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The real reason Christopher Eccleston left Doctor Who after one season

Think of the early seasons of the Doctor Who reboot, and you're probably picturing David Tennant's Converse-wearing, speed-talking Doctor, or Matt Smith in a bow tie making dry remarks. But only true fans remember that the very first Doctor to take control of the relaunched TARDIS — the Ninth Doctor, if you're keeping count — was played by Christopher Eccleston.

In his oh-so-'00s signature long leather jacket, Eccleston's Doctor was more serious and stoic than his predecessors. He was capable of great compassion, but also a level of cruelty that led some viewers to label one of his outings as the most controversial Doctor Who episode ever (up until then, at least.) His season introduced new viewers to old enemies like the Daleks, and to future recurring characters, including Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North (Penelope Wilton), and longtime assistant Rose Tyler (Billie Piper).

One ranking of all the Doctors so far put Eccleston's sole Doctor Who season as the third most popular in the show's history, and there's no doubt that its popularity kick-started the show's comeback. So why didn't he stick around to keep playing the Doctor? There's a twist to this tale (how very Whovian). This is the real reason Christopher Eccleston left Doctor Who after one season.

The BBC claimed that Christopher Eccleston quit Doctor Who to avoid typecasting

From our vantage point, we know that the Doctor Who reboot has been wildly successful. But when the first episode aired in the UK on March 26, 2005, the BBC strangely didn't have access to a working TARDIS, and therefore didn't know how well it would go. They hadn't even commissioned a second season, which meant that the public and media weren't sure whether Eccleston would even get a chance to reprise the role. What we didn't know was that the actor had already made it clear that he had no intention of playing the Doctor again, regardless of the show's future — and we found out much sooner than he would have liked.

On March 30, 2005 — yes, just four days after the very first episode aired — the BBC released a statement saying that Eccleston had only wanted to make one season of Doctor Who because he feared being typecast. But on April 4 — just five days after making that statement — the BBC was forced to apologize. They explained that they had agreed with Eccleston to keep his departure secret for a few more months, and that he did not endorse their explanation for his leaving.

So far, so twisty. But it would be years before fans finally learned the full story behind why Eccleston dropped the role of a lifetime.

Christopher Eccleston blamed backstage politics for his departure from Doctor Who

Eccleston opened up publicly about his real reasons for leaving Doctor Who in 2010. "I was open-minded, but I decided after my experience on the first series that I didn't want to do any more," the actor told the Radio Times. "I didn't enjoy the environment and the culture that we... had to work in" (via BBC). Since then, he's been increasingly candid about his Dr Who experience. 

In 2018, Eccleston revealed that he was attacked by the UK tabloids and blacklisted by the BBC over his decision to quit. At New York Comic Con the following year, he made it clear that it wasn't Doctor Who itself that he'd had a problem with ("I loved playing the character and I loved the world," he said). It was what was going on behind the scenes with showrunner Russell T. Davies and two unnamed producers that he didn't like. "I left only because of those three individuals and the way they were running the show... I felt, 'I'm going to play the Doctor my way and I'm not going to get involved in these politics.' And that wasn't workable so off I went," Eccleston said.

Eccleston also declined to return for the 50th episode, which united Smith and Tennant and included archive footage of the other Doctors. He explained that he'd felt the script wasn't strong enough, but added that he changed his tune when he got a look at the second draft, which didn't include him. "That script was immaculate. And I think it added to the canon of Doctor Who in a way that me coming back wouldn't," he said.

Exactly what happened on Davies's set is one more untold truth of Doctor Who. But Eccleston's season remains one of the series' strongest, and he's rightly proud of his contribution, however short and sweet.