Much has been said in the last ten years about why Christopher Eccleston left Doctor Who after just one season. Russell T Davis (writer for Doctor Who 2005-2010) told an audience that Eccleston’s contract was for a single year due to uncertainties about whether the show would do well enough to warrant a second season. But Eccleston himself has made some statements of his own and expressed concerns and displeasures with certain aspects of how the show was being run as well as potential effects on his career.
For many, the idea that he would become type-cast as the Doctor was the primary assumption for why he left. It makes a certain amount of sense as this is an issue that has plagued other actors who have taken the role. When one inhabits a character that is so widely known and adored, it is difficult to break that and go into other areas. Indeed, back in 2011 Eccleston was asked by Graham Norton on BBC Radio 2 about whether he would ever play the Doctor again and he replied;
“No. Never bathe in the same river twice.”
He has also stated that, as an actor he doesn’t ever want to be “put in a box”, so the idea of playing the same character for a prolonged period of time, especially such an iconic one, may have been terrifying for him.
But more recently, Eccleston has spoken candidly about his discomfort with certain aspects of how the show was being run at the time. He has alluded to differences with senior people, and having to give up some of his principles in order to stay.
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.
“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**t. I’m not being funny about that. I didn’t want to do that and it comes to the art of it, in a way. I feel that if you run your career and.. we are vulnerable as actors and we are constantly humiliating ourselves auditioning. But if you allow that to go on, on a grand scale you will lose whatever it is about you and it will be present in your work…
It’s easy to find a job when you’ve got no morals. You can go, ‘Yeah, yeah. That doesn’t matter. That director can bully that prop man and I won’t say anything about it’.”
More recently, Eccleston has once more made very much the same comments about his decision to leave the show. Stating that he had “had enough” and wouldn’t compromise on his principals, he went on to suggest that he had had his own vision for the character that senior people had disagreed with.
“I’d had enough. I wanted to do it my way, they wanted something else. We were never going to compromise so it was best to be straight about it and just go. It’s very easy to stay in one job and make that your comfort zone, and I want to resist that temptation.”
All this is not to say that he views Doctor Who as an entirely negative experience. He has a reputation for being very friendly with young fans and will always sign a poster of DVD of his Doctor.
Speaking on BBC Radio Four earlier this week, Eccleston gave some kind words about the show, wishing to focus on the positives. He still has a very dedicated fan base amongst Doctor Who fans (myself included), so it is encouraging to see him being positive for a change.
“What’s interesting in this country when a story like this emerges is they concentrate on the negative… It’s not important that I left, what is important is that I did it in the first place… I emailed [Russell T Davis] and said, ‘I think you should think about me’, because I’d acted a lot for adults and wanted to do something for children… I wanted to try and learn a lighter way of being.”
In other very recent and encouraging interviews, Eccleston spoke at length about the cultural impact of his character and why he chose to keep his Sheffield accent. His costume was also somewhat reminiscent of fellow northern Doctor Paul McGann’s wish to display the Doctor’s “inner bin-man” (a desire he was never allowed to fulfil until the Dark Eyes Big Finish series).
Eccleston went on to lament the inequality still inherent within the industry, not just on the side of class, but also gender and race.
“I wanted to move him away from the RP (received pronunciation) for the first time because we shouldn’t make a correlation between intellect and accent… although that still needs addressing…There’s not enough writing for women or people of colour. It frustrates me when they insist on doing all-male Shakespearean productions – a wonderful intellectual exercise, maybe, but it’s outrageous because it’s putting a lot of women out of work.”
It seems that, despite no longer occupying the TARDIS, Eccleston is still fighting the good fight. His new drama, Safe House, is on ITV at the moment, so give it a look to see how he’s doing.