It’s telling that Christopher Eccleston’s comments this week that he was planning to sue News International as his phone had been hacked went unreported by many media outlets. Instead it was his comments on why he left Doctor Who after just one season that made the headlines. He said; “I left..because I could not get along with the senior people. I left because of politics. I did not see eye to eye with them. My face didn’t fit and I’m sure they were glad to see the back of me.”
It would seem he is referring to directors and, some people reckon, producers Phil Collinson and Julie Gardner as he makes specific reference to being told how to play the part. He also mentions an incident involving a director bullying a props man on set. "You can go, 'Yeah, yeah. That doesn't matter. That director can bully that prop man and I won't say anything about it'. But then when that director comes to you and says, 'I think you should play it like this', you've surely got to go, 'How can I respect you, when you behave like that?'"
|Christopher Eccleston does not like what he sees.|
There’s an undercurrent of ego at work here because it seems unlikely that this was the first time the actor had encountered such behaviour and working methods. Is it the case that in every other production he worked on, he was allowed to do what he liked? That seems unlikely. Part of a television actor’s life is to accept the director is ultimately the boss on the day of filming, just as a referee is in charge of a football match. Whether their decisions are right or wrong is not the point. He also seems not to have realised the steep learning curve the production went through in 2004; everyone has since said that it was the hardest season to make, especially the first block of episodes.
Yet despite all this, the season we saw seems always to be leading to what happens in its last episode. The kiss, the regeneration- it’s impossible to see another way of finishing matters. If it was written on the hoof then we should appreciate it even more. Eccleston was a bravura choice to helm the show and some reckon he was the best Doctor of all, because he was so different to those that went before. What seems more plausible is that while he undoubtedly gives a powerful interpretation that was needed to prove the series could be modern, the approach would not work for a second year.
Perhaps his reasons for leaving stated this week are honest, perhaps that’s how he sees it, but whatever caused it to happen that way, it was the best for the creative future of the show. It doesn’t change his contribution to a role that he is justifiably proud of. Besides, he’s known in the business as a bit of a grump and has never stayed very long in any series so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.
Amusingly- having said he wouldn’t stay and take the money against his principles- Eccleston’s immediate post Doctor Who work was in the risible GI Joe (which he described as rubbish this week, though it’s taken him five years to realise!) and in Lost. Only more recently has he returned to the `gritty Northern` roles with which he is most associated. Somehow we may never see him quite the same again though. We’ll be remembering how it was a season of Doctor Who that was to be his hardest role- and this is a man who’s been in some serious drama.
He shouldn’t feel too isolated. The history of Doctor Who is littered with bitter feuds, fallings out and arguments from the turbulence of 1960s producer John Wiles’ reign through the Eric Saward walkout and public slanging of the 1980s to the present day and the apparent animosity between BBC1 controller Danny Cohen and current Doctor Who boss Steven Moffat. And we won’t even mention the cancellation crisis. Just think how different it would have been if Eccles had been around them to stick the boot in...