After he left Doctor Who in 2005, Christopher Eccleston spent years remaining silent about just why he’d departed the series almost as quickly as it had returned to lauded acclaim. In recent years he’s started being more open about his time on the show — but Friday at New York Comic Con he spoke plainly about why he left Who, and has yet to return.
Speaking in one of his few convention appearances since his time on Doctor Who — a messily-announced departure after just a single episode of the first season had aired, which involved the BBC forging a statement from Eccleston it had to later retract — at the Javits Centre today, Eccleston discussed a range of topics, from the traumatic struggles with mental health he recently revealed in his autobiography to his less-than-optimal time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Thor: The Dark World’s villainous Malekith.
But it was about why he left the show and a character he loved playing, and why he did not return for its 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor,” where Eccleston was the frankest.
According to The Independent, Eccleston alleged that his exit from Doctor Who followed a complete breakdown in his working relationship with “three individuals and the way they were running the show” — presumably showrunner Russell T. Davies, and executive producers Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson:
I left only because of those three individuals and the way they were running the show. I loved playing the character. I felt I was going to play the Doctor my way and I wasn’t going to get involved with those politics and that wasn’t workable, so off I went. I became the invisible man.
Eccleston went on to allege that his exit from Doctor Who lead to him being blacklisted for acting jobs in the UK, leading to the actor taking roles in the U.S. like his brief stint on Heroes. As to why he turned down Steven Moffat’s offer for him to return — despite also praising Moffat’s writing for his Doctor in “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” — alongside Matt Smith and David Tennant for “The Day of the Doctor,” Eccleston stated that it was because of the narrative in the script he was given, combined with the lingering politics that led to his departure in the first place:
When I read it, I felt that it was basically myself, Matt and Dave riffing off the fact that we used to be the Doctors. I personally didn’t feel like the narrative was strong enough, particularly for the Ninth Doctor because I’d taken quite a lot of abuse in my own country when I left.
As the show was being celebrated I was being abused in the press and that was hard to take and very confusing. So I looked at it and I thought is this really the way I want to come back and I decided it wasn’t. There were other factors, political factors.
Moffat has likewise been open about the rocky path the highly anticipated 50th anniversary special took to completion, a process that saw several scripts — including one that, controversially, didn’t have any incarnations of the Doctor in it at all — drafted as actors, Eccleston included, tried to decide if they’d be involved or not.
But for all his frank talk of the real reasons he ultimately put the show behind him, Eccleston has made it clear that he still has a love for both his Doctor and the fans who supported his take on the war-scarred Time Lord.
His appearance at NYCC this year, and the upcoming Gallifrey One convention, are some of his first attempts to finally reach out to those fans after years of avoiding conventions related to Who, mostly thanks to the politics of his exit. As sour as his depature was, it’s nice to see that there are at least some positives he can now take from his time in the TARDIS.