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Almost Totally Excellent

Steven Moffat Details Christopher Eccleston’s Would-Have-Been Doctor Who Anniversary Role


We all knew it wasn’t going to happen but Steven Moffat had plans for Christopher Eccleston to take part in Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary anyway. Just in case. 

I was pretty happy with “The Day of the Doctor.” One thing which would have made it better? Eccleston. There was that point in the special where I thought they’d done it, they’d misdirected, lied, and pulled a giant wool sweater over our heads for months in an effort to keep Eccleston’s inclusion a secret. The regenerations scene, of course. And while you can kind of see the actor’s eye for a split second, the actor himself decided against appearing in the anniversary special. But in case he did say yes, Moffat was ready.

Doctor Who TV reports on a recent interview the showrunner did with Doctor Who Magazine. Moffat told them yes, Eccleston would have been John Hurt’s character, “but I was pretty certain Chris wouldn’t do it, although he did agree to a couple of meetings. So instead we had the challenge and excitement of introducing a BBC audience to a brand new Doctor.” He also confirmed it would have been Eccleston’s Doctor ending the Time War but that it would have caused a few story issues:

“I was always nervous of that one, because it doesn’t fit with [2005's] Rose at all.

“[Eccleston] is a brand new Doctor in Rose, he’s absolutely, definitely new. It couldn’t have been is who pushed the button in the Time War, cos that’s a new man, very explicitly, in that episode. I also had trouble, I have to be honest, imagining it being Paul McGann’s Doctor.

“So all of this led me to the idea that if you’re going to sell to the Not-We audience a Doctor who essentially they haven’t seen before, then you have a freer hand than saying it has to be one of the ones you’ve already had. And it was predicated in getting an enormous star to be able to do it. We got John Hurt, so that was cool! Think of the fuss it’s created for us!”

Don’t forget, Eccleston has joked about participating in the 100th anniversary. Did you miss his presence like I did in the 50th anniversary?

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  • Anonymous

    “[Eccleston] is a brand new Doctor in Rose, he’s absolutely, definitely new.”

    That’s a bit debatable, since some of the key points of that season dealt with the war’s lingering effects on him.

  • Anonymous

    I had more than one moment of thinking they’d done it. Moments when they were building up to a reveal of some sort, or a moment when something surprising happened and I didn’t catch on fast enough and my brain yelled ‘IS IT NINE?’ Too hopeful, but he had his reasons, Moffat and co. tried, and it is what it is. But yes, Nine and Eccleston were sorely missed.

  • kbroxmysox

    So Moffat’s original plan was to just not make sense and explain it with a ball of timey-wimeyness? Sounds about right :p.

    Loved the Day of Doctor and I’m both dreading and excited for the Christmas special.

  • kbroxmysox

    Well that’s because it carried over from the past Regeneration.

  • Anonymous

    He still remembers the Time War, but his regeneration happened at the end of it because he would’ve noticed his new body sooner.

  • Mark Matson

    It isn’t really debatable, since he didn’t know what he looked like at the beginning of the episode. I just double-checked on NetFlix, 12 minutes in he looks in the mirror and says “Oh! Could have been worse. Look at the ears.”.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think it was necessary to create the War Doctor for this story. It would’ve had more weight if he’d been 8. “Night of the Doctor” shows that 8 had become unhinged by the Time War & showing his compassion be tested to the breaking point would be dramatically effective. Since he ends up not destroying Gallifrey, Moffat didn’t have to worry about tarnishing a classic Doctor’s legacy. Modern Doctors scorning him could’ve been a metacommentary on how poorly the TV movie was received. They built up the War Doctor to be so bloodthirsty & despicable that seeing him be so wishy-washy about double genocide was a disappointing waste of a regeneration, though nowhere near as terrible as the Metacrisis Doctor.

  • Mark Matson

    Though I didn’t mind the non-Doctor Doctor, I think McGann would have been just fine. It is certainly who I thought was responsible. Eccleston was already known not to be the Doctor who ended the time war, unless he did it without ever seeing himself in the mirror. (Which could have been potentially possible, I guess, if the big event happened quickly after the regeneration.)

    If Eccleston was brought in for more than the regeneration, he would have been the one who rationalized.

  • Christy

    “[Eccleston] is a brand new Doctor in Rose, he’s absolutely, definitely new.”

    Not that new. Remember, Clive had all of those appearances of the Doctor (sans Rose) throughout history. It’s assumed they were before the start of the series, since they were practically attached at the hip for the run of that season.

  • http://twitter.com/LibrarianMarian Marian Librarian

    I agree. The 8 in the minisode was a much more war-torn 8 than we’ve seen in other stories, the war could have had that affect on him. I think there is possibly a parallel universe where 8, 9, 10, and 11 (though not 11 any more, is he?) were all in the 50th episode, and sometimes I pretend I live in that universe.

  • http://bayareageekguide.com/ Mike Chen

    Having listened to a bit of McGann’s audio stuff, I agreed with the idea that it does seem to difficult to have 8 be a soldier that ultimately contemplates genocide. The one way you could have augmented this is by having the Sisterhood give 8 a different potion — rather than regeneration, it’d be like Time Lord PCP and make him capable of fighting and ending the war. Given the circumstances, though, I’m pretty happy with how things worked out and as much as I love 9, I don’t think he would have worked in the War Doctor role unless he regenerated right before the Moment.

    I still don’t know why they didn’t CG more of Eccleston’s face into the regeneration scene, though.

  • Anonymous

    I always sort of fanwanked that most of the appearances Clive had documented happened between the time when he first invited Rose into the TARDIS but she turned him down, and the next moment when he came back to ask again. It looks immediate to us and to Rose, but it didn’t have to be so for 9.

  • http://www.angelahighland.com/ Angela Korra’ti (Highland)

    GOD YES, I wish we would have gotten to see Hurt regenerate into Eccleston. I was already squealing and leaping out of my seat by that point in the proceedings, but that would have just taken it RIGHT over the top.

  • WheelchairNinja

    YES. This is the exact thought I had. He left Rose, went and did the Titanic and Daley Plaza thing, then one day was reminiscing about that blond girl in 2005 and realized “Blimey, I forgot to tell her it travels in time!”

  • Travis

    I like your universe. It’s better than this one.

  • WheelchairNinja

    So basically Eccleston’s unwillingness to come back is the reason the regeneration number is all messed up. I just want to tell him “Dude, you are my first and favorite Doctor and I know you like to think of yourself as a ‘ar-teest,’ but you were in freaking GI Joe AND the *****ed up abomination that was the ‘Dark is Rising’ theatrical adaptation. You need to get off your high horse and grace Doctor Who with your presence. Trust me, your fans will be eternally grateful and will continue to tout you as best Doctor ever. We’ll even try to convince people that Malekith was a compelling in no way forgettable villain!”

  • Ria Narai

    From what I’ve heard it was less ‘I’m too good for Doctor Who’ (as you pointed out, he’s been in far worse!) and more, ‘I have a problem with some of the people behind the scenes’.

  • Ria Narai

    From what I’ve heard it was less ‘I’m too good for Doctor Who’ (as you pointed out, he’s been in far worse!) and more, ‘I have a problem with some of the people behind the scenes’.

  • Anonymous

    The show has 50 years of history! Why compress it to one episode? Break it up in three or four parts and you would more room for a sensible story.

  • kbroxmysox

    I’m with you. I’d rather have seen the eighth Doctor in the role. To me one of the most memorable moments of the 50th was the minisode.

  • Anonymous

    Ditto. I just assumed he was gone for a hundred years before the TARDIS pseudo-randomly showed up at the same spot, he remembered her, and decided to just continue the conversation.

  • kbroxmysox

    But aren’t most people behind the scenes different now?

  • http://bayareageekguide.com/ Mike Chen

    I believe it’s less the immediate creative crew and more the BBC politics involved. Which are pretty gnarly when you read what they have to go through (see RTD’s The Writer’s Tale for gory details).

  • Anonymous

    All I’m hearing is “50 years of canon didn’t work with MY story so I made shit up, including a whole new Doctor so that I could do what I wanted and disregard the canon.”

  • Elias Algorithm

    I seem to be the only one that remembers this but I remember a scene at the beginning of the revival where he says, in a very strange voice “Still not ginger”, catching a slight reflection in part of the Tardis. Unfortunately I’ve only found it once. Might have imagined it.

  • Andrea Pantoja

    I was angry at first, because I thought Eccleston was being petty for not being in the show. Having seen the trainwreck the Special was however, I’m glad he remained away!

  • Anonymous

    I’m not saying anybody need love Moffat but… ignoring canon? On Doctor Who? Really? It’s not 50 years of canon anyway. It won’t even be 10 years worth for a few years yet. I’m not saying you should like the Hurt Doctor. It’s fair to say that adding in a new one is a bit much and wasn’t needed. But, really, disregarding canon is kind of the name of the game when it comes to Doctor Who. Hell, just look at Genesis of the Daleks, one of the best Doctor Who serials ever… which retconned Davros into the mix, and totally ignored the dalek’s inability to leave the metal floors of their own city.

  • chas_m

    I’m sorry he chose not to join in on the special, but Doctor Who has a bit of a tradition with Holdout Doctors … :) … at least he was willing to meet. Gives me hope for the future …

  • Anonymous

    Because every time a white male actor is cast, it’s racist and sexist.

    Go back to tumblr, social justice wannabe.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t realize being head writer and thus in charge of the story canon actually meant that adding to that canon was just “making shit up.”

    I guess then every showrunner since Verity Lambert is making shit up then. How dare they!

  • Anonymous

    The run time was the equivalent of a three part serial from the classic run. More than that and you’re just getting self indulgent.

  • WheelchairNinja

    Yes, he left because of behind the scenes drama, but his reasons for not coming back are seem or be more artistic than anything else. Check out his response when he was asked whether he would come back In this interview from 2011:
    http://youtu.be/-LUUM4tqYaA?t=2m29s

  • Anonymous

    Hell, I could do without; my fantasy parallel universe anniversary episode is, let’s see, One, Three, and Eleven (not ruling out others as well), and at least one classic series companion (Ace?)

  • Anonymous

    Oh right, because retconning the story so that the clever and peace-loving Doctor DIDN’T commit genocide and instead figured out a different way is the huge sin there. 50 years of canon? More like seven.

  • Anonymous

    While I agree with you, I realised something when Neil Gaiman’s first Doctor Who episode came out. The show has been running for so long, everyone who writes for it was probably a fan of the show before they were ever writers for it. Basically all Doctor Who after a certain point is fanfiction by a few lucky people who happen to have their fanfiction turned into the actual show. And I think that’s awesome.

  • Anonymous

    Well… maybe he would have removed the mirror from Night of the Doctor, and just had it so the 9th Doctor hadn’t managed a good look at his reflection until after the time wa– yeah, no, that’s too dumb for even me to finish.

  • Vetinari

    It’s a slight shame, since my ideal version of the story, the one in which Ecclestone’s Doctor, torn apart by the guilt and horror of the Time War, meets the Doctor who actually pulled the trigger but more or less escaped having to deal with the emotional aftermath, apparently never would have occurred even if Ecclestone had joined in.

    As much as I don’t see the Doctor as a physically violent man, it’s hard not to imagine Ecclestone losing it completely, since he suffered the most of all of them, and in a way I feel he was the Doctor that Hurt needed to meet the most. Certainly he would have given Hurt a little more pause before making his decision.

  • Anonymous

    Ha ha, well, Neil Gaiman was on cloud nine that he’d managed to slip in the line about gender swapping Time Lords because of the power it gave him to add something that monumental to the canon with just one off-the-cuff line.

    And of course, David Tennant literally became an actor because he was a Who fan. And in fact, Zygons showed up in the anniversary special specifically because they were his favorite monster and they never appeared during his run.

    Nicholas Briggs, who currently voices the Daleks and other monsters, used to write for a made-for-video series called The Stranger, which was basically Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant playing Six and Peri with the serial numbers filed off – and he also got to direct The Airzone Solution with 4 of the then 7 actors who had played the Doctor.

    And of course Paul Cornell got to write the television adaptation of his EU 7th Doctor in the Family of Blood.

    …ohhhh yea, this is a franchise with a lot of fanboys behind the scenes. Hell, Moffat technically got his “start” on this series writing the hilarious parody, The Curse of Fatal Death. It probably also doesn’t hurt that the pool of British actors and writers is actually small enough that you tend to see the same people in a lot of productions :)

  • Alan Kistler

    Over the course of the past 13 years, McGann’s Doctor has grown darker, as the actor had always hoped. The most recent season of audios has him adopting a dark leather jacket (again as McGann originally wanted to dress) and remarking that he is no longer sure if he’s a doctor or a soldier. One audio had him defiantly tell Davros that he was not only unremorseful about having blown up Skaro during the 7th Doctor’s life, but that he had the right to do it and the right to wipe out all the Daleks and kill Davros the moment he had a chance. I’m a huge fan of his audios and absolutely think he would’ve worked as the war time Doctor. He would’ve pushed that button reluctantly, with tears in his eyes and screaming, but he would’ve done it.

  • Alan Kistler

    Russell T Davies said he intended those adventures happened AFTER he met Rose. In Earth’s past, but not his own. One idea has been that he had those adventures with Rose and that she simply wasn’t pictured, while others like to think that he had those adventures in-between when Rose declined to join the TARDIS and when the Doctor returned moments later to say it was also a time-machine. That’s why when he walks into Rose’s apartment and sees himself in the mirror, he’s surprised by his new face. A few times, folks brought up the possibility of showing flashbacks to adventures the Ninth Doctor had before meeting Rose but Russell T Davies repeatedly said that “Rose” was his very first adventure and even wrote an essay where he confirmed that the Ninth Doctor hunted the Nestene Consciousness to Earth immediately following his regeneration in the wake of the Time War.

  • Eve

    I know! I was leaning forward thinking, “This is it! They kept it a secret and he came back!” But then, no… Eccleston was my first introduction to Who and I adored him. I understand not coming back, but it still made me cry a little inside not getting the regeneration.

  • Eve

    They already made it as epic as possible: theatrical release, long runtime, 3D, guest stars. I thought the plot made sense other than the awful Elizabeth bits. I thought those were such a waste of Tennant, my favorite doctor, and a real insult to one of the most clever queens in history.

  • Eve

    I think they were very careful to only retcon the new Who, leaving classic Who pretty much alone. It was clever how they inserted the new Doctor where they did and made much more sense than if they’d had Eccleston (although I might have overlooked it because, Eccleston!). Besides, you can retcon anything with the Tardis! Even Amy and Rory, hint, hint.

  • Eve

    Everybody involved in the new Star Wars projects were fans, as well. Thinking about it that way really makes me appreciate how great Dr. Who is! It could have been the prequels all over again.

  • Eve

    I agree. Eccleston had that bottled up rage and darkness. It would have been incredible seeing that unleashed on the Doctor who caused it all. Still, the scene in the tower where Bad Wolf says, “The man who regrets and the man who forgets” was absolutely perfect.

  • Eve

    He was clearly surprised by his appearance. Besides, 10 had so much guilt and anger inside him for what he’d done. That’s actually what makes him my, and my husband’s, favorite Doctor.

  • Eve

    I thought the exact same thing!

  • Chiara

    Can I live in your universe too?

  • Eve

    Actually, I would have been ticked if the first non-white or female doctor was only a guest doctor for the 50th. That would have been a real slap in the face.

  • Chiara

    I will never know the real reason why Chris said no, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did it because he didn’t like to take part to an episode in which Nine’s whole story arc is negated.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    There has been some retconning. Moffat talks about it here: http://www.themarysue.com/doctor-who-time-of-the-doctor/

  • Jesse

    I think The War Doctor is an interesting character. But I also think we could have easily washed over that 9 was a fresh regeneration. Because. remember in Rose we also see images of him throughout history. Showing he’s not THAT new of a regeneration. It could have easily gone either way.

    But I like 9 for the main reason. “10 is the man who regrets, 11 is the man who forgets.” and 9 is “The man who knew what he had to do and was comfortable with it” It makes sense that there was a (somewhat short lived) regeneration between The War Doctor and Tennant to balance out the damages of fighting in a war.

    You don’t just go from constant battle to the deep regret of Tennant’s Doctor. This just reinforces the PTSD nature of 9. I also liked the stock footage use of 9 because while he WOULD save Gallifrey I do think he’d actually be combative with 10 and 11 when it came time to push the button. He’s say “I have to do this. You remember me doing this…..” and it would be a lot more awkward then 9.

    That said it could have been neat to have had 8 go into the Time War. and regenerate in battle into 9. And let 9 be the War Doctor. That way 8 doesn’t push the button and 9 gets to be The War Doctor.

    But I really like John Hurt’s role. I love that he’s NOT 9. That he’s the stand in for a “Classic” Doctor in a lot of his lines and comments.

  • Jesse

    Do you really think having a woman as The Doctor in a one off episode would be a good thing?

    At best it would be pandering to say “Look we’ve had a woman as The Doctor. Now shut up about it” as we continue to get show running white men the whole time.

  • Anonymous

    Much as I love 8, I missed the involvement of older Doctors more. It felt too much an epsiode of New Who whereas, as a celebration of the show’s longevity, I thought it could have done with putting more weight on 1-7 and Classic writers.

    I know Classic Who was referenced, and 4 appeared, but with Tenant and Smith dominating the story, and the whole thing being so Moffatish, it felt like a gala episode of New Who, not something that celebrated the show’s 50 years.

  • Anonymous

    You made me chuckle, but must as I long for a non-white/male Doctor, it probably would have sent quite the wrong message to do so when the character was ‘not a real incarnation of the Doctor’!

  • http://www.angelahighland.com/ Angela Korra’ti (Highland)

    My wife and our housemate are both longstanding fans of Who from the Classic era, but I’d only paid halfassed attention until the show returned in 2005. Tennant may really be the Doctor I swoon for, but Eccleston? He’s the Doctor that _made me pay attention_. And I’ll forever love him for that.

  • http://twitter.com/LibrarianMarian Marian Librarian

    I agree with that as well, I think everyone should have been included. I know Colin Baker was quite hurt about not being in there. Would it have been a monstrosity to write and film? Yes. But who cares, it’s the 50th.

  • Anonymous

    Moffat and many historians would point out to you that Queen Bess did act like a wanton schoolgirl when it came to her love life, so your point is commuted to wrong moment in the Moffat era. Remember, that a lot of fans and Moffat himself revere “Vincent & The Doctor” for it dealing with depression.However, the very last episode of the same season, it was heavily implied that The Doctor shagged Marilyn Monroe. You know the same Marilyn Monroe who overdosed on anti-depressants! When RTD came up with this Eilizabeth running gag, it was not-so-subtle shot at the establishment. Moffat uses the gag as selfish male aggrandizement!

    As for the plot, it was a celebration of denial and not about redemption as Moffat wants everyone to believe. He speaks in adult tones, but what he puts out should be an insult to anyone 14 years-old and over.

  • Anonymous

    I loved John Hurt and have come to terms with the revisionist continuity in large part because of the treat that was “The Night of the Doctor,” but I do think McGann as a fallback to Eccleston would have worked all right. McGann is still young so the dynamic would have been different and I don’t come from the perspective of having to totally honor the 8th Doctor audio plays so putting a character we’ve only seen onscreen once in his debut be part of and changed by a war isn’t sacrilege to me. I do appreciate that Moffat seems to not want to tarnish that Doctor’s image by turning him into a warrior, but it might have been a little extreme.

  • http://fandomnista.wordpress.com/ Robin S

    I remember in “Rose,” that Nine looked at his reflection and commented on his ears. I always took him to be fresh off a new regeneration.

  • AvaLehra

    Nine is my favorite Doctor, hands down. It would have been amazing to have the reboot triumvirate — but DotD was still pretty kick ass.

  • Seanna Tucker

    I especially think this would have worked. Look at where Ten was pushed to!

    When he first regenerated, he was completely healed and happy. But after years of watching his friends leave him and the trauma of losing Donna the way he did, he was basically “F**k it” and starting acting like a God – like in Waters of Mars. He became angry, and bitter, and frustrated. He wasn’t the happy-go-lucky Doctor he was when he first regenerated.

    You could easily pull of the same set up with 8 – especially after The Night of the Doctor.

  • MrJimiTheFish

    I just think he should have said yes to the regeneration scene. All he had to do was shoot 1 scene so they could have Hurt regenerating properly…

  • Uncle Mikey

    I would love to see more Eccleston…but only if he really, really wants to do it. He’s on record as saying that he did not really enjoy the role all that much, although to his credit, it never showed on screen. If he’s going to be involved again, I want it to be because *he* wants to be.

    That said…I actually agree with Moffat on this one, and as terrified as I was of the stunt-casting of John Hurt…it actually turned out pretty damned well.