Flashback: Christopher Eccleston Quits Doctor Who

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.

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  1. TheLazyWomble says:

    My suspicion at the time (and I must stress that I have absolutely nothing to back this up) was that it was a production decision. I suspected that Christopher Eccleston had been cast only ever for that one season: to bring back the programme and get the character of the Doctor accepted by a new generation of viewers, so that at the end of the season we could experience regeneration and welcome in David Tennant. I suspected that David Tennant was always the choice for Doctor but that his profile was too low at the time.
    Of course, Christopher Eccleston has since stated his reasons for leaving, which pretty much blew my suspicions out of the water.

    • Dr Moo says:

      That makes sense since he was one of the most high profile actors to take on the role (I think only John Hurt surpasses him on that front) and having a big name on the show would have helped get it off the ground. (See also: The stunt-casting of Billie Piper)

    • Shawn Lowery says:

      I did not know Christopher Eccleston at the time. I thought he was a low profile, stage only sort of actor using DW as a springboard to other projects. From day one, BBC Worldwide always seemed the logical place for DW and a low or medium profile actor would jump at the opportunity.
      On this premise, I ranted and raged about his leaving. It was only later when he said something like “personal reasons”, and “didn’t get agree with the treatment of certain people by certain people in power” did I finally somewhat begrudgingly come to accept his reasons for leaving.
      Make no mistake however, his never mentioning DW (who can forget him saying his favorite sci fi on TV was Star Trek), his refusal to even make a small appearance in the 50th,,, I still have issues with all that. Even Colin Baker, who has great reason to be upset with the BBC was man enough to embrace the character that he played and has always been gracious with fans.
      Anyway, I’m getting there, but I have a long way to go before the ice melts from my feelings on Ecci.

      • Dr Moo says:

        Eccleston is gracious with the fans though! He’s happy enough to interact with them if they approach him, for example there’s that time when he reprised the role to help with a wedding proposal. So what if he’s not at our beck and call, he owes us NOTHING and if he won’t come back to Dr Who that’s his problem. Hopefully one day he’ll get over it, until than we can still enjoy his excellent performance as the 9th Doctor in the near-perfect series one.

  2. Dr Moo says:

    How far in advance had he planned to quit? Because watching his series it never comes across! He was a fantastic Doctor and the fact that he left when he did is sad. On the plus side he left us with probably the best run of stories had by any Doctor, so there is that.

    • Simon Mills says:

      It never came across on screen because he is such a fine actor and was committed to the performance he gave while he was giving it. Yes, it is very sad he only did the one series, but in doing that he has lived up to the ideal of the thesp – “leave ’em wanting more!”

      • Dr Moo says:

        And by his (perfectly understandable) refusal to return we got Sir John Hurt as the War Doctor. So we can’t complain!

        • James Lomond says:

          Understandable because it wasn’t his cup of tea or understandable because of his 2005 grievances? I thought Hurt was a bit lackluster to be honest. Thoroughly uninspiring portrayal though a wonderful actor and in terms of profile probably only second to Peter Cushing. I’d much have rather had the 9th Doctor back even though I really didn’t like the character, just to see him make sense *as* the Doctor as I didn’t buy him at all in the role. In fact Paul McGann would have been brilliant – and how sad to see the enthusiastic, wide-eyed 8th Doctor worn down by a bitter war until he appears tired and Grandfatherly alongside the 10th and 11th? Bill Nighy will probably never be the Doctor and is perhaps too much of an obvious choice but he’d have been amazing as the War Doctor. In fact Hugh Laurie would have been amazing. Gary Oldman, Ben Kingsley, Robert Carlyle, Terrence Stamp… load of people I’d have rather had.

          Ooh hang on. Have just realised the above little rant was entirely in response to your saying “can’t complain”. I quite like complaining. Hello Dr Moo! 😉 x

          • Dr Moo says:

            His 2005 grievances. It makes sense that he’d decline to show up. I liked the Ninth Doctor and it’s a shame Eccleston had such a hard time in the role.

            And I really enjoyed John Hurt’s performance even if it’s not his best ever. I liked the War Doctor a lot even though his role probably could and should have been given to the Eighth. I guess Moffat’s ego is so big he decided to mess around and throw in an extra incarnation just because he could?

          • James Lomond says:

            I kinda think it’s a really cool thing to do- introducing an unknown incarnation of the doctor, though the execution didn’t really work for me in the end. I dunno- if he didn’t really want to do it and the money/ fan-pleasing wasn’t enough to make him want to do it then fine but the entire production team has changed. How could his grievances reasonably carry over 10 years to entirely different people, unless his resolve is never to work with the Beeb again. Course if he just has such horrible memories associates with the show then fair enough. All wild speculation course.

          • Dr Moo says:

            My assumption is that it ultimately came down to the association with the show itself in that his going on it would trigger even more questions about why he left that he’d prefer not to have to deal with. Hopefully one day he will be able to get over his issues and get involved once again but it seems unlikely to happen soon. But I’m patient enough to wait.

          • Linnea says:

            He has worked with the BBC numerous times since 2005, so it’s clearly not that. Also, Moffat has stated that Eccleston did meet with him to discuss appearing in the 50th, but ultimately decided not to take the part (for unspecified reasons). So he was willing to consider the possibility, at least.

    • Linnea says:

      According to a recent interview with Joe Ahearne (http://www.radiofreeskaro.com/2015/03/22/radio-free-skaro-468-ten-years-on/), it was known by about January 2005, and filming continued until March. He certainly gave it his best throughout the filming of the final episodes!

  3. Cryer says:

    I kniw the real reason (or at least part of the reason) why Eccleston left. I can’t provide proof so you can either take my word from it or ignore me.
    The real reason is that his mother was ill in hospital at the time of filming for Doctor Who. He was not allowed to have time off from filming to be close to her. I know this because my friend’s parents are friends of Christopher Eccleston’s family and she told me about it. This is the reason (as well as other things stated by Christopher Eccleston) why he laft the show after one season and refused to return. I know my friend well and she is very trustworthy so I believe her completely. Obviously anyone reading this won’t know me or my friend so you have no reason to believe me. I am just putting the informaton I know out there.

    • Dr Moo says:

      If this is true then it significantly increases my respect for him because it shows he has integrity. Career is important but family is even more, or so it should be. I don’t know if tis is true but I choose to take your word for it.

    • TheLazyWomble says:

      I recall you saying this and, as Dr Moo says, it r=increases my respect for the man. And, of course, I also take you at your word.

    • kwijino says:

      It would also be consistent with the reasons he has stated. I’ve heard several theories, but this one feels right. It’s the reason the producers had to recast Jennifer in the Back to the Future films.. Claudia Wells mom was ill, and Claudia decided her mom came before her career, and was able to do as she felt she needed to.

    • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      Cryer, if this is true (which you have previously claimed) then do you truly believe that it is your place or responsibility to continually put that information into the public domain? If the good man himself, and indeed the BBC, have consciously and deliberately avoided divulging such personal information in the past then I’m sure they would not appreciate your loose lips one little bit. I am interested to hear your reasons for telling everybody though. I hope if your friend’s family are indeed friends with the Eccleston family then your friend might well in future refrain from telling you their personal family matters in future – especially as you seem more than happy to spread them with the rest of us. Think how you would feel if it was you and your family whose personal information was being spread online by supposed ‘friends of the family’.

      • TheLazyWomble says:

        It may have been a response to my comment outlining my thoughts on what had happened. On reflection, and especially as my post was pure and unsubstantiated speculation, I should have kept my lips sealed.

        • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

          It has nothing to do with your, or anybody else’s comments. No-one put a gun to Cryer’s head and forced him to share this deeply personal information that everyone involved has not disclosed for the last 10 years (and these are the only people that matter – not us fans). If it is true then Cryer is the least trustworthy friend a person could ask for. I wonder if his friend knew he would share such personal information (on numerous occasions) with everyone. I hope though that he is full of sh*t because anybody with a conscience would never do that.

      • Cryer says:

        My friend said that she didn’t mind if I told people. In fact I even asked her if she wold be alright with me telling others as I knew it would be important information to many people. You know nothing about me or my friendship so get off your high horse and grow up. It is not “deeply personal” information. It isn’t really all that personal at all and seeing as the information matters to so many people (to the point that there are dozens of articles such as this about it all over the internet) I thought it would be helpful to share. You say fans don’t matter but who are you to decide? You don’t speak for everyone so please get a grip.

        • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

          So what if your friend is alright with you telling people? When did she become the spokesperson for the Eccleston family? If Chris and the BBC choose not to discuss the reasons then it is not your friends place to spread the rumours and give people like you the go ahead to do the same. The only people the information matters to should be the people involved, namely Chris, his family and the BBC – nobody else. And yes, when it comes to things like this then I’m sorry to inform you that it really has got nothing to do with us no matter how nosy and prying some people are. He left and doesn’t speak about it – deal with it and grow up and get a grip.

          • Cryer says:

            I’d like to point out that you also don’t speak for Eccleston or the BBC. You say that the fans don’t matter but that is just your opinion and it is not one I share. The information is not particularly personal and it is an issue which is important to many people. I have no obligation whatsoever to keep the information I know to myself. I made no promise to Eccleston and I think that fans who care deserve to know the truth.
            I’m sorry that you think you have the monopoly on what is right and wrong and what information should be private or public but it isn’t up to you. I’m also sorry to inform you that is you who needs to grow up and get a grip. Deal with that.

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            Exactly, I DO NOT speak for Eccleston or the BBC! So why do you? I merely speak on behalf of common decency and morality. And again, when it comes to personal family issues of anyone involved in the making of Doctor Who then NO, WE FANS DON’T MATTER AND ARE NOT ENTITLED TO ANY INSIGHT THAT IS NOT FORTHCOMING FROM THOSE INVOLVED! And there is a very big difference between people speculating about things on forums and people who are ‘allegedly’ privy to private information making it public knowledge. How about you get off your own high horse and realise that just because you are a fan doesn’t entitle you to make certain things public, despite the interest of other fans. If Chris wanted us to know he would have told us himself in the last 10 years without you or your friend’s help. If that particular story is true it is obviously private enough for Chris never to have mentioned it openly. (being childish now but…) I’m also sorry to inform you that it is you who needs to grow up and get a grip. Deal with that.

          • TheLazyWomble says:

            Okay, guys, you’ve both expressed your opinions. Can we draw a line under this now?

          • Dr Moo says:

            I echo your sentiments. This is getting pathetic.

  4. Sally Ann Price says:

    I heard that the directors were giving him a hard time. I thought he was great in the role. I do not blame him. I heard that the directors picked on him.

  5. Peter Webb says:

    Thankfully going into it as a kid, the regeneration was a complete surprise. Same with the Master. Sadly with the internet nowadays that sort of thing can’t really happen anymore.

  6. Sally Ann Price says:

    He will always be my Doctor Who. He was great in the part.

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