Please, please, please don’t get me wrong.
I am a huge fan of the Ninth Doctor. I’d a seen a lot of the classic show on public broadcasting before the 2005 series began, but Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor offered the promise of something better than reruns. He offered something new.
Series 1 wasn’t perfect, it has a few dud episodes, but it has that in common with every series of every television show ever made.
I’m sure there’s an exception, but don’t come-at-me-bro just yet.
The Ninth Doctor. Still dressed in a jacket very similar to his previous, now-repressed incarnation. He’s calling himself the Ninth Doctor. That’s pretty brazen, in light of the apparently-above-average-long life the War Doctor led. I think there’s also something to be said that Eccleston’s Northern accent is on a different end of the (non-offensive) scale from John Hurt’s RP-toned voice.
Now, “The Day of the Doctor” brings up the idea that the Doctor retreated into child-like wonder. The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors up the Doctor’s innate child-like wonder well past even the Fourth or Eighth Doctor’s levels.
As a side note: poor Eight. He was so excited at the start and so resigned at the end.
In terms of visual age, the Ninth Doctor is younger than Hurt was at the end, but older than he was at the beginning. An attempt at a median age, a la his Fourth, Sixth, or Seventh incarnations? Something visually similar in age in my eyes at least.
In my mind, in light of the War Doctor, the Ninth Doctor is now an attempt for the man to go on as his old self. The full-out, pushy, imposing Doctor. Four’s constant quirkiness, Six’s arrogance and brashness, Seven’s balance of comedy and darkness. The Doctor at his most “classically” Doctor-ish.
The Doctor wants to be himself, to put Gallifrey behind him, but it’s too raw. On what the show heavily implies is his second outing, “The End of the World,” he cries at nearly the first mention of the Time Lords. We’ve never really seen the Doctor cry before. Hints of sadness, regret. Even McGann’s Eighth Doctor is pretty stoic when Grace and Chang temporarily die in the TARDIS. Always a stiff upper lip.
Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor is the one allowed to crack. And that cracking has been the constant of the modern Doctors. Tennant made a pretty annoyingly common habit of seeing out each series with a good waterwork. Smith was getting dangerously close to it around “The Snowmen,” but managed to channel it into a more appropriate First Doctor-level grandfatherly grumpiness that Matt Smith is far too good at portraying. But I digress…
The Ninth Doctor is the Doctor trying to be the Doctor again. To keep calm and carry on. But he’s not who he was. He’s too brash, too pushy, too short-tempered. He’s quick to every emotion, already starting to bury his feelings in a child-like blue of random responses.
And he makes mistakes constantly. The Auton arm, Jade getting killed, not recognizing the Gelth as a threat, falling into the Slitheen traps, the whole Dalek affair, letting Adam into the TARDIS - the list progresses down the season, but by “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances,” he gets a win.
He has faith in himself again. He’s pulling it off, but this Doctor still isn’t perfect.
For example, he gets into a moral argument with a Slitheen and allows it access to the heart of the TARDIS. Convenient deus ex machina, yes, but if you’ve read this far than you’re already interested in diving a little deeper into mean here, aren’t you?
It’s a problem that the Slitheen gets to that. Useful in the future, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
At the end, the Daleks return, with a Time War-style fleet of battleships. And he snaps back into War Doctor mode. Compartmentalizing, resigning himself to the idea of death as a constant, even with the nagging conscience in his head.
Rose gives him a way out. The Bad Wolf Girl. Maybe he remembers the Moment, maybe not, but it does have a certain symmetry. The heart of the TARDIS, previously a mistake is now a critical component of his final victory.
The heart, a corridor to the Time Vortex that seemingly gives the Time Lords their abilities, also gives him the chance to change, after what we’re led to believe is maybe as little a year of his life. He’s basically calling a do-over, sacrificing a regeneration in the process, to become a proper Doctor again, a new version of himself. The man who regrets, but who can still function. A retreat into child-like wonderment.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he ends up in the proximity of Sarah Jane so soon after taking on the face we call his Tenth. The “half a dozen times” line to Sarah Jane has an extra resonance to it, retroactively. He’s so confident in the lie now. The War Doctor repressed.
Side note: of course I think the Curator heads down to Bannerman Road to give the tin dog a walk with that lovely Smith woman. I also think he was much better about visiting old Alastair in his nursing home than his predecessors were.
I think, if we have to reappraise the Ninth Doctor era in sone way after “The Day of the Doctor,” a la the fandom idea that the Sixth Doctor regenerated to stop the Valeyard from existing, then it should be with that spirit of self-sacrifice. The Doctor dealt with his grief by internalizing in a way totally unique to his species’ physiology, but that also makes perfect sense to us human-folk.
He retreated to being a kid, but now he has a older man’s eyes in his future. There’s a fan idea springing up that Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor brings a new model of incarnation, one who’s ready to accept his grief, turn it into hope, and move forward bravely. The Doctor restored.
It’s brave water to tread for the series, but I know I’d be more excited to tune in with a bit of that in the show’s veins.