Matt Smith is the youngest actor to take on the role
The first episode of the new series of Doctor Who was watched by more than eight million viewers, the BBC says.
In a dramatic opening sequence, the new Time Lord Matt Smith was clinging to the open door of the Tardis as it hurtled across the London skyline.
Smith, 27, is the 11th and youngest actor to take on the role of the BBC's time travelling Doctor.
He replaces David Tennant, whose final outing as Doctor Who was watched by 10.4 million viewers on New Year's Day.
Tennant's first appearance as the Doctor in April 2006 also attracted eight million viewers.
The BBC said audience figures for Smith debut's on Saturday peaked at 8.4 million and averaged eight million, an audience share of 36.9%.
Over on ITV1, Harry Hill's TV Burp was watched by an average of 3.5 million viewers.
In the Doctor Who episode, The Eleventh Hour, the newly-regenerated Doctor crashed the Tardis on Earth and found himself battling a shape-shifting alien.
Matt Smith and Karen Gillan star in the 13-part series
The Doctor's new companion is Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan, who spent most of the episode in a kissogram policewoman's uniform.
As well as a new Doctor and companion, the episode also unveiled a new-look Tardis interior.
The new 13-part series was overseen by a new creative team, led by TV writer Steven Moffat, after Russell T Davies stood down as the show's producer and chief writer.
Moffat has said Smith's Doctor was very different from his predecessor.
"David was sort of neat and fastidious like a humming bird. Matt is gangling and shambling - he's like a terrible mess that somehow becomes elegant by magic," he said.
Antony Wainer from the Doctor Who Appreciation Society gives his reaction to Matt Smith's performance
"He brings back genuine madness to the role of the Doctor - Matt's Doctor is bonkers."
Doctor Who began in 1963, and seven actors played the Doctor before the show was dropped in 1989.
After a TV movie in 1996 - starring Paul McGann - the TV series returned in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston in the lead role.
Tennant took over in the same year and played the time travelling hero for four years.