The big Doctor Who news of the moment is something that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago, with Christopher Eccleston – who played the Ninth Doctor on-screen when Doctor Who was rebooted into its “modern” version – set to return to the role for a collection of audio dramas from Big Finish.
Given Eccleston’s previous reluctance to engage with anything Who after his controversial exit in 2005, the move has excited plenty of fans eager to see more from his incarnation of the Time Lord – but what if this is just the start? What if the door is opening, just a crack, to the Ninth Doctor being back on TV again?
After all, there is some precedent for Big Finish paving the way for a little-seen Doctor coming back to live-action. Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor could have solely appeared in the 1996 TV Movie, before fading into obscurity – but by appearing in years of Big Finish audio dramas, McGann kept his version of the Time Lord alive, facing various iconic foes and acquiring new companions as well as legions of fans.
This, in turn, led to his surprise screen return for the Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2013, with a special regeneration scene filmed for McGann’s Doctor that filled a gap in Who history while also paying tribute to his time on Big Finish.
Now, fans are speculating whether Eccleston’s slow thawing in attitude towards Doctor Who could lead to a similar TV return – or something even more extended – in the coming years.
Famously, we were already robbed of a Ninth Doctor return back in 2013, when the actor declined to appear in The Day of the Doctor special and John Hurt’s War Doctor was written into the episode to fill the role Eccleston would have had in the story (though a draft script with Eccleston does still exist).
Partially, Eccleston said he turned the opportunity to return down because he thought the script wasn’t good enough, later noting that the finished version with the War Doctor was a much stronger story. But it’s also easy to imagine that his continued mixed feelings about returning to work with Who and the BBC may have contributed to his decision as well.
Now, with a greater awareness of how many fans still love his Doctor (an experience he says has “healed” him somewhat), Eccleston has relented to play the character again. And once he does step into the shoes of the Ninth Doctor again, who’s to say he won’t get a taste for it, and be more open to a screen return? Say, in any potential 60th anniversary celebrations in 2023…
Of course, it could be that Eccleston does no more than this one series of Big Finish dramas, which would still be great – any more of the Ninth Doctor is a win. And even if he does go on to have a longer relationship with Who through spin-off media, it doesn’t mean he’ll be keen to work for an in-house BBC production again.
But on the other hand, a couple of years ago the idea of Eccleston returning to play the Doctor at all seemed unlikely, so we’re keeping hope alive. We know we haven’t heard the last of the Ninth Doctor – and today, it’s looking more likely that we haven’t seen the last of him either.
Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks returns to BBC One in 2020 – check out what else is on with our TV Guide