Christopher Eccleston Regrets Leaving Doctor Who

Over a decade later and questions still linger about why Christopher Eccleston left the role of the Ninth Doctor after just one series. For his vast amount of fans – myself included – it’s such a massive shame Eccleston only appeared in 13 episodes of Doctor Who. Now, the actor has admitted that he regrets not staying on for a second series.

Speaking on 774 ABC Melbourne’s Drive show, Eccleston said:

“There’s always regret when you play a role like that because what you do is you… I watched it back and I thought, ‘Okay, next time, don’t do this; do that’, y’know, calibrate the performance. 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.”

Personally, I thought his portrayal was perfect anyway, but the idea of another series with the Ninth Doctor is certainly an appealing one.

This does hint at why he left the part too; in the past, we’ve only heard of some sort of disagreement between himself and members of the production crew. He previously said:

“Myself and three other individuals at the top of the pyramid clashed.”

He elaborates about the choice of directors in particular:

“It’s very important on a first series that you make a very informed and intelligent choice, even if it means breaking the budget, about getting the first director who is going to set the tone for the season, for the way the actors relate and that did not happen.”

Again, I thought the direction was great on all his episodes, but I had heard that he’d return provided a certain director came back too. Still, as he also previously said:

“What’s interesting in this country is whenever a story like this is emerging, they concentrate on the negative. I don’t think it’s important that I left, I think it’s important that I did it in the first place.”

Yep, that is the important part. It would’ve been brilliant to have more time with Eccleston’s Time Lord, but we owe him a debt. He brought it back, made it popular, and gave us another exceptional incarnation of the Doctor.

Listen to the complete interview (fuelled by Eccleston’s great role in The A Word) in which he also talks about former Doctor Who showrunner, Russell T. Davies:

(Thanks to Doctor Who Worldwide.)

  • Ranger

    I enjoy Eccleston’s portrayal of the Doctor and I would have liked to see him more episodes. It is interesting what he says about learning about doing comedy – he certainly isn’t as natural as doing comedy as say Capaldi is, and it would have been interesting to see him grow in this area.

    It’s been well-documented that there were horrible schedule crunches and extreme tension during the filming of series 1 – only natural when bringing back something on the scale and genre that the BBC hadn’t done in years. It can’t have been a very good working environment, and it’s not surprising that Eccleston wasn’t keen to go back into that. It’s only human that he looks back now with regret, but you have to go with what feels best for you at the time. What is important is that we have one season with him, that though he may have hinted at problems with certain people, he has never dissed the programme itself and we can only hope that as time goes on that he comes round to the idea of conventions and and a more positive relationship with the show.

  • Dr. Moo

    You always get the sense that Davies had Tennant in mind the entire time and that The Eccleston Year was a just a box-ticking exercise.
    1. He’s a “credible lead actor”, thus the show was taken seriously.
    2. New viewers understood regeneration relatively early, but not too early.
    With that done, Eccleston could step aside and Davies could then bring in Tennant. Ironically the best Davies season was the one with Eccleston!

    • Edward Delingford

      I think you are right but I also think they weren’t expecting Chris to leave after one series. David was incredibly lucky to be on hand and was essentially given the role on a plate without audition. I doubt it was ever intended that Eccleston be cast off to hand the job to Tennant, the timing was just an incredible bit of serendipidy.

      Davies’ Who was never better than with Eccleston and it is one of those big IFs had he stayed on for at least another series. Series 2 remains by far the lowest point in the show’s recent history with a muddled arc and confusing tone, mostly poor stories, including many which feature at the very bottom of any poll of the last 52 years and Tennant really floundering in the role with the writers and directors unable to establish with any consistency exactly who the 10th doctor was. With Eccleston continuing and with a clearly defined and well established character, at the very least we would have had a stronger lead and perhaps a more coherent set of stories. On the other hand, we would have been denied the best regeneration story of new Who and perhaps Davies’ pinnacle as a writer for the show in Parting of the Ways.

      I have always admired Chris’ unflinching integrity and respect for the show and time and time again he has demonstrated kindness to fans. It is our loss that he never returned, despite Steven Moffat’s best efforts to talk him around and hopefully he can be persuaded to join Big Finish at some point.

      Without Chris, I very much doubt we would have the show we have today. A truly great doctor, brilliant actor and fantastic human being.

  • bar

    The show used a respected, established actor to give credibility to the reboot. Then failed to nurture what they’d got. He has every right to feel negative, and protect himself from the endless speculation and rumours. Instead he speaks well of the show, his time on it, and the fans. Somewhere along the line it would be nice to be able to give him something back, and an arena to bring him closer to those who think so well of him. BF would be good too, to give him that chance to develop the ninth Doctor’s character as well as his skills in the role. where there’s life…

    • Edward Delingford

      Well said. Too many entitled fans rail on against Eccleston’s decision to leave the show and not return. He continues to act with complete dignity and discretion on that matter. The show owes him a very large debt for making it the success that it is today. He does not owe anything to so-called fans.

  • Tidgy’s Dad

    Do some Big Finish, Christopher!

  • TheLazyWomble

    While I respect Mr Eccleston a lot and the Ninth Doctor is my favourite new era Doctor, he wasn’t perfect. I do feel that he struggled with the lighter more comedic aspects of the role. I think that this is in part deliberate. He was portraying a “broken” Doctor, and his performance did become much more settled after “Dalek”.

    I too think it a shame that we did not get at least one more (and preferably several more) seasons out of him, so that we could a) enjoy him longer and b) discover what he was capable of when he was more settled.

    Still my favourite Nu-Who Doctor though.

  • Rick714

    I like that he recognizes he didn’t do well with the light comedy, he’s a pro. Which begs the question why the powers that be didn’t alter certain scripts to eliminate some of the light comedy bits later on. Maybe they did? Don’t know.

    On one hand, it was unfortunate to see him leave after one season as it felt like a bit of a cheat–and he’d made it known to RTD before the transmission of the first ep and Tennant had already been signed by that point.

    On the other hand, it *did* provide an early opportunity for new fans to get in the groove with the concept of regeneration. Maybe get them used to it before they got too settled on Chris as the doctor, who knows? Also, had Chris stayed for 3 years, there’s no certainty that Tennant would have followed him. He’s a working actor and might have been tied up with something else contractually. We don’t know who we might have gotten after Eccleston.

  • bmacdonald

    If Tom Baker eventually was convinced to do Big Finish, I have hope that Mr. Eccleston will as well. I think the trick would be finding room in both his and Billie Piper’s schedules.