Iconic Doctor Who Hated Job From The Beginning

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

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While fans love to gush about David Tennant (and hey, it’s hard to blame them), Christopher Eccleston doesn’t get nearly enough credit for helping to usher in the modern era of Doctor Who. Then and now, it was a shock to discover that he was leaving the iconic sci-fi franchise, but the actor later opened up about the sad reason that prompted his departure. He had issues with the producer as well as showrunner Russell T. Davies and was already planning on leaving the show while filming his very first episode.

Eccleston Held Back For Years

When Christopher Eccleston first left Doctor Who, he didn’t say much about why he was leaving or the negative experiences leading to his departure. As he explained in a 2018 interview, this was because “I gave my word to Russell T. Davies that I wouldn’t do anything to damage the show…I didn’t criticize anybody.” At the same time, he made it clear to the showrunner that he and the production team “ did things to damage me,” which he has become more vocal about in recent years.

Feuded With The Showrunner, Producers, Even The Co-Producer

In that same interview, Christopher Eccleston names names when it comes to why he left Doctor Who and also clarifies how quickly the problems started. “My relationship with my three immediate superiors – the showrunner, the producer and co-producer – broke down irreparably during the first block of filming and it never recovered.”

When asked point-blank about whether Russell T. Davies knew about the problems he was having, Eccleston bluntly stated, “If you’re the showrunner, you know everything…that’s your job” and sadly emphasized that he “never will have” a good, working relationship Davies again.

Christopher Eccleston Deserved Better

Of course, if you think that’s blunt, it pales in comparison to what Christopher Eccleston told a group of Doctor Who fans at last year’s For the Love of Sci-Fi convention in Manchester, England. He received the predictable question about what it would take for him to return to the franchise that made him famous, and he told the crowd, “Sack Russell T Davies, sack Jane Tranter, sack Phil Collinson, sack Julie Gardner, and I’ll come back…can you arrange that?” 

Notably, this is the same combination of showrunner, producers, and executive that drove the actor away in the first place, and they are all back for the show’s new Disney+ era. It doesn’t look like he is ever going to return to the franchise outside of recording the occasional audio adventure for Big Finish Productions. What makes this even sadder is that the franchise missed out on what might have been the only opportunity to lure him back.

He Still Respects The Franchise

While Christopher Eccleston had (and still has) major beef with Davies, he has always respected Doctor Who writer and eventual showrunner Steven Moffat. When Moffat wanted to bring the actor back for the show’s 50th-anniversary episode, Eccleston told Den of Geek, “obviously, I was very interested.” Unfortunately, after reading the script, he “didn’t feel the narrative was strong enough, particularly for the Ninth Doctor, because I had taken quite a lot of abuse in my own country when I left.”

Turned Down a Return

The latter bit is a reference to perhaps the saddest thing about Christopher Eccleston’s experiences with Doctor Who. According to the actor, he was unofficially “blacklisted in my own country for four years” after walking away from the show, and as the anniversary neared, he resented that “As the show was being celebrated, I was being abused in the press,” which “was hard to take.”

If he were going to come back for the show, he’d need the writing to be strong enough to help win the public over while also making up for his poor treatment, and he didn’t think Moffat’s script was up to snuff.

The War Doctor Was Created To Fill The Eccleston-Shaped Void

doctor who war doctor john hurt

Instead, the part intended for Christopher Eccleston went instead to John Hurt, whose surprise “War Doctor” added another layer to the complex fabric of the Doctor Who tapestry. He did a great job, but it’s sad to think Eccleston didn’t get a chance to dazzle fans yet again. The actor may have hated the role from the beginning, but as the show finds new audiences on Disney+, we can only hope he sees now how much the veteran fans enjoy his rich and nuanced performance.