Christopher Eccleston has been a household name for many years now; his stage debut had come in 1988 at the Bristol Old Vic where he starred in A Streetcar Named Desire, and he’d gained prominence in film and TV shows like Gone in 60 Seconds, Cracker, and Our Friends in the North. But he’s surely best known for helming the 2005 relaunch of Doctor Who.
His casting came after months of speculation (as ever!), as the BBC released a press release on Friday 26th September 2003. Executive Producer, Julie Gardner said:
“This is very early days and it is unlikely anything will be on screen for at least two years but it is very exciting and I can’t wait to get started.”
Doctor Who Series 1 would air from 26th March 2005, so the wait was lengthy, but slightly shorter than originally forecast.
Eccleston’s announcement as the Ninth Doctor came on 20th March 2004, with the actor quoted as saying:
“I am absolutely delighted to be playing Doctor Who.
“I am looking forward to joining forces again with the incredible writer Russell T Davies and taking both loyal viewers and a new generation on a journey through time and space – which way is the TARDIS? I can’t wait to get started!”
Of course, these releases are always full of hyperbole and enthusiasm, but it’s especially nice to see how happy everyone seemed back then to get the show on the road.
Russell T. Davies had been part of the initial reveal of Doctor Who‘s return, and the pair had worked together on The Second Coming, an ITV drama, broadcast in 2003, in which Eccleston’s character, Stephen Baxter, realises (after going missing for 40 days and 40 nights) that he is, in fact, the second coming of Jesus. Murray Gold composed music for the two-episode story, which also starred Mark Benton (Rose) and Lesley Sharp (Midnight).
Davies would be joined on writing duties by Steven Moffat (The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances), Mark Gatiss (The Unquiet Dead), Paul Cornell (Father’s Day), and Robert Shearman (Dalek). All would return for subsequent seasons apart from Shearman – though we still live in hope that he’ll be invited back.
Jane Tranter, BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning and something of a heroine in the history of Who, said:
“We are delighted to have cast an actor of such calibre in one of British television’s most iconic roles.
“It signals our intention to take Doctor Who into the 21st century, as well as retaining its core traditional values – to be surprising, edgy and eccentric.
“We have chosen one of Britain’s finest actors to play what, in effect, will be an overtly modern hero.”
“We considered many great actors for this wonderful part, but Christopher was our first choice.
“This man can give the Doctor a wisdom, wit, and emotional range as far-reaching as the Doctor’s travels in time and space.
“His casting raises the bar for all of us. It’s going to be a magnificent, epic, entertaining journey, and I can’t wait to start!”
Sadly, we know now that’s not entirely true – Hugh Grant was RTD’s first choice for the Doctor. But for so many people, introduced and reintroduced to Doctor Who over a decade ago, we should be forever grateful that Christopher Eccleston got the part.
Personally speaking, he was my first Doctor and I wouldn’t have it any other way.