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The Real Reason These Actors Left Popular Sci-Fi Shows

It's easy to see why science fiction captivates our imaginations. Who doesn't want to get lost in their favorite sci-fi TV series for a few episodes, traveling around the galaxy, exploring other dimensions, speculating on the endless possibilities of futuristic technology? From Star Trek to Doctor Who to Battlestar Galactica, plenty of sci-fi shows have audiences that span generations, cultures, and nations. Sci-fi can take us somewhere entirely new, yet so too can it bring us into closer contact with the nuances of our own world. No wonder sci-fi fandom is so uniquely passionate.

Perhaps it's because popular sci-fi shows attract such dedicated fans that an actor's departure often inspires strong emotions from these viewers. Saying goodbye to characters you've been watching for ages is always disappointing, of course, but it really hits hard when the character in question has survived intergalactic apocalypse. We're here to examine a few of those sci-fi actors who left their celebrated shows unexpectedly. Why did they leave? What have they done since? These are the stories behind their curtain calls.

David Duchovny dealt with a contract dispute

As FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson tackled mysterious cases involving supernatural phenomena on The X-Files. Mulder always assumes a paranormal link, while Scully takes a more skeptical approach. But after Duchovny chose to leave the series at the end of season seven, the show just wasn't the same.

"As much as I love the show, I think for me this will be the end," Duchovny wrote in a statement released after the news of his departure broke. "I always thought five years was enough. Seven years is definitely enough." His contract was officially up at the end of the seventh season, and rather than renewing it, he decided to leave. The fact that Duchovny felt he had overstayed his welcome on the show wasn't the only factor that prompted him to leave, however. Duchovny was also stuck in a legal battle with Fox over syndication revenue, as he felt Fox was taking in greater profits from reruns while reducing his own earnings from royalties.

The original series continued for two more seasons, with Duchovny making only occasional appearances. However, he did return to his leading role in the tenth and eleventh seasons, which aired in 2016 and 2018, well after the initial run had wrapped up.

Christopher Eccleston disagreed with leadership on Doctor Who

After joining the long-running British sci-fi smash Doctor Who in the titular role, Christopher Eccleston found the famous part to be more trouble than it was worth. He ended up leaving the show after only one season, leaving fans wondering why.

"I left only because of those three individuals and the way they were running the show. I loved playing the character," Eccleston explained during a panel discussion at New York Comic-Con in 2019. "I felt I was going to play the Doctor my way and I wasn't going to get involved with those politics and that wasn't workable, so off I went. I became the Invisible Man." Eccleston eventually admitted that the "three individuals" he had professional conflicts with were the showrunner, producer, and co-producer at the time.

Eccleston also faced other obstacles while playing the Doctor. He struggled with an eating disorder while filming, and felt he was treated unfairly by the media. Eventually, he reached a point where he felt that staying in the role was no longer in his best interests.

Michael O'Hare struggled with his mental health

Michael O'Hare starred as Commander Jeffrey Sinclair on the first season of Babylon 5, which featured an ensemble cast coming together on the eponymous space station. The show was quite a success, which is why fans were confused when O'Hare was demoted to a guest role, then left the show entirely after season three.

Series creator J. Michael Straczynski eventually explained why O'Hare had to abandon his leading role after only one season, and why he could only manage a guest part in season two and three. O'Hare dealt with severe paranoia and hallucinations, and these struggles made it practically impossible for him to film his scenes. Babylon 5 fans did not find out why O'Hare had left the show until after his death, and it shocked many to know that O'Hare had been dealing with these challenges on set. Straczynski has revealed that O'Hare fought incredibly hard to do right by the show's cast and the fans, and that he wanted his condition to remain secret until his death. Only since his death by heart attack in 2012 have fans known the full truth.

Wil Wheaton wanted independence

Before joining the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation as Wesley Crusher, Wil Wheaton had already made a name for himself with roles in films like Stand By Me. Playing Crusher represented a career boost for Wheaton, but after a few seasons, he decided to leave to pursue other aspirations in Hollywood.

"Initially I thought it was a really smart business career move. In some ways it was and in more ways it wasn't. What I wasn't prepared for was how much I was going to miss the people on this stage," Wheaton explained during a panel discussion at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in 2012. He admitted that he didn't make much of an effort to stay in touch with the rest of the cast after making his exit, and eventually, he felt embarrassed about his decision to leave the show.

"I just felt really ashamed of myself," Wheaton continued. "I felt like I just couldn't go to the set — I felt like I couldn't look them in the eye and that I couldn't invite them to my wedding." But years later, he was able to reconnect with his former co-stars — and unsurprisingly, they had no hard feelings towards him for leaving the show.

Don S. Davis quit because of health problems

On the military science fiction series Stargate SG-1, Don S. Davis played George Hammond, who runs the military base Stargate Command. Hammond is a stern, straight-laced guy who genuinely cares about the people under his command, his characterization possibly inspired by Davis' own experiences in the military.

Davis eventually admitted that he had to leave Stargate earlier than he had intended. Why did he have to quit? He was dealing with multiple health problems that made it very difficult for him to continue acting. Davis stated that the showrunners were always willing to work around his surgeries, doctor's appointments, and other scheduling conflicts, but eventually, he simply couldn't keep pushing ahead with work."Stargate stood by me," Davis explained in an interview with GateWorld, "They made sure that there was nothing that I was asked to do that might put me in harm's way. But there comes a time where you really can't, if you're in my condition. I'm a heart patient. I'm a diabetic. I've got other minor problems, and it's really time to slow down." Sadly, Davis passed away after having a heart attack in 2008.

Paul Campbell left to film a new pilot

Paul Campbell played Billy Keikeya on the 2004 series Battlestar Galactica. For two years, his character serves as the personal assistant to President Laura Roslin. But Campbell did not sign an official contract with the show, and while he was working on Battlestar Galactica, he was still open to new opportunities. At the beginning of season two, he landed a role in a new pilot which took him away from filming for a few episodes. When said pilot didn't work out, he returned to Battlestar Galactica – however, his appearances on the show became sporadic, and the showrunners were getting frustrated with his absences. This resulted in his character being killed off.

"So after that [they] kind of gave me the ultimatum and said sign a contract for five years, or we kind of need to go our separate ways," Campbell said in a 2006 interview, "and I kind of put it off and put it off, then eventually they just said, 'Look, we can tell you're not really committed to the show, and we can't write story lines. So we've decided to kill the character.'"

Denise Crosby was frustrated by her character's development

Star Trek is one of the most well-known sci-fi franchises of all time, but not every actor involved is satisfied with their character's arc. Denise Crosby, who played Security Chief Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation, didn't think that the writers gave her enough interesting material to work with.

Over time, Crosby became more and more frustrated with the way Tasha Yar was portrayed. She started to feel like more of a prop than an actress. She has stated that out of all the characters she has played, she "holds Tasha the closest to her heart," but eventually, she realized that she would never be able to develop the character further. "I wanted to leave as I was struggling with not being able to do much with the character. I had all these ideas and couldn't do them. I was just stage dressing. I chose to leave instead of just being satisfied with that," Crosby revealed in a 1996 interview with StarTrek.com. "I've never regretted my decision."

Aml Ameen clashed with the director on Sense8

Aml Ameen played Capheus on the first season of Sense8. Fans were thus surprised when they found out that the same character would be played by actor Toby Onwumere in the second season. It seems that Ameen's departure was a result of some kind of behind-the-scenes conflict with executive producer and director Lana Wachowski. Apparently, the two began clashing during table reads for season two in Berlin. Rather than working out their differences before the cameras began rolling, Ameen and Wachowski continued to butt heads when filming for new episodes began in India. As a result, Ameen was abruptly replaced by a new actor.

It's a mystery as to what actually caused the tensions between Ameen and Wachowski. Perhaps it was merely creative differences and disagreements about the storyline for Ameen's character in season two, or maybe Ameen and Wachowski didn't get along on a personal level, and their strained relationship was beginning to affect the atmosphere on set. Fans may never get a straight answer.

Matt Smith was suffering from burnout

For three seasons, Matt Smith took on the role of the Doctor in Doctor Who. Head writer and executive producer Steven Moffat was very impressed by Smith from the beginning — after seeing him act, he knew that Smith was the perfect choice to play the new Doctor. 

But ultimately, Smith became too burned out by the demands of the role. "I'd always talked about leaving after the 50th anniversary," Smith told The Hollywood Reporter. "It's a very intense process to play the Doctor. The line-learning is really hard, and you have to live away from home for nine or 10 months a year. I love the show, and it wasn't an easy choice to come to, but it's the right time." However, it seems that he now has mixed feelings about his eventual decision to leave, as he has stated that he wished he could have spent more time working with his talented co-star Jenna Coleman.

Robert Sheehan wanted to take on new roles

Superhero sci-fi show Misfits was an unexpected hit in the United Kingdom, and helped to launch the careers of several rising stars, including Robert Sheehan. In Misfits, Sheehan starred as Nathan Young for two seasons. Nathan realizes that he is immortal when he wakes up in his own coffin after supposedly falling to his death. But after an exciting character arc, Sheehan decided to quit while he was ahead and take his career in a new direction. 

"I was absolutely quite happy about when I went off, it seemed like a no-brainer at the time, because I was just a restless fella who was trying to go off and do as much different stuff as possible," Sheehan said. "I'd done two good summers with that show, so was wildly impatient to do other stuff." It turned out to be a good career move, proving that Misfits opened up doors for him. After his departure, Sheehan landed a regular role as Darren on Love/Hate, and more recently, the role of fan-favorite Klaus Hargreeves on The Umbrella Academy.

Corin Nemec was written off to make room for a returning actor

Corin Nemec ended up landing a part on Stargate SG-1 in an unexpected way. Michael Shanks, who had played Daniel Jackson, left the show after season five, and the writers didn't want to leave a void in the SG-1 team. Nemec happened to be auditioning for another role when he bumped into the casting team for Stargate SG-1. They thought he seemed like the perfect fit to play Jonas Quinn, a new character they would be adding to the show.

Nemec loved working on Stargate SG-1, and even got to pitch ideas for different episodes. Eventually, Shanks was able to come back for another season. Nemec hoped to stay on board too — however, the writers decided it was time for Jonas Quinn to go. When asked why he was written off the show, Nemec admitted that he didn't know why the writers couldn't have simply incorporated both his character and Michael Shanks' into the storyline. However, he suspected that budget limitations may have been a major factor in this decision.

Julie Caitlin Brown couldn't stand her makeup on set

On Babylon 5, Julie Caitlin Brown played Na'Toth, an alien diplomat known for her witty retorts. Although her role is certainly entertaining, Brown only stuck around for five episodes in the first season.

Brown had a rather unique reason behind her decision to leave the show. Although her distinct character design is unforgettable, Brown wasn't a huge fan of it. In fact, she often found herself feeling intensely uncomfortable on set. "My face was very sore from the makeup and I was afraid there would be permanent damage," Brown disclosed in a 2006 interview. Brown further stated that she had not signed a long-term contract for Babylon 5 when she came onto the show, as she wasn't sure how long she wanted to stick with the role. Therefore, it was relatively easy for her to say goodbye to the cast and crew and move on to new projects. Years later, however, she admitted to regretting her early exit. "I wish I would have stayed a little longer, as the character was so interesting," she lamented.