The BBC’s blockbuster hit Doctor Who should return to its teatime slot, star Jenna Coleman told thousands of fans at the Excel at the weekend.

The sci-fi favourite has drifted around the Saturday night schedules to accommodate Strictly Come Dancing often start after the bedtime of many of its young viewers.

Speaking at the Doctor Who Festival in the Docklands , the 29-year-old actress who plays companion Clara said: “There are not many programmes that you can watch as a family.”

Asked in a Q&A session whether it should be aired earlier, she said: “I think so. It is a family show and it should be watched as a family.”

Coleman said the show was “really good for kids because of the imagination it inspires and the creativity” but added: “It’s not really for me. I don’t deal with the TV schedules.”

Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat at the Doctor Who Festival in Excel

The series is the highest-rated drama series among children and BBC said that children were using its web catch-up services to stay in touch.

The debate follows a row over ITV’s rival teatime frightener Jekyll & Hyde which received hundreds of complaints from parents saying it was too scary for kids. Writer Charlie Higson apologised but the programme has not been moved.

Under new showrunner Steven Moffat, who was also at the festival, the show has taken a darker turn and now episodes are regularly finishing around 9pm.

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The three-day festival which attracted 15,000 fans showed the strength of the show’s following – and the way it keeps its claws into stars who have long since moved on to other projects.

This is something Coleman faces now she’s leaving the Tardis. But she’s not concerned about leaving a blockbuster role. “I look at the bigger picture,” she told fans. “I don’t think you can really base your decisions on ‘if I stay another year what will my gravestone say’?

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“It was more a personal decision of how do I want to spend the next year, how much am I enjoying my time on this job, how much do I love working with Peter, how good are the scripts that Steven is providing and is it the right time to walk away?

“I stayed another year because it wasn’t.”

She did not rule out a return and said she would miss the close relationship built up with Peter Capaldi.

“It’s such an unlikely friendship but we are really similar and we love each other. He is a lovely man and a really great friend and it isn’t every day you get that.”