The David Tennant Years - I Don't Want To Go
By Paul Bowler
David Tennant is perhaps one of the few people who seem to have truly been born to play the role of The Doctor. The Scot actor and self-confessed Dr Who fan really did get to live the dream of travelling in time and space, and after studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Tennant’s early television career included roles in Rab C Nesbit and Taking over the Asylum to name but a few. By the time Christopher Eccelston had decided he was not returning for a second season, Russell T Davies had already chosen David Tennant to be his successor. David Tennant was already closely associated with Big Finish Audio Plays, having appeared in Colditz (2001), Sympathy for the Devil and Exile (2002), as well as roles in Dalek Empire III and Medicinal Purposes in 2004 and even the online animated story Scream of the Shalka (2003). By the time Tennant was offered the role of the Doctor while filming the BBC’s three part drama about the life of Casanova, you could say that his appointment with destiny had been sealed, and after only a few days consideration, David Tennant embraced the roll of our favourite Time Lord and effectively made it his own.
David Tennant’s first season kicked off on the back of the Christmas Invasion (2005), but once the Sycorax had been dispatched by a well placed Satsuma the post regenerative trauma soon gave way to a familiar brown pin-stripped-suit, flowing coat, and Converse Trainers. This 10th incarnation seemed to seize the day: whisking Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) away with him to the gleaming metropolis of New Earth and a rematch with the villainous Cassandra, battling side by side with Queen Victoria against Werewolves and deranged Monks, and venturing into the farthest reaches of the galaxy (The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit) to a planet that hides one of the most devilish forces in all creation. The Doctor and Rose’s adventures are like those of star crossed teenagers as their relationship begins to blossom, and although Mickey (Noel Clarke) accompanies them briefly in the TARDIS, he quickly realizes that three is definitely a crowd and opts to stay behind and fight he Cybermen on an alternative Earth.
The three most defining moment of David Tennant’s first season are easily summed up by the return of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, scripts that are seeded with the inception of Torchwood, and Billie Piper’s imminent departure as Rose Tyler. Sarah Jane’s return in School Reunion is a mesmerizing moment; even K9 joins the party, although once again Mickey is left with the uncomfortable realization that he himself has become “the tin dog” of the new series. Anthony Stewart Head is also marvelous as the Krillitane leader, but it is Sladen’s performance that really shines above all else. The moment when the Doctor walks in Sarah and Rose talking about him is priceless. Indeed, Sarah Jane Smith would soon be back in a spin-off series of her own, sharing many more adventures with the 10th Doctor, but Rose Tyler’ time aboard the TARDIS was almost over. The climatic 2nd season finale Army of Ghosts / Doomsday finally saw the Dalek and the Cybermen slug it out on screen, probably the single most fantasized fan boy moment ever. But the price of victory was high as Rose became trapped with her family and Mickey back on the alternative Earth, with only a tea jerking holographic farewell to remember the Doctor by.
Without hardly a pause for breath, the Doctor is soon left reeling by a Christmas he’ll never forget, as he spars with Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble through out the course of the madcap wedding reception from hell that is The Runaway Bride. When Donna Noble turns down her chances to join the Doctor, it falls to junior Doctor Martha Jones to step into the TARDIS after the Judoon whisk the hospital she’s working in to the moon! Freema Agyeman is a joy as Martha Jones, but even though her TARDIS travels treat her to a flirtatious meeting with Shakespeare, battles with Daleks in Manhattan, and a terrifying descent into a living sun in 42, there is a sense that the Doctor is keeping her at arms length - even though he actually saves his life on more than one occasion. Rose Tyler’s shadow hangs heavily over Tennant’s Doctor, and this 10th incarnation only really begins to bond with Martha in the stunning adaptation of Paul Cornell’s New Adventure Novel: Human Nature. In this story the Doctor becomes a teacher in 1931 to escape the Family of Blood, sacrificing his Time Lord heritage and entrusting Martha with a pocket watch filled with all his knowledge and memories. The Doctor falls in love, but Martha must restore his true nature to defeat the Family of Blood, robbing of his one and only chance of a “normal” life. This is a lovely story, tempered by Martha’s unrequited love for the Doctor and his terrible wrath as he condemns the Family of Blood to their fate, topped off by a touching coda that is sure to bring a tear to the eye.
Stephen Moffat’s wonderful Weeping Angels also make their debut in the startlingly creepy Blink; a story set across so many plot threads and time zones that it makes your head hurt to even think about it too much. Though the Doctor and Martha are both physically absent for most of this adventure, their presence is always on hand to help the lovely Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligam) from a pile of DVD extras! Sally Sparrow is probably the greatest companion that never was, and perhaps fate was also intervening, as the Doctor was about to loose another companion quiet unexpectedly.
Martha Jone’s story came to an abrupt end when the Master returned in the tumultuous season three trilogy Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords that rounded off the 3rd season. John Simm’s Master makes a perfect foil for Tennant’s Doctor, but Martha’s family has suffered greatly during the Master rule over Earth, so she decided to remain behind and help them cope with the trauma of their experiences. It’s a sad farewell for Freema Agyeman as I firmly believe that the character of Martha Jones had a lot more to offer than just one season.
With the TARDIS crashing into the spaceship Titanic, a near miss with Buckingham Palace, and a star turn by Kyle Minogue, the Doctor was treated to a somewhat rude awakening when Donna Nobel barged her way back into the Time Lords life at the start of the 4th season premier: Partners in Crime. When David Tennant was joined by Catherine Tate in the TARDIS the show reached an unprecedented pinnacle of success. Together the Doctor and Donna reached for the stars to trip the light fantastic throughout all time and space: placing us on the edge of our seats with the searing drama of The Fires of Pompeii, the return of both the Sontaran’s and Martha Jones in The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky, as well as the Doctor’s first (or is it last?) meeting with Alex Kingston’s vivacious Professor River Song in The Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead. The Unicorn and the Wasp was another fabulous episode that centered on Agatha Christie. What could have been a somewhat dour story is brought to life by an all star cast and Tennant’s charismatic chemistry with Tate, all coming together in a witty script that pays a fitting homage to Christie and her vast body of work.
Donna is without a doubt one of David Tennant’s finest companions. Every scene they share crackles with energy. They are refreshingly free of angst and unrequited affection. Donna blossoms over the course of her adventures, supported by her overbearing mother (Jacqueline King) and her loving grandfather (Bernard Cribbins); she embraces her time aboard the TARDIS like few before her and makes the Doctor’s life all the richer for it.
But all good things must come to an end. With Russell T Davies already making preparations to hand the baton to Steven Moffat after a series of specials, Season Four ended in spectacular fashion with The Stolen Earth / Journeys End with a story that reunited Tennant’s Doctor with all of his companions in a desperate battle to save the world from Davros and the Daleks. Whovians held their collective breath when the Doctor appeared to regenerate half-way through the story. The phantom appearances of Rose Tyler which had peppered the season suddenly became clear, even Davros recalls his first encounter with Sarah Jane from Genesis of the Daleks (1975), but nothing could quite prepare us for the Donna Nobel’s terrible fate - consumed by Time Lord Knowledge her mind absorbed to destroy Davros and the Daleks, the Doctor is forced to wipe Donna’s memory and return her to a mundane life on Earth. It’s a terrible end for Donna, and possibly the cruelest fate of any of the Doctor’s companions.
Having already announced in October 2008 live on the NTA awards by satellite link from a production of Hamlet he was appearing in - and received rave reviews for - that he would be leaving the show the following year, The Next Doctor saw David Tennant travelling alone again in an action packed Christmas Special with all the trapping of Well’s and Verne. David Morrissey gives a startling turn as the faux Time Lord, Dervia Kirwan is deliciously evil as the misguided Mss Hartigan, all topped off with a bizarrely satisfying steam punk interpretation of the Cybermen. There was no full season of Doctor Who in 2009. Instead the year was filled by a number of specials: Planet of the Dead, The Waters of Mars, and the magnificent finale of the 10th Doctor’s era - The End of Time.
Tennant’s Doctor never seemed quite at ease during his solo adventures, almost tipping over the edge of madness as the Time Lord Victorious as he attempts to rewrite history in The Waters of Mars. It is fitting then that David Tennant was reunited with Donna’s grandfather for his final adventure - The End of Time. The plot is epic in scale, featuring the return of John Simm’s Master, as well as our first glimpse of The Time War and the ruins of Gallifrey when Rassilon (Timothy Dalton) tries to break free of the past. It’s a momentous moment for the series as the Doctor is faced with once more destroying his own people to save the greater good. Ultimately the Doctor has to sacrifice his life to save Wilf, but is able to hold back his regeneration long enough to visit his many friends on last time.
David Tennant’s legacy is one of overwhelming action and adventure. He’s a fantastic actor, and we all owe him a huge debt of thanks for the many years of hard work and selfless dedication that he has given to Doctor Who.