Christopher Eccleston talks about why he quit Doctor Who

Christopher Eccleston may have opened up a can of worms about his exit from [[Doctor Who (TV Series)|Doctor Who]] after just one series. Eccleston helped to bring the show back when it was resurrected in 2005 by Russell T Davies for the BBC. However, he sensationally quit after the first episode was broadcast, saying that he didn’t want to become typecast.

A valid concern for any actor playing The Doctor. But then in a bit of clumsy media management, the BBC let it slip that Eccleston had only agreed to stay for one series anyway, which quite neatly led to a regeneration at the end of the series and [[David Tennant]] stepping into the famous Gallifreyan’s shoes.

However, on a recent press tour to promote his new John Lennon biopic, Eccleston has been putting the cat among the pigeons, saying that he couldn’t tolerate the working environment and culture on the show:

I was open-minded but I decided after my experience on the first series that I didn’t want to do any more. I didn’t enjoy the environment and the culture that we, the cast and crew, had to work in. I thought if I stay in this job, I’m going to have to blind myself to certain things that I thought were wrong.

Now, this media report is doing the rounds everywhere I look this morning. The thing it, Eccleston was bloody vague about what exactly he couldn’t live with. One can only assume that Russell T Davies was running around naked on set flicking the actors with a wet towel.

He rounds off the statement by saying: “And I think it’s more important to be your own man than be successful, so I left.”

I’m a tad frustrated by this. A bit like the Katy Perry storm in a bra-cup yesterday, this is only half a story. The whole story would be exposing exactly what Eccleston had a problem with that caused him to quit – and why does this conflict with the reports that he only intended to do one season anyway? Somebody needs to pin him down and get a straight answer.

Wild speculation in the comments will be gratefully accepted.

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  1. Jeffrey Scott

    I don’t think I could come up with a better wild speculation than what you already mentioned. Just the thought RTD running around naked on set flicking people with towels his hilarious enough.

    Personally, I think he was afraid of getting typecast, but didn’t want to seem like a wuss about it, so added the vague bit about things happening he wasn’t comfortable with. Perhaps he couldn’t deal with the prospect of actually playing a good guy for once. Perhaps no one acknowledged him and he felt invisible* on the set, despite thinking he should have been more well known.

    *(Yes, an intentional inference to another character he has played elsewhere).

    1. Gerard McGarry

      This is my bit of wild speculation about Claude Eccleston*:The BBC needed someone with a bit of gravitas to be taken seriously as the Time Lord, Eccleston would’ve been a fool not to jump at the opportunity. He took it, but with those fears that he’d become typecast, he decided to do it for one season only.

      This decision worked well for the BBC – a big name actor re-establishes Doctor Who, then goes out with a bang and a regeneration leading to a relatively unknown actor stepping in. And conveniently, Russell T Davies had been working with David Tennant at roughly the same time. I think the planets literally aligned for the producers at that point in time.

      * Two can play that game 🙂

  2. Speculator

    Eccleston remarked that he “didn’t enjoy the environment and the culture” that everyone was in (cast and crew), which sounds more like a reference to working in Wales than any prejudice towards his fellow cast and crew members.

    Shooting the series itself is difficult enough, as can be seen in David Tennant’s video diaries–it involves living in Cardiff away from friends and family, being in cold weather, working in cold studios and on frequent location shoots, working long days at all hours, trapped on a television show that’s constantly struggling against budget restraints from the BBC, AND having to deal with a great deal more attention (from fans and media alike) than a working actor would prefer during production. 

    Tennant bore it well and accepted those difficulties as a matter of course, and he proved to be an exceptional performer and a very courteous actor under those circumstances. But that’s a lot to expect from someone; your average actor simply wouldn’t be able to handle it.  And whatever actor does play The Doctor has to endure so much more than just the work schedule!  There are appearances to make, charities to support, voiceovers and photo shoots and… well, you name it, all in the name of promotion.  (Here’s something: if you watch Tennant in the kid’s show “Totally Doctor Who,” in some of those clips you can tell by his voice and body language that even HE was being stretched thin by the demands placed on him–he gets a bit testy at times.)

    Although I will admit, Eccleston’s remark, “I thought if I stay in this job, I’m going to have to blind myself to certain things that I thought were wrong” coupled with “I was open-minded” DOES sound a bit more like the homosexual vibe got to him. But again, Eccleston didn’t develop his career in the same type of feminized acting/theatre environment as Tennant did, being more working-class as a young adult, so it’s understandable that such things might get to him after a while.  It’s one thing to be open-minded and accept something, but quite another to live with it day in and day out, and not let it get under your skin for whatever reason.

    Incidentally, the “typecast” thing was BBC’s media blunder in explaining Eccleston’s departure, so I don’t hold any weight with that theory, myself.  I think he took the job, found out it wasn’t a fit for him, then wisely withdrew.

  3. Fanmail

    Speculator, What sort of place do you think Wales is? You make it sound like the back end of nowhere without hot and cold running water. It is a modern country for heaven sake. As for cold locations, you get those anywhere. I doubt that is what he meant.

    John Barrowman described him as grumpy, and that was probably John being polite in case children were listening. He’s such an open laid back guy Eccleston must have been VERY grumpy to register on his scale. Simon Pegg called him some way less polite things. One of them you could ignore. Two of them you have to wonder. The problem clearly lies with Eccleston, not the production team.

    Frankly, his comments DO smack of homophobia and if that isn’t what he meant he needs to clarify quickly. And if he DID mean that, then it’s just as well he quit because there’s no room for that sort of prejudice. And saying he comes from working class Salford doesn’t excuse it. Quite apart from the fact that I know a delightful gay man from Salford, which isn’t an uncultured back of beyond, either, he KNEW and worked with Russell T Davies before. It could hardly have been a shock to him to discover that some men like other men.

    Frankly, homophobic grumpy Eccleston, open, friendly, gay Barrowman, I know who I’d rather work with and I think the Doctor Who team agree.


    And if that isn’t what he meant, then he needs to clarify right now before everyone reaches the same conclusion about him.

  4. silveredtears

    When the first series was finishing up, I remember talking to a friend of mine about it, and he told me that he’d heard rumours that it was because John Barrowman and Christopher Eccleston didn’t get along, and even though Barrowman would be getting his own spin-off show, he would still be in future episodes of Doctor Who.

    Coupled with “didn’t enjoy the environment and the culture” and  “I’m going to have to blind myself to certain things that I thought were wrong” definately makes me think it was a homophobia issue. This makes me very sad. Doctor Who is a great advocate of today’s Gay cultures, and I really loved Eccleston’s doctor, so it’s a big disappointment.

  5. Fanmail

    I never heard any rumours like that, but even that raises issues. Eccleston was the STAR, Barrowman a guest character that could have been written out. So who was the one who didn’t get along with who? Everything I have ever heard about the Doctor Who team is that they’re a great crowd and it’s like an extended family. So who was the black sheep?


    I agree, disappointing if it turns out this is because Eccleston is a homophobe. He did well as the Ninth Doctor, but that will turn people off him.

  6. Gerard McGarry

    Despite the gag in my article about Russell running around flicking people with a wet towel, I’m not sure that Christopher Eccleston could be accused of being a homophobe without at least coming out and clarifying what he meant.

    I’m more annoyed that it was a vague statement and that it wasn’t followed up properly by whoever he gave the interview to. It’s very sensationalist to release a statement like this that leaves it open to interpretation what the actor meant.

    Still, unlike a lot of other commenters on other blogs, I don’t think this will change my opinion of his time as The Doctor. He was the best man to revive the series with, and he had a short, sweet run on the show. I almost wish we could see more from him.

  7. Ruth

    Some of the comments on here are ridiculous and offensive. There is no indication, in any way that Chris Eccleston is homophobic or that this has anything to do with the situation. Chris has worked with Russell T Davies before, he has a close relative who is gay, for goodness sake! Likewise, at the time he said he was looking forward to working in Wales, had friends there, etc.

    There are many many accounts of people working with him who have said he is funny and a complete gentleman. There are also many accounts from people who have worked with him, and people who have met him at charity events etc, to suggest that he treats everyone equally on a set. There are also many people who have worked with him several times – take Davy Jones, for example, who has done his makeup on several; productions and actually only took the Doctor Who job because Chris called him and asked him.

    Chris did not ‘open a can of worms’, he tried to close one. People have been asking him about this for years and the stupid speculation is the fault of the fans who believe somehow they have a right to know everything. They don’t. He answered the questions without directly slagging anyone off. Far classier than people who choose to deliberately say something about their co stars to get themselves a bit of attention.

    The type casting thing – he directly answered this. But people don’t really want answers, they have more fun with nasty gossip, right? It really doesn’t make any difference what he says – he got slammed for saying nothing for years and now he is getting the same for speaking about it.

    My final word goes to Joe Ahearne, who has worked with Chris on Doctor Who and Perfect Parents as director – 

    “How dare Chris Eccleston have a life and ambitions. So he’s pulled off a staggering performance on a punishing schedule (with unfailing good humour and grace on set) revitalising the Doctor for a new generation. He’s only done a mere 10 hours of thrilling television. God forbid we should give him a round of applause.”


  8. Jeffrey Scott


    I actually appreciated your comments. So true that just because something is vague there is no need to create wild speculations.

    Originally, Gerard and I were joking around.

    End of story for me – no matter what the reason Eccleston had for leaving, he DID give us good television and I’ll cherish his portrayal of the Doctor for many years to come. No matter what his views or stands are on anything.

    I certainly don’t watch Doctor Who or any TV show for what the actors thoughts and feeling are, I watch because I love a good story and especially when the job is done well with a talented actor, which Christopher Eccleston certainly is.


    Jeffrey Scott

  9. Gerard McGarry

    Hi Ruth. While I’m glad you signed on to Shout to have your say, I have to disagree on the “ridiculous and offensive” remarks as well as to question how well Christopher “closed a can of worms” with his vague statement.

    I can’t speak for other commenters, but the original point of my article was to question whether this was lazy/sensationalist journalism in the first instance, or a deliberately vague statement from an actor with an upcoming project to promote?

    No-one’s trying to out him as a homophobe. My original remark about Russell T Davies was tongue in cheek and most people ‘got’ that. However, I believe in the right to question what’s being published in the media – whether it’s the publication’s laziness, or there’s a good reason to be so cagey. I still don’t understand what’s so serious about this that he couldn’t just have come straight out and said what he meant.

    You make some very good points in Eccleston’s defence though, but a bit like Jeffrey above me, I’ll always cherish his performance as my first Doctor. I still prefer his run to Tennant’s. And I’ve been watching him since the movie Jude with Kate Winslet. None of the other stuff really matters to me.

    Anyway, I think it’s healthy to speculate. Let’s face it, there’d be no room for speculation if the Radio Times hadn’t published that statement without drawing Eccleston to be more clear about what he meant.

  10. Ruth

    Thanks for your replies to my comments. I am glad none of this prevents us, whatever we think, from enjoying the performance he gave!

    I do think speculation and fan discussion is fine. I think actually calling into question someones character is different. I did ‘get’ that your comments were tongue in cheek, but other people ran with it and the suggestion was one I just didn’t think it was right to put out there, really. He IS a person, after all – its not a nice thing to say about someone and you would really have to have an imagination to get it from what he said. (Again, I realize YOU were joking)

    Actually, annoying though it may be, Chris’s answers are pretty consistent with his normal way of answering, he very rarely gives anything specific or personal away, or names people negatively, though his later interviews are more relaxed than in his earlier career.

    I guess for me, as a fan this is one of the things I like about him – doesn’t sell his soul to the media – so I don’t get the need to ‘know’ beyond what he said, but thats just me, eh! Each to their

    Moving on – ‘Lennon Naked’ is out on June 23rd, lets see what he does with that (looks good, from what I’ve seen)







    1. Gerard McGarry

      Ruth – would it be presumptuous of me to ask if you’d be interested in writing a Christopher Eccleston wiki page for Unreality Shout? You’re clearly a fan of the guy, and it would be a big help to our Doctor Who wiki section!

  11. Fanmail

    Then he really DOES have to clarify what he said. Because it disparages a lot of people who don’t deserve to be disparaged and without explaining why.

  12. Ruth

    ….but since you ask, I do have an awful lot of ‘Ecclestonia’ floating around in my head, so yes, I’d be happy to try and write a wiki for you. I actually moderate, with a friend, an ‘unofficial’ fanpage (he doesn’t have any official sites) on Facebook so I have a load of info to keep that up to date. Honestly, the man should be paying me by now….lol…

    But yes, I will take a look at your existing Doctor Who stuff to get an idea what you want.

  13. sgreco1970

    Well, I think taking his vague statements and running down the homophobia lane with them is a tad much. Besides, he does not say he was leaving because of the cast and crew. he says, ” I didn’t enjoy the environment and the culture that we, the cast and crew, had to work in. I thought if I stay in this job, I’m going to have to blind myself to certain things that I thought were wrong.” So, he includes the cast and crew with him as being in this culture/environment that he found so objectionable.

    But what really could that be? Television in general? Cardiff (can’t possibly be)? What would he have to blind himself to? Were the cast and crew working in a sweatshop or something lol? It just doesn’t make sense.

    Looking at this excerpt from wikipedia:

    On 11 June 2005, during a BBC radio interview, when asked if he had enjoyed working on Doctor Who, Eccleston responded by saying, “Mixed, but that’s a long story.” Eccleston’s reasons for leaving the role continue to be debated in Britain’s newspapers: on 4 October 2005 Alan Davies told The Daily Telegraph that Eccleston had been “overworked” by the BBC, and had left the role because he was “exhausted”.[10] Ten days later, Eccleston told The Daily Mirror this was not true, and expressed some irritation at Davies for his comments.[11] In a 2010 interview, Eccleston revealed that he left the show because he “didn’t enjoy the environment and the culture that [they], the cast and crew, had to work in”, but that he was proud of having played the role.

    I’m going to guess the “culture” he referred to was television acting on a demanding schedule. The “environment” for actors is not what stage or even film actor prefer. Its a hurry up, bang it out, lets move on sort of environment where your ability to delve deeply into a role is hampered by having to get it on the editing table swiftly. Maybe as an actor he felt he couldn’t give the audience what he felt they deserved; some actors do feel that way about TV.

    Taking it, based on one phrase, down the road of “he’s a homophobe” is just too much guys. Levying that sort of judgement based on so little is really unfair.

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