Christopher Eccleston thinks Doctor Who’s 50th special was better because he wasn’t in it

He turned down the chance to return as the ninth Doctor in 2013

Doctor Who – Christopher Eccleston

Christopher Eccleston’s decision not to appear in Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special ended up giving us the gift that was The War Doctor (John Hurt), but it’s tough as a fan not to imagine what ‘The Day of the Doctor’ might have been like if the ninth Doctor had appeared.

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Speaking at a New York Comic Con panel this week, though, Eccleston suggested that Steven Moffat’s script for the special actually improved once he was forced to swap his Doctor for Hurt’s new incarnation.

“It was written by Steven Moffat, so obviously I was really interested,” the actor said. “But when I read the script, I felt that it was basically myself, Matt [Smith] and David [Tennant] riffing… i personally didn’t feel the narrative was strong enough, particularly for the ninth Doctor.”

Eccleston explained that because he’d “taken quite a lot of abuse” when he’d originally quit Doctor Who after a single series in 2005, he wanted to be sure that any return to the show would be note-perfect. “As the show was being celebrated, I was being abused in the press and that was hard to take and very confusing,” he said. “So I looked at it and I thought, ‘Is this the way I want to come back?’… and I decided it wasn’t.”

John Hurt as The War Doctor
John Hurt as The War Doctor

He was full of praise, however, for the final version of the special, which he says was superior to the original draft. “I just thought that script was immaculate, and I think it added to the canon of Doctor Who in a way that me coming back wouldn’t [have],” he suggested.

“I think the War Doctor was a brilliant working of Steven Moffat’s imagination, and I loved watching [John Hurt] do that.”

Having turned down the opportunity once, though, would Eccleston ever return to Doctor Who? “I’m gonna do the 100th anniversary!” he joked. “In 2063, the ninth Doctor will return! i may have a Zimmer frame instead of a leather jacket, but I’ll be back!”

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If you can’t wait that long, Eccleston did also quip that he could appear opposite Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor in a few years time… “Maybe in 2022, because you add 13 and nine and it’s 22,” he joked. “Let’s just start something off, shall we?”