Christopher Eccleston Opens Up About The Mental Health Struggles He Faced While Filming Doctor Who

Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. (Photo: BBC)

It’s long been known that Christopher Eccleston’s brief tenure as the Ninth Doctor was set amid a backdrop of behind-the-scenes problems, ones that eventually led to the actor’s early exit from the show. But in his new autobiography, Eccleston dives deeper than he ever publicly has before to reveal the stresses that plagued his time on the series.

As it turns out, those stresses go beyond his previously acknowledged frayed relationship with the higher ups producing the series at the time. British newspaper The Metro reports that the newly released I Love the Bones of You: My Father And The Making Of Me sees Eccleston open about the struggles with body dysmorphia and anorexia while filming the series:

Many times I’ve wanted to reveal that I’m a lifelong anorexic and dysmorphic. I never have. I always thought of it as a filthy secret, because I’m Northern, because I’m male and because I’m working-class... The illness is still there raging within me as the Doctor. People love the way I look in that series, but I was very ill. The reward for that illness was the part. And therein lies the perpetuation of the whole sorry situation.

Years after finishing his time on Doctor Who, Eccleston eventually sought psychiatric help for his mental health and his anorexia, after dealing with suicidal thoughts while filming the 2016 BBC series The A Word, a drama where he played the grandfather of a young boy diagnosed with autism.

As horrible as it is to read of the sacrifices Eccleston made while filming the show, the autobiography does also see Eccleston reminisce on the things he treasures about having played the Doctor, according to The Radio Times — most notably working with Billie Piper and Steven Moffat, but also his praise for director Joe Ahearne, who directed Eccleston’s encounters with the sinister Daleks in “Dalek” and then the trio of season-ending episodes “Boom Town,” “Bad Wolf,” and “The Parting of the Ways”:

Billie [Piper] made Doctor Who a delight but so also did Steven Moffat’s scripts, which delivered my best work, bringing me closer to finally knowing exactly who the Doctor was than any other time during the shoot.

Directors Joe Ahearne and Euros Lyn also allowed the character to blossom and thrive.

Eccleston goes on to add that if Ahearne had directed more of the series, he’d “probably still be playing the Doctor now.” While it might be fun to wonder what could’ve come out of a Ninth Doctor that lasted more than one season, Eccleston’s frank discussion of the mental health struggles he dealt with while filming the show elsewhere in the biography make it clear that no amount of extra time with this version of the Doctor, no matter how good, would have been worth him putting himself through it all for longer.

This is far from the first time we’ve seen actors behind the characters and shows we love speak out about their mental health, and will be far from the last.

But when these issues are discussed frankly and publicly, it always serves as a potent reminder that these are struggles anyone can face, and we don’t have to face them alone. It is a tough read, but a valuable use of the platform people like Eccleston and many others have.

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