With Doctor Who being as huge of a pop culture phenomenon as it is, it’s really hard to believe that by 1989, it was doing so bad, so very badly, that the entire thing just got nixed completely, after a twenty-three-year run! Declining viewers and behind-the-scenes troubles may have closed the TARDIS doors forever… if not for the very hard work of a handful of very talented people in 2005, including the “Fantastic! Absolutely fantastic!” Supa-Star Christopher Eccleston!
Eccleston portrayed The Doctor from 2005 to… 2005 sadly, a run that was far too short for such an amazing portrayal, but his short tenure still left an indelible impression on the show and its fans. Doctor Who’s revival and continued success SEVENTEEN years later (almost as long as the original run!) is thanks in no small part to Eccleston’s efforts, and these are just some of the ways that his run saved the show from its sixteen-year hiatus.
“The Fury of a Good Man”
Eccleston was the first actor in a long time to bring some seriousness back to the Doctor’s dark side. The classic series had dabbled in the Doctor’s anger before, but never in ways that were as compelling, or as integral, to the character. Eccleston’s entire performance was underscored by that sadness and anger simmering beneath the surface, a result of the very mysterious Time War we were all finding out about. What was the Doctor’s role in this conflict? What had he seen, and what had he done in it? It added an entirely new dimension to the Doctor’s long-established pacifism, and gave the character an element of pathos he needed. Christopher Eccleston walked so that Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi’s Doctors could run, it must be said. Ask yourself if we would have anything like the “fury of a good man” moment from season six, or the Zygon war monologue, if not for Eccleston’s turn at a rageful Doctor in Dalek, one of his best episodes.
“Am I clever, funny? Sexy? ;)”
Now, this is probably going to be contentious, but Eccleston was the first Doctor in decades to make the Doctor cool again, and not just cool, really cool, with a bit of a swagger, and charm. Let’s start with the drip; simple, and understated. No goofy question marks all over the costume, no celery stick on the jacket, no frills, fluffy ascots or impractical scarves, just a sick leather jacket. It’s basic, but it still has a striking silhouette, and that’s just good character design. It showed that the Doctor, and the show, finally had some modern sensibilities. Yeah, that’s right, this ain’t your granddad’s Doctor Who, kids, watch out. He just looks cool, which is important because, after twenty-six years of Doctor Who being quite dry, romantically speaking, Eccleston’s season was the first to explore the idea of the Doctor in love. The romantic, charming aspects of this version of the Doctor all came down to excellent acting and chemistry between the Doctor and Rose, played by Billie Piper. Their relationship felt so real and naturally formed, over the course of them enduring all this crazy stuff together, that it was really heartbreaking when their time together, and our time with them, is cut short. We’re both left wanting a lot more. David Tennant and Matt Smith definitely owe their Doctor’s flirtatious ways to Christopher Eccleston. Remember when he teaches Rose how to dance? No other Doctor has those moves.
“Lots of planets have a North!”
I picked that quote because it always makes me laugh, and Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor is funny, very funny. That’s obviously not to say that he’s the first actor to play the Doctor who’s ever been funny – all of them have had a quick wit to them and some good jokes, that’s what makes them the Doctor, but Eccleston’s biting, more cynical brand of humour really defined his Doctor. Christopher Eccleston said he did a lot of dramatic roles in his career, and wanted his Doctor to show off his funny side, and he definitely succeeded. His physical comedy, including his extremely expressive and iconic faces, vocal disdain for humans, usually in their presence, the cracks about Mickey’s name, all of them form the rich tapestry of the man, and betray the kind man behind the mean witticisms. That’s the other great thing, of all the Doctors, Eccleston’s may be one of the meanest outwardly, but he’s also one of the kindest, and that duality has become a cornerstone of Doctor Who, which started with him. I mean, who could ever forget the Doctor’s pure elation at saving everyone in The Empty Child episodes?? Because I cannot.
Eccleston didn’t do it alone; many hands brought Doctor Who back from the unquiet dead, but, only one man shouldered the responsibility of bringing back this iconic character, and injecting new life into his portrayal. New Who needed someone suave, funny, and exciting, and with another actor, it might well have failed, but it didn’t! We only got one season with the Ninth Doctor, but it is a perfect season, and it’s great to go out with a perfect record.
Christopher Eccleston will appear at Supanova in Melbourne on Sunday, 6 March, with Photographs, Autographs and Gallifrey Experience Specialty Passes on sale now via Moshtix.