There's no denying Chris Eccleston was a superb Doctor Who. Casting the first actor to play the lead role in nine years was a decision that had to be right. Like Hartnell, he would be, for many, their "first Doctor", and for many more, a reintroduction to a much missed character. They chose brilliantly in casting Eccleston. Almost. They may have cast a superb actor. They were less wise if they wanted an ambassador for the show...
During his short tenure, he produced some stellar work. The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances will long be remembered as seminal moments in the history of the show. The Doctor's fear and hatred of the Daleks, was something never before seen on such a visceral, emotional level. Partnering him with Billie Piper was a stroke of genuis. Their on screen chemistry was remarkable and took the relationship between the Doctor and his companions to a new level, one hitherto unseen.
What a shame, then, that Eccleston presents himself as such an unpleasant person, and is so dismissive of the show and of the fans. I'm sorry, but there's no polite way of putting it. He's an arse!
"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."
Just allow the last part of that quote to sink in. "I didn't like the culture that had grown up around the series". Then why, in the name of sanity, would one undertake a role so engrained in a British culture, and, in a broader sense, such a key role in the world of science fiction?
The Daily Mirror were "fortunate" enough to land an interview with Eccleston recently. The salient part is below, followed by a link to the complete article. My thoughts continue below.
"But here he is probably best known as the ninth Doctor Who in 2005.
He was outstanding in it, but left after just one series, later citing behind-the-scenes "politics" for his decision.
Six years later, he said: "I thought to remain, which would have made me a lot of money and given me huge visibility, the price I would have had to pay was to eat a lot of s***." Ahead of our interview, I am warned by a publicist on three separate occasions not to ask about Doctor Who. Advice I would have done well to heed.
When I ask, in what I hope is a winning way, if he agrees the latest time traveller, Peter Capaldi, is doing a great job, there is an awkward silence.
"Christopher? Hello? Hello, Christopher?" I mutter, into the ether. "Christopher? Are you there? I can’t hear you." I press on, like a small child.
"Christopher has hung up," replies a female voice, definitely not belonging to Christopher.
From a man who once said: "I can’t stand people who are careful about p***ing people off," perhaps I should have known better.
Prickly Christopher Eccleston may be, but talented he definitely is.
Read the complete interview HERE
I'll grant you, a reporter asking a question on a topic he had specifically been requested to avoid wasn't necessarily the wisest thing to do. Neither, however, was it 'crime of the century' and certainly didn't warrant such a crass, rude and frankly childish response as hanging up. The reporter was, after all, doing his job. One could argue that it is the job of a reporter to ask the questions people don't always want asking. I leave the semantics of that to you, the reader to mull over.
The titular role of Doctor Who is almost unique in the history of television. The only equivalent role I can think of with such an elevated status is James Bond. Like Bond, it is a privileged position, one which will forever engrain the leading actor into the public concisousness, and into British culture. Unlike other roles, playing The Doctor lasts a lifetime. By it's very nature, the role comes with responsibility. It carries "baggage". It is also a role that most actors would gnaw off their own arms for. Actors like Capaldi, who has waited a lifetime to play the part. Actors like Colin Baker, who, to this day, relishes his tenure as "Sixie", a role he continues to play, and positively flourish in, courtesy of his Big Finish audio plays.
Put simply, playing the Doctor is a privilege. One which has, with the inclusion of John Hurt, only been afforded to 13 actors in 50 years. The show itself is a British institution, loved worldwide. Any actor taking the lead role surely knows that it is a part which will follow them for the rest of their life. If they view that as a bad thing, they really shouldn't be in the role. An actor does not simply play The Doctor, he (or perhaps later down the road, she) becomes The Doctor. For children, and indeed some adults, he's their hero. An idol, like no other in the history of television. To be so dismissive of their part in the shaping of 51 years of history is nothing short of egotistical arrogance. To be so dismissive of a reporter asking, not about his tenure, but about a fellow actor in the role, is just rude.
Fans (most of us) don't give a damn about the politics of Doctor Who. We don't care who you liked, loved and hated off-screen. You're The Doctor. It's as simple as that. To dismiss a question, about Capaldi, so rudely, dismisses us, the fans. With a wave of a hand and the click of a telephone, it says "you are not worthy", or "I am better than Doctor Who". Equally, it dismisses the hard work of a fellow actor, a man who has waited a lifetime for the role.
I have been fortunate enough to have met two of the actors to have played the role. One of those encounters was with Tom Baker, who, perhaps understandably, stayed out of the public eye for some considerable time after his departure. After seven years playing the Doctor, I believe he made the right decision. His presence at conventions was rare, and perhaps that's not a bad thing. For me, it made meeting him that little bit more special. Equally, I think his successors have fared better as a result of his desire to take a back seat. "The Five Doctors" for example, could have easily become "The Tom Baker Show". He's a very charismatic, illuminating presence, which could have easily overshadowed Davison during his own tenure. Nonetheless, Baker has always recognised his significance as The Doctor. He knows who he is, who the public views him as, and he accepts and embraces it. At the age of 80, he took a cameo in the 50th Anniversary story, something Eccleston declined. Even a regeneration scene was, it seems, above an actor of his stature.
Doctor Who is a part of British culture. Equally, it has a culture of its own. If one does not "like" that culture which has grown up around the role, you don't deserve the part. It isn't about the show, or the fans owing Eccleston anything, or indeed, about the actor owing us, the fans anything either. It's about a mutual relationship which you undertake as a part of the role. It's about understanding that you are becoming a part of something bigger than you, your ego, fandom. It's about becoming a part of history.
Any actor chosen to play the Doctor is going to BE the Doctor. Forever. To paraphrase the Sixth Doctor, "You are the Doctor. Whether you like it, or not."