So it was with trepidation (and two guests) that we sat down on that Saturday in 2005 to see what this new, leather-jacketed, northern-accented Doctor would be like.
And, well, he was fantastic.
I’ve written earlier of my appreciation of the most alien Doctors, W Hartnell and T Baker. While the Fourth Doctor will always remain my favourite, Ecclestone brought that quality of alienness to the part better than anyone since 1981. He also brought a sense of loss and tragedy: the death of his people, the scars of the Time War. The past was gone, irretrievable; but not forgotten. The new Doctor was trying to build himself a new life; borrowing what he could from the rest of us.
My favourite Eccleston moments are not the grand set-piece confrontations, though he did those well enough. Although I concur with the Hugo voters in picking The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances as my favourite story, it does not contain either of my two favourite Ninth Doctor quotes.
My second favourite line is from Dalek, the first story which links to the Doctor’s past (the Autons of Rose appear to be under different management from previous appearances, and invading a London which has forgotten their two previous attempts). Sorting through the equipment which Van Statten has accumulated but is too unenlightened to use, the Doctor tosses weapon-like objects casually aside: “Broken… Broken… Hair-dryer…” We have a moment of alien wizard disguised as Northern man with a leather jacket. It’s great.
But my favourite line is quite different: it suggests that the Doctor is not only alien, but occasionally jealous of us humans who aren’t burdened by his cosmic responsibilities. It comes in Father’s Day, when Stuart and Sarah are explaining to the Doctor how they met, and asking if he can save them, even though they are not important:
Who said you’re not important? I’ve traveled to all sorts of places, done things you couldn’t even imagine, but you two. Street corner, two in the morning, getting a taxi home. I’ve never had a life like that. Yes, I’ll try and save you.
It sums up what the Doctor is there for, but also gives a rare glimpse of why he is doing it all. It’s also a huge difference from the previous incarnations. I can’t imagine any of them regretting that they didn’t have the opportunity to miss a taxi at two in the morning, though there is probably a good party game in doing imitations of how they would have dealt with the situation. (Actually I’ve just been watching Hartnell in The War Machines, where taxis do feature prominently; but more of that anon.)
I haven’t done the calculations, but I suspect that there is less Ninth Doctor spinoff material than for any of the others. There’s a slim volume of comics, a half dozen books (all original fiction – no novelisations for New Who), and that’s it. Eccleston and Tom Baker are the only living Doctors who are not still performing in the role. I imagine that Eccleston will want to let the dust settle (and Tennant’s successor get safely in place) before he thinks of getting back into it. (Though I am intrigued by the rumours about this week’s Christmas special.)
But for the foreseeable future, all we have are those thirteen episodes from 2005, when the saviour of humanity returned to us on Easter Saturday. As Graham Sleight remarks, with his dying breath the Ninth Doctor describes himself (and Rose) as fantastic. And he is right.
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