“The Day of the Doctor,” the sci-fi show’s big 50th birthday celebration, will go down as one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever for managing to deliver on the hype and providing fans with a thrilling, emotional feature-length special to mark the series’ long lifespan. The event was enough to convince David Tennant to return as the Tenth Doctor alongside Matt Smith’s Eleventh, as well as getting John Hurt on board as the hitherto-unknown War Doctor.
However, Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston wasn’t impressed by the narrative enough to come back for the special. It’s well known that showrunner Steven Moffat initially wrote the script for “Day” for Eccleston. However, the star ultimately passed, which necessitated a big rewrite and the invention of the War Doctor, who slotted in between the Eighth and Ninth Time Lords.
In an interview with The Independent, the actor explained that he didn’t think the “riffing” between the different Doctors was enough of a hook for him to return, particularly given the lingering political reasons that caused him to leave the show in the first place back in 2005.
“When I read it, I felt that it was basically myself, Matt and Dave riffing off the fact that we used to be the Doctors. I personally didn’t feel like the narrative was strong enough, particularly for the Ninth Doctor because I’d taken quite a lot of abuse in my own country when I left.”
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Eccleston added that the media frenzy around his quitting Doctor Who after a single season still weighed on him even in 2013, so he ultimately decided to pass on a 50th anniversary comeback.
“As the show was being celebrated I was being abused in the press and that was hard to take and very confusing. So I looked at it and I thought is this really the way I want to come back and I decided it wasn’t. There were other factors, political factors.”
The actor has traditionally been tight-lipped about his Doctor Who career, but he’s recently started discussing his complicated history with the show with honesty, via his upcoming autobiography and his recent bout of convention appearances. This includes explaining why he couldn’t remain as the Ninth Doctor any longer and opening up about his battle with anorexia during production.
Back in the here and now, Doctor Who season 12 is due on the BBC early next year.