The celebrations to mark the decade since Doctor Who returned to the screen have inevitably been followed swiftly by another notable tenth anniversary – that of the news that Christopher Eccleston would not be returning in future series.
As if the hype surrounding the debut of Series 1 wasn’t enough, what with the billboards, teaser spots and magazine covers, the shock news that the Eccleston had quit the role guaranteed that the programme was now tabloid fodder, with banner headlines screaming of a crisis in the BBC.
2005 may have been the pre-Twitter age but there was no mistaking the uproar and insanity the news created. Kasterborous was there to comment and reflect on what all this meant, and it’s interesting to look back in hindsight at our comments from that time. The assumption that the departure had been settled on some time before (‘Christopher Eccleston made this decision months ago, and no doubt Russell T Davies and Billie Piper were aware of this.’) was surely correct.
The BBC were forced to hastily withdraw a statement that gave concern over being typecast as the reason for Eccleston’s departure…
Indeed the signs were there at the time. Eccleston had put in long hours working to promote the new series but carefully avoided giving anything resembling a commitment that he’s be back for future runs (Jonathan Ross was one of those to pick up on this after an appearance on his Friday night show). When asked in a radio interview whether he was ‘in this for the long haul’ the response was a rather telling comment, no doubt reflecting all those long night shoots and early starts, that he had already ‘done the long haul’, thanks very much.
But it was the way the news broke, just a matter of days after Rose was transmitted and attracted huge audience figures that caused such a shock. The BBC were forced to hastily withdraw a statement that gave concern over being typecast as the reason for Eccleston’s departure, and Russell T Davies accepted that the whole business hadn’t been handled well. The corporation scrambled to reassure fans old and new that a succession plan was in place, with David Tennant all but confirmed to become the Tenth Doctor and Billie Piper definitely returning for Series 2.
Kasterborous’s comments were an interesting mix of the wide-of-the-mark and the prescient:
“Whatever his reasons for not carrying on, we all expect him to appear in the Christmas Special (if it is to be broadcast Christmas 2005 as expected) at least in order to hand over to David Tennant and allow his young Doctor Who fans to witness their first proper regeneration. (Alternatively, there’s a very tightly-shrouded scene at the end of this series that we don’t know about…)”
The exact reasons for Eccleston’s departure have remained oblique…
We now know that the producers had an audacious plan to spring a surprise regeneration on the audience at the end of Series 1. This surely has to go down as one of the great might-have-beens in Doctor Who’s history (just imagine if you hadn’t known that one was coming), and proved to be such a good idea that it would be tried again (well, sort of) in The Stolen Earth in Series 4. But instead viewers were left in the curious position of getting to know the new Doctor in the certain knowledge that his departure had already been determined.
Since that tumultuous Easter (can it really be ten years ago?) the exact reasons for Eccleston’s departure have remained oblique, although the man himself hasn’t shied away from giving a fair idea of them when asked. And it’s worth mentioning that, whilst it’s proved to be impossible to tempt him back for the 50th anniversary story or persuade him to grace the stage at conventions, he’s been more than happy, in a low-key, quiet way to give the odd funny, charming comment for a celebratory event or to make a fan’s day by getting into character again for a wedding proposal.
One thing most fans probably can agree on is the sentiments voiced in our original article:
“What I am sure about is the rest of this season we will see a great Christopher Eccleston Doctor; of course he is a fine actor and has already provided a lot of joy to fandom with his portrayal and I wish him all the luck in his future career and thank him for rekindling the fire, nice one Chris! :).”
What do you remember of the announcement of Eccleston’s departure? Cast your mind back and tell us in the comments.