BBC Sitcom Tops U.K. Christmas Day Ratings, 'Doctor Who' Beats 'Downton Abbey'

Doctor Who Last Christmas - H 2014
Courtesy of BBC America

Doctor Who Last Christmas - H 2014

The public broadcaster's 'Mrs Brown's Boys' led the Christmas ratings for the second year in a row; its 'Call the Midwife' was the top drama, but all big shows lost ratings steam

The Doctor Who Christmas special on BBC One, starring Nick Frost as Santa Claus, and the Downton Abbey special on ITV drew lower ratings in the U.K. on Thursday night than last year, with Doctor Who again winning the ratings showdown.

For the second year in a row, the Christmas ratings ranking in the country was led by a BBC sitcom. But all big shows attracted smaller overnight audiences than last year.

Sci-fi hit Doctor Who, starring Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, drew 6.34 million viewers in the overnight ratings for a share of 27.5 percent, according to ratings consultancy Attentional. That compared with 8.29 million for a 30.7 percent audience share on Christmas Day last year and made it the seventh-ranked program in Britain for the night.

Read more Steven Moffat on Why 'Doctor Who' and Santa Claus Make Sense

The Downton Abbey special attracted 5.84 million viewers in the overnight ratings, its lowest-ever Christmas Day overnight audience and ranked right behind Doctor Who, according to Attentional. That was a share of 24.5 percent. The performance compared with 7.01 million and 27 percent for the 2013 holiday special featuring the Crawley family. 

Last year, the Christmas Day special of sitcom Mrs. Brown's Boys on BBC One was the most watched program in Britain on Dec. 25, with an average audience of 9.4 million. The comedy, created by and starring Irish writer Brendan O'Carroll, again led the British ratings this year, excluding a royal address that topped the ranking when combining viewership on two networks. Boys had 7.61 million viewers and a share of 32.2 percent, according to Attentional. 

The show led an overall strong Christmas showing for the BBC.

View more Watch Santa Claus Arrive in Creepy 'Doctor Who' Christmas Special Promo

In 2013, ITV soap opera Coronation Street had averaged 7.9 million viewers on Christmas Day, beating the BBC's EastEnders for the first time in more than 10 years. But this year, EastEnders won the ratings showdown, drawing 7.55 million average viewers. That made it the second-most-watched show on British TV on Christmas Day. Coronation Street drew 6.62 million viewers.

The third-most-watched show in Britain was BBC dance competition Strictly Come Dancing, which attracted 6.98 million viewers, followed by the BBC's Call the Midwife, the highest-rated drama of the night, and comedy Miranda with 6.83 million and 6.67 million, respectively.

As expected, Christmas Day ratings were down for most shows amid changing viewing behavior in Britain. The consolidated audience figures, including catch-up viewing, will be higher. Some observers had predicted that this year's Christmas Day overnight audience figures could be among the lowest on record in the U.K.

Read more BBC's 'Ripper Street' Tops U.K. Poll of Best TV Shows of 2013

Attentional said that BBC One had 7 million viewers on average in the 7-10:30 p.m. time slot, compared with ITV's 6 million. "Compared to last year, all peak-time BBC1/ITV programs were down," Attentional said. "Doctor Who: down 24 percent. Corrie: down 20 percent. Mrs. Brown: down 19 percent. Downton: down 17 percent. Call the Midwife: down 4 percent. EastEnders: down 3 percent."

Added Attentional: "The Queen bucked the trend — up by 90,000."

Indeed, the annual Christmas address by Queen Elizabeth II drew 5.71 million viewers on the BBC, the ninth-best ratings performance of the night, and 2.11 million on ITV, according to the firm. On a combined basis, that meant 7.82 million total viewers for a 50.7 percent share. Looking at the combined audiences, the Queen's Christmas message would have been the most watched TV program of the day in Britain.

Here are the top 10 U.K. TV programs on Christmas Day in the overnight ratings:

1. Mrs. Brown's Boys (BBC) 7.61 million
2. EastEnders (BBC) 7.55 million
3. Strictly Come Dancing (BBC) 6.98 million
4. Call the Midwife (BBC) 6.83 million
5. Miranda (BBC) 6.67 million
6. Coronation Street (ITV) 6.62 million
7. Doctor Who (BBC) 6.34 million
8. Downton Abbey (ITV) 5.84 million
9. The Queen's Christmas Message (BBC) 5.71 million
9. Emmerdale (ITV) 5.71 million

Twitter: @georgszalai