When Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special was being planned, the original goal was to have Christopher Eccleston reprise the Ninth Doctor, a character he hadn’t played since 2005. Despite meeting with showrunner Steve Moffat, Eccleston declined to return to the series, which led to his iteration of the Time Lord being replaced with a secret incarnation: the War Doctor, played by John Hurt. However, before this creative adjustment was made, there was already a good plan for how the Ninth Doctor would have fit into the story.
Artist Andrew Widman illustrated some storyboards of how the Ninth Doctor would have been used in “The Day of the Doctor” had Eccleston agreed to appear. You can look at the images over at Bleeding Cool, but here’s how writer Rich Johnston, who bought copies of the storyboards, described some of the early scenes featuring Nine:
Then we see the barn on Gallifrey, but instead of the War Doctor played by John Hurt, we get The Ninth Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston. And instead of The Moment played by Billie Piper, we get a young girl…
The Ninth Doctor then jumped through the portal and came upon the Tenth Doctor and the two Queen Elizabeths. In the special itself, it was the Eleventh Doctor that did this, and the War Doctor came from the barn last to find his two future selves. From there, it’s likely things would have progressed like they did in the final cut, although as noted, The Moment was originally going to be played a young girl rather than Billie Piper, who originally played Ninth and Tenth Doctor companion Rose Tyler. Since the War Doctor forgot about his adventure with the other Doctors, it’s possible the special might have also gotten away with the Ninth Doctor interacting with Piper’s Moment before actually meeting Rose Tyler, but Piper’s interactions with Hurt were nonetheless fun to watch in the final product.
Although Eccleston kicked off the Doctor Who revival in 2005, he left after the first season due to disagreements over the show’s creative direction and not wanting to stay at the job for too long. Before the War Doctor was introduced, fans were led to believe that it was the Ninth Doctor who destroyed Gallifrey in the Time War, but it turns out Nine came into being following the conclusion of the war, though that didn’t stop him from feeling enormous guilt over his actions. The Ninth Doctor was still able to appear in the special via archival footage alongside the pre-2005 Doctors, and Eccleston’s face was partly overlapped on Hurt’s face as the War Doctor regenerated.
Eccleston’s absence wasn’t the only complication the Doctor Who crew had to deal with while planning the 50th anniversary. Weeks before filming began, Smith and David Tennant still weren’t contracted to appear, not to mention any other previous Doctors. In fact, the only actor who was confirmed was Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald. In the end, things worked out, and Doctor Who gave fans an epic romp across time and space with several Doctors, following in the footsteps of classic episodes like The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors.
As for Doctor Who’s future, fans can expect another Christmas special at the end of the year, followed by Season 10 airing sometime in 2017. From there, new showrunner Chris Chibnall will take over for Season 11 in 2018. Could that be the change that brings Christopher Eccleston back one day? We'll have to wait and see.