An unprecedented emotional relationship with his companion, a reckoning with the unexpected survivors of the Dalek race and the loneliness of being the last of his own, encounters with one of the most famous writers in history, an alien spacecraft over London and a wicked Zoe Wanamaker – all met with his whooping catchphrase…
The Tenth Doctor, right?
Well, yes, but I’m talking about the bloke who came before him, and did it all first. And on the face of it, ‘bloke’ is the operative word: leather jacketed, booted, close-cropped and determinedly not RADA-yadda. The first time I saw a picture of Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor, I actually wondered what his costume was going to look like…
Although it’s never been a good idea to judge any of the Doctor’s by their appearance, Eccleston’s portrayal probably succeeded in doing more than any other in convincing us that the cleverest man in any room, on any planet, fizzed behind that deceptive exterior. “Doctor?” snorts Charles Dickens during their first encounter, “More like a navvy!”
And yet, in the Ninth Doctor we first see that guile-less fascination and joy in encountering something new for the first time, which let’s be honest, has possibly become a little strained of late. And we even see this ‘hard man’ shed a tear in his second episode, a tiny moment which did so much to establish the tone of this new incarnation of the character and programme. Much has been made of the ‘romance’ between the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler, (particularly in multitudinous fan-made compilations on You Tube), but watch those few moments between Eccleston and Piper in Number 10 Downing street before its destruction and you’ll see chemistry so intense that you even forget the awesome Penelope Wilton is there too.
To continue with the same unfairly maligned episode, the sequence involving the Doctor instructing ‘Mickey the idiot’ on how to save the world not only cemented my young nephew’s love for the programme, but I think conveyed the Ninth Doctor’s modus operandi, that with his nudge any one of us can make a difference.
Sadly, Eccleston’s too-short tenure and gradually emerging news of behind the scenes difficulties sometimes taint memories of a brave and exciting portrayal. But although not necessarily planned, sometimes it’s good to ‘keep it short’. By the time Tennant finally regenerated I was looking at my watch, but when Eccleston threw back his head and arms to blaze out of existence like the northern star he was, more than any of the other splendid chaps; I really didn’t want him to go.