It wasn’t a surprise to see the Marriott Atrium Ballroom packed at 10AM on Sunday to attend Christopher Eccleston’s Q&A panel. Moderator Rob Levy wasted no time in bringing Eccleston out on the stage to start answering questions.
Levy started things off with a question about Eccleston’s book, I Love the Bones of You, which came out in 2019 and is about the relationship between Eccleston and his father Ronnie as he struggled with dementia. Eccleston said that the title came from a moment he had with his father one day as he was leaving after a visit. Eccleston’s father walked him to his car, and because his dementia was allowing moments where there were no longer the inhibitions of class and gender in his way, his father told Eccleston that he loved the bones of him. One of the reasons Eccleston said he became an actor was because he saw the way that being working class prevented his father from having a future beyond either going to the factory or going to war and the frustration that created in him.
Eccleston also said that the music scene in Manchester, where he was born in 1964, was one of the things that showed him people from his background could become artists, that it wasn’t something just reserved for the middle class or the elites.
Levy asked Eccleston about the rumor that he had emailed Russel T. Davies about wanting to do Doctor Who. Eccleston confirmed that he had reached out to Davies after learning he was planning to reboot the series because he has worked with Davies previously. He wanted to audition for the part because he was considered a very serious and political kind of actor, and though he knew this would be different, he also knew that the Doctor would be very lonely. “I can do lonely,” he said.
During the audition, Eccleston was given a plastic hand to wrestle with, showing he could play the humor and some of the ridiculousness of being the Doctor. After that he started reading with actors for Rose until Billie was cast, and then, “Off we went.” Which really is one of the perfect ways of talking about Doctor Who.
Eccleston was also very frank about why he decided to leave the show. He said that the relationships he’d had with producers Davies, Julie Gardner, and Phil Collinson totally broke down during filming. There were a lot of BBC executives who wanted to make sure they had nothing to do with Doctor Who if it failed but who were more than happy to take credit for it when it succeeded. Eccleston said that he felt like he was in the center of the nightmare and there was just a loss of trust between him, the producers, and the BBC. He also said that the relationship between him and the BBC has not been healed yet, so it’s unlikely he would ever appear onscreen again as the Ninth Doctor.
However, fans of Nine can hear Eccleston again through Big Finish’s audio adventures. The first volume of The Ninth Doctor Adventures, called Ravagers, was released in May 2021, and Eccleston said that it all came back to him very easily. In fact, when Eccleston was asked for an encouraging story from the last year, he said that for him it was doing the Big Finish audio production. It was the first time he’d worked since March 2020, his first time doing something social since then, and he looked at the sound engineer and was like, let’s go.
Unsurprisingly, most of the questions throughout the hour focused on Eccleston’s time as the Doctor, including what his favorite moment of filming was. Eccleston said he loved the learning curve of doing the comedy of the Doctor, which is not something that he got to do very often, and that he’d never played the hero before. The process of playing the Doctor taught him to take himself a little less seriously. Doctor Who was part of Eccleston’s cultural upbringing, so he was familiar with the Daleks long before doing the episode “Dalek.” He and Piper were late to the room where they were doing the read-through of the episode and didn’t know that Nicholas Briggs, the voice of the Daleks, was there in the room. “He did the thing, and I nearly jumped through the roof! Billie did the same. We both went, ‘Whoa!’ I do remember the pleasure in people’s faces when we responded to the voice of the Dalek. It’s hugely iconic, isn’t it? So I think seeing that thing chained up… yeah, when they put me in the box, I can say that I did that.”
Eccleston was also asked which Doctor he would want his Doctor to crossover or collaborate with, and though he admitted to not loving the multi-Doctor stories, he did say that if he had to do it, it’d be with Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor. Troughton is Eccleston’s first Doctor. Almost immediately after giving that answer, though, he changed his mind to Jodie Whittaker. “I think [casting Whittaker] was the greatest thing the show ever did. … That’s when I really understood the power of the show was that now the gender is not an issue. And I think that’s massive.”
Another story Eccleston told about the power of the show involved a time when he was at the mall with his mother and father and a woman came up to him to say that her son loved Doctor Who and asked if he could meet him. Eccleston agreed and when the child saw him, he immediately burst into tears and left. “To children, it’s real. You’re the Doctor. And it’s a bit odd to meet you in a shopping mall.”
There were a couple of general questions relating to his approach to acting, as well as his approach to playing Macbeth. The answer to all of it was “panic!” Fortunately, Eccleston elaborated, saying that he believes that acting is a pursuit of the heart and the gut, not the head. He continued, saying that a lot of classical theater in England tends to be white, middle class, and intellectual, which isn’t something he accepts. He hopes that he, for lack of a better phrase, brings “the energy of the street” to his performances. Eccleston got a lot of his inspiration from watching American actors like James Cagney.
To his credit, all of Eccleston’s answers to all of the questions were thoughtful and sincere. It was easy to feel how much he cares about his craft and his message and about being authentically who he is. But my favorite answer was to the question about who would win if the Doctor came up against Malekith, the Dark Elf from Thor: The Dark World. “No more dark elf!” was the succinct and immediate reply.