Doctor Who: What made Christopher Eccleston unique
|FEATURES - TV|
Coming home from the war: A retrospective on Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor...
“I’m the Doctor, by the way, what’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Rose. Run for your life.”
With these words, the world was reintroduced to the Doctor after 9 years of absence from television (15 since the program had a regular run). No slow build up, no detailed introductions, just a tallish man with a craggy face, lopsided ears, a nose covering half his face, and a rambling Northern accent, clutching a bomb in his hand like it was his day job. And it was.
For the rest of the next series of Doctor Who, that wild ride never stopped. The Doctor and Rose would go on to fight Daleks (ever the unbeatable foe), prevent World War Three, stop evil gas monsters from taking over the world, and even travel to the strangest corner of the known universe: Wales. In those thirteen brief episodes, Christopher Eccleston brought us everything we love and have come to expect from Doctor Who.
But Eccleston also brought us something we’d never seen before or since. Throughout the program’s long history, we’ve seen many sides to the Doctor, many of them dark. Certainly the Third Doctor was impatient, arrogant, and perhaps more prone to violence than any other Doctor, the Sixth Doctor egotistical, the Seventh Doctor brooding and secretive. Even the Tenth Doctor, widely regarded as the best of the new series, and by a large number of fans as the best of all the Doctors, was at times arrogant, even megalomaniacal, at one point even believing himself above the laws of time. But Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor was the first time we saw the full weight of 900 years of life riding on the Doctor’s shoulders.
Oh, to be sure, the Ninth Doctor had the wit, charm, and flair for the dramatic that have been an important part of practically every incarnation’s personality. But he was also melancholy, bitter, even hopeless, in a way that only a man who has witnessed the destruction of his entire world can be. At every turn, the ghosts of the Last Great Time War haunt him, particularly when he faces the Daleks, the great enemy of the Time Lords, or species like the Nestene and the Gelth, bystanders harmed by the cataclysmic events of the War.
The Ninth Doctor still held the same belief in the sanctity of life the Doctor has always held, but perhaps the greatest example of this new aspect of the Doctor’s personality is his attitude towards his own life. Throughout his brief tenure, the Ninth Doctor seems consistently unconcerned about his own life, even for a man with the ability to change his form and cheat death. When Rose saves him from the Nestene Consciousness, he admits he would be dead without her, but doesn’t seem all that upset about the idea. He trusts in the unlikely belief that an admitted con man will have the conscience to save him and Rose from a German bomb, he takes his imminent death in Downing Street in stride, leaving it to Rose to save the day, and he faces off with a lone Dalek with an attitude that implies that his goal is their mutual demise. In fact, the only time the idea of his death seems to concern him, it is in fear that he will die in Cardiff, of all places.
And when the end finally comes for him, it is so different from the rest, from the Second Doctor’s forced regeneration, from the Seventh Doctor, pleading with human doctors not to administer the electric shocks that would kill him in an attempt to save him, from David Tennant’s famous last words of “I don’t want to go”. Rather, the Ninth Doctor accepts his death with the air of a man who has been waiting for death at every corner, and has made peace with it. Certainly, his main motivation is to save the life of the woman he loves, but there’s a sort of strangely happy resignation to it. He faces his death as a man ready to let go, ready to move on, ready for a change, change he would find in his new form, younger, friendlier, and less haunted by the past.
And so, while his tenure was short, perhaps too short, Eccleston’s time as the Doctor was unforgettable. It was new. It was bold. It was fantastic.
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