Doctor Who News 9th Doctor and Rose

Published on May 2nd, 2014 | by James Lomond

Eccleston 50th Anniversary Absence “A Difficult Decision”

In his regular Doctor Who Magazine column, Steven Moffat has answered a fan’s query on why Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston’s appearance was so short in the 50th anniversary special recenteration.

John Hurt’s War Doctor got two thirds of the way through a regeneration with the suggestion of the Ninth Doctor’s features forming. Moff’s answer was ‘human decency’…

It was one thing to include [Eccleston] among all the other archive Doctors, as they flew in to save the day — in fact, it would have been disgraceful to have left anyone out — but placing him in that scene might have given the impression he’d actually turned up for filming, which would have been crossing the line.

Not taking part in the 50th was a difficult decision for Chris, taken after a lot of thought and with great courtesy, and not respecting his wishes would have been grossly unprofessional and disrespectful to a good man and a great Doctor. Number 9 may not have turned up for the celebrations, but there would have been no party without him.

Diplomacy of the highest caliber. Eccleston’s engagement with the show has been a thorny issue for fans since Tennant took over. He’s been very clear that there were on-set tensions where he felt staff were badly treated. From what’s been reported previously, it sounds like he felt there was a bullying culture such that staying would have compromised his morals!

I find this a bit difficult. Eccleston did a huge amount for the show – and while it was a different beast back in 2005 (burping bins and farting fat-suits), we wouldn’t have seven series without his hard word and deliberately unexpected portrayal of the Ninth Doctor. My difficulties are firstly that he’s the only person to have had a problem with the production’s culture as far as I’m aware – though maybe he’s the only one who’s told it like it is? And secondly I’m sad to say I got the impression he didn’t enjoy himself that much.

I could be completely off here – but Eccleston looked to me like an actor in a part he really didn’t feel comfortable with. Particularly his balancing an audience of both adults and children and the lighter moments which Tennant and Smith seemed so at ease with. Anyhow, whatever his feelings about the show, Moffat is clear that Eccleston’s decision not to take part in the 50th special was an important and considered one. And you can understand that if someone has declined to have their name attached to something, (like the occasional script writer back in the Classic era), it’s out of order for the production to imply that they did take part.

But what do you think? Would a split second more have made any difference? Moff knows this kinda thing matters to fans (cuz we’re weird like that). Could they not have asked him? Or maybe this was the classy way to do things. TV is made by people and they have their own lives and feelings that should be respected. Was this a grudge born too long or professional courtesy in action? Tell us below…


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25 Responses to Eccleston 50th Anniversary Absence “A Difficult Decision”

  1. avatar Howard Railton says:

    Seems a particularly mean thing not to do.

  2. avatar FrancoPabloDiablo says:

    Surely Eccleston would not have minded his likeness being used as part of the regeneration sequence. They clearly showed archive clips of him briefly so what would have been the difference for the regeneration? I would like to think that Eccleston would have been happy to give us fans that much! Also, I wonder if Eccleston even had any say in the matter.

    • avatar Spider-pope says:

      I imagine there’s a difference between using footage the BBC owns of him playing the 9th Doctor, and using his likeness to make brand new footage.

      He’s never seemed particularly keen to return in any way to the show, even if it’s just a days worth of filming for the regeneration.

  3. avatar DonnaM says:

    I assume Moffat knows better than we do what Mr Eccleston feels; I’m happy to accept his judgement, knowing more of the situation than I would have any right to know.

    Personally I also felt he was never fully “at home” with the role. He’s a superb actor – let’s state that up front before anyone takes offence – but his lighter moments never felt as natural to me as his grittier, more intense ones. And I’ve commented before that my impression is he didn’t “get” the baggage that goes with being “The Doctor”. It was nine months’ of his career, nothing more.

    It’s never nice to hear people have been unhappy in any job, but it happens; personalities do clash. And while he’s never going to top my personal favourite Doctor chart, I admire the actor and thank him for what he did to help re-establish the show.

    • avatar Mikey A says:

      I have to disagree about how ‘at ease’ he seemed to be. I found him very believable when he smiled, when he laughed, when he was enjoying some humour. Yes, there was an undercurrent there, always present, always something nudging him from the side, but I think that was intentional. Every smile is strained after the Time War he went through.

      It’s similar to… say, Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. People complained that he was a moody sod. They say it was wrong. I say it was intentional. You don’t smile in one film and kill everybody in the next. You don’t kill everybody off screen then smile in the series.

  4. avatar TonyS says:

    Chris eccleston gave us 13 episodes as the Doctor and helped relaunch the programme as a triumph. Without him, I wonder what sort of a beast we would be watching now. Or whether we would still have the programme at all.

    Since his (on the face of it, abrupt) departure he has not appeared to wish to associate himself with the role or the programme. This is entirely his decision and I respect his right to do so. We are fans of the programme. We are meant to be fanatical about it. It’s part of our job description. He is an actor. he acted (bloddy well in my opinion) during his time in the role. THAT is his job description. He owes us nothing more.

    Would I have liked to have seen more of the 9th Doctor? Oh my word yes! One season, the first part of which showed a deeply damaged Doctor, is too short an encounter. I wish also that he had played a bigger part in the 50th Special. But he didn’t. He chose, after deliberation, not to. That, again, is entirely his right.

    Leave the poor man alone! He does not deserve the vituperation he is attracting from certain correspondents for not living and breathing the role.

    Enjoy the episodes he is in. Or not. up to you. But please tear up any death lists that may be out there. The man has done nothing wrong.

    • avatar Ranger says:

      TonyS – you sum up, in a lot better way then I ever could, my exact feelings. He is a fine actor – let’s enjoy his episodes for that and leave him alone.

  5. avatar Thom says:

    Chris was a good choice to relaunch DW. He looked to me like he truly liked the part and really got into it. He was in the Anniversary show as much as all the previous Doctors. Get over it.

  6. avatar Chandler77 says:

    It’s odd to think of the actor more tormented than the character. But, as in basic plant biology, the cotyledon of Eccleston lead to the full vine of Tennant and the fruiting of Smith.

  7. avatar Cynthia Y. says:

    I am pretty sure Christopher Eccleston knew what he is signing up for when he took on the role for the reboot. It’s a pretty huge role to take on after a 16-year hiatus and considering the popularity of it during its heyday and the way the stories are still being kept alive in the underground fan community. You can’t just do a good job, you have do it in such a way that it was back in the 60s, 70s and 80s. But first and foremost, Eccleston sees himself as an actor – a person of the arts and culture industry – and not an icon of a character that he plays. Whatever reason he chose to disassociate himself with the show is really his choice and there are some out there may see that he can be a party pooper. But we really should honor his choice and can never discount the fact that he did a really really great job bringing it back. The fact that he is getting so much positive reviews from the Who fan community really says a lot. And it just makes him so much more desirable when he chose to stay away from the spotlight. If one day he does decide to join the fandom community I am pretty sure we will all welcome him back with open arms. I think he will always be the Doctor who reignited what it once was (cue toothy 9th Doctor grin).

  8. avatar Rick714 says:

    Although it’s disconcerting for fandom that he only stayed for a season, yes, he did a great job showing us a vulnerable and erratic Doctor, very disturbed from the events of the time war. He handled the serious side of the Doctor well, but it looked like he was NEVER comfortable playing the goofier side of him. That was an ill fit.

    But what we tend to not think about is that him leaving so soon and regenerating actually performed another service for the nuWho fans. There were a lot of fans who knew nothing about regeneration and had some folks gotten too attached to Chris after 3 years, the lead switching over might not have gone as well. But here, the new fans were chucked into the deep end so all in all, I think it was a good thing to show that much more of the nuts and the bolts of the show.

    And again, had he stayed 3 years, who knows if Tennant would have been available to take over two years later? Timing is everything.

    • avatar angie says:

      You make an excellent point. I only vaguely remembered episodes of Classic Doctor Who from when I was a kid and remembered it being silly and cheesy. When I saw Eccleston’s Who, it was the gritty darkness that pulled me in. I may not have given it a chance if 10 or 11 had been my first. Then the regeneration caught me completely off-guard! I was upset enough at losing 9 after 1 season. More would have killed me! Now I’m in love with all my Doctors. I’m completely obsessed.

    • avatar Andy says:

      Moffat reckons Eccleston was getting more comfortable with comedy by the end of the shoot, and he did actually state that one of his reasons for taking the role was to do something lighter and prove he wasn’t a ‘miserable northern twat’ (his words!)

  9. avatar Alan Meggs says:

    Don’t think it was essential to see the full regeneration, it’s a show that’s supposed to fuel the imagination so use it! The point someone made about Christopher being fully aware of what he was signing up for isn’t valid, the show had been off air for 16 years lest we forget and the TV movie hadn’t rebooted the show as planned! There’s no way anyone could have predicted what a massive success the show turned out to be and for this we are always eternally grateful to Russell T Davies!!

  10. avatar Sally Ann Price says:

    I understand Christopher Eccleston and Steven Moffat. I think Christopher was great in the part. He was my favorite, but I understand him.

    • avatar Spider-pope says:

      Plus never say never. There was a time when Tom Baker refused to return to the role too. Who know’s, maybe one day we’ll see the 19th Doctor bump into an oddly familiar northerner in the 75th anniversary special.

  11. avatar calliarcale says:

    I’m willing to take Moffatt at his word. After all, unlike all of us, he actually talked to the man about it. Unless Eccleston comes out to disclaim the comments, I’m going with it. I think it’s a fair decision — though I must admit that a tiny part of me was *really* hoping he’d suddenly appear, just for a minute at the end of the regeneration scene, and surprise us all. Hell, they kept McGann’s participation a secret, why not Eccleston? But it was not to be. And I think maybe that’s why they decided not to do the full regeneration sequence — we really would want to believe he’d actually shown up for filming, and if his departure was as tied up in professional ethics as we’ve been led to believe, letting us think that would be damaging. It would lessen any impact he intended his departure to have. Including him with the archive Doctors — no biggie, they were all obviously archive footage, so one would naturally assume that so was he. Nobody thought Jon Pertwee had come back from the grave, after all. ;-)

    And, of course, I’m an older fan, so I remember Time and the Rani, where a full regeneration scene was done with the absence of one of the actors involved. Colin Baker had refused to participate — and quite reasonably so, since the BBC had just broken his contract for a third season and handed his job to somebody else. The fact that he was ever able to even *look* at Doctor Who again, much less become friends with his successor, is quite remarkable. If you want unprofessional approach from a BBC production team, that’s it right there. I mean, Sylvester McCoy did his best, but you can’t just stick him in Baker’s costume, slap on a cheap wig and a smeary special effect, and expect it to work. So I think here Moffatt may in part have been attempting to avoid the mistakes of the past.

  12. avatar Rupert says:

    I think that Christopher wanted to be a ‘cool’ Doctor. This is pure speculation, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t think that every theme and direction that the show was exploring was cool. Political correctness may have prevented him from being honest about his true feelings.

    • avatar Andy says:

      Define ‘cool’ and ‘political correctness’ because otherwise I’m really not sure what you mean.

  13. avatar Porcelain says:

    I think he did a great job as the Ninth Doctor,he showed a bitter Doctor,scarred after the events of the Time War. He was angry and his darkness was the perfect response to what he had just gone through. He didn’t seem at ease with the goofy side of the Doctor? Well,I think the Doctor himself would have found it hard to act like that because,again,he was hurting.It was only through Rose that he became Ten,and I think that was done perfectly well.
    He was my first,and I have trouble trying to decide who my favourite Doctor is,Nine or Ten? I got extremely attached to Nine in only one season,so maybe that’s points for him!
    I would have loved to see him back,but it was his decision and,whatever his reasons for staying away from the show,we should be grateful for what he gave us,for paving the road that led us where we are now, and move on without resentment.
    Which means that if I ever hear someone talking shit about Chris,there will be blood!

  14. avatar qlangley says:

    Actors in the reboot fall into two categories: those who were already in love with the series (Tennant, big time) and those who knew next to nothing about it (Catherine Tate confessed she thought the only thing the Doctor ever did was fight the Daleks). Eccleston is plainly in the second camp. Asked about Matt Smith’s portrayal he praised Matt’s acting, but confessed to having seen him on stage and in other TV series, but never in Doctor Who. He is a great actor, but he is absolutely not a fan of the series, so we should not expect him to have the same feelings about it that fans do.

    • What “reboot”?

      • avatar Geoff says:

        You’re being picky Christian! We all know what he means!

        • Probably. But “reboot” means something quite different and is no more difficult to type than, say, “return”…

    • avatar Tony Sobol says:

      Eccleston has said in the past that he mostly remembers Pertwee growing up (though interestingly his mental image of the Doctor was Patrick Troughton’s face) and always tuned in for the regeneration episodes. He’s very much the definition of a casual 70s viewer, but clearly he knew enough about the show.

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