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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ thing of the day: they were mean to Christopher Eccleston on the set

BBC News reveals the real reason Christopher Eccleston left Doctor Who, and it wasn’t because he was afraid of being typecast:

Actor Christopher Eccleston quit Doctor Who after one series because he “didn’t enjoy the environment and the culture” of the show.

Eccleston, who is about to star in BBC Four biopic Lennon Naked, took on the role of the Time Lord when Russell T Davies revamped Doctor Who in 2005.

He told the Radio Times he was proud of the show but “wasn’t comfortable” working on it.

Geez, what could they have done to the poor guy? The hints are tantalyzingly vague enough to account for almost anything, from childish pranking to actual whipping of the interns:

“I was open-minded but I decided after my experience on the first series that I didn’t want to do any more,” he said.

“I thought if I stay in this job, I’m going to have to blind myself to certain things that I thought were wrong.”

Weird.



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  • RyanT

    Weird indeed. I mean was there anything that Tennant had to do on-screen that would make Eccleston uncomfortable…

    …or wait, he’s probably talking more about off-screen stuff. Now I’m intrigued.

  • I suspect a diplomatic homophobia excuse.

  • Dan

    I’ve heard stories from “insiders” (and one guy who straight up asked Eccleston backstage a few years later) that he simply disagreed with the tone Russell T. Davies had struck in that first year, so didn’t feel like he could stomach another 2-3 years of farting aliens and maneating bins. Fortunately his contract was only for a year. Not sure why – did the BBC believe it wasn’t likely to work?

    Anyway, the show improved. CE may have been more willing to stick around if that debut year was more like series 3’s quality. I didn’t dislike CE as The Doctor, but he was clearly very uncomfortable doing the “wacky” moments, and David Tennant was a huge improvement and made it all feel more natural.

  • g bates

    C David, that makes sense. RTD’s “gay agenda”

  • CB

    I heard it wasn’t the whipping of interns, but the flagrant disregard for proper rope-play safety.

  • History of Bubbles

    @ C David Dent: Eccleston said that RTD was the whole reason he wanted to do the show in the first place. He’d worked with him before and really liked his writing, and so he asked RTD directly to be considered for the part. So I don’t think that’s it.

    Also note this quote from that article: “I didn’t enjoy the environment and the culture that we, the cast and crew, had to work in.”

    He specifically exempts the cast and crew from his complaint. So I’m thinking it really maybe is a work environment/management culture thing. Or at least that’s what I’m going to go with, because Eccleston is still my favorite Doctor, he sure doesn’t come off as any less than 100% committed, and I would hate to think that he was gritting his teeth through the whole thing.

  • Orangutan

    didn’t feel like he could stomach another 2-3 years of farting aliens and maneating bins.

    I swear, those goddam Slitheen have been the single biggest stumbling block I’ve encountered in trying to get friends into the series. They see that, and immediately give up, despite my many protestations that they aren’t common and it gets so much better.

    Stupid Slitheen. :(

  • Kathryn

    I read that quote about ‘environment and culture’ to be about not wanting to work much longer hours than originally expected (RTD has admitted that their initial shooting schedule was impossible – they just didn’t know how long things would take) in rainy cold Cardiff. Being a BBC production I expect the attitude was ‘muck in and get it done’, which meant certain corners being cut in terms of breaks etc.

    Have also got the impression from what Billie Piper and john barrowman have said that Chris took his work (and himself) extremely seriously, and did not enjoy the type of silly pranks and banter that make long hours in cold rainy Cardiff bearable for some.

  • This is based on absolutely no fact, but I always got the impression that the success of the show was a factor. It came back, no one knew if it would really work, and it became a huge phenomenon again.

    Eccleston always left me with the impression that he just didn’t want to be part of that environment. Not because of typecasting. Because you’re not just the lead actor on a popular show. You’re this demi-god figure in pop culture.

    FWIW.

  • Lady Tenar

    I’m with History of Bubbles. I doubt it was Russell T. Davies choices (it seems like a small but highly vocal minority of people will blame Davies for absolutely anything and everything…). I’ve also heard that Eccleston was a fan of Davies’ other work. And that he was NOT a fan of classic Doctor Who. So I doubt he had an opinion one way or the other about the direction of the series.

    And I see no reason to think that Eccleston has a problem with gay people. That’s not something I’d just assume.

    I guess it just remains a mystery.

  • History of Bubbles

    Thanks, Tenar. I loved you in The Tombs of Atuan. And yeah, I cited that not only to get RTD off the hook, but mainly to illustrate how it would be pretty hard for Eccleston to have left in a Puritanical outrage when he’d worked with RTD already (on “The Second Coming”) and liked him so much that he deliberately sought him out for a subsequent project—and this was all after RTD had already done “Queer As Folk.” At least, Eccleston would have to be pretty oblivious for a long time.

  • Lisa

    I can see no reason why people could imagine Chris was in any way homophobic, both for the person that he and the choices he has made as an actor.

    There were loads of rumours why he quit Dr Who and I’m glad he has spoken up about them. Phil Collinson has said that the first year was chaos. I think he’s the sort of person who cares about the crew working long hours especially if he is and the crew are on the set before him. The BBC unfairly said he was exhausted and clearly badly handled the whole situation.

    Chris Eccleston is a top bloke.

    http://www.digitalspy.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1042031&highlight=eccleston

    That said, I thought he was uncomfortable in the role and was delighted with Tennant! They needed an actor with credibility to give it a kick start and he is a brilliant one.

  • Ian

    There were many many rumors swirling that he did not get along with Phil Collinson, the producer with whom he had the most day-to-day contact. Collinson’s gone, so who knows, maybe he’d agree to film a Time War miniseries with Paul McGann or at least a DW 50th Anniversary appearance.

  • McFeely

    I don’t think we’ll ever truly know unless Eccleston comes out and says. I thought he was a great Doctor.

  • Lady Tenar

    Thanks, Tenar. I loved you in The Tombs of Atuan.

    Why, thank you. I’m pretty badass in Tehanu also. Not enough people read that one. (Check it out, I teach Ged about sex!)

  • Rusty

    Well, it looks plain homophobic to me. I agree, it doesn’t make sense since he knew RTD perfectly well. So he needs to clarify before he gets known as a miserable gay hater who is impossible to work with.

    Nobody else had any problems with Doctor Who. They all had a ball working on the show.

  • Rusty

    And by the way, if he can’t take the pressure of working as an actor in television, how did he ever cope with live theatre?

  • Jackie

    A man who auditioned for a part in Queer as Folk is hardly going to be totally homophobic is he?

    By all accounts, the first series was very fraught, due to an impossible shooting schedule and the fact that they had to reinvent how to do it all from scratch. I suspect that what kept the show on the road during that series was the fact that the majority of those involved were absolutely fanatical about the show. Chris was not a fan, he was a fan of RTD, but wasn’t a Doctor Who fan.

    It must have been odd to be playing a role, which people saw as iconic (and fans do like to grill actors over the oddest historical details), surrounded by people who all thought they knew more about his part than he did.

    Plus, he’s never been one to hang around in a role once he feels that he’s explored it. He tends to do short dramas, of one to four hours in length, smallish film roles and live theatre (which is never the same two evenings running). HE’s generally got himself written out of longer-running tv drama parts. Doing a long-running serial as lead was a departure for him and I wouldn’t be surprised if that plus the gruelling shoots plus the need to have to do so many scenes time and time again for the green screen and CGI plus the daily painful stubble rash (which is the one thing he did complain about at the time) and the added pressure of suddenly being stalked by tabloids would be enough for many actors.

  • Erik

    How is it that if someone doesn’t enjoy working with someone else who happens to be gay, they are instantly homophobic? Maybe they just had a falling out or he realized that working with Russell over a full series instead of a mini-series (as I seem to remember “The Second Coming” was), was a bit of a slog and he simply didn’t like the bloke? Then again, his whole reason could have nothing to do with Russell at all.

    Geez, if you don’t like someone who is gay, doesn’t mean you’re homophobic, it could just mean the guy’s an asshole.

  • MaryAnn

    Yeah, I don’t get how “Eccleston is a homophobe” follows from this story. I think it’s probably more likely that it was the juvenile humor and long working hours that were less to Eccleston’s taste than he would have liked.

    Theater is a lot less intensive than a weekly TV show. Rehearsals might be intense, but once you’re on the boards, you’re working a couple of hours a night, not 16 hours a day, as some TV shows end up demanding.

  • Lisa

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that he couldn’t take the pace of the tv series – in fact, he complained to the BBC when they said that one of the reasons he was leaving was that he was tired. As he said himself, no producer wants to hire an actor who tires easily. This is why there is bad blood between him and the BBC.

    I went on a theatre tour in Stratford upon Avon and David Tennant walked behind us to go into the theatre to start his yoga and voice exercises. This was on a Saturday and he had a double bill – Love’s Labour’s Lost after 1:00 pm and Hamlet after 7:00 pm and he was there dead early. The tour started at 10.00 am and he was in right after us. He’s such a hard worker… maybe he has no friends.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    To put the homophobia rumour to rest: I understand one of Chris’s brothers is gay. And no, he hasn’t disowned him or sent him to a ‘converter’. And, as has been pointed out above, could anyone be so stupid as to work with Russell T Davies after Queer As Folk and be surprised that he’s gay?

  • Ana

    Well, I loved Chris. He did a fantastic job of reviving the series, and he seems fun and nice enough to me. I think that the banter isn’t so much with the people on board for DW, but rather with the BBC, who after he’d left (and even before) kept publishing notes without Chris’s consent, about him being afraid of typecast or being tired. That’s a kind of defamation, so I’d understand if he was cross with them.

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