Fantastic! For many people, the Ninth Doctor was their very first, being the very first Time Lord to grace our TV screens since the TV movie in 1996. Portrayed by the actor Christopher Eccleston, the Ninth Doctor had one of the shortest tenures in Doctor Who history, playing the incumbent time traveller for just 13 episodes across one season in 2005.
And yet he is one of the most fondly-remembered, and is still immensely popular to this day. In fact, the news that the audio production company Big Finish was going to make a brand new series of adventures for Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor almost melted the internet. So what is it about this leather-clad Time Lord that’s still winning hearts so long after his debut?
Lots of planets have a north
Certainly, there’s no messing around with the Ninth Doctor. He’s straight-talking and loud, with no compunction for just ‘telling it like it is.’ He’s frequently known for shouting at his enemies in moments of unfettered fury.
For instance, when he encounters a captive Dalek in the Robert Shearman episode of the same name, he doesn’t hold back, unleashing such insults as “great space dustbin” and telling it to “rid the universe of its filth” and even screaming “why don’t you just DIE?!” This is in stark contrast to the Seventh Doctor‘s more nuanced, manipulative approach in the Daleks’ last TV appearance – ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ in 1988. The Ninth Doctor, it seems, has less patience, and is more compulsive – all of it wrapped in a deep northern accent which, as he tells his companion Rose, is due to the fact that “lots of planets have a north.”
And yet despite all this bluster, the Ninth Doctor is also deeply in touch with his sensitive side. In fact, he has the accolade of being the first Time Lord to visibly cry on screen, during an emotional moment in ‘The End of the World’ when he has an intense conversation with Jabe from the Forest of Cheem. He comes close to tears at other points in the season, too, and is consistently unafraid of expressing his emotions – even in the ‘Dalek’ episode when the incumbent creature breaks open its shell.
Then there is the romantic relationship that he forms with his companion Rose Tyler, played by Billie Piper – if ‘romantic’ is the right word. It’s certainly one the most emotional and intense in Doctor Who history, at least on screen. “I’m so glad I met you,” he says to Rose in ‘The Unquiet Dead,’ just when it looks like they’re about to die. He also kisses her in the closing moments of his final episode, ‘The Parting of the Ways,’ but if he hadn’t, she probably would have been burnt up by the time vortex. (It’ll make sense when you see it.) So even though a romantic attachment between the Ninth Doctor and Rose is never explicitly underlined, it is certainly hinted at. Strongly.
Which are the key Ninth Doctor stories?
If, by some cruel twist of fate, you only have one evening to become acquainted with the Ninth Doctor, there are a handful of ‘pillar’ episodes that you can watch in one fell swoop.
First, you have to watch his opening episode ‘Rose.’ Now this is different to many Doctors’ first stories in that it doesn’t come off the back of a regeneration, so you’re able to plunge straight into the action. And boy, is there action! This is one of the most fast-paced pieces of television you’re ever likely to watch, and it’s a fun-filled thrill-ride from start to finish. Plus there’s a burping bin, which divides opinion to this day. And also don’t be put off by the somewhat bland-sounding title; this really is a high-stakes episode, with the world being threatened by a searing vat of living plastic.
After ‘Rose,’ you might want to stick around for its sequel: ‘The End of the World.’ This is Rose Tyler’s first trip in the TARDIS to the year 5 billion, and it’s all about the Earth dying in a ball of flame – something which is kind of implied in the title. But the important thing about this Ninth Doctor episode is the backstory. We learn all about what’s been happening to him since he last graced our screens in 1996 – including the devastating war between the Time Lords and an unspecified enemy (spoiler alert, it’s the Daleks.) The Doctor reveals that he’s now left travelling on his own “because there’s no one else,” and ‘The End of the World’ really crystallises his motivations and personal history. Plus there’s a talking stretch of skin called Cassandra (wonderfully voiced by Zoë Wanamaker) so you really have no reason to skip this one.
Finally, you should watch the epic two part finale which culminates in the Ninth Doctor’s regeneration: ‘Bad Wolf’ and ‘The Parting of the Ways.’ But be prepared to hide behind the sofa, because you’ll have reams of Daleks and killer robots to contend with, plus sinister game shows which are basically snuff versions of The Weakest Link and Big Brother, which the Doctor and Rose become trapped in. Also, make sure you have a box of tissues to hand, because ‘The Parting of the Ways’ is something of a tear-fest, and I defy anyone to sit through this double bill without getting the sniffles. Brace yourselves when the holographic Doctor appears in the TARDIS. I’ll say no more.
As I mentioned previously, we’re very lucky that more Ninth Doctor adventures are now waiting on the horizon, courtesy of Christopher Eccleston and Big Finish. The Ninth Doctor has also appeared in a great number of comics, novels and other audio stories, the latter coming from Doctor Who voice man Nicholas Briggs.
Sadly, Christopher Eccleston’s departure from the programme was a sudden and controversial one. News that he had left Doctor Who emerged only days after his first episode had been broadcast, and soon after that fans were told that David Tennant would be taking over the role. Not much was said as to why (although much has been said since.) And although the Ninth Doctor did have a proper regeneration scene in ‘The Parting of the Ways,’ he’s one of the few Time Lords not to have been physically present for the filming, with the transition actually being realised by David Tennant in isolation, wearing a skull cap! (The only other Doctors who didn’t film their regenerations are Patrick Troughton and Colin Baker.)
But Christopher Eccleston has been active on the convention circuit since leaving the programme and has always been open to meeting fans, and indeed he’s never shied away from promoting Doctor Who or speaking positively about his time at the controls of the TARDIS.
And he will always have a crucial place in the show’s history. The Ninth Doctor was the one who helped re-invent Doctor Who for a whole new generation, and helped secure its on-going success. Fantastic, Doctor number nine. We owe you a lot!
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