There’s presently a great deal of excitement around the fact that David Bradley, whose numerous credits include playing Argus Filch on Harry Potter and the slave-driving, dinosaur-thieving villain Solomon on the Doctor Who episode “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” has been cast as William Hartnell in the upcoming BBC docudrama about the early days of the show. But it’s worth mentioning that David Bradley has another connection to the series: he was a core part of Our Friends in the North, a British serial broadcast over nine episodes in 1996, starring Gina McKee (Mirrormask), Daniel Craig (Casino Royale), Mark Strong (
every villain ever Kick-Ass) and—wait for it—Christopher freakin’ Eccleston, who played the Ninth Doctor and the first one of the reboot of Doctor Who.
Our Friends in the North is about as far from Doctor Who as it’s possible to get while working in the same medium. It’s an amazing character history of Newcastle, with each episode offering a year-long window into the lives of the four main characters over the course of four decades, as they variously interact with the American Civil Rights movement, changing gender politics, government corruption, police corruption, Thatcher, and the Miners’ Strike. Needless to say it’s also relentlessly grim. “The triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism” it is decidedly not.
David Bradley plays Eddie Wells, who is, along with Gina McKee’s character, a moral centre for much of the series: a quiet, kind-hearted, generous man, a life-long supporter of the interests of his city’s working class, and a loyal, supportive friend. (It was a terrible shock to see Wells’ beloved Muppety face somehow transformed into Solomon’s grizzled Visage-of-Villain. This is largely because at the time I had no idea Bradley had also played Argus Filch.) Christopher Eccleston plays Dominic “Nicky” Hutchinson, the hot-headed son of Eddie’s best friend, rebel with too many causes, impulsive, ideological, full of Yeats’ “passionate intensity” with little care for how he affects the lives of real people. In the series, Eddie Wells is often a mentor to Nicky, a source of guidance and compassion, but given the unrelenting nature of the series, they point out each others’ failings and part on poor terms.
Which has me wondering: just how amazing would it be to see Bradley cast, not just as William Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time, but in Doctor Who proper as an instance of the First Doctor? And suppose, just suppose, that Christopher Eccleston should briefly reprise his role as the Ninth? On what show but Doctor Who could we watch Eddie Wells and Nicky Hutchinson regenerating into Time Lords from Newcastle before reconciling?
While Eccleston has frequently stated that he has no interest in returning to Doctor Who, Bradley’s news has me hoping against hope that there’s a chance a Five Doctors style reunion might yet take place, with Bradley, Davison, Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith teaming up for what Al Kennedy of House to Astonish has termed “SHENANNIVERSARIGANS (n) secretive goings-on around the Doctor Who 50th celebrations.”
And even if there is no chance whatsoever of that happening, well, at least think of the new opportunities for (extremely, awfully, terribly grim) cross-over fanfic!
Amal El-Mohtar is the author of The Honey Month, a collection of stories and poems written to the taste of 28 different kinds of honey. She has twice received the Rhysling award for best short poem, and her short story “The Green Book” was nominated for a Nebula award. She has recently contributed more ramblings on Doctor Who to Chicks Unravel Time (Mad Norwegian Press), and also edits Goblin Fruit, an online quarterly dedicated to fantastical poetry. Follow her on Twitter.