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In SFX, Moffat commented on Eccleston not appearing in Day of the Doctor:

I had an initial contact with Chris and, in a very amiable and gentlemanly way, he didn’t feel that he could come back to it

and indicates that his decline didn't materially change the story he wanted to tell. The implication is that the story wasn't done yet, so it was created without any involvement (other than clips, á la Tom Baker and The Five Doctors).

An alternative explanation (rumoured before the show aired) is that Hurt's 'War Doctor' character was originally intended to be the 9th Doctor, played by Eccleston. This does seem to fit with the broadcast story (no messing about with numbering, no incarnation that just never gets mentioned, even though the things he did are, fits with the general 9th personality).

Is there any solid evidence either way? Note that statements by Moffat after Eccleston declined are not solid, since Moffat himself (at SDCC) said he had been lying about aspects of the anniversary special all along.

  • Is there even some consistent "numbering" in the show in-character mentioning an exact number? I only remember them talking about "x or so" a few times. Also I think season 7 has been the first to significantly refer classic seasons of the show (other than "Time Crash", bringing back old villains and some clothing or prop nods). – Mario Nov 24 '13 at 9:35
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    @Mario There is definitely mention of "nth incarnation" regularly. Also, the very first episode of the revived series brought back old villains. – Mr Lister Nov 24 '13 at 13:40
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    @Mario very, very rarely we do see The Doctor give a number; the most recent is in the episode The Lodger, after The Doctor head-butts Craig and brain-dumps his history, he points at his face and says "eleven". – KutuluMike Nov 24 '13 at 21:19
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    In the Five Doctors when First arrives in the TARDIS and fifth recovers consciousness: First: "Regeneration?" Fifth: "Fourth!" First: "Goodness me so there are five of me now" – jeffeld Sep 20 '18 at 8:20
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+100

A "Special Edition" of Doctor Who Magazine titled "The Year of the Doctor: The Official Guide to Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary", reveals that early incomplete drafts of the anniversary special by Steven Moffat did feature the Ninth Doctor rather than the War Doctor, though this had been changed to the War Doctor by the time Moffat wrote a complete draft of the whole story. From p. 13:

Steven's take was that what the Doctor remembered about the Time War might not actually have been what happened. Steven's idea fitted a narrative featuring the three most recent incarnations of the Doctor; the Ninth played by Christopher Eccleston who may have been involved in the war (despite a suggestion of being newly regenerated in 2005's Rose), the Tenth played by David Tennant, who was still concerned by the conflict, and the Eleventh Doctor, who had learned to be more at peace with his actions. Steven knew David as a friend and as a devotee of the show to be sure that he would do everything possible to be available for the project, but was concerned about the availability of Christopher Eccleston, who had left the series after a single year in 2005.

And also on p. 13, there is a sidebar titled The Time War: Draft Scripts which begins:

Prior to full draft scripts of Doctor Who: 50th Anniversary Special there were incomplete drafts headed Doctor Who 50th Special: The Time War. A 'Partial Draft' dated Monday 14 January 2013 was fundamentally the same as the start of the finished programme with minor changes. Osgood was Kate's 'harried PA' and did not have a scarf, and Kate had the helicopter rescue the TARDIS because whe believed it was being attacked by a motorcyclist. The main differences were that the figure in the ruined building on Arcadia was the Ninth Doctor and the Moment was 'a girl in rags... young, elfin-faced, beautiful. A mass of hair and a feral stare' (referred to in stage directions as 'Raggedy Girl'). The Raggedy Girl explained that the barn was a crucible in which she would test the Ninth Doctor's worthiness. When the girl showed him his future, the Ninth Doctor was sucked through the portal she summoned up and dropped into the forest clearing next to a cottage to meet the Tenth Doctor and two Queens. The Tenth Doctor's encounter with the Zygon was then narrated through to the second appearance of the portal in 1562 through which came a fez... and the script ended.

P. 18 of the magazine talks about how the Ninth Doctor was replaced by the War Doctor:

By mid-February [of 2013], Steven had a third partial draft of The Time War but resisted writing a full script, since he was concerned about Christopher Eccleston's availability, and he also had doubts that it was the Ninth Doctor who had fought in the Time War. Steven had a couple of enjoyable meetings with Christopher to discuss his involvement and the direction of the story. In The Guardian, Steven explained that the pair had enjoyed a "very amiable and gentlemanly" conversation and that the actor considered the project "quite seriously" before turning it down. "It's just not the sort of thing he does," explained Steven. "But Chris was perfectly sweet and kind about it." Speaking to DWM Steven admitted, "I sort of knew, despite a valiant attempt, that I wasn't going to get Chris Eccleston. He was lovely about it, but it just wasn't for him."

Rather than being a major blow, the actor's non-involvement opened up the story for some even bigger surprises. Steven toyed briefly with having the Ninth Doctor's role carried by the Eighth Doctor, but could not reconcile the warrior Doctor with the incarnation played by Paul McGann in the 1996 TV Movie. Then the writer recalled watching The Five Doctors in 1983; for this story, the First Doctor had been played by Richard Hurndall, cast since William Hartnell — the original First Doctor — had died in 1975. While Hurndall's performance was effective, Steven had been aware that it bore little resemblance to Hartnell's Doctor... almost as if this was an entirely different incarnation who had also engaged upon other, untelevised adventures. This notion of a 'mayfly' Doctor who appeared for just one show was something Steven had previously considered, particularly if a major movie star could be persuaded to guest as a future incarnation. The opportunity now arose to introduce an incarnation of the Doctor who had fought in the war and who had never been talked about. This incarnation wouldn't even refer to himself as 'the Doctor' because of the terrible decisions he had made during the Time War. This new incarnation could offer the age and the irritability of the First Doctor as in The Three Doctors; a Time Lord who had existed during the nine years between 1996 and 2005, whose adventures had never appeared on television. "What was he up to?" pondered Steven at the ExCeL. "What was he up to when we weren't looking at him...?" Such a part would be able to attract a major star.

This page even shows some bits of a storyboard with Eccleston's Doctor:

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Another recent article in which Moffat talks about the chaos behind the scenes in the planning of the anniversary special can be found here. Moffat seems to say that the decision to have a "hidden" incarnation, and the hiring of John Hurt, were both last-minute matters, with Moffat indicating that after finishing the script he only had about two weeks to find an actor:

He was top of our list. I wrote the War Doctor script and we sent it off to John Hurt, assuming that was the beginning of a frantic two weeks of sending it off to every actor you’ve ever heard off and got Janette Krankie. And – God bless him for ever! – he said yes almost immediately. That was the first stroke of luck we had on that sodding show.

As a side note, Mike Edenfield's answer says "everything we know about the history of the Ninth Doctor tells us that he had just regenerated when he shows up in Rose, to the point where he's still looking at his new face in the mirror", but in fact another recent issue of Doctor Who Magazine shows that this was not the original intent of writer/showrunner Russell T. Davies. From the May 2015 issue (Issue 485), p. 42:

The Doctor saying "Look at the ears" as he looks in the mirror was added in the second draft, and could be taken to imply he has only recently regenerated. DWM asked Russell if this was meant to be the case. "Well, I hate being prescriptive here, cos sometimes, when I give an opinion on a scene, because I'm the writer and producer, it can become a fact. When I much prefer it if you make your own mind up. But enough time has passed now so, for the record... No, I do not think he'd just regenerated. If you have certain physical features like big ears, or buck teeth, you look at them and sigh at them every time you look in the mirror. And I think, if you'd had eight different faces, even if you'd been in this current form for a hundred years, you'd still mutter at them. So it was meant as a nod to the fact that he'd once had other faces. But I wrote the Titanic stuff and Krakatoa assuming that the Ninth Doctor had been around for a while. He doesn't act very post-regeneration, does he? He appears in command, waving a bomb. This is a man who knows himself, and has known himself for a while."

(The "Titanic stuff and Krakatoa" refers to the scene later in the premiere episode where Rose meets up with an obsessed Doctor-tracker who has found some old pictures of Chris Eccleston's Doctor reappearing at various points throughout history, including the Titanic, Krakatoa, and the JFK assassination)

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    Tengentially related, may be of interest: the popular fan theory is that the Titanic and Krakatoa stuff all took place (when following the idea that he DID just regenerate) between Rose refusing to go with him, and him showing back up 5 seconds later to say it's a time machine. – Mac Cooper Sep 24 '15 at 12:06
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I hadn't heard that rumour before, and I'm very skeptical that it was ever a legitimate thought in Moffat's mind. There are several problems with that scenario (both in-universe and out-of-universe).

The canon reason why that makes no sense is pretty simple: everything we know about the history of the Ninth Doctor tells us that he had just regenerated when he shows up in Rose, to the point where he's still looking at his new face in the mirror. The implication is that whatever he did to end the war was very fresh in his mind, but once it was over, he died and regenerated into Nine, and tried to run as far from that event as possible.

Also, while you claim those actions would fit with 9's personality, I don't see it. In order to be the "War Doctor", 9 would have had to fight in the war, leading up to its eventual ending event. By that point he would likely have a very battled-hardened personality, as you see in many long-time veteran soldiers. The Ninth Doctor might have had some anger issues come out every so often, but he was clearly not "gruff and battle-hardened"; he was regretful and trying very hard to run away from what he had done. It wasn't even really until Eleven that we see some attempt to "make peace" with his actions.

(If anything, the most reasonable non-Hurt theory would be that the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, was the War Doctor. We see nothing of him on-screen between the end of the movie and the mini-episode filmed for the special, so there's plenty of room for him to fight in the war.)


Out-of-universe, I would be highly skeptical that Moffat would place such an important role on Christoper Eccleston's shoulders before even asking him to play it. Eccleston's behind-the-scenes problems and dislike for the BBC's Doctor Who production crew aren't exactly secret, and he's avoided even talking about them ever since his departure.

Beyond that, the idea of a nameless secret non-Doctor actually seems like exactly the kind of swerve that Moffat likes to put into his stories, so I would not be surprised if that was the very first thing about the 50th anniversary episode that he had locked down in his mind.

Of course we don't know what Moffat and Eccleston actually talked about but I doubt it was a major part; I would hope that he was at least asked to do a proper regeneration scene, but otherwise I think it would have been hard to fit all three recent Doctors with proper storylines into the episode and still get the crux of the issue -- Hurt-Doctor's moral dilemma -- across.

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    In regards to the numbering, The Doctor never considered the John Hurt regeneration to have the title "The Doctor" as he was a soldier (The Night of The Doctor). So Christopher Eccleston was the 10th regeneration, but only the 9th Doctor. However, his opinion may well have changed after The Day of The Doctor. – Hand-E-Food Nov 25 '13 at 5:32
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    Don't forget that Eccelston's Doctor was asked if he was 'coward or <something>' at one point. He acted tough for about 3 seconds before surrendering and saying, "Coward. Every time." – Jeff Dec 7 '13 at 14:42
  • The Ninth Doctor is the ninth regeneration, not the tenth. – Thom Brannan Feb 6 '14 at 19:23

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