The production company Big Finish will release the first volume in a particularly special new series of Doctor Who audio adventures in May 2021. These adventures will see Christopher Eccleston reprise his iconic role as the ninth Doctor in a surprising return to the Whoniverse.
This reprisal will not fill the televisual void left by his departure in 2005.
Nevertheless, the news means that fans of the sci-fi institution are getting excited.
Eccleston was the very first Doctor to appear in the rebooted version of the Doctor Who TV series.
Vast swathes of Who enthusiasts remember his role in reviving the programme, after a long hiatus, with great affection.
However, the acrimonious terms under which he left – after only one series – are a source of grievance for many Whovians.
Now, with the ninth Doctor about to re-materialise, those of us who still feel robbed of an Eccleston era can look forward to, at least partially, redeeming some of that lost time.
In this sense, the new audio adventures will themselves be a form of time travel.
They will transport us back to when a whole new generation was greeted by Eccleston’s broad grin, as the TARDIS doors flung open and we boarded the blue police box for the first time.
As the ninth Doctor himself frequently exclaimed, that really is “Fantastic!”
But what exactly is it about the ninth Doctor that makes him stand out in so many people’s imaginations?
More pressingly, what storylines, companions, and old nemeses can we expect to feature in the new audio adventures?
Here are some of my answers to those burning questions.
Christopher Eccleston’s Special Charisma
Part of what made Eccleston’s Doctor different to all those that came before him was his unique charisma.
The ninth Doctor was Northern, quick-witted, and physically imposing.
This incarnation of the Time Lord was a far cry from his often weedy predecessors.
In fact, he was a modern man.
Eccleston’s Doctor was just as comfortable with throwing a punch as he was with outwitting his enemies.
Relying on superior intellect and some ingenious use of his Sonic Screwdriver to claim victory was still the norm.
Yet this Doctor substituted these pacifistic tactics for brute force when required.
This is a quality many of the old guard of Doctor Who devotees never envisioned the Time Lord possessing.
Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor was special because he was more than a cerebral hero.
Here was the Doctor as a man of action and one capable of terrible violence, too.
Soon after meeting this renegade time traveller, his companion – Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) – learns that he is “The Last of The Time Lords.”
Eccleston’s ability to convey just how powerful and dangerous, yet wounded and vulnerable, that makes the Doctor gave him an aura of dark charisma.
The sheer loneliness of drifting through space and time for all eternity is an anguish the ninth Doctor does well to mask.
Even so, every now and then, Eccleston masterfully reveals to us the tortured soul underneath.
Christopher Eccleston’s Moral Quandaries
Another special aspect of the ninth Doctor’s character was his propensity for vengeance.
In episode six of Eccleston’s series playing the Doctor – called “Dalek” – he demonstrates a severe lack of compassion and mercy.
Upon encountering his arch-foe – the Dalek – for the first time since the fateful Time War, Eccleston’s Doctor delights in tormenting the monster while it is in captivity in Van Statten’s alien museum.
Moments like this cause us to wonder: Is Eccleston’s Doctor really the ‘good guy’ after all?
The internal complexity and dark side of the Doctor is never further away than a sombre glance of Eccleston’s eyes.
In the series finale, The Doctor constructs a Delta Wave that can exterminate (ironically) all Daleks in the universe.
The catch is that the Delta Wave will wipe out the human race in its ravaging wake, too.
This dilemma prompts Eccleston to state “That’s the decision I’ve got to make for every living thing. Die as a human or live as a Dalek.”
In the end, the Doctor backs down.
His instinct to preserve life wins the fight over his desire to vanquish his old rivals that threaten it.
Ultimately, we are satisfied that he makes the correct moral choice.
But not before seriously doubting whether his judgement will be skewed by a lust for retribution.
What Will Eccleston’s Return to the Whoniverse Mean?
OK, let’s try some tentative speculation about the answers to some of the questions raised by Christopher Eccleston’s return to the Whoniverse.
The truth is, a lot of the scope for the further exploration of under-developed themes hinges on whether old companions will also be returning.
So, will the likes of Rose Tyler and Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) make their own comebacks?
Attempting to answer this is mere conjecture at best and folly at worst.
Although, one thing is for sure, the nostalgic yearning fans like me hold for a re-acquaintance with that exact group of characters will not be satisfied unless they do.
Moreover, for the practical purposes of storytelling, it makes perfect sense for these characters to come back together.
Many loopholes begging to be exploited exist in the scripts written for these characters.
One such loophole lies in the first episode where Rose declines the Doctor’s initial offer of travelling with him.
She makes excuses and he reluctantly dematerialises in the TARDIS.
Seconds later, he reappears to ask one more time – more pleadingly – and she accepts.
I say seconds later, but this is Doctor Who, “seconds later” is a potential century of adventures for a Time Lord.
Other loopholes are waiting in the photographs of the ninth Doctor on the scene at various pivotal moments in human history that Clive (Mark Benton) shows to Rose.
Will there be an audio adventure with Eccleston’s Doctor present on the day John F. Kennedy was shot?
Or, will we be treated to a story of how he was central to events leading up to the sinking of the Titanic?
All will be made clear very soon.
I don’t want to embarrass myself by guessing which enemies this incarnation of the Doctor will face off against in the much-anticipated audio adventures.
However, as we all know, neither the Cybermen nor the Master played a part in the ninth Doctor’s battles.
Perhaps the absence of these ancient adversaries in Christopher Eccleston’s TV appearances will be enough to warrant their inclusion next May.
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