Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor Has Always Been Doctor Who’s Secret Weapon – What's new drama?

Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor Has Always Been Doctor Who’s Secret Weapon

Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor

No, it’s not the fact that the Doctor is a woman now. (I’d like to believe we all knew that would eventually happen at some point, no matter how many folks resisted or complained about it.) It’s that Christopher Eccleston, the man who both reinvented Doctor Who and walked away from it, who defined the Doctor for a generation and then left him behind, has returned to the role in a series of new audio adventures for Big Finish.

It’s hard to overstate what a big deal this is, both for fans and the franchise as a whole. Eccleston’s time on the TARDIS is often unfortunately overshadowed by the furor surrounding the way he left it, and his dark, broody, extremely alien yet deeply human Ninth Doctor is frequently passed over in favor of the more approachable, generally lighter turns of David Tennant and the aforementioned Smith in the years that followed.

Both of those men spent multiple seasons playing the Doctor, through ups and downs and good writing and bad. But Eccleston is the one who got away, whose time as a Time Lord exists solely as one mostly fantastic (ugh, “Boomtown”) 13-episode run, frozen forever in rage and grief and hope. Now, he isn’t, and that’s an amazing thing.  

Nine’s first Big Finish adventure is a three-part story called “Ravagers” that involves everything from squadrons of time-displaced soldiers and struggling service workers to a corrupt gaming CEO who might destroy the universe in the name of getting rich. As splashy returns go, it doesn’t really qualify—at least not in the way most fans likely expected. It’s simply a story that puts Nine back in Doctor Who canon like he never left it, suddenly appearing again as though he’s been out there having adventures all this time, and we’re only just now getting to hear about them.

To be honest, “Ravagers” isn’t that great: The plot is unnecessarily complicated and doesn’t make a ton of sense, the pacing is off, and it’s full of the sort of twists, switchbacks, and convoluted timey-wimey strangeness that became a hallmark of the later Steven Moffat era rather than the Russell T. Davies years in which Nine originated. In the end, it’s a generally serviceable tale, if far from a remarkable one.

But reader, I cried. And not because of the story itself—nothing particularly dark or tragic happens in “Ravagers” and it’s not especially emotionally resonant. It’s simply because, as a Doctor Who fan, this is something I never thought I’d have again: the gift of my Doctor, returned to me after all this time.

It’s been sixteen years since Eccleston first put on the black leather jacket and told Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler to run for her life. The world we live in and the show the Ninth Doctor reinvented have both moved on, in ways both large and small, and good and ill. There’s a woman in the TARDIS now, and a big piece of the story at the center of Nine’s television arc has been rewritten in service of the men who came after him. (Though there remains something gloriously heartbreaking about the fact that is still this particular Doctor who can never find out that his greatest mistake has been undone.)

But Eccleston’s Big Finish return does nothing to much as remind us why this Doctor, specifically, has always been the crux around which the Doctor Who reboot era turns, whose dark origins, brooding demeanor, and fierce determination are what give rise to the more lighthearted and quirkier incarnations that come later. It is this Doctor that made this character matter again, even if his initial journey was over all too quickly.