I’m not going to write about Thatcher. Sorry. It just isn’t happening.
Anyway, in this week’s list of Obvious Stories: Kim Jong Un isn’t too happy with South Korea, the Conservative government thinks too many people are on benefits, and Christopher Eccleston isn’t coming back to Doctor Who.
“I never bathe in the same river twice,” is what Eccleston is supposed to have originally said – words that the current Doctor would do well to take seriously. The news that Eccleston had jumped ship was announced only a couple of days after the very first post-revival episode. It rather killed any sense of surprise over the rest of the series, which we now knew would probably end in a regeneration. (It was therefore lovely to watch ‘The Parting of the Ways’ with Thomas the other week, as he had no idea it was coming. Sometimes I think staying out of the media might do us all some good.)
Eccleston’s sense of discretion over the reasons for his departure has gradually eroded over the years. At the time, most of us figured it was because he was an established actor who wanted to avoid typecasting. Rumours abounded that the gruelling schedule had surprised him. He’s also been quoted in at least one making-of guide that he found the show’s formulaic writing somewhat tiresome, as the Doctor would solve a problem and then move on to the next one – in new circumstances with a new set of supporting characters – without anything ever really changing. There is an arc and a progression to the growth of the Ninth, for sure, but it’s hardly Aristotle, and I can see what he means.
It’s only comparatively recently that the (probable) real cause of his split from Davies and the Who clan has started to come to light, with accusations of bullying levelled against the management, specifically someone who is probably Euros Lyn. Doctor Who has never been the calmest of sets – in her biography, Elisabeth Sladen spends a great deal of time talking about the frantic rush to complete filming before the sets were due to shut down for the night, and a recurring theme on any 2 Entertain documentary is the fact that Doctor Who was given the same budget and shooting schedule as any BBC drama, despite the complications. Specifics aside, Eccleston certainly alludes to a less-than-pleasant working environment: there are two sides to every story, but whatever the truth of the matter I sincerely doubt things are ever as cosy backstage as the Confidential editions, magazine articles and sycophantic New Who guides (I’m looking at you, Gary Russell) would suggest.
What is known is that Moffat got Eccleston into the studio for talks, and they went nowhere. So if the Ninth does appear in the anniversary special, it’ll be through the use of archived footage, as per normal. It worked for Tom Baker in ‘The Five Doctors’, although the writers of that were lucky enough to have a whole unaired story (all right, half of one) kicking around the vaults. There will almost certainly be a big press release with a couple of months to go announcing the appearance of all eleven Doctors in November, most of which will amount to three or four seconds of surviving footage for each incarnation, sandwiched between a lot of bickering between Rose and Clara. Crank up the Murray Gold, add a bit of emotional pathos (and a beach) and you’ve got yourself a winner.
I was chatting about this with Gareth at the weekend. “Hmm,” he said. “I think I would almost be impressed if the the whole ‘Christopher Eccleston came in to talk to Steven Moffat, and decided not to appear in the anniversary show’ turned out to be ‘we secretly recorded just a short scene or two with him, and are covering it with a story about him coming in for a chat’. Maybe.”
Which would be sensational, of course. And if it happened, it would probably have gone a bit like this.
ECCLESTON: I still don’t wanna do it, Steven.
MOFFAT: Chris, I don’t know how many different ways I can say it. We need you. I need you. If you don’t appear, it’ll just be…I almost won’t want to film.
ECCLESTON: I don’t get this. I’m declining to appear in one tin-pot television series, and you’re treating it like…I don’t know…it’s the end of the world.
[Moffat appears to tick something off on a clipboard]
MOFFAT: I mean wait! OK, fair enough. It’s not the end of the world. But you can see why I want you, Chris. I’ve admired you for a long time. You’re the best at what you do. I saw your Hamlet. When it comes to Shakespeare, I think you’re the master.
ECCLESTON: The master? Really?
MOFFAT [ticks]: Absolutely. But to get back to my first question –
ECCLESTON: I’ve lost track. What was the first question?
MOFFAT [ticks]: – I’ll refresh your memory. Can you just say the line?
ECCLESTON: What line?
MOFFAT: You know. The line.
ECCLESTON: Why do you want me to say the line?
MOFFFAT: Oh, I just want to hear it, once more.
ECCLESTON: You really want me to say ‘Fantastic’?
MOFFAT: Oh, say it again.
MOFFAT: Oh, lovely. Now once more. And can you look over at the green screen while you’re doing it?
ECCLESTON [sighing]: Fantastic.
[Moffat does a little jumping up and down dance]
ECCLESTON: By the way, Steven, why are you dressed as a Slitheen?
MOFFAT: Oh, just for old times’ sake.