Doctor Who: a celebration of David Tennant

News Andrew Blair 21 Feb 2012 - 14:56

Andrew looks back at how the tenth doctor, David Tennant, swept some Doctor Who audiences off their feet and injected welcome silliness back into the show...

Remember 2006? Torchwood had yet to flail onto our screens, The Sarah Jane Smith Big Finish audio plays continued the adventures of Elisabeth Sladen's popular character, and all we knew about the Tenth Doctor was that he could recite lengthy passages of The Lion King and could throw a small citrus fruit with unerring accuracy. By and large his personality wasn't fully formed, but what we'd seen had been very promising. 

After the 2005 series Doctor Who was back, more popular than anyone had expected it to be, and David Tennant was an up-and-coming young actor who had worked solidly to great acclaim in theatre and on TV. He was, also, a massive Doctor Who fan. Now that the role was being played by someone with detailed knowledge of the series (I have been informed that Tennant can identify Target Novelisations just from looking at a small detail of Roger Delgado's nose from the cover) it meant that the back story would be more readily embraced, elements above and beyond the returns of the major monsters and villains. It also meant that he knew what elements of the character could be reacted against, developed further, or explored for the first time. After the relative seriousness of Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant's tenure allowed Doctor Who to be really, really silly again. For that, we have much to be thankful for.

Initially, we weren't sure if Rose and Ten would work. If anything, they got on better than before, to the extent where they started to get on people's nerves a little. The series arc investigated the impact that the Doctor had on people's lives when he moves on. It was all about setting up Rose and the Doctor for a fall, as sometimes they had so much fun that they forgot to consider other people.

Ultimately, Rose Tyler is the defining character from this era. Martha Jones, sadly, doesn't get a chance to emerge from under her shadow until it's too late, as Rose has firmly planted herself in the Doctor's brain. Donna Noble is a much stronger, more mature character as a result. It allows Rose to return in The Stolen Earth without any jealousy. Mind you, if she hadn't come back in Series 4, imagine how much more bittersweet her cameo in The End of Time would have been. 

Ten is, then, infatuated. He's also incredibly tactless as a result, his brain working so quickly and his tongue acting accordingly that he doesn't really have time to engage any sort of filters, saying incredibly rude things amidst the genius without realising it, sometimes to hilarious effect. He's bewitching and charismatic when he's on your side, obstinate and insufferable when he's not. The companion's role is no longer to be an audience identification figure, but to translate the Doctor into a more palatable individual so people don't simply get confused and annoyed by him, as happens in Midnight.

Largely, David Tennant's Doctor sweeps people off their feet though. He's the Sixth Doctor with mass appeal, good jokes and stylish clothes. The over-confidence and self pity is an undercurrent rather than a dominant trait. He also has similarities with Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor. Both are occasionally unlikeable for reasons of hubris, and part of massively popular Doctor Who families. 

For me Tennant's Doctor is quite a dark take on the character, with a mile-thick front of bonhomie. He's got the chirpy and cocksure swagger thing going on and is quick to quip but because Tennant isn't naturally eccentric - rather naturally charismatic - it's an easy interpretation to see this as a front for a damaged, occasionally thoughtless man who is unaware of the lives he is wrecking. Because he's so magnetic he attracts people to him only for them to get killed or go through sheer hell in the process. Other Doctors have this trait, but for Ten it's more pronounced. Look at Rose. That's the love of his life, and she ends up estranged in another dimension with a homicidal clone version of him. This is what happens to the people he adores. 

He's like a cross between a magpie and Galactus - Devourer of Worlds. Companions start telling people how they know he's dangerous, but that they can't help themselves. What makes it worse is that people are willing to forgive him until he inevitably goes too far in The Waters of Mars and, without anyone to tell him otherwise, then goes on a mini-hedonism binge to avoid confronting his mistakes.

This Doctor has a universe wide legacy and is adored by millions, but he's also a fascinatingly divisive and possibly bi-polar figure who pushes the boundaries of what a popular and attractive TV character can be. It's very interesting to see how this behaviour is not just tolerated but filtered into a positive, because the man is also fundamentally good and does wonderful things, all said with a smile and a laugh and a twinkle in his eye.

It's easy to forget that he's also completely horrible  to his closest friends. Take The End of Time. It's a study of four old men who, when faced with death, don't really want to die very much. The most heroic character in it is Bernard Cribbin's Wilf Mott, who rescues an anonymous man from the radiation chamber without a second thought. The Doctor, who will regenerate anyway, briefly rails at Wilf before accepting his fate only after pointing out how big a sacrifice he is making. The character is ugly. Hugely flawed. Yet he's one of the most popular intepretations of the role ever, and The End of Time is one of the most popular episodes of the show ever (based on audience figures and Audience Appreciation Index results). That's pretty fascinating, as far as I'm concerned. The Tenth Doctor is both illuminating and repellent, both the romantic hero and the tortured lunatic. Every aspect of this duality is mined for all its worth by David Tennant.

After Matt Smith took over there was a period of Tennant-bashing - a monstrously unfair act considering the good will he bore fandom, and the impeccable way he represented the show - which happens a fair bit whenever a major change occurs. Possibly Series 4 and the Specials were slightly tired to some fans, but the critical acclaim and audience reaction to some of them was, if anything, higher than any time since 2005. If you dislike the Tenth Doctor, try to think of him as someone you're supposed to dislike a bit, and that makes some episodes vastly more interesting and bearable.

I'll be blunt: the Tenth Doctor is, personally, far from my favourite incarnation, and quite a few of the arguments presented here are highly subjective and represent a minority of fandom, but nonetheless, he's still the Doctor. Yes, he's one of my least favourites, but he's still the Doctor. 

By virtue of this fact, well, he can't help but be a little bit brilliant, can he?

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Someone said on here that Matt Smoth had more BAFTA nominations than David Tennant...but tell me this...how many times did David Tennant win Best Actor at the National TV Awards...(four times )which is decided by the public and not by a panel and Matt Smith has been nominated three times and only won once at the NTA and the competition he was up against wasn't that good.

i think that daviedtennat as the doctor is realy good at acting i would like to see him in the doctorwho progames again i will allwyas be his bigs fan forver i hope to meet hime onday sigh the will be a dream come true.

from batgrilxxx

Tennant won a BAFTA ... epic fail

If Matt Smith and Steven Moffat were so great, why would you need to use such negativeness to describe RTD and Tennant? Why not, instead, find flaws in their series to carrying out your point?

Don't get me wrong, I find all of them brilliant. Season 5 and 6 were very enjoyable. However, when I think of the those two seasons, I remember only the pandorica and the big bang because they left many many questions that were not even answered in season 6.

RTD's episode are silly (some are ridiculously silly that I cannot bear to watch the second time), but they have depths. That is partly what brought Tennant to be success as the most popular and best Doctor. Furthermore, I love how RTD's episodes made his Doctor an explorer. Despite the fact the Doctor carries the great knowledge about the Universe, but RTD's Doctor did not stop. The love for all the wonderful things of time and space was strongly expressed in almost every episodes during season 1-4. Furthermore, I like the fact that the Doctor is not a killer. Just like his name, the Doctor, a healer, so every time he encounters an alien, the Doctor either gave one warning or "let me help you."

Moffat's Doctor and characters are very funny, I cannot deny that. I enjoy his episodes very much. However, once the humor gone, there is not much left. If you also watch Sherlock, you will fall in love with Sherlock, but not his companion. I think Moffat put too much effort into the main character and ignoring the rest, which is not good, especially two peoples who run along with the Doctor for more than two seasons like Amy and Rory. I like the new aliens and some changes he brought, but I guess little by little would be much better than trying to squeeze all the great ideas together (I learned this the hard way, especially in writing - if you know what I mean).

I personally have a big love to astronomy and science fiction, so I find RTD's Doctor as an explorer, a learner, a quirky but acknowledges his own weaknesses are un-deniable. For my best and only and definitely favorite, it was David's Doctor who made me love Doctor Who. So, perhaps David Tennant had planted an image of how the Doctor should be in my head that made it hard for me to accept the humorous Matt Smith (Eccleston was my first Doctor).

I don't think it is shocking that the End of Time was so popular among viewers. Ten's "ugly" tangent was actually a really beautifully written illumination into his character's realizing and accepting of fate - while also understanding how he has changed into a "man" he doesn't like anymore (time lord victorious). "I could do so much more" to me was touching, but I understood it as him saying he could do so much more than he has already done, which was already so incredibly much (i didn't think of it as him being more valuable than wilf. his "you're not remotely important" was sarcastic). He doesn't think he will just regenerate either... he thought he was really going to die. The knock-four-times prophecy was one of death, hence how moments before, he was on the floor, shocked to still have survived the master/time lord fall out. That monologue was hugely flawed, but in the human sense. He becomes a real character... an imperfect one - and that flaw is what makes him loveable. We see him have an ugly moment. We all have ugly moments. And we love him more because he is vulnerable. I think the Matt Smith/Tennant comparisons get heated because the two doctors are on different playing fields as far as production value, etc. It's almost a different show. I was told to start at 2005, but if someone told me to start at 2010, I wouldn't have thought I missed anything) It's like they upped the budget, found a cute, strong-willed companion and gave Smith some epic arcs when he began, which, lets be honest, is not exactly the same thing Tennant walked into. Tennant is my doctor, but I (despite how hard I fought it) do like Smith's doctor too. He is alien enough for them to be likeable in different ways.

How is Smiith's doctor unique? Lol More like he's trying way too much to be Tennant/Baker/Troughton but I don't blame him cause it's the same character only "unique" doesn't remotely in every way is what to call him. Tennant's doctor has more of the unique qualities and personalities that gives more depth to the character. And to think that he's a big of a fanboy he could just do impressions of the previous doctors instead he made it his own.

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