The Curious Case of the 9th Doctor
Guest contributor Neil Smith wonders just who is the real Ninth Doctor?
With a fresh set of adventures for the Doctor’s new incarnation just weeks away and now that the Doctor is finally into his second regeneration life cycle. It seems like a prudent time to take a look back at his first regeneration life, or more specifically the time between his 8th and 10th incarnation, where there exists the curious case of the 9th Doctor. Who was, should have, could have and is the 9th Doctor?
The world of Doctor Who is a complex thing, if we ask the question how many actors have played the Doctor the answer is not as simple as it seems. A simple answer would be 13 including Peter Capaldi, however if we include Peter Cushing, the movie Doctor and Richard Hurndall, Hartnell’s replacement in the 5 Doctors, things start to get a little murky. But we don’t have to stop there, if we add Trevor Martin, the stage Doctor, All the Doctor’s from the Big Finish’s Unbound series and anyone other than Tom Baker in the Brain of Morbius, then the Doctor count goes through the roof, and I’m sure the list doesn’t end there. So as you can see counting Doctors isn’t as simple as counting sheep.
In the midst of this multitude of Doctors, during the period between is 8th and 10th incarnation the Doctor was in his biggest state of flux, for want of a better word. Four separate actors can lay the claim to being the 9th Doctor. We all know that Christopher Eccleston is the official 9th Doctor, but it comes as no big shock to discover that he was not the first actor to be officially designated the 9th Doctor. That particular accolade falls to Richard E Grant, the Shalka Doctor as he is affectionately termed. He hit our screens a whole year before our man Chris. If we delve a little deeper to 1999 a certain Rowan Atkinson was the first actor to play the 9th Doctor for Comic Relief. More recently an unknown Doctor has been shoe horned in between McGann and Eccleston in the guise of John Hurt, leaving us with a final count of 4 separate actors who can state themselves as the true 9th Doctor.
First up is the Comic Relief Doctor in Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death. You could argue against this inclusion on the basis that it was a one off joke, a Comic Relief skit, which is not considered part of the official canon. Which is true but you also have to take into account that it was produced by the BBC and written by none other than Steven Moffat and has been released by the BBC on DVD. Wikipedia bills Rowan Atkinson as the 9th Doctor and describes it as a production bridge between 1963 and 2005 version, due to a number of key personnel from both eras working on the production, so a level of continuity does exist. The Curse of Fatal Death has featured twice on the cover of Doctor Who Magazine and has also been covered in the DWM Archives. Not bad for an episode of Doctor Who, that’s not really Doctor Who. Between the Curse of Fatal Death and Scream of the Shalka, Rowan Atkinson was the 9th Doctor in the absence of anyone else in the role, even if he never intended to be. Which makes Rowan Atkinson the original 9th Doctor.
Next up is the Shalka or REG Doctor in the Scream of the Shalka. Again you could argue that he was a one off, an oddity, a version of the Doctor adrift in its own continuity, in the realms of what could have been. But you can’t ignore the fact that he was designated as the official 9th Doctor and The Scream of the Shalka was the BBC’s only offering for the Doctor’s 40th Anniversary. He had his own musical arrangement, titles and even a funky new TARDIS interior, which continued along the design set during McGann’s equally brief tenure. So there is no denying the continuity and commitment from the BBC, until of course Lorraine Heggessey announced Doctor Who was to return to BBC 1. Any further stories were quickly cancelled and Richard E’s time as the Doctor was over and the world had a new number 9.
So finally we get to the official 9th Doctor, the real deal, prime time, Saturday night, BBC1 Doctor. The big hitter, the undisputed king of the 9th, our man from the north Christopher Eccleston. Call him what you want but you can’t argue with the fact that he is the official 9th Doctor followed by the 10th. Except he doesn’t follow the 8th, he is the Doctor who comes after the Doctor who came after the 8th. Maths was never my strong point but 8 + 1 + 1 = 10, not 9, so how does that work? It works when you strip the 8+1 Doctor of any numerical designation and call him the War Doctor.
The War Doctor, the promise breaker, the actual 9th incarnation of the time traveller we call the Doctor, who chooses not to be known as the Doctor. A “may-fly Doctor”, as Moffat described him, who would appear for one episode only, to celebrate Doctor Who’s anniversary. A version that would abandon his name, fight the Time War and commit multiple genocide, with more or less all of it occurring when Doctor who was off our screens. He would ultimately be an incarnation the Doctor chooses to forget, the secret he would take to the grave, as it were. With all that said and done, he still was the 9th incarnation of the Doctor regardless of what he calls himself, and by the sheer logic of maths he is still technically the 9th Doctor.
So who is the proper 9th Doctor? Depending on what stance you prefer to take, anyone of these could be heralded as the true 9th, the original as one might say. One could state that it is Rowan Atkinson, even though he was never considered to be canon, by mere fact that he was the first. Richard E Grant has an even stronger claim by being the first official 9th Doctor, even if he was quickly shunted to one side. John Hurt’s Doctor has an equally strong argument by the fact that his Doctor comes directly after McGann’s 8th, which should leave him numbered 9. But when the push comes to the shove, the Comic Relief Doctor is just that, a comic relief, the Shalka Doctor is the almost was, but now never will be, and the War Doctor is the Doctor without a number. The 9th Doctor is therefore of course Christopher Eccleston, the official but not the original, not even the second but the third, and not even the last, he is the 10th chronological Doctor, who is designated the number 9. Christopher Eccleston the wibbly wobbly, timey wimey number 9.