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The TV series Doctor Who began broadcasting in 1963 and was originally shown till 1989. Though the BBC never officially cancelled Doctor Who, it disappeared from our TV screens until 2005. With the return of Doctor Who to TV screens after such a long period of absence it would need to be something pretty special - and it was! The show itself had a radical new look and a new Doctor to match. The Ninth Doctor is perhaps one of the most interesting incarnations of Doctor Who. Very much updated from his predecessors, he was a very different Doctor to any that had been seen previously, but somehow managed to retain many core characteristics. This incarnation of the Doctor was more casual and unassuming than the previous ones, lacking the upper class Englishness that they all seemed to possess. He was also a far darker Doctor than usual, specifically as a consequence of the 'Time War' 1 leaving him the last survivor of his race. But before the Ninth Doctor's personality is analysed let's take a look at the man behind the Doctor.
The Man Behind the Mask
Christopher Eccleston (born 1964 in Salford) is the one of the shortest serving official Doctors in the show's history. His departure from the role was announced just four days after the broadcast of his first episode. He starred in episodes broadcast between 26 March, 2005 ('Rose') and 16 June, 2005 ('The Parting of the Ways', in which he was replaced by the Tenth Doctor, portrayed by David Tennant). Christopher Eccleston is most famous for his roles in the TV series Cracker (1993/1994), Our Friends In the North (1996) and The Second Coming (2003). He also enjoyed a successful film career, appearing opposite Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998), with Nicole Kidman in The Others (2001) and being eaten by zombies in 28 Days Later (2002).
The Ninth Doctor – Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
Eccleston's Doctor was the sole survivor of a mighty catastrophe, a buoyant personality hiding a dark vein of a grief and guilt...
- Starburst Special 71.
The first thing you probably noticed about the Ninth Doctor is how normal and human he looked. He may have been an alien but you certainly wouldn't think it. The way he talked, the way he acted and even what he wore all seemed so human. This is the first indication that he is quite different from his previous incarnations. Gone is the Victorian upper class Englishness of his predecessors to be replaced by something very much 'here and now'. A lot can be taken from a first impression and the Ninth Doctor was no exception. At first glance he was happy-go-lucky, everything was 'fantastic'; danger, aliens, he took it all in his stride, with a self-confidence that almost verged on arrogance. The Ninth Doctor we met in 'Rose' was in love with life.
Yet all was not what it seemed.
This 'sweetness and light' routine was an intrinsic part of the Doctor's personality, an ability to find enjoyment and humour in the darkest situations. But why the 'happy-go-lucky act' (and it was an act)? It's hard to make a definitive judgement as there are many theories. Was he doing it for his own sake because he wanted to forget his past, everything that he's done? Was he using humour as a defensive mechanism to hide what he's really thinking and feeling? Was he simply putting up an emotional shield to encourage and support his new friend Rose Tyler? The truth becomes all too clear in an episode entitled 'Dalek'.
Case Study - Dalek
'Dalek' is an important episode in the series in the terms of the Ninth Doctor's personality. The Doctor and Rose find themselves in a museum, where one of the exhibits is the 'last' surviving Dalek. Up until this point the Doctor had believed them all destroyed.
The Ninth Doctor's response to the Dalek is fascinating, showing a much darker side to his character. His hatred of it was intense - at the same time, he was also deeply afraid of it, much more so than the previous Doctors had been. For once we were actually seeing the true Doctor, the one without the façade; there was something about coming face-to-eyestalk with a Dalek that revealed the Ninth Doctor's true personality. From that point on the 'happy-go-lucky' mask started to slip and the extent of the Ninth Doctor's emotional damage began to be shown. It was then so obvious that he had no faith in himself.
This is illustrated perfectly in the Doctor's response to the Dalek's words: 'You would make a good Dalek'.
Clearly the Dalek was just trying to unnerve him, and it worked - but why? Surely he must have known that he was the 'good guy' and was nothing like a Dalek. There was guilt and uncertainty there, most likely caused by the Time War. His inability to save his home planet of Gallifrey from destruction at the hands of the Daleks had left him damaged. In addition, the Dalek appeared to hit on a sore point and that deep down the Ninth Doctor was worried that one day he would become just like the Daleks: cold and ruthless, without mercy or compassion. So he pretended to be confident, in control, when in reality he had no belief in his own morality.
This is a Doctor whose influence can bring people to make tough decisions; he'll help them as much as he can, but he's more about encouraging others to find the best in themselves. We can see this in the episode called 'World War Three', in which a humble backbench Member of Parliament (Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North, portrayed by actress Penelope Wilton) is inspired to take charge of Britain's defences. As a result, she finds within herself hidden depths of strength and ability - transforming herself into the person that the Doctor realises will later become the country's Prime Minister.
The Doctor's guilt over the Time War had made him doubt himself.
The Ninth Doctor felt he needed to hide all of this, to bottle it all up. The reasoning behind this is that he didn't have to face up to it. If he totally denied that anything was wrong then he wouldn't have to think about it and dwell on whatever it was that he did. The saddest thing in all of this is that it doesn't seem he had anyone that he could trust, anyone that he could talk to. He wouldn't go to Rose for reassurance because he was worried that she wouldn't accept him as he was, damage and all. That's why he wouldn't talk about his past, because he didn't know how she would react and he was worried that he would lose her. Rose was very important in helping the Doctor come to grips with his demons. She really was a lifeline for him, she was a way for him to cope with his past and move on.
The Doctor and Rose
Rose Tyler was the Ninth Doctor's time travelling companion, an ordinary 19 year old girl from present-day Earth. Nothing much special happened in Rose's life, until the Doctor suddenly appeared, saving her life from a gang of animated killer shop-window dummies and then blowing up the department store she worked in! Every Doctor had at least one travelling companion with him at all times, so in this respect, Rose is hardly unique. However, by and large, the role for the companion in most of the Doctor's previous adventures was to get in the way, get captured by the villains and end up being saved by the Doctor.
This is definitely not the case for Rose. She is as brave, capable and determined as the Doctor and even ends up saving his life on several occasions. She is not afraid to confront danger or think for herself. That's why the Ninth Doctor loved her, and there's no doubt that he did, though she didn't realise it for some time. They needed each other; he needed her because he was lonely, and through the Doctor Rose was able to experience a life far beyond her wildest dreams, travelling the universe and fighting evil together. Throughout the series they helped each other develop and grow. Rose became more self-assured and intelligent, with a wider view of the universe. The Doctor gained a friend and learnt to become more open about his feelings.
Rose also changes the Doctor's view of humanity. At the start of the series he was reluctant to get involved with any humans on a personal level (although he seemed willing to open up to Jabe, a tree person from the Forest of Cheem, possibly because she was aware that he was a Time Lord and almost certainly the only survivor of his species), but Rose's friendship helped him to open up and to learn to like humans once again. Rose and the Doctor had a mutually beneficial partnership. Having said that, they didn't always have an entirely smooth relationship, with Rose's tendency to act on impulse sometimes earning her a mouthful of angry abuse from the Doctor.
In 'Dalek', we meet Adam, a character who was described in the documents for this series as 'The Companion who couldn't'. In the following episode, 'The Long Game', we see how, left to his own devices in an alien environment, Adam makes critical mistakes that a time traveller simply cannot make. As a consequence the Doctor ditches him at the first opportunity. This shows us that he has particularly low patience for the selfish or careless and that he regards Rose as his ideal companion. So it's with frustration and disappointment that he regards Rose when, in 'Father's Day', she tricks him into going back in time to prevent the death of her father. It's the kind of self-serving action that he's hoped Rose would never make.
The Parting of the Ways
At the beginning of the series, the Doctor was still recovering from sacrificing his own people in order to ensure the destruction of the Daleks. By the end of the series, the Daleks have returned in force, planning to conquer Earth and harvest humanity to ensure the survival of the Dalek race. The Doctor thus faces a terrible dilemma: should he repeat the apocalyptic solution he employed during the Time War and wipe out the Daleks once and for all (destroying Earth and every living being on it in the process), or should he allow the Daleks to win at long last? Unable to make such a decision with Rose standing beside him, the Doctor tricks her into returning back to her own time, glad that whatever decision he makes, at least Rose will be safe. Rose, however, is angry, furious and nearly hysterical, resorting to desperate measures to return to the Doctor's side. By tapping into the power of the Time Vortex to save the Doctor's life and defeat the Daleks, Rose simultaneously puts her own life in mortal danger - the only thing the Doctor can do is to essentially 'suck' the temporal damage out of Rose and absorb it into himself.
Throughout his brief life, this Ninth Doctor inspired others to reach their true potential. It's significant therefore that Rose's bravery forces the Doctor to risk his own life to save her. Taking the energies from her body into his own (via a passionate, heartfelt kiss), the Doctor saves his best friend to fight another day. However, for the Ninth Doctor this act marks the end of the road.
Typically, he masks his fears from Rose, explaining what he's done in simple, light-hearted terms. The significance of his chatter escapes Rose at first until she realises her friend is dying. The Doctor manages to fight back the effects of his 'change' long enough to deliver his final epitaph:
"You were fantastic... and y'know what? So was I."
The Ninth Doctor's life ends with an explosion, just as it began. And for a whole new generation of viewers, he is the Doctor.