Christopher Eccleston on why Doctor Who needs to throw away canon

There are two schools of thought regarding the complex and often convoluted canon of Doctor Who: Either you attempt to fit everything into a single continuity and create new and elaborate ways to explain away inconsistencies, or you go with the flow and accept that it’s never going to make complete sense. Now, those who prefer to simply let the story progress naturally without adhering to predefined rules have a new ally in the form of Ninth Doctor actor Christopher Eccleston.

Speaking with Den of Geek, Eccleston says that writers should be ready to “explode the canon…if the show wants to survive going forward,” seemingly referring directly to ongoing controversies in the fandom over significant changes to the continuity of the show made under showrunner Chris Chibnall.

We’re currently in the era of the Thirteenth Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker. The episode “The Timeless Child” add a lot to the mythology, revealing that the Doctor was not from the plant Gallifrey at all, and there have been other incarnations before the traditional First Doctor, something only once hinted at. The response from fans has been primarily negative.

Yet fans may also have short memories. Back in 2005, Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor tore up much of what fans of the older Doctor Who series thought they knew about the show. The first revived series under then showrunner Russell T. Davies swept away swathes of “established” continuity in an act comparable to Disney’s erasure of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. This included lore built across books, comics, and audios that had come out after the 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann, including Scream of the Shalka, which was once promoted as an official continuation.

With the show’s mythology unknown to many new fans back then, Doctor Who needed to reintroduce themes gradually, and Eccleston agrees that writers now need to tear up the rule book to move forward. “That rigid adherence to, ‘There can only be this number of incarnations,’ et cetera, it’s nonsense. It’s nonsense. The imagination is limitless.”

Christopher Eccleston returns to Doctor Who

Christopher Eccleston is about to return to the role of the Doctor in a new 12-part series of audio plays from Big Finish Productions, with the first installment of three episodes set to be released this month. The series was written by Nicholas Briggs, the voice of the Daleks in the TV series.

Fans will finally get a match-up between the Ninth Doctor and the Cybermen. There will be a trip to the set of the classic 1927 film Metropolis, a meeting between the Ninth Doctor and the iconic Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and much more.

The question of canon, however, has already reared its head around the series. As the Ninth Doctor is traveling without companion Rose Tyler, speculation has been that the episodes occur before “Rose,” the first episode of the revived series. Yet this may not be the case, and where the series takes place in the canon may not even be addressed.

Eccleston has little interest in such things, emphasizing that he “ignores” such questions, the story being far more critical than the triviality of the canon.

We’ve just recorded an episode, for instance, where the Brigadier is saying to him, ‘You remember, you came to my retirement party and then we ended up on Gallifrey,’ and he said, ‘No, I don’t remember.’ An essential quality of him is he’s entirely in the moment.

After 16 years away from the franchise, fans are already hoping that there will be many more moments to come from Big Finish and Christopher Eccleston, and if any of it “breaks” the canon, fans will be sure to argue over the issues the same way they have for over 50 years.

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 released throughout 2021 and early 2022.

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