X Factor defeats BBC One's Merlin with 9.3m viewers

LONDON - ITV1's 'The X Factor' retained its crown as Saturday night's most-watched TV show with 9.3m viewers tuning in, despite strong competition from 'Strictly Come Dancing' and the debut of new fantasy drama 'Merlin' on BBC One.

'The X Factor' captured a 41.7% share of the audience between 7.30pm and 8.30pm as the contest wrapped up the final auditions before it moves onto the boot camp stage of the competition. The show's audience peaked at 10.5m viewers.

ITV2's 'Xtra Factor', which contains behind-the-scenes footage from the auditions and is presented by Holly Willoughby, was watched by 1m between 8.30pm and 9.30pm.

The second instalment of BBC One's 'Strictly Come Dancing' drew 8m viewers and a 43% share of the audience in the earlier 6.10-7.30pm slot, on the back of endless on-air trails across the corporation's TV channels.

The first episode of BBC One's 'Merlin', which stars John Hurt, former 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' actor Anthony Head and 'One Foot in the Grave's' Richard Wilson, attracted 6.6m viewers and a 30% share of the audience between 7.30pm and 8.15pm, as the BBC seeks to fill what has become known as the 'Doctor Who' slot.

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The big-money remake of the King Arthur legend, which has been compared to JK Rowling's Harry Potter novels in style and tone, was warmly welcomed by TV critics.

The Independent's Thomas Sutcliffe, said: "It is, I guess, harmless, though having little taste for this kind of thing, I am left genuinely guessing as to whether fantasy fans will find its 21st- century offhandedness appealing or insufficiently solemn."

The Guardian's Sam Wollaston, said: "They've spent a few bob on Merlin, and some of the special effects - like craggy old Mary's rejuvenation - make you gasp. I know these are early days, but perhaps now there is a purpose to Saturday nights, a reason for the family to gather round the box, even when Doctor Who is not on. If Dad can bear the scariness."

On Sunday, the second episode of BBC One's 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' won its slot with 5.1m viewers between 9-10pm.

The costume drama, which stars British actress Gemma Arterton, who will be seen in the latest James Bond movie 'Quantum of Solace' from next month, brought BBC One a 21.5% share of the audience.

ITV1's 'Agatha Christie's Poirot' wasn't far behind 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles', with 5m viewers and a 23.6% share of the audience at 9-11pm.

The final episode of global warming documentary 'Earth: The Climate Wars', which spanned three episodes, earnt BBC Two 1.7m viewers and a 7.3% share between 9-10pm.

Channel 4 aired 2003 Hollywood romantic drama 'The Notebook' in the prime time slot. It had 986,000 viewers and a 5.1% share at 9-11.25pm; including Channel 4+1 viewers it was seen by 1.1m.

Ridley Scott war movie 'Black Hawk Down' gave Channel Five 854,000 viewers and a 5.2% share between 9-11.45pm.