Since leaving ‘Doctor Who’ some thirteen years ago, Christopher Eccleston has tended to avoid any talk of exactly why he left when he did. And to be sure, the star of the show up and leaving at the end of the show’s first season, just as it was beginning to find its footing, came as quite the shock to a fanbase that was still in the midst of celebrating the show’s return, and it’s a shock that ‘Who’ fans have been dealing with ever since. Indeed, while the show has not only survived but thrived throughout the intervening years, the abruptness of Eccleston’s departure and the actor’s longstanding reticence to explain exactly why he left when he did has prevented the proverbial wound from ever really hearing.
Well, no more.
As we recently noted, big developments in what we termed “the bizarrely ongoing saga of Christopher Eccleston’s relationship with ‘Doctor Who’” tend to surface every few years. Well, 2018 is shaping up to be a banner year for exactly that. Just last week, Eccleston revealed in an interview that he believes himself to have been blacklisted by the BBC following his ‘Who’ exit, an experience which he says “almost destroyed my career.” And now we’ve come to the big one. Eccleston, who has long chalked his exit up to “politics” and issues with “the culture that had grown up around the series,” while declining to name names or offer substantive details, has finally done exactly that.
Speaking to the Radio Times, Eccleston explains that it was due to an early and sadly irreparable breakdown in his working relationships with some pretty significant figures:
“My relationship with my three immediate superiors – the showrunner, the producer and co-producer – broke down irreparably during the first block of filming and it never recovered. They lost trust in me, and I lost faith and trust and belief in them.”
It doesn’t get much more explicit than that, does it? Russell T. Davies was the showrunner responsible for the 2005 revival, remaining with the series until his final special aired at the end of 2009. As for the others? Well, the credits don’t quite line up with the titles Eccleston assigns them, but in addition to Davies, there were three credited producers on the first season, namely Mal Young (who also left at the end of that first season) along with Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson (both of whom remain on the series for the remainder of RTD’s tenure). Of those three, Gardner and Collinson were (and presumably still are) notably closer to Davies both personally and professionally, and though this is purely speculative, I would consider them to be by far the more likely culprits (so to speak).
So what contributed to this breakdown? Well, for the moment we only have Eccleston’s sense of the situation to go on, but he seems to make an effort to be more or less even handed about it. Describing it as a “very” stressful situation, the actor is quick to focus on his own discomfort with the role of the Ninth Doctor as he was asked to play it.
“Some of my anger about the situation came from my own insecurity. They employed somebody [as the Doctor] who was not a natural light comedian. Billie [Piper] who we know was and is brilliant, was very, very nervous and very, very inexperienced. So, you had that, and then you had me. Very, very experienced, possibly the most experienced on it, but out of my comfort zone.”
Of course, that’s just Eccleston’s sense of things. Hopefully, now that the truth is out, we’ll be able to get RTD’s side of the story sooner rather than later. And speaking of Davies, Eccleston was asked in a follow-up question whether or not Davies was even aware of these issues, to which he noted that “If you’re the showrunner, you know everything. That’s your job.” He then added that he “never will have” a working relationship with Davies again.
Those are some powerful words. It’s been clear for a long time that Eccleston’s departure from ‘Doctor Who’ was not a happy one, even before the allegations of blacklisting surfaced. So if his “issues” with the show went all the way to the top, why stay so cagey for so long? Well, according to Eccleston, his silence was more or less born of a sense of professional courtesy.
“When I left, I gave my word to Russell T. Davies that I wouldn’t do anything to damage the show. But they did things to damage me. I didn’t criticize anybody.”
And in fact, he didn’t. Until now, fans needed an expert ability to read between the lines to get anything resembling a satisfying answer to the question of Eccleston’s departure. Over the years, he has been nothing if not professional when the subject has been raised publicly. And in fairness, Davies and the others certainly haven’t been in any hurry to badmouth Eccleston (again, publicly), preferring instead to avoid a clearly uncomfortable subject. But sadly, it seems that sense of professionalism may not have followed them behind closed doors.