Who Marathon: Christopher Eccleston
… The Wilderness Years are over! We finally had Doctor Who again as a proper television show in 2005. Amusing to think that event is now 18 years old, and the announcement that it was coming back turns 20 years old this year (26 Sep 2003).
As many fans of the old show felt at the time, we wanted more of Paul McGann who didn’t get a proper crack at the role in his (then) lone appearance in 1996. So it was with some dismay that we found out that it wasn’t to be him, it was to be Christopher Eccleston. Now Eccleston was unknown to me. That’s not a huge issue to me, as none of the Doctors I knew before they became the Doctor (Cmdr Maxil notwithstanding). I just wanted more McGann.
Then we got his first episode – and.. OK I get why he was cast. Eccleston was amazing. Like any good actor, he can turn his emotions on a dime, and after watching the first episode, I was sold. He made a great Doctor. I was onboard with him as 9 going forward. Then almost as soon as it started, it was over, and it was announced that Eccleston was leaving at the end of the series. Apparently he didn’t get along well at all with the production staff, and quit. There was an announcement made about his exit, blaming not wanting to be typecast. It turned up later that this was false, something someone at the BBC made up. It was apparently the intent that his departure was going to be kept a secret, and he would just regenerate as a surprise at the end of the series. But some higher ups at the BBC blew it, so we knew he was leaving. To this day, the full story has never come out. Oh, we’ve heard stories about it, he’s mentioned many times about having problems with the production team over his time making Series 1. But we never found out the real crux of why he left, and my guess is we never will. Now that the new production team is the old team again, I think we can cross Eccleston coming back off the list forever.
Anyway, some facts about Christopher’s run:
- Number of series: 1
- Number of stories: 10
- Number of episodes: 13
- Number of companions: 3 (although only 1 through entire series)
Chris’ only series has some real ups and downs. The downs aren’t plentiful, but they were pretty much two fold for me. The totally weak initial story. The first episode had an old classic villain, but they were pretty much a background thing as that episode’s purpose was setting up the show itself, not worrying about a proper bad guy. The other one though was the Slitheen. Not so much them, but the farting aspect. I never quite understood what the target of that was – unless RTD just likes a fart joke. Conceptually I didn’t mind the Slitheen. I didn’t even mind their look (which some thought was too silly). But the farting just felt wrong for Doctor Who. Even hearing Eccelston utter the word “farting” felt off. Story wise there was a reason for it, but I always felt there could have been a better way of handling that.
The good stuff is far more plentiful, and there’s no way I can really touch on it. The main part is Eccleston’s acting, which I briefly touched on already. He also has a great expressive face, which works in serious drama and comedic parts (like the bit about Jackie trying to seduce him in the first episode). He has a great accent, so when he’s insulting humans by calling them “stupid apes”, it works pretty well, I thought. It’s a common theme when thinking about the ninth Doctor. I wanted more of that. But some of the writing was brilliant. We got the first pseudo-historical when the Doctor interacts with Charles Dickens. It’s utterly hilarious when 9 outed himself as a “big fan” of Dickens – which confused Dickens since he thought 9 was talking about a literal fan. We had ghost stories, straight up sci-fi, horror, drama, and some big emotional punch. The one that surprised me most was Father’s Day. When that aired originally I had just become a father. VERY new thing for me then. Now, as I rewatched it on my pilgrimage, my daughter is about to go off to college. So that one hit me even harder this time. The stories were a great mix of styles, so you didn’t get to much of any one thing. Made for a nice flavor to the series overall.
As I’ve done in the other sections, here’s a few words about the companions Christopher’s Ninth Doctor traveled with…
- Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) – This is another aspect of new Who that made a lot fans queasy when it was announced. At the time, Billie Piper was known for just being a pop star. Click here if you want to see some of that horror. THAT was what we thought we were getting, and most everyone revolted. However, that turned out to be unfounded, as she was quite good as Rose Tyler in Doctor Who. She was perfectly matched with Christopher Eccleston. The pair made a nice contrast to each other I thought. Billie herself only gets half the story here as she carried on with all of Series 2 as well and David Tennant. But I’ll write about that part in the next writeup. For now, I will say she was absolutely perfect with Christopher Eccleston. So much so that I think the character took a step down with a different Doctor. But here, I thought she worked well. She was a bit of a jerk to Mickey, but more on him also in the next entry. She was also cute, which of course is easy on the eyes, but it came up in the show too. Heck, in The Empty Child, Capt Jack actually uses binoculars to look at her bum, something that’s even shown on screen. But she was far more than just pretty. The character as I said was a great compliment to Eccleston, an showed a bunch of initiative on her own. She figured out how to get the Tardis going at the end of Eccleston’s last story and save him. She also was the reason behind nearly everyone dying in Father’s Day due to the Reapers. Overall, a good character by an actress in what I believe was her first major acting role? The problem I have with Rose comes later on, but for this series, she was perfect. Peak Rose for me. I also really love the union jack shirt she wears in Empty Child/Doctor Dances. It’s my favorite thing she’s worn in any episode she was in.
- Adam Mitchell (Bruno Langley) – This is one that not everyone agrees with – some people don’t consider Adam a companion as such. Why – I’m not sure because he was invited, traveled, but departed poorly. Adam Mitchell joined the Tardis at the end of the story “Dalek”, and then was dropped off by the Doctor at the end of the next story – “The Long Game”. This was because we got to see someone do something I always figured someone would do – use the Tardis and the Doctor for his own benefit. He tried to take material out of time and give him his own fortune. Once the Doctor found out about it he of course stopped all of that and dropped him off. But for one story, he was a proper companion in the Tardis. There’s not a lot to write about here as his time was super short, but we did get to see something with him that we never saw with any other companion before. So that was cool.
- Capt Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) – Capt Jack Harkness was someone introduced about halfway through the series as the male companion (after Adam left). The character was super fun. Hyper flirty with everyone – men and women, and not always humans. I rather enjoyed his time in the Tardis. He started off as a con man in the most excellent Empty Child story, but joined up and remained with the Doctor until he was exterminated by the Daleks at the end of the series. He was brought back to life by Rose when she had the power of the Time Vortex inside her. That made him immortal, although we didn’t know that at the time. From what I’ve read he was to carry on being the companion in Season 2 as well, but when Eccleston decided to leave, RTD shifted gears and let the focus between a new Doctor & Rose be the main thing, so that cut Jack out. He came back several times with the 10th Doctor, but during his time with the 9th, Jack was a permanent companion. He did kiss the Doctor in the season finale, which of course didn’t bother anyone on screen, but I recall that being an issue in fandom at the time. More on Jack in the Tennant wrap-up.
I never met Eccleston. In fact, the only modern Doctor I’ve ever met was Capaldi (more on that later on). Always would like to meet Chris – not to talk about Doctor Who, but to talk about another show he’s done called “The A Word“. If you don’t know that show it’s a show about a family who has to adjust to life with a child that has autism, and how your life changes with that. I know this far too well as my own boy has autism. In fact, I had to stop watching the show. Not because it was bad – far from it. It was amazing. TOO amazing, and i’d get sad about my own kid watching the boy on the show. But if you ever want to know what life is like with a kid with autism, watch “The A Word”. It’s an amazing show. Here’s a trailer to take a peek.
I kind of had to talk about non Doctor Who stuff with Eccleston, because he’s never come back to Doctor Who – at least the television program. As I’ve mentioned earlier he didn’t get along with RTD and the production crew and left. We’ve never found out the honest to god real reason why. Oh sure, we heard about bts problems. We heard about him not liking things being done there. But WHAT those things were have never come out. Now that the new production team in 2023 and forward is the same that was there when Chris WAS on the show, the chance of him coming back has to be zero. He ALMOST came back for the 50th anniversary special, which I really wish he would have. Instead, we got John Hurt’s War Doctor playing the bits that Chris would have played as far as I can tell. So the Ninth Doctor on telly is probably done and done.
However, that isn’t the end of the Ninth. A few years back Chris announced he would be returning to Doctor Who – but with Big Finish. He’s done several Doctor Who audios in the last few years, so there is more Ninth Doctor, just not on the television. I’ve bought several of them, and they’re quite enjoyable. While it’s not the same as seeing him on the television of course, they’re very good (as most Big Finish stories are). If you’re into the Ninth Doctor, I suggest checking them out. Good stuff awaits.
One fun thing – when he did come back for the first Big Finish interview, he took fan questions. The best one was when he answered a question as to why he came back now. He was refreshingly honest and said “it’s paid work”. Loved that response. You can view the video here.
I’m finding myself running out of things to say here, but that’s partially because his time was short. He had a year in Doctor Who, then a very long break, and then returned to Big Finish about 3 years ago at this point. I really really would love to see him back on television, as the Ninth Doctor, but I can’t see that happening, sadly.
I already liked his Doctor, but when I went through his series in early June 2023 in my pilgrimage, I was shocked at how much better it was than even I remembered. In other Doctor’s segments I’ve talked a bout an essential story. A big time essential for Eccleston has to be the two parter “The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances”. It’s glorious. I was looking forward to it when I got to it, and it did NOT let me down. If you watch one story of his, watch that one. Amazingly good. Fun, scary, emotional, and damn well acted. Fuck I wish we got more of him.
I think I’ll end this Eccleston post with this trailer. It was the first proper trailer for his series of Doctor Who. It still works 18 years later, despite having seen all of his episodes and knowing everything that comes from this. His original “Trip of a Lifetime” trailer was a great one, and shows his era off I thought.
I know I’ve said it many times already, but I really wish we could get more of him on television. I just know it won’t happen. Here’s a handful of pictures I like of him. A few of them are memes that make me laugh.
Finally, for no good reason, here’s a fun picture of Christopher Eccleston & Matt Smith running into each other at a convention. :)