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Christopher Eccleston Reportedly Passes on Return to Doctor Who – Are We Really Surprised?

If you think my outfit is going to have even a slpash of color or quirkiness, you're crazy.
Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor.  His Doctor typically wore a leather jacket, undershirt, and jeans. Prior Doctors had worn rainbow-colored suits and blazers with little question marks on their vests.

Put that leather jacket back in storage: Christopher Eccleston has reportedly turned down an offer to appear in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special episode.  Well, that’s certainly not fantastic.

The news of Eccleston’s decision was first reported April 4th by UK (basically tabloid) paper the Daily Star, which claimed Eccleston had pulled out of the episode even though  filming is scheduled to begin shortly.   A day later an unnamed BBC source told Digital Spy:

“Chris met with Steven Moffat a couple of times to talk about Steven’s plans for the Doctor Who 50th anniversary episode. After careful thought, Chris decided not to be in the episode. He wishes the team all the best.”

A UK tabloid running a story and then an unnamed source from the BBC partially confirming it should be regarded with caution.  However, if they are to believed and Eccleston has passed on the project I am left to ask – are we really surprised?

Eccleston famously headlined the show when it was revived in 2005 after having been off the air since 1989.  At the time, he was an accomplished film actor and in-demand UK TV actor, and his casting lended credibility to a franchise which was at the time remembered with a bizarre mixture of nostalgia (hiding behind the couch from the scary parts when watching as a kid) and regret (recognizing the dreadful special effects when watching as an adult).  His debut episode demolished expectations by pulling in 10 million total viewers.  However, he famously left the show after one season, and it would now appear not even the pull of the show’s 50th anniversary is enough to see him in the role one more time.

Frankly, it’s never been entirely clear if Eccleston even likes Doctor Who.  In 2005, he admitted that he had not been a fan of the show as a child because “[The Doctor] seemed like an authority figure.  I felt a bit patronized by him.”  Since leaving the Doctor Who after one season, he has not often discussed the show  nor has he typically attended fan conventions or any such Doctor Who-related events.  One gets the impression that his role as the 9th Doctor was just something he did between 2004 and 2005, and then he moved on to the next thing, a path which has ultimately led him to the role of one of the main antagonists in this Summer’s Thor 2: The Dark World.

Eccleston as Malekith from the set of Thor: The Dark World. No, that is not a Cyberman in the background. Photo credit:

His most recent explanation for why he left the show is just confusing.  At a 2011 speaking engagement at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, he had this to say when asked why he left:

“I left Doctor Who because I could not get along with the senior people. I left because of politics. I did not see eye-to-eye with them. I didn’t agree with the way things were being run. I didn’t like the culture that had grown up around the series. So I left, I felt, over a principle.”  He concluded, saying “My face didn’t fit and I’m sure they were glad to see the back of me. The important thing is that I succeeded. It was a great part. I loved playing him. I loved connecting with that audience. Because I’ve always acted for adults and then suddenly you’re acting for children, who are far more tasteful; they will not be bullshitted. It’s either good, or it’s bad. They don’t schmooze at after-show parties, with cocktails.” []

Huh? And, wait, he said basically the same thing 2010 during an interview with the BBC?  One might conclude it was not the show nor his performance in it but everything else surrounding the show that turned him away.

Of course, Christopher Eccleston was my first Doctor.  I first came to the revived version of the show in 2008, after he had departed, but I started from the beginning via DVD box sets.  Unlike some, I knew going in that his Doctor would re-regenerate at the end of the show’s first season and be replaced by that scrawny guy (David Tennant) who inspired such longing in my best friend that I would be made at times uncomfortable at her tendency to say his name, trail off, and stare off as if she were a sitcom character engaging in a fanciful daydream.  Where did she go, I wondered.

How did I know Eccleston was gone after 1 season? Well, the Season 2 DVD box-set cover featuring Rose with some other guy was a pretty big clue.  Plus, my best friend told me, but this cover was still a huge clue.

Eccleston was the first one to make me believe in an alien with two hearts who travels through time and space inside a spaceship which is bigger on the inside and looks like a police phone box on the outside.  Anything I initially thought to dismiss Eccleston and his companion played by Billie Piper made real and relatable.  For example, a Dalek was one of the goofiest things I had ever seen, but seeing how terrified Eccleston’s Doctor was of one single Dalek in the episode “Dalek”  diffused my instinct to mock and instead invited me into a fascinating story with a rich history.

Eccleston’s Doctor displayed an infectious love for adventure, with a signature catchphrase of “Fantastic!” always delivered with joy.  However, his cheek-to-cheek grin belied the deeply troubled psyche of a man fresh from having committed mass genocide during an intergalactic war.  It was only through his relationship with companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) that he was able to heal himself.  Then this happened, and it hurt even though I knew it was coming:

Of course, I initially hated Eccleston’s replacement, David Tennant, mostly because he wasn’t Eccleston.  I, like countless others, was quickly won over by his charms, though.  In fact, Tennant’s popularity in the role would not only eclipse Eccleston’s but also possibly all of the prior actors to play the role of the Doctor all the way back to 1963.  I am ecstatic that Tennant is coming back for the 50th, yet I’m not really saddened to hear that Eccelston probably won’t be involved.  For the most part, I simply never though him coming back was remotely possible.

However, Eccleston’s performance as the 9th Doctor will always be integral to my own personal Doctor Who fandom.  He was my first Doctor, and he was fantastic!

What do you think?  Do you hope Eccleston changes his mind and comes back?  Or have we all moved on at this point?

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