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As of today, we’re exactly one month out from the long-awaited premiere of Doctor Who’s epic 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor.” Last week we finally got to see the first trailer for the special, and it was…well, special. It served up glimpses of each of the Eleven Doctors, not to mention tons of little nods to the show’s long history, and while it was awesome, it was also a little bittersweet. It’s going to be thrilling to see Matt Smith and David Tennant sharing the screen as dual Doctors, but at this point, barring any surprises, they’ll be the only two Doctors taking part in the adventure. (Well, almost…) And while bringing back the older Doctor actors would have been tricky given their age, Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston easily could have returned for the fun…if he’d wanted to.
There have been a lot of rumors about why Eccleston wasn’t going to participate, but in the end it seems that the truth is more mundane than some would like: it’s just not something he’s interested in. In a recent interview with the British print mag SFX, Who executive producer Stephen Moffat was asked about Eccleston’s absence and addressed it directly:
’I had an initial contact with Chris and, in a very amiable and gentlemanly way, he didn’t feel that he could come back to it,’ he says. Moffat continues, ‘There wasn’t any big fuss about it — I had a couple of meetings with him, and he was perfectly pleasant, and indeed quite enthused about the show, but he just doesn’t do that, it’s just not him.’
There have been some fans ragging on Eccleston for “betraying the fans” by not participating, but by many accounts Eccleston’s time on the show was not entirely enjoyable. At the time of his departure, the BBC claimed that he’d left because he didn’t want to become typecast, something he denied and they later retracted. Back in 2010 Eccleston told the Radio Times that he was proud of his work playing the Ninth Doctor but that he “didn’t enjoy the environment and the culture that we, the cast and crew, had to work in.”
We may never know the specifics of what that means, but regardless it seems that the actor just isn’t inclined to return to a show that was to some degree a bad experience for him, and I can’t really blame him for that.
Of course there’s another former Doctor still young enough to easily return to the role for the anniversary special: Paul McGann, who played the Eighth Doctor in the 1996 Fox TV movie. There have been rumors swirling that McGann would be involved in the special somehow, although nothing has been confirmed. It’s worth pointing out that some of those rumors came from the folks at Bleeding Cool, who have a history of being right about Who stories — they were on top of the news about recovered classic Who material since the summer, and were recently proven right.
Earlier this month, McGann tweeted the following:
Spent forty minutes this pm having to imitate Matt Smith's dramatic delivery in VO. You have been warned….
— Paul McGann (@pauljmcgann) October 3, 2013
That’s certainly intriguing, but there’s no telling what it could mean. Fans of course jumped on the idea that he was recording something for the 50th, but McGann soon shot out a denial, insisting, “It was by way of an aural experiment to find out how similar we might sound. We didn’t. And he’s better looking too.” And that may well be true. Of course, that’s also exactly the sort of thing he’d say if he were appearing in the special and just wanted to throw us off the scent.
At this point, who knows? (Or rather, Who knows.) But since Moffat has confirmed he tried to get Eccleston back, and since McGann is still young enough to step back into the Doctor’s shoes without too much difficulty, it seems unlikely that they wouldn’t have at least floated the idea past the actor. Plus, the rumors about the nature of John Hurt’s role in the special suggest it would be handy to have McGann on hand, at least long enough for a regeneration scene…
“The Day of the Doctor” will premiere on November 23rd.