“I’m currently sleeping in the Tardis, if that’s what you mean?”
Christopher Eccleston acknowledges that he likes to work. And when he isn’t working with great heart and enthusiasm for The Big Issue as one of our brand ambassadors, he likes to act.
It’s a profession that has seen him travel the world and star in some great television – from Our Friends In The North and Cracker to Hillsborough and The Leftovers.
After more than 15 years away, he has now returned to one of his most famous roles. But no, says Eccleston, he did not need to wear his Time Lord’s battered leather jacket to get back into character for four new Doctor Who audio adventures.
“Within minutes, it all came flooding back,” he says. “How to do it, how I like to play him, how I like to work, the joy of it. It was all there.”
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So how is the Ninth Doctor when we meet him again after all this time?
“Charismatic, enigmatic, mercurial, witty, heroic, obstinate, fierce as ever,” says the actor. “He’s travelling alone. And I enjoy that element. Because sometimes the relationship dynamics can detract from the narrative. Here he’s a lone wolf, always trying to locate decency and see if it resides in human or alien form. And he’s having great fun.
“The emotional attachments are formed on the hoof, usually with women, and not for romantic reasons, just because women know a lot more about injustice than white males, let’s be honest.
“We stayed away from the dark war Doctor, the damaged PTSD Doctor that I essayed a lot in the television series. It’s very separate and distinct.”
Eccleston has been impressed, he says, by the writing of the audio dramas. And he is enjoying the chance to work again following lockdown.
“These writers are top, top drawer,” he says. “As with any other project with me, apart from when I do shite in America – and I mean film in America, not The Leftovers, which is one of the best things I have ever done – it’s all about the writing. I’m amazed none of these ideas have been or will be screened. We’ve met Lady Macbeth, we’ve met the Brigadier and we met a Cyberman earlier. My Doctor is very enthusiastic, very excitable – all the things I remember.
“Suddenly the physicality, the energy levels I employed – which are very much mine, I think – came back. Tom Baker said it’s not an acting role. And it’s true. It’s partly yourself, partly the writers.”
It was Eccleston to whom former showrunner Russell T Davies first entrusted the keys to the Tardis and one of the most important, beloved characters in British television history when bringing the show back to the screen in 2005 after a 16-year absence.
It was a big success, re-establishing Doctor Who as a primetime sci-fi series for all the family. David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi and now Jodie Whittaker were all able to build on the foundations laid by Eccleston.
“I had a lovely, lovely, warm greeting from Peter Capaldi the other day,” he says. “We just bumped into each other, which was very nice.”
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While Eccleston loved and still loves the character, after one successful season he left amid acrimony. Over the years, he has spoken many times about it and is keen to look forward not back.
“I’ve always retained a deep affection for playing the role and what it means to people,” he says now. “I disconnected from the politics and the lies and the bullshit, but not my relationship with the people who love the show.”
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In recent years, Eccleston began attending (and enjoying) fan conventions, as well as watching some of his old episodes with his children Albert and Esme. So does he feel he has been on a journey back to the Doctor for some time?
“I never left him,” says Eccleston. “From day one I was approached in the street by fans. And that’s continued. Not a day of my life has gone by without me having to interact with people who are fans of Doctor Who. I’ve always embraced them, literally and figuratively, and they me.
“People come to the conventions because they have a relationship to the show, often quite profound. The Doctor is an outsider. Always has been – with a very strong, loyal and fierce following within the gay community, for instance. And you’ve also got a huge fanbase in neurodiverse communities. Because of the contents of my book, people at conventions have spoken to me about mental health issues and what the show meant to them at times of grief and loss – so there’s been a great deal of human connection for me at them.
“It’s also meant that I can travel. I went to Muhammad Ali’s birthplace, I never thought I’d do that. I’d never been to Portland, a fantastic city. And I shook William Shatner’s hand. I am a Star Trek fanboy and I met William Shatner, thank you very much. He had no idea who I was, which is just how I like it. But if my dad was still around and I could tell him I’d met Captain James T Kirk, he’d be a very happy man.”
This return, we suspect, will have a similar effect on a lot of people.
“I like to make the fans happy,” says Eccleston. “I have my passions as you know – reggae, rocksteady, ska, soul music – there’s certain things that excite me. So I completely understand that in people. And I’m happy if they’re happy.”
Doctor Who – The Ninth Doctor Adventures are out on CD, download and limited edition gatefold triple LP vinyl at bigfinish.com