It’s official – for the first time since 2005 Christopher Eccleston is returning to Doctor Who, with the former Ninth Doctor set to reprise his short-lived role for 12 Big Finish audio stories.
Predictably, Doctor Who fans have been pretty excited to get new Eccleston adventures beyond the 13 he recorded for the original revived series – but what could the stories actually be about? What unexplored corners of the Ninth Doctor’s life could they cover, and which well-known Who characters could he face off with?
Officially, we don’t know – writers and story details have yet to be revealed – but by taking a few key factors into account, we can make a few educated guesses about what to expect. Starting with…
The ‘Clive adventures’
While it’s hinted that Eccleston’s first on-screen appearance in Rose takes place fairly soon after his regeneration (he seems somewhat surprised by his own reflection), we do see hints at other adventures when Clive (Mark Benton) shows Rose his clippings.
Apparently the Ninth Doctor was present during the 1963 Kennedy assassination in Dallas, Texas, as well as the April 1912 sinking of the Titanic, when he saved the Daniels family of Southampton (the latter of which was already the subject of a Big Finish “short trip” story in 2019 that didn’t star Eccleston).
Another hint comes from a drawing of the Ninth Doctor in 1883 discovered in Sumatra, hinted to be related to the explosion of the volcanic island Krakatoa.
While the Titanic story has already been fairly recently covered by Big Finish, it doesn’t seem out of the question that some of the other new stories could pick up the Kennedy or the Krakatoa stories – though exactly where they fit in may be another question.
Unlike other Doctors, Eccleston’s fairly short on-screen tenure means that there aren’t too many of the usual gaps for spin-off adventures to occur in – but there are a few moments that Big Finish could play with.
Obviously, there’s any adventures between the War Doctor’s regeneration and the Ninth Doctor’s first appearance – though as noted, the first episode Eccleston appears in implies this isn’t an overly long period.
Within Eccleston’s TV series itself, though, there are other gaps – and if Big Finish also got Billie Piper and John Barrowman (who have both reprised their roles for other releases in the past) involved, they’d have even more options.
— Billy Garratt-John (@GarrattJohn) August 10, 2020
Just check out this list from Who fan Billy Garratt-John, who identifies a few key gaps – between The End of the World and Dalek and between the Doctor Dances, Boom Town and Bad Wolf – where the characters are implied to have had other adventures, potentially leading to new avenues for these audio stories to explore.
And of course, there’s also technically that bit in Rose where the Doctor leaves Rose behind, dematerialising the TARDIS, only to return again a moment later. In the episode it takes seconds – but thanks to time travel, there’s no reason Eccleston’s Time Lord couldn’t have travelled to all sorts of interesting places during that pause before returning to repeat his offer.
Though of course, this raises a larger question.
Will Christopher Eccleston get a new companion?
Depending on whether Billie Piper and/or John Barrowman join Eccleston for his series, it stands to reason that the Ninth Doctor could also get a new Big Finish-exclusive companion – plenty of other ex-Doctors have had new sidekicks for the audio adventures, after all.
But when you consider the storyline of Eccleston’s series, adding a new companion doesn’t quite fit. The point of his travels with Rose was that she helped him to open up again after the horrors of the Time War – so wouldn’t that be a bit undercut if he was cheerfully zipping around with a different TARDIS houseguest for 12 episodes?
More likely, assuming Piper isn’t present for some of the stories anyway, is that the Ninth Doctor has more one-off assistants and companions in his various new stories specific to the time and place he’s in – that way, the Rose storyline remains intact and you still get to introduce him to new people.
Cybermen and the Master
While Eccleston managed to face off with Daleks twice in his short run, he never had a proper face-off with the Doctor’s other great cyborg foes, the Cybermen, beyond inspecting an old Cyber-head in a museum.
Really, a new Cyberman story seems like the perfect way to bring some excitement to the Eccleston stories, marking them as a true complement to his on-screen appearances. And after that, why not take on other foes?
After all, the Ninth Doctor never took on the Master – and while you might need to engage in a little jiggery-pokery to make their meeting line up with the John Simm Master’s appearance opposite David Tennant’s Doctor, surely there are enough ex-Masters on the Big Finish books to make something work?
And then, who knows? Sontarans, Macra, Silurians, Ice Warriors…when it comes to facing classic foes, the possibilities are endless.
And it’s not just baddies that fans might expect to see the Ninth Doctor face off with. Famously, Eccleston turned down a role in the 2013 anniversary special The Day of the Doctor that would have seen him team up with David Tennant and Matt Smith’s Doctors, with John Hurt’s War Doctor written into the story in his stead.
But now, anything is possible. We could see Eccleston’s Doctor cross over with the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Tenth Doctors (i.e. those whose actors are currently making Big Finish stories) at any point, in the kind of crossover fans would never have seen coming even a couple of years ago.
Of course this is all very ambitious, and it may be that for Eccleston’s first foray back into the world of Who we can expect some slightly simpler, more standalone stories. And there’s no-one saying these stories wouldn’t be great too – just harder to predict.
But on the other hand, a short time ago the idea of Eccleston returning at all seemed unlikely, so who knows? Stranger things have happened.