While there was a lot to love about Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary spectacular, The Day of the Doctor, there were a few things that could have been better. Most noticeable was the absence of Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston, the dude who helped bring the show to its current heights by kicking off a new era of Doctor Who (along with executive producer Russell T Davies). There has been tons of speculation since his single season aired as to why he has distanced himself from the show, but the bottom line is that, for whatever reason, that wasn’t a road he was interested in returning to. So it wasn’t surprising that he opted not to participate in the special, but it was disappointing, and you could often feel scenes where the Ninth Doctor really should have been there, especially since he was the closest of the three modern Doctors to the new guy, John Hurt’s so-called “War Doctor.” But while The Day of the Doctor feels somewhat lacking without Nine, showrunner Steven Moffat has gone on the record to give us some hints of how Eccleston’s Doctor would have figured into the special — and the truth might surprise you.
Speaking in a recent issue of Doctor Who Magazine (via Doctor Who Hub), Moffat reveals that, had Eccleston agreed to return for the special, we never would have gotten Hurt’s Doctor in the first place. Rather, Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor would have filled the same role as the who fought in — and decisively ended — the Time War between the Time Lords and Daleks. It would have been his decision to use the Moment, and his subsequent need for redemption, that formed the heart of Day of the Doctor. That version of the story would have been fascinating to see, even if it would have deprived us of the chance to see John Hurt as the Doctor, a lovely addition to the show’s mythology. Eccleston’s War Doctor will just remain one of those great science fiction “what if?” stories.
Moffat also says that he believes it all worked out for the best from a story standpoint. While it was the default assumption that the Time War was fought by Eccleston’s Doctor (or perhaps Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor), Moffat never thought that idea meshed well with the Doctor we saw during the first season of the revamped show. Moffat explains:
I was always nervous of that one, because it doesn’t fit with [2005’s] ‘Rose’ at all.
Eccleston is a brand new Doctor in Rose, he’s absolutely, definitely new. It couldn’t have been [him] who pushed the button in the Time War, [because] that’s a new man, very explicitly, in that episode. I also had trouble, I have to be honest, imagining it being Paul McGann’s Doctor.
So all of this led me to the idea that if you’re going to sell to the Not-We audience a Doctor who essentially they haven’t seen before, then you have a freer hand than saying it has to be one of the ones you’ve already had. And it was predicated in getting an enormous star to be able to do it. We got John Hurt, so that was cool! Think of the fuss it’s created for us!
He has a good point. There’s even a moment in “Rose” where the Doctor catches his reflection in a mirror and remarks about his appearance, suggesting he was fresh off the regeneration. It isn’t explicitly stated how much time there was between his regeneration and his meeting Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), but the context of “Rose” definitely suggests it wasn’t long at all. (I also quite like the theories that he retained some subconscious memories of his dealings with the Moment/Bad Wolf Rose, and that they drove him to Earth, and into the path of his next companion.)
In that same DWM interview (this time via Doctor Who TV), Moffat also addresses the history of Hurt’s War Doctor during the Time War. Fans who caught the excellent Night of the Doctor mini-sode saw Eighth Doctor Paul McGann regenerate into Hurt’s War Doctor — but into a very young-looking Hurt. The implication is that the War Doctor fought a long, long time before the time we meet him in Day of the Doctor. That would make sense, given that the War Doctor makes some very un-Doctor-like choices, and he would have to have been beaten down into desperation to reach that point. Moffat says:
I assume what’s been happening during the John Hurt years that we never saw, is that he battled hard and fiercely in a way that the other Doctors would not have done, and that he was a dangerous and difficult man. But in his view he was not living up to the standards. I mean, by involving himself in an ongoing war — I always thought that sounded odd.
I remember when David Tennant said, ‘I fought in the Time War’. I thought, ‘The Doctor in a war?’ I mean, the Doctor may be saving people at the fringes of a war, or stopping a war, but I could never imagine him being in one. But John Hurt’s Doctor is the one who was.
With The Day of the Doctor behind us, we’re now only two days away from seeing The Time of the Doctor, Matt Smith’s final hurrah, which airs on Christmas Day.