Doctor Who turned 50 on Saturday, and I didn’t post anything about it. So let me remedy that by throwing in my vote for best Doctor: Chrisopher Eccleston (Doctor Nine).
No, it certainly wasn’t the best season of Doctor Who. In fact, on the whole, I really didn’t like a lot of the episodes he was in. When they weren’t distracted with cheese, they were busy being self-consciously artsy or else clubbing you over the head with annoying left-ish latte liberal politics. The show was more or less a soapbox for Russell T. Davies in those days … which is fair enough, really, since he brought it back from the dead nearly single-handedly. But that doesn’t make them enjoyable.
But if there was something indisputably right about the show in that year it was the two leads – and their characters.
Eccleston’s Doctor was the best because…
…he’s tough and Northern. Sure, it didn’t take long for the trendy fascination with Manchester to get old, and it was well past its prime when they cast Salford native Eccleston in the role. Nevertheless, it was just what this show needed – for a number of reasons. Doctor Who in the past had been a bit too flashy and gimmicky, and it had had an unfortunate tendency to simply flip parameters on the previous Doctor when coming up with a personality for the regeneration. I suppose it could be fairly argued that Eccleston fits into this tradition by being basically the opposite of the romantic Paul McGann, but that’s only if you count Paul McGann’s Eight Doctor as part of canon, and Russell T. Davies has been pretty clear he doesn’t. It was really Sylvester McCoy he replaced in spirit, the numbering be what it may, and a roughish Mancunian is, for once, not the polar opposite of a wisened-but-sometimes-buffonish Scotsman. It’s nice that there’s nothing flashy or gimmicky about him – just an ordinary-looking man with close-cropped hair in a leather coat and a working-class accent. As much as I love the Fourth and Sixth Doctors, over-the-top is over-the-top, you know? But most of all, I think this was the first time they made the Doctor something truly different than what he had been before without (a) being in your face about it (ahem Colin baker ahem) or (b) abandoning the character altogether (ahem Jon Pertwee ahem). Eccleston was recognizeably The Doctor, but in a very different way than he had been before. It was a risky (but arguably necessary) move, and they really pulled it off.
…he’s easily the best actor who has ever been in the role. That may change after we’ve seen what Peter Capaldi can do with it, but up to now it’s hands-down Eccleston. This is not to slight some of the earlier entries. Colin Baker, Peter Davison, Paul McGann, and, to a lesser extent, Sylvester McCoy were all fine actors. And while I don’t think much of Patrick Troughton or (especially) Tom Baker as actors in general, they were both great on the show. But none of them came close to touching Eccleston in terms of raw acting talent. It was refreshing to see such a professional in the role.
…his character was the perfect mixture of Essential Doctor Personality Elements ™. The Doctor should be aloof, even to the point of arrogance. He should be mysterious, but not ostentatiously so: you should be able to go along for a time thinking of him as perfectly human, and then get a bucket of cold water in the face when, from time to time, the show reminds you that he isn’t at all. He should be bohemian. Doctor Who has always been individualist and anti-authoritarian. He should be vaguely sad. Because no one who is that cut off from his roots can fail to be sad. Christopher Eccleston’s character is the only one since the First Doctor that was written expressly that way, with all of these things in exactly the right balance, and Christopher Eccleston pulled it off better than William Hartnell. Also, to be fair to Hartnell, the Doctor didn’t start off bohemian – that was something that got added to the mix by Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker – so Eccleston has the advantage of hindsight. Whatever the reasons, THIS is the character I watch the show for.
Too bad the writing kinda sucked that year. And too bad Eccleston only stayed the one year.