6 Performances by Christopher Eccleston Worth Re-Evaluating: Part Two

While Christopher Eccleston is a wonderful actor, and frankly a joy to watch in everything he’s in, it’s fair to say not all he’s appeared in has been lavished with praise. But even the most critically-acclaimed series and films should be viewed in different lights.

Yesterday, we covered his appearances in the Marvel Universe, as a member of The Beatles, and in an ITV thriller which is due back on screen soon – without Chris. Here are a few further performances by the Ninth Doctor you might’ve forgotten about, but deserve another chance in the spotlight.

Heroes

Travel back to 2006-7, and this superhero-centric show was a massive success, critically, commercially, and in the ratings. Series 1 set imaginations on fire across the globe, and instantly made a name for its cast. The roll call included Hayden Panettiere, Adrian Pasdar, Jack Coleman, Ali Larter, Masi Oka… and Christopher Eccleston.

Heroes was doomed come its second season, as if losing viewers were a power. Kooky and clever seemed to become convoluted and needlessly complicated. Still, it remains an important step in the domination of media by the superhero medium. Heroes Reborn was similarly an unsuccessful attempt to carry on the story. And while many memories persist of saving the cheerleader in order to save the world, you might’ve forgotten Eccleston had played Claude Rains, aka the Invisible Man, in five episodes.

If the original plans for Chris were successful, however, you’d instantly think of him in relation to Heroes – because he was offered two roles. One, Claude, and the other, main antagonist, Sylar. Eccleston didn’t want to be the figurehead for the cliché of British people being the villain, so the latter part was eventually played by Zachary Quinto. It made Quinto a household name, and arguably got him the role of Spock in the Star Trek movies.

Rains was hardly the life and soul, but it was refreshing to see the Doctor Who star in Heroes; what’s more, the character was an interesting examination of being an outsider, although he was cut off far too early in the show to fully reach his potential. Here was a man not shunned from society but really living without making much of an impression on others, and becoming very bitter out of choice.

In fact, there are quite a few interesting parallels to make between Claude and Daredevil‘s Stick…

Eccleston clearly liked the role. Asked whether he’d come back for Heroes Reborn, he said:

“Of course, yeah, I had a great time on the show! Yeah. I’d always be interested. That was a great character. I love that guy.”

The Borrowers

I was never particularly entranced by the idea of The Borrowers – it seemed a little stuffy to me – but when the 2011 adaptation of Mary Norton’s 1952 novel came around, boasting the Ninth Doctor in a central role, I was always going to give it another try. And I was very pleasantly surprised!

Eccleston plays Pod Clock, the curmudgeonly father of the family which this narrative revolves around. He’s a bit of an anti-hero, stopping his daughter, Arrietty (Aisling Loftus) from borrowing – the small-people’s version of “you’re not going out dressed like that, young lady”. With Arrietty as the protagonist, it’d be easy to cast Pod as something of a bad guy, the anchor before adventure, but Chris’ portrayal keeps him likeable and relatable.

When interviewed by the BBC, Eccleston revealed something he enjoyed on the production which also sheds some light on his time on Doctor Who:

“I love green screen work because for me it’s like being a child again – having to imagine that something is there and act with it, it’s a slightly different skill. It pulls more on your imagination and your ability to express yourself, and that’s all I did as a kid was run around the garden pretending I was in a polar ice cap, or on the ocean waves or in the middle of a James Bond film. I enjoy it because you have to create something with your imagination, and also it’s funny if you take a step outside it and take a look at what you’re actually doing, it’s pretty comic.”

The 90-minute TV film didn’t receive rave reviews, but it was pretty perfect for Boxing Day a few years ago, encapsulating the warm family-friendly feel of the season.

Doctor Who

As if you need a reason to rewatch Doctor Who.

Still, some skip over Series 1 and others just look back with rose-tinted glasses. Further still are easy to criticise. However, to me, it’s one of the most consistently enjoyable runs of the show, with not a single bad episode. Average ones, perhaps, but there are always elements that separate the likes of Aliens of London/World War Three and The Long Game from serials like Kill the Moon, The Twin Dilemma, and Love & Monsters. One such element is Eccleston, who is never less than excellent.

You might criticise the anti-plastic, the button behind the giant fans, or the TARDIS reverting a monster into an egg. But in 2005, this was Doctor Who, returned to TV at last, and its popularity has meant that we’re still enjoying new episodes to this day (admittedly, amidst long hiatuses).

Yep, it’s always a good time to re-evaluate Doctor Who stories, even – nay, especially the ones you don’t like as much. Look at the Doctor’s excitement at meeting Charles Dickens, then how quickly his ethics are revealed as distinctly alien soon after the Gelth’s appeals for help; listen to his pain and terror when facing up to a Dalek, supposedly the last one in all existence; and see the hope, flippancy, and reassuring nature when he regenerates.

You’ll find yourself thinking how great a shame it is that Eccleston didn’t stay beyond Series 1; it’s a sentiment shared by the man himself:

“It was kind of tragic for me, that I didn’t play him for longer. He’s a beautiful character and I have a great deal of professional pride and had I done a second season, there would have been a marked improvement in my performance. I was learning new skills, in terms of playing light comedy. I was not known for light comedy and, again, production did not allow for that.”

Which other performances do you think deserve a rewatch? Aside from Doctor Who, where do you think Eccleston’s really excelled?

  • Rick714

    It’s a mark of a true professional that Chris acknowledges his shortcomings in the role. He really didn’t look comfortable or believable when playing light comedy in the role. Many folks have their favorite seasons and their disappointing ones but ever since the show’s come back, each seasons has been more or less the same, each with some fantastic episodes and some “eh” shows in the mix too. I tend to go back and watch the 2005 series less than any other these days, mostly because there’s so little of it and back in the day, I watched them all to death. It is kind of tough going back and putting up with the lesser episodes like Aliens of London, Rose, The Long game, etc. though, mostly because RTD didn’t quite have all the kinks worked out yet.