Christopher Eccleston was the ninth Doctor, right? But he was not the only one. Some came from internet webcasts, some came from Comic Relief parodies, and some were secret Doctors who were sprung upon us unexpectedly. All in all, it seems that the Ninth Doctor may have had the most faces of any.
Rowan Atkinson – The Curse of Fatal Death
In 1999 Doctor Who was still in the midst of the Great Hiatus – which began in 1989. With Paul McGann’s single story and a growing Big Finish Audio Adventures catalogue, appetite for the show to return was steadily gaining steam. So it was that Comic Relief commissioned a special parody episode of the show starring Rowan Atkinson as the Ninth Doctor.
Atkinson had auditioned for the role of the 8th Doctor in 1995, but ultimately lost out. Many have speculated that this is partly down to his fame as Mr. Bean and worries that this would overshadow the more serious aspects of the character. However, when he finally landed the role in this parody, Atkinson put forward a very strong performance and let everyone know that he really could have done it, given the chance. He was much more akin to his Blackadder character in some ways, but pulled back the dark cynicism. He is a Doctor very much in the classic series vein; a suave, sophisticated, yet silly gentleman with a brain the size of a planet.
The episode was written by Steven Moffat, who of course went on to eventually run the actual show in 2010. You will notice a lot of Moffat’s themes and favourite tropes being used in this parody. Firstly, the Doctor is getting married. The Doctor is weary of his travels, much as the 11th Doctor later became – tired of all the evil in the universe, tired of running, tired of all those endless gravel quarries. The Daleks start showing respect for the Doctor, much as they have done of late (though with some reluctance). And, of course, the universe itself does not want the Doctor to die in the end. “He was never cruel or cowardly”, is how his assistant, Emma, describes him, in much the same way the Doctor would later describe himself in The Day of the Doctor. And, at the last, there is the fact that the Doctor regenerated into the body of Joanna Lumley. It would later be the Master who would end up being played by a woman in the actual series, but there is time yet for the Doctor!
Richard E. Grant – Scream of the Shalka
For a long time you would see Richard E. Grant appearing on lists of potential candidates for the role of the Doctor. He certainly has ‘the look’ of what the idea ‘classic’ Doctor would have been like. Having once worked with Paul McGann (Withnail & I, 1987), and still close friends with him, he has had a connection to the show for quite some time. He even got to play the part of the Tenth Doctor in The Curse of Fatal Death; his version being described as ‘The Conceited Doctor’.
“Result? Cute, sexy and lick-the-mirror handsome.“- Tenth Doctor, The Curse of Fatal Death
The Scream of the Shalka was a flash-based animation released in 2003 for Doctor Who’s 40th anniversary. Set mostly in Lancashire, the story tells of the invasion of the Shalka, a race of alien beings made of lava and capable of mind control through their ‘scream’. The Doctor arrives and with the help of Alison Cheney (voiced by Sophie Okonedo who also played Liz 10), and his robotic version of the Master (voiced by Derek Jacobi (who later went on to be the Master in ‘Utopia’), they are defeated.
Grant’s Doctor was somewhat snobbish, being obsessed with finery, but his sense of justice and fairness is raised when, despite is initial refusal to get involved, he is propelled into helping after a homeless woman is killed. He is also unable to cross his moral senses, refusing to let a hostage be killed.
The part was played in a somewhat Sherlock Holmes manner, according to Grant, and much like Eccleston’s own ninth Doctor, there is some terrible event in the recent past that he will not speak of. In another similarity, he is initially reluctant to take on a human companion, believing it too dangerous and himself not good enough.
He is travelling with an android that contains the mind and personality of the Master, his arch-nemesis and rival Time Lord. Exactly why he is doing this is left unexplained, but many have speculated some sort of lingering affection within the Doctor for his old friend. Indeed, the TARDIS’s answering machine message seems to record a time when the pair of them got very drunk together.
With the announcement in September 2003 that the BBC would be reviving Doctor Who on television, the Shalka-Doctor was put on a shelf and taken out of the official canon. Grant went on to play The Great Intelligence and Dr. Simeon, the new series from 2012-13. His character was dressed then in a somewhat Doctor-y way in the classic sense; meaning vaguely Victorian, I suppose. But the look definitely suits him and you can see why many were eager for him to take the role.
John Hurt – The War Doctor
The big shocking ending to the 2013 series was the reveal that there had been a secret ‘other’ Doctor all along. An incarnation we had not yet seen, and one that the Doctor had tried to ignore and forget about due to what had been done. The War Doctor had fans speculating for months before the 50th Anniversary Special answered their questions.
Numerically, he is the Ninth Doctor, and his costume speaks of a bridge between Paul McGann’s classic Victorian style, and Christopher Eccleston’s “bin-man” style. His performance is part melancholy, part annoyed-old-man; when dealing with his other selves, he is not above bickering and sniping, criticising their screwdrivers and generally bossing them around.
He is a Doctor utterly weary of conflict and desperately trying to find a way out of a near impossible situation. The Time Lords are beyond reason, the High Council is determined to destroy the whole of reality in an effort to win the war. The Daleks are as destructive as ever, creating even more horrific weapons with every passing hour, threatening all of existence with conquest. Stuck between the choice of utter annihilation or utter domination, the Doctor decides “No more.”
The decision to cast John Hurt was born out of Moffat’s reluctance to cast Paul McGann in the role (he has said publicly that he couldn’t imagine the 8th Doctor doing it, [a sentiment this writer heartily disagrees with] and the difficulty with bringing Christopher Eccleston back into the fold. He decided to create his own Doctor, one he was more free to write as he wished, but he required a high-profile actor to fill the roll.
“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!” – Steven Moffat, DWM 468
But, Paul McGann fans were not completely cheated, as we were given a special glimpse of the 8th Doctor’s final moments. The Night of the Doctor, a specially made episode released online (and via the old ‘red button’), showed us McGann’s Doctor desperately trying to save a crashing spaceship, despite its crew of one instantly taking a dislike to the Time Lord, due to the war. The ship crashes on Karn where the keepers of the flame of eternal life offer him a chance to regenerate into a warrior.
Hurt brought a lot of gravitas to the role, and also paved the way for Peter Capaldi, normalising the older Doctor to the modern audience. Fans of the original series wouldn’t have batted an eyelid, but in this age of twenty-something actors with cool hair and trainers, it was a bit of a shock to some.
Christopher Eccleston – The Ninth Doctor
In 2005 we got our officially, canonically sanctioned ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston. What can be said about his portrayal that has not already been said? He brought a breath of fresh air into the series, he broke new ground, and he opened the gates to what has been over ten years of adventures in time and space.
The first episode, Rose, had to achieve an awful lot. It had to make Doctor Who happen again, it had to introduce the show to a completely new audience, while reassuring fans of the original series that this was still the Doctor. There was an awful lot of running, there were plastic dummies, and there were a few explosions. And what’s more, we had a Doctor who seemed so much different to past incarnations.
Eccleston’s Doctor may have looked very different – going for the leather jacket and t-shirt look that Paul McGann dubbed ‘the inner bin man’. But his character still had that love of life, that joy in adventure, and that love of justice that made the Doctor such an important character. “Fantastic” was his go-to phrase. He grinned an awful lot, and he was always willing to give people his time and give them a chance.
Leaving after only one series, Eccleston’s impact is still felt throughout the show. Not only did he bring it back, he made it happen. He had the toughest job of any of the Doctors and you cannot help but love him for it.