Christopher Eccleston has made the decision not to return to "Doctor Who" for a second series, according to news reports confirmed today by the BBC.
While today's earlier story about the second series/Christmas special renewal included hints that Eccleston might be hedging hits bets on a return, the first reports circulated before midnight UK time as it was announced the Sun would lead Thursday with the phrase "Doctor Who Quits," joined by the Daily Mirror. The story was then picked up by the Scotsmanand the Press Association news feed, fueling speculation that this was either a true story or possibly an interpretation by the broadsheets of Jane Tranter's comments (see story below) about how "People will have to wait and see what happens" regarding the other 12 episodes to be shown. Later in the evening, BBC News confirmed the news, first with a "breaking news" splash on their home page, then a short update and finally a full story regarding Eccleston's decision not to return for a second year. "Eccleston, whose first appearance as the ninth Time Lord attracted around 10 million viewers, feared being typecast," says the report, although this may simply be speculative about his reasons for deciding not to return. Press Association's report said, "Actor Christopher Eccleston has quit as Doctor Who after just one series, it was announced tonight. The star, who has appeared in television drama Cracker and hit film, Shallow Grave, is worried about being typecast. He is also planning new projects and found filming the series gruelling. In a statement issued through the BBC, Eccleston said: æThe audience's response for the new Doctor Who has been incredible and I am really proud to be part of it and I hope viewers continue to enjoy the series."
The reports mention that Billie Piper will return next year to the role of Rose Tyler.
Meanwhile, BBC News also confirmed today the rumors that it was in talks with actor David Tennant, the star of the new Davies-produced drama "Casanova," which is currently showing on BBC3, as a possible replacement for Eccleston... a suggestion originally reported by yesterday's Mirror when it noted that Eccleston had not indicated he was coming back to the role (see "Wednesday Series Coverage" below). Says BBC News: "A BBC spokesman said the corporation would issue a formal statement later on Thursday and that it had hoped, rather than expected, that Eccleston would continue in the role. He said that although talks to make David Tennant the 10th Doctor were taking place, other names may be put forward. Bill Nighy was also considered for the Eccleston role, while Richard E Grant starred in a BBC web drama version of Doctor Who. Casanova, which moves to BBC1 from BBC3 on Monday, added to Tennant's reputation after his success in the drama Blackpool." Obviously, Tennant's name being put forward as a possible successor indicates that the decision by Eccleston not to return has been some time in the making, prompting hedged comments from members of the production and the BBC and possible negotiations with Tennant (which he earlier denied were taking place, but that could also have been delaying until an announcement about Eccleston was made.) The reports also indicate that Tennant's name has been put forward and that they're in talks, but nothing's been confirmed yet and it's too early to call him the Tenth Doctor just yet... though today's Media Guardian suggests that Tennant "is the only name being looked at".
There is currently no final word as to whether or not Eccleston will return for the Christmas special announced earlier today -- some news reports suggest he will, but this may simply be choice of words. Meanwhile, despite the reported reason of typecast fearing, there may be budgetary concerns in the mix. Jane Tranter, BBC Head of Drama Commissioning, had said in a statement reported in the Times that new dramas will face 15 per cent budget cuts to pay for prestige hits such as Doctor Who. "Dr Who and current shows are protected but we have to find a way of making a certain number of dramas at a lower cost," the Times noted, as well as mentioning that "Producers will be told to squeeze out more minutes of drama a day during shoots and star actors face tough salary negotiations. Speaking before the new doctor announced his departure, Ms Tranter said ominously: 'Now weÆve got to start talking to Billie Piper and Chris about what they want to do. There is a mischievous element to it, in that you can keep regenerating the Doctor.'"
The story was likely to not be reported on for some time, but apparently got out to the tabloids, forcing the BBC to make comments about this as the Thursday morning sheets went to press. Other locations reporting this story this evening include the Independent, the Telegraph, Scotsman (a separate news item than the one above) and WaveGuide. Expect a lot more reporting on this in the press in the hours to come, as it's interesting to note that -- like the announcement of the new series itself and of Christopher Eccleston's casting -- the story broke after much of British fandom had gone to bed for the evening.
Update 31 March 0720 GMT: According to reports, this news has been mentioned today on GMTV's Breakfast show and has also made the BBC morning news headlines. Many reports are expected throughout the day; when they come in, we'll post links to them here.
Update 31 March 0840 GMT: Several sources are claiming that Tennant actually will be the Doctor for the second series, instead of just someone the BBC is talking to. No word as yet from official sources as to whether or not Tennant has been signed to the role. Meanwhile, more press sources are reporting this story this morning:
The Mirror, The Sun (claiming as always an "exclusive"), Daily Mail, This Is London, Ananova, Sky News,Digital Spy, Movie Hole, Variety, BoingBoing.
Update 31 March 1600 GMT: The BBC press office has issued a press release; meanwhile, there's more information including links to various news reporting agencies carrying the story coming later today.
(Thanks to Paul Engelberg, Steve Tribe and Chuck Foster for hunting down news items despite not being very happy about it...)