Christopher Eccleston’s time as The Doctor in the 2004 revival of Doctor Who was very brief. So much so that one could think it was an intentional choice by executive producer Russell T. Davies to reintroduce the idea of regeneration as quickly as possible. But as Eccleston told the Radio Times recently, his departure was directly related to the breakdown in his working relationship with Davies; which he admitted for the first time in this interview.
“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,” he explained. “They lost trust in me and I lost faith, trust and belief in them.”
When addressing his departure previously, Eccleston maintained that he left because of the way “upper management” treated below-the-line crew. That phrasing always made it possible Davies (and producer Phil Collinson and as-yet unidentified co-producer) were the people at the heart of his issues with the program, but it also suggested BBC executives or even first production block director Keith Boak. At the time the series debuted, rumors circulated that Eccleston was ready to walk early in filming due to issues with Boak. But this may have been a cover for whatever breakdown occurred between Eccleston and the producers.
Although, Eccleston obliquely referenced Boak in the Radio Times interview saying, “I think that if you’re setting up a huge series like that the director has to be impeccable in setting the tone. Billie [Piper], who we know was and is brilliant, was very, very nervous and very, very inexperienced. So, you had that, and then you had me. Very, very experienced, possibly the most experienced on it, but out of my comfort zone.”
That comfort zone refers to the actor’s self-assessment that he is not a natural light comedian despite The Doctor having that quality in all of their personas. “Some of my anger about the situation came from my own insecurity,” he admitted. And, indeed, you can see that discomfort in the debut episode “Rose” and in the first two-parter of the new series, “Aliens of London,” and “World War III.” — the only three episodes Boak would ever helm for the show. The two-parter, with its farting aliens from Raxacoricofallapatorius, definitely feels out of step with the more serious work Eccleston was known for; including The Second Coming, his earlier collaboration with Davies.
Subsequent recording blocks reportedly went smoother, but the damage was done and Eccleston chose to leave. Davies plotted a way to replace him — one of the advantages Doctor Who‘s premise offers a producer — and Eccleston did his best to solider on and promote the series before word of his departure broke shortly after the first episode debuted in the UK.
Last week Eccleston indicated to The Guardian that the timing and nature of the BBC’s press release regarding his future with the program — which suggested the actor feared typecasting — was part of a smear campaign perpetrated by the Corporation. “I gave them a hit show and I left with dignity and then they put me on a blacklist,” he said. “I was carrying my own insecurities as it was something I had never done before and then I was abandoned, vilified in the tabloid press and blacklisted. I was told by my agent at the time: ‘The BBC regime is against you. You’re going to have to get out of the country and wait for regime change.'” Leaving the country meant Eccleston would resurface for a short time on NBC’s Heroes and take roles in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Thor: The Dark World; parts he is also less than fond of.
But it seems the regime change finally happened as he is starring in the BBC One drama Come Home, but by finally revealing his mistreatment while playing The Doctor, his decision to never engage in the fandom (or appear in the fiftieth anniversary special) becomes crystal clear. For him, Doctor Who is a bad memory.
Meanwhile, the program carries on with new star Jodie Whittaker taking over as The Doctor when the program resumes in the Fall.