It’s hard to imagine but for sixteen years there was no new series Doctor Who on TV. Yes we had the ill-fated Paul McGann pilot in 1996 but, that felt more of a stop gap than anything else. So when the show returned in 2005 few expected it to last; let alone to become one of the BBC’s flagship shows. Part of the success of the return was the actor who was chosen to portray the new Doctor.
Christopher Eccleston was born in Salford on the 16th of February 1964. Thus making him the first Doctor to be born after the shows original run had started in 1963. He describes his parents Elise and Ronnie as typical northern working class. He was the youngest of three children; his brothers, being twins, both eight years his senior.
At the age of nineteen he was inspired, by the BBC drama ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ to become an actor. He studied ‘Performance’ at ‘Salford Tech’ before continuing his training the ‘Central School of Speech and Drama’ in London. At the age of twenty five he made his first professional appearance at the ‘Bristol Old Vic’ in a run of ‘A Street Car Named Desire’.
His break came when he portrayed Derek Bentley in the Peter Nedak film ‘Let Him Have It’. By 1993 he was a lead character in the Jimmy McGovern crime drama ‘Cracker’; only for his character, DCI Bilborough, to be killed off by Robert Carlyle’s serial killer after Eccleston had announced he would like to leave the series.
It would be his roles in the Danny Boyle film ‘Shallow Grave’ and BBC Two series ‘Our Friends in the North’ that would bring him to the wider public’s attention. Major roles followed including Trevor Hicks in Jimmy McGovern’s ‘Hillsborough’ and Major Henry West in Danny Boyles ’28 Days Later’.
On the second of April 2004 it was announced that Eccleston would play the Doctor in the new series of ‘Doctor Who’. Show Runner and lead writer Russell T Davies had previously worked with Eccleston on the Christian baiting drama ‘The Second Coming’. A big ‘Doctor Who’ fan Davies saw something of the Time Lord in Eccleston portrayal of the return of the son of God. Despite not being a fan himself Eccleston agreed to audition and took the role signing a one series contract. It’s often debated amongst ‘Whovians’ why he was only given one series. Both Eccleston and Davies have both confirmed that the BBC were sceptical the series would be a success so everyone was given the same one series contract.
Much speculation has been spread at why Eccleston didn’t extend his contract. Through subsequent interviews with both Eccleston and Davies it seems a few factors played a part. The main two seem to be worries of being typecast and disagreements on how members of the cast and crew had been treated.
His one series is much loved by fans of the show. Some newer fans, which started watching during the David Tennant and Matt Smith eras, purposely ignore the Eccleston series. This has lead to the online campaign ‘Don’t Skip 9’. If they do they will be missing out on some wonderful sci-fi drama; plus the slow development and near redemption of nine.
He has never returned to the role and turned down the chance to appear in the fiftieth anniversary episode. This lead to a rewrite and John Hurt’s War Doctor being created. Instead he gave his blessing to a short piece of previously unaired footage being used.
Since ‘Doctor Who’ Christopher Eccleston has carried on building a successful career. Appearing in major film and TV franchises in including ‘Heroes’, ‘GI Joe’, ‘Thor’, ‘The Leftovers’ and ‘Fortitude’.
It is often rumoured that he will not sign any ‘Doctor Who’ merchandise and is reluctant to talk to the shows fans. This is untrue; he just doesn’t always want to talk about the show in interviews. He has sent, in and out of character, messages of support to ill ‘Whovians’ and even played nine again to help a fan propose to his girlfriend.
It’s hard to think of another actor who could have brought the franchise back so successfully. This lead to the show becoming a worldwide phenomenon and paved the way for Tennant, Smith and Capaldi to reap the rewards. Every true ‘Whovian’ should thank Christopher Eccleston from the bottom of their hearts and not one of them should ever skip nine.
Recommended films and TV appearances (outside of Doctor Who):-
- Stephen Baxter – The Second Coming
- Charles Stewart – The Others
- Major Henry West – 28 Days Later
- James McCullen – GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra
- Malekith – Thor: The Dark World
- Trevor Hicks – Hillsborough