By Ani Bundel

It was a Whovian room that assembled at New York Comic Con’s early Thursday panel starring Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston. Though he was only in the role for a single year, it was his reimagining of the Doctor that relaunched the series in 2006. His work since has also included the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and one of HBO’s most beloved cult hits, The Leftovers.

And yet, Eccleston avoided attending conventions for a long time. Speaking to moderator Constance Gibbs of the TARBIS podcast, he admitted for a long time he had a hang-up about being taken seriously as an actor: “As someone from a working-class background, it’s hard to get taken seriously intellectually, so I was trying to play Hamlet all the time.” That said, he admits Hamlet never appealed to him either. His real goal was live theater, playing men like Macbeth or Lear, soldier-types he could connect with as working men, rather than philosopher princes.

It was his uber-seriousness, he feels, that lead him to his role as the Doctor. The sense was that the Doctor had gotten too “zany,” and Eccleston may be many things, but “zany” isn’t one of them.

Unfortunately, Eccleston’s exit from Doctor Who was a rocky one. In his words, it came about due to disagreements with “three specific individuals,” and the UK press turned it into a sort of “betrayal.” He said, “The UK press never wants to talk about the positive.”

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Part of why he’s taken to the convention circuit now is to clear up the misconception that he somehow hated the role. He loved the character and the world, he insists, seeing his Doctor as an advocate for all living creatures, and someone who would rail against the lack of action on climate change. He especially loved the scripts written by Steven Moffat, namechecking “The Doctor Dances” and “The Empty Child.” In Eccleston’s words, “They were gifts.”

He also sees his rocky exit as a gift of a different sort. The cloud under which he left led him to be unofficially blacklisted from the BBC for a while, shaking his self-confidence to the core. “The good news,” as he put it, “is that once you get it back, you never lose it again.”

It also led to his role in Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World, which he point-blank admits he hated. (Though he would gladly come back for Thor: Love and Thunder, calling Taika Waititi’s films “brilliant.”) And then there was HBO’s The Leftovers. Eccleston spent as much time discussing his role as preacher Matt Jamison as he did the Doctor. He worried the audience hadn’t seen it, but he needn’t have. Despite the Whovian cosplay, more of the audience Q&A focused on The Leftovers than any other role he’d done.

Eccleston’s current role is more comedic than fans might be used to, in the BBC’s primetime drama The A Word (available in the US streaming via Amazon Prime). It’s a series focusing on autism (hence the “A Word”) and how mental health is something that touches lives every day.

He’s also published a book, I Love The Bones Of You, based on his own mental health issues over the years and the loss of his father to dementia. He says it’s the right time to publish a book because the first 50 years of his life were the first act. Now, it’s time for a new one.