Many actors have laid claim to the title of “Ninth Doctor” over the years, but who exactly is the real one? And why are there so many?
Officially, the one and only Ninth Doctor is the one portrayed by Christopher Eccleston in the 2005 TV series. And this made a lot of sense at the time. Although it was never explicitly stated that he had regenerated from Paul McGann, it was heavily implied. Indeed, it was all-but-confirmed in the 2008 Christmas special ‘The Next Doctor,’ where a certain data stamp projected a montage of all of the Doctor’s faces, placing Eccleston’s Time Lord directly after McGann’s.
So Christopher Eccleston is the Ninth Doctor, correct? Well – every planet has a north, and every canon has a head-scratcher. Because when the 2013 special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ was aired, it was revealed that John Hurt was, in fact, the true Ninth Doctor. And indeed this was solidified in its prequel episode ‘The Night of the Doctor,’ where we actually saw Paul McGann regenerate into him after drinking a special elixir.
The problem is, John Hurt’s Doctor didn’t actually call himself “the Doctor” during this time; he renounced the title due to his new warrior-like persona, and his involvement in the Time War. So technically, the next “true” Doctor after McGann was Christopher Eccleston, meaning that David Tennant was still number ten, Matt Smith was still number eleven, and so on. Canonicity preserved, yes?
Not quite, Brigadier. You see, thanks to the 2020 episode ‘The Timeless Children,’ it’s now very difficult to put an accurate number on any of the Doctors. In the episode, it was revealed that the character had, in fact, lived a myriad of forgotten lives over the centuries, and began life as a young girl – not as William Hartnell, as had previously been thought.
Thus, with this revelation, it’s conceivable that the true Ninth Doctor was in fact one of the children that the scientist Tecteun experimented on. She was the scientist who discovered the “original” Doctor standing outside an interdimensional gateway on a distant planet. (Always assuming, of course, that this young girl had never regenerated before. Argh.)
And if you’re starting to feel a bit dizzy, you might want to find something to hang on to. Because we also have the problem of the alternative Ninth Doctor played by Richard E. Grant, who starred in the animated adventure ‘Scream of the Shalka.’ This was an official release, commissioned before it was known that the series would be returning to our TV screens. So technically, the Richard E. Grant version is the very first of the canonical Ninth Doctors.
That being said, it’s hard to know where to place this incarnation, given that he was quickly usurped by Christopher Eccleston. I guess you can either disregard him entirely, or class him as non-canon, or see him as a Ninth Doctor from a parallel universe.
And with all that in mind, you might want to consider yet another Ninth Doctor played by Rowan Atkinson. He took to the TARDIS in a special adventure for Comic Relief titled ‘The Curse of Fatal Death,’ tackling both the Daleks and the Master on the somewhat pungent planet of Tersurus. Now, one could argue that this story is clearly not canon given its overtly comical nature, but it’s arguably no less funny than some of the other Doctor Who stories such as ‘The Romans,’ ‘The Horns of Nimon’ or ‘Love & Monsters.’
Plus, the planet Tersurus is mentioned in a number of other Doctor Who adventures, such as the Eighth Doctor novel ‘Alien Bodies’ and the Big Finish story ‘Dominion.’ So if these tales are considered canon, must we conclude that ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’ is canon as well? And that Rowan Atkinson is a legitimate Ninth Doctor? As someone once said: “That’s enough of a technicality to keep your lawyers dizzy for centuries.”
And whilst, for many people, the true identity of the Ninth Doctor doesn’t really matter, it does make for an amusing debate. How do you classify the alternative Ninth Doctors? Does Rowan Atkinson make the cut, perhaps as a parallel universe incarnation? And where does ‘Scream of the Shalka’ factor on your DVD shelf? Let me know in the comments below.
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