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Christopher Eccleston: The BBC 'blacklisted' me for leaving Doctor Who

Contributed by
Mar 12, 2018

Though his run on the series may have faded into the past a bit thanks to its brevity and the lengthy, energetic tenures of stars like David Tennant and Matt Smith, Christopher Eccleston will always be the star who relaunched Doctor Who. He was tasked with leading a revival of a show that hadn't aired a new episode (outside of a TV movie in 1996) since 1989, and to make things more challenging he was an actor known for intense drama now working in the realm of adventure-comedy. More than 40 years of fandom and legacy was on his shoulders when he stepped into the TARDIS, but Eccleston pulled it off. He — along with a massive team that included showrunner Russell T Davies and co-star Billie Piper — helped make Doctor Who a hit again, then moved on after one season. 

According to Eccleston, that was a move that cost him.

In a new profile from The Guardian promoting his starring role in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Macbeth (in which he fulfills a lifelong dream of performing with the legendary company), Eccleston addresses what happened following his departure from Doctor Who. Namely, that the BBC supposedly "blacklisted" him for daring to leave the series so early on in its renewed success.

“What happened around Doctor Who almost destroyed my career,” he said. “I gave them a hit show and I left with dignity, and then they put me on a blacklist. I was carrying my own insecurities, as it was something I had never done before, and then I was abandoned, vilified in the tabloid press, and blacklisted. I was told by my agent at the time: ‘The BBC regime is against you. You’re going to have to get out of the country and wait for regime change.’ So I went away to America and I kept on working, because that’s what my parents instilled in me. My dad always said to me: ‘I don’t care what you do — sweeping the floor or whatever you’re doing — just do the best job you can.’ I know it’s cliched and northern and all that bollocks, but it applies.”

In past interviews about his time as the Doctor, Eccleston has named creative differences and the rigors of the production as factors in his decision to depart, but the aftermath is something we don't hear about as often. It's hard to know just how deep the animosity Eccleston's referring to went without hearing the BBC's side of the story. Perhaps they simply wanted the security of keeping their star aboard a just-launched series. Perhaps they just didn't like his reasons for leaving. Whatever the case, Eccleston has since begun working for the BBC again, most notably on the BBC Wales series The A Word, so it seems tensions have eased at least somewhat.

As for his move to working in America following Doctor Who, that didn't always work out so well, either. Eccleston, while discussing his work ethic and his desire to always plan for a "rainy day," also admitted to taking major projects for financial rather than creative reasons. Among those projects were two high-profile genre releases: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) and Thor: The Dark World (2013). While he doesn't blame anyone else for taking on those films, he also doesn't look back fondly on making them.

“Working on something like G.I. Joe was horrendous,” he said. “I just wanted to cut my throat every day. And Thor? Just a gun in your mouth. Gone in 60 Seconds was a good experience. Nic Cage is a gentleman and fantastic actor. But G.I. Joe and Thor were … I really paid for being a whore those times.”

Now, though, Eccleston's feeling good about his career. Macbeth is an actor's dream come true for him, and his recent credits include acclaimed work like The Leftovers. Whether it's about his brief tenure as the Doctor or his brief tenure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or his time on the Shakespearean stage, Eccleston seems done worrying about what anyone else thinks.

“I needed to stretch my legs and test myself a bit, and I am doing that," he said. "When I did Hamlet, I said to all the cast: ‘I’m not going to read the reviews.’ But, of course, I read them. Genuinely this time, though, in a very healthy way, I’m not going to read them, because I understand now that it doesn’t matter. Because, apparently, I’m reasonably secure in my career, and if this finishes me as a theatre actor..."

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