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Feature: Doctor Who 2005
The Ninth Life
Doctor Who is enjoying a vigorous new lease of life on BBC Television in the form of respected dramatic actor Christopher Eccleston. We caught up with the newly-anointed Time Lord…
There’s a scene, early on in the opening episode of the shiny new Doctor Who in which the audience wholeheartedly embraces Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. “I can feel it,” he tells his new best friend, Rose Tyler. “The turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at 1000 miles an hour. And the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour. We’re falling through Space, you and me.”
It’s a moment that sends a tingle down the spine; one that reminds us of the show’s ability to inspire awe, and provides our first glimpse of the character’s gravitas. We’ve seen the Doctor behave flippantly and humorously: now suddenly he provides a teasing taste of his Time Lord heritage.
That Eccleston has been embraced by the show’s long-standing fans, and is already being touted as one of the best Doctors in the show’s 42-year history, should be of little surprise. This is, after all, the man who seemingly effortlessly convinced us that he was the Son of God in Russell T Davies’s powerful drama The Second Coming. He courted controversy, too, in Our Friends in the North and Hillsborough, gave a powerful performance as a man driven to insanity by money in Shallow Grave, starred in Fantasy films including veXistenZ, 28 Days Later and The Others, and has a celebrated career in theatre.
He is, in short, one of the UK’s most applauded actors. How difficult was it to put film and theatre aside and take on a long-standing commitment to a TV role that had already been played by eight others?
“Easy. I didn’t even think about it,” says Eccleston immediately. “I approached Russell. I read that he was going to do it and e-mailed him and said, ‘When you draw up an audition list put my name on it’.
“I’m a fan of his writing. I’ve worked with him on The Second Coming. I love Bob & Rose, Mine All Mine, and I love Queer as Folk most of all because it changed television. So it was easy, but it is a big deal I now realize. But I really didn’t consider that, I just wanted to work with Russell.”
Eccleston’s Doctor is certainly a marked contrast to those that preceded him. Gone are the frock coats, floppy hats, ruffled shirts and question mark (some might say questionable) umbrella. This Doctor is a man of the moment – any moment – his clothes possessing a timeless quality that wouldn’t look out of place in any era and on any planet.
“I wanted to see if I could convince you he was an alien with the performance,” says the actor. “I think if I’d have had a flamboyant costume as well, then you would have needed a circus tent to contain me. It’s kind of the closest I’ve been to playing myself in a way. It’s like a version of me as a child, the way I felt about the world and everything that’s in it. As we grow older we box in and change. And I based it a lot on Russell in a way.
“I have a sense that, as we went along, Russell started to look at what I was doing and began to write for me. I think I’ve done certain things with the character which he’s liked, and he’s used that.”
by David Richardson
Get the full interview, plus more with co-star Billie Piper and Who elder statesmen Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks in
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