12 episodes to go. People will have to wait and see what happens."

Russell T Davies, the lead writer of the series, was pleased at the commissioning of a second series as well as a Christmas special. He said: "It's fantastic news. It's been a tense and jittery time because the production team has been working on plans. We could all have ended up unemployed. But now we can put all those plans into action and get going."

The BBC has already announced plans to cash in on the success of its £10m revival of the sci-fi series with a range of toys and a merchandise set to go on sale for Christmas.