Most Doctor Who fans had long given up hope that Christopher Eccleston would ever return to the role of the show. Following his mysterious and acrimonious departure from the revived series after just one year, the actor made it clear he had problems with people behind the scenes, and turned down the chance to reprise his role as the iconic Ninth Doctor during the landmark 50th-anniversary celebrations in 2013.
However, time heals all wounds, and Eccleston is about to don the famous leather jacket one more time (figuratively speaking) in a new series of full-cast audio dramas from Big Finish Productions. One of the most honest and down-to-earth actors in the business, Eccleston was open with Gizmodo about money being one of his motivations for joining the new series. While some might think that actors as noted as Eccleston might be set, that’s not the case for a lot of performers. “I’m an actor and the way I pay my mortgage and support my children, Albert and Esme, is by acting,” he said. But that doesn’t mean Eccleston will be phoning in his performance; he has genuine love for the character, praises the scripts, and says describes the experience of returning to this world as “very, very heartening and welcome and moving.”
Eccleston is a particular fan of the audio medium, being introduced to audio drama as a child during a power outage in his native Salford. “There are no visuals, you know? All you have is the word and your voice,” he said. “I love audio drama. Love it.”
The actor is especially excited by the idea of adding some new wrinkles to his Ninth Doctor character. It’s a task that has been made easier thanks to the strength of the writing. “I would be amazed if some of the adventures that I’ve recorded so far are not taken up by the visual medium.”
The return for the Ninth Doctor has been a very long time coming, and there were still obstacles even after Big Finish managed to coax Eccleston into the studio. The COVID-19 pandemic means the cast members have to record their lines apart from each other, recording at home “under the stairs, in broom cupboards,” which robs them of the camaraderie of a production. Eccleston is hoping to meet up with the cast and crew soon and is already talking about the future of the series. He’s hoping future episodes highlight women’s history:
I would very much like the Doctor to meet Emily Davison, who threw herself in front of the Derby winner and was one of the forerunners of the feminist movement—and a martyr for it. I think that would be extraordinary for him to mix with Emily Davison and Emmeline Pankhurst—and explore that.
Indeed, those opposed to Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor will find little sympathy from Eccleston, who makes no secret of his feminist credentials. The actor praises original showrunner Russell T. Davies for his strong female characters and notes how the first series of the show was about the war-hardened Doctor finally finding his humanity again thanks to companion Rose Tyler.
Finding the Ninth Doctor
Of all the many incarnations of The Doctor, the Ninth Doctor is possibly the most unique. Tortured and suffering after his experiences during the Time War, the damaged and imperfect Doctor was played to perfection by Eccleston. However, fans shouldn’t expect an immediate return to the days of “angst and questing.” The new audios capture the Ninth Doctor’s lighter side and leaving the darkness “for further down the line.”
What’s been interesting—apart from the one we’re [recording] at the moment, the Doctor has been very light—and that’s been wonderful. I think I’ve been slightly known for the heaviness he carried, the guilt of the survivor, and the scars of that. That was essential to the first series—I think that’s why they needed me because I could bring some of that.
While the Ninth Doctor only appeared in 13 episodes of Doctor Who, the character was incredibly well defined. This characterization has been expanded upon across many books, comics and audios without Eccleston’s involvement. The new series will be set before the events of “Rose,” Eccleston’s first episode, meaning that the Ninth Doctor is traveling alone.
As Eccleston seeks to re-find his feet with the “enigma” of a character he brought back to life in 2005, he’s pleased he has “more room to explore” and find his Doctor’s “insatiable curiosity, his energy, and his highly flirtatious nature.”
I think it’s essential that the Doctor remains partly unknowable—which facilitates the fact that he can change his physical appearance. So, there is a familiarity in that he sounds like me, and obviously, what the very brilliant writers have done, is they’ve listened very closely to the voice that was established way back in 2005 and picked up on that.
But of all the traits that defined the Ninth Doctor, it was melancholy and a need for companionship to reaffirm his humanity (or the Time Lord equivalent) that stood above all else. While lighter in tone, the new series promises not to shy away from that loneliness. “I think, alongside his joy, that must sit there, this longing for home, this longing for companionship which is never quite fulfilled. Which, in a way, is the human condition, isn’t it?”
Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures – Ravagers will be available from Big Finish Productions this May. The first set of three episodes is available to preorder now alongside three more volumes which will be released throughout 2021 and into 2022.