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Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor Who

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Every summer I do my best to find some new old show to watch… well, something that's old but new to me. A couple of years ago I watched every episode of House, a couple of years before that every episode of Angel. Last year it was actually NCIS. The constant, though, for the past few years has been Doctor Who. In addition to choosing something new, old, and different, there have been tons and tons of episodes of Doctor Who. The show, between the old version and the new, has an incredible number of back episodes that can be watched and, thanks to the genius that is Netflix, so many of those episodes can either be streamed directly to my TiVo or rented and popped into my DVD player.

Thus far this summer I've actually been rewatching episodes of the new series. I think we all know that the new series hasn't been on terribly long, but that the man who really made it what it is, at least in front of the camera, is David Tennant. Everybody loves David Tennant — the man was an absolutely fantastic Doctor. The Tennant incarnation took on so many of the Doctor's old foes, added new ones, and put out some incredibly memorable plotlines. I love David Tennant, he could definitely be one of the best Doctors the show has ever had.

You know what though, I think that Tennant's being so good has completely overshadowed poor Christopher Eccleston. Some may think it a little hard to refer to Eccleston as "poor" — the man is a very well known actor, was well known before the series, and continues to be well known (plus he was certainly the best part of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra). He also was the man who brought the Doctor back to life (again, in front of the camera). From the first moment he appeared on screen and introduced himself to Rose Tyler he was great. He was definitely on the goofy side of things, but when he did get serious – and he certainly did get serious – he was superb.

Think back to the episode "Dalek." That was the first episode of the new series in which we saw a Dalek. The Doctor was under the impression that the Daleks were all gone, that they, along with all the Time Lords, had perished in the Last Great Time War. We'd heard tell, a little, of the Time War, of the end of the Time Lords. While there was clearly great sadness in it for Eccleston's Doctor, he had a sense about him that it was worth it because a greater good had been served, that good being the end of the Daleks. To see a Dalek living meant that he had helped sacrifice his entire race and had failed. Watching Eccleston see and react to the Dalek and go from fear to anger in that first encounter is a truly great moment in the new series, one of the best moments the series has offered.

I really think that people tend to forget what Eccleston's Doctor had to deal with. In the last two episodes of the season, Eccleston's last episodes, the Doctor has to confront a massive Dalek force, perhaps not as large as the one encountered by Tennant's Doctor in "The Stolen Earth and "Journey's End," but pretty substantial nonetheless. It is another great moment for Eccleston's Doctor, but I think it's been overshadowed by the aforementioned Tennant Dalek finale episodes as well as Tennant's fight with The Master… or the Cybermen-Dalek finale (Tennant got some unbelievably great season finales).

Part of that overshadowing isn't just due to Tennant's greatness, but, I think, to the writing as well. Russell T. Davies wrote all of those final episodes and I think that, as much as anything, he really found his stride there and not during the conclusion of the new first season.

Whatever the case may be, be it Davies hitting his stride, the rest of the crew hitting theirs, or Tennant's just being so incredibly fantastic (and he is), it all has sort of made Eccleston's time seem like less than what it was. Going back and watching that single season with Eccleston has really made me think again about the series. And, the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that Eccleston was a fantastic choice to lead the new series and really helped set things up for everything that has happened since. Seriously, go back and take another look at the guy. You're going to love what you see.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • suzanne

    Christopher Eccleston completely defined the whole idea of Doctor Who for me…a mythical character that has become huge in my world-view (maybe I read Hero with a Thousand Faces too many times.) From the first moment when the Doctor reached out his hand and said “RUN” I was hooked. I watched Eccleston’s season about 10 times, nearly memorized The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways. Eccleston made such an intense Doctor and I would love to see him have a chance to play an equally intense character again (like he did in Jude.) We need more of both 9 and 10!

  • Nicola

    That’s what is great about Doctor Who. How each actor can bring something completely new and different to the part. When I saw Chris change into David I thought this is never going to be as good, but it was still great. I felt the same about the change from David to Matt…….but watch this space

  • Josh, I am watching the Eccleston season again too. I think he was a great Doctor. If he had given his run as long Tennant did as the Doctor, they would have at least been equals. But you’re right, Eccleston’s short time and Tennant’s overwhelming success makes it easy to forget about the 1st Doctor of the reboot.

  • Ann

    Hi, i’m currently watching series 1 again, in fact just finished watching The Unquiet Dead. I remember loving it the first time, but today I was falling in love with again all over. David is my Favourite Doctor, with Matt coming in second, but getting to know those Doctors (and even the classic Doctors, as I watched them after I became a fan of the new series) wouldn’t have been possible with out the fanastic Chris! He will never be forgotton!

  • Joe Alex Wilson

    Sorry mate agree with you about Tennant but Dalek [story] was the worst dalek story ever made ever ever. It looks so out of place and was written by that talentless hack robert shearmen whose audio story jubilee [which dalek wasc based on] was abyssmal. Also RTD in my opinion really hit his stride in series 3 and 4, before that its hard to believe he wrote alot of crap who stories but he made up for in season 3 and 4.

  • It’s nice to see Eccleston get some love, Josh. I agree entirely that he was overshadowed by Tennant’s tenure (and the superb writing that went into the subsequent seasons), but it was Eccleston’s Doctor that got me hooked on the show to begin with.

    Now you’ve made me want to get out our season one DVDs and start over again.