Today, the 26th March 2016, marks eleven years since Doctor Who returned to our screens - almost as long a time as it had been away. It’s strange to think, really, just how long it’s been since Christopher Eccleston first graced our screens as the Doctor, bringing Doctor Who back with a bang.
The Ninth Doctor is, for me, a bit of an oddity. He was the first Doctor I ever saw, true, but I only caught the very end of his tenure; Bad Wolf was my first episode, and then a week later the Doctor regenerated. So, I’ve not exactly got a big emotional connection to him - but I do have a huge respect and affinity for the character.
We all bemoan the fact that we had such a short time with Eccleston’s Doctor - just one brief series, totalling a mere thirteen episodes. It’s practically criminal we didn’t get to see more of him… or is it? One of the things I’ve come to appreciate most about the Ninth Doctor is how well defined his character arc is, and the manner in which we get to see him develop across the series.
When we first meet the Ninth Doctor, he’s wounded; a man carrying a lot of survivor’s guilt, and not wholly comfortable in himself. He’s trying to be the Doctor again though - trying to go back to how he used to be. That’s why he’s in the shop, trying to stop the Autons. That’s probably also why he stopped the Daniels family from getting on the Titanic - trying to save their lives. This is a Doctor who is trying to reclaim his identity.
(Interestingly, this actually fits really well with John Hurt’s Doctor, now that I think about it. John Hurt gave up the title of the Doctor, he lost that name. He stopped being the Doctor. And now here we have Christopher Eccleston showing us the Doctor trying to settle back into himself, before we even knew that was happening. There’s all sorts of things like that actually, if you look back on the series, especially in Rose. There’s the Doctor’s initial reluctance to commit to anything other than being “nobody”, and a sort of wry smile where Rose first calls him “Doctor”. It’s a strange sort of backwards prescience, but it’s nice, and kind of fitting in a show about time travel.)
Watching the episodes for the first time, I thought Christopher Eccleston seemed a bit at odds when he was trying to appear happy. Awkward smiles, not quite laughing at the jokes. I put it down to Christopher Eccleston not quite getting it right. In hindsight, though, that’s obviously a mistake on my part - I was missing the point. It was deliberate. It was the Doctor who was awkward and not quite happy. The Doctor, out of his element when he wasn’t in the midst of the action, because it’s been so long since he wasn’t always in the midst of the action.
Over time though, you can see this change and develop. You see the Doctor becoming more heroic again, and a little less callous. Towards the start of the series with his rather grim dispatching of Cassandra, stony faced and determined; by the end of the series, he’s clearly troubled about the thought of doing similar to Margaret Slitheen. There are explicit parallels between his actions in each episode, and it really helps to frame how much the Doctor has changed and developed across the course of the series.
It all culminates in one of my favourite moments of Series One, if not New Who as a whole.
In The Parting of the Ways, the Doctor is presented with a dilemma that mirrors the final moments of the Time War. He has the opportunity to destroy the Daleks, but it’s at the expense of the Earth and everyone on it - at this point, probably the closest thing he has to a home and a family.
When it was the Time War, he made that choice. He wiped out both Time Lords and Daleks, and he’s been living with that ever since. And here… he doesn’t. It’s a fantastic moment, despite how bleak it is. It’s the moment where he becomes the Doctor again. Finally, after all that’s happened… the Doctor is the Doctor.
(Of course, when you take John Hurt’s incarnation into account, on some levels it’s more tragic. He was always the Doctor, because he never did destroy Gallifrey. He just didn’t know it. It’s only now that he knows he’s the Doctor - on some levels, it makes the moment more poignant)
His regeneration too is part of this, part of this moment. The Doctor sacrifices himself to save his companion, to save the woman who helped him to become the Doctor again. It’s very fitting.
The Ninth Doctor is, I think, one of the few Doctors who has quite a concrete and obvious character arc like this. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve come to love him so much. It’s a detailed, compelling story which is presented in this series, and it’s definitely worth watching.
So… what do I think of this Doctor? Well, having already used the “fantastic” joke in the title, I probably have to say something articulate and intelligent, don’t I?
The Ninth Doctor is… well, he’s brilliant. He’s a wonderful character, and Christopher Eccleston and Russell T Davies both deserve plaudits for bringing him to life. He was absolutely the right Doctor for the 21st century, for a group of people who didn’t quite know or wouldn’t quite accept the Doctors of old. He opened the door and set the stage for David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, but he should be remembered for much more than that.
The Ninth Doctor was fantastic.
(Some jokes are too good not to use twice).