If there’s been one stand-out success story of the relaunched Doctor Who, it’s the career trajectory of David Tennant, a respected Shakespearean actor who took on the role of the Tenth Doctor and found himself catapulted to stardom. And, as it’s Mr. Tennant’s birthday, here’s my tribute to his Doctor…
The Tenth Doctor was a dashing, romantic lead, a man who’d finally been incarnated with good looks and social skills and who had therefore discovered he liked kissing. David Tennant was fantastic at playing this – a bit skinny, a bit geeky, but also loveable and a bit cool. And it worked – among a general audience, I’d be willing to bet that Tennant is the most popular Doctor, and much of that is down to the actor, who always comes across as a really nice guy in interviews and who was a huge fan of the show. Talent, charm and enthusiasm count for a lot.
I guess it doesn’t hurt that he’s a good looking guy as well.
And yet, while people remember the Tenth Doctor as being funny and attractive and romantic, there’s another side to the character, one that’s a lot darker than people tend to give the era credit for. The Tenth Doctor could be arrogant and hubristic. And it was those qualities that contributed to his downfall.
Look at his back story – the Tenth Doctor was born out of the ashes of the Ninth, who was a battle-scarred survivor wracked with guilt. His dying act was to engineer a win out of a no-win situation that paralleled his greatest sin. Maybe that’s why the Tenth Doctor could be over-confident – he was guy who could always find a way to win, because he was the Doctor, the man who beats the monsters. He started to believe his own publicity. He could backchat royalty and snog beautiful women throughout history.
This meant that, when he discovered he was going to die he railed against it, throwing petulant abuse at the man he would ultimately sacrifice himself to save. This was a shock, an out of character display from a character who had started to believe his own galactic legend. His last words were “I don’t want to go”, and while the sentiment is fair enough, it came from a man who had become touched by arrogance and hubris. His fate paralleled that of his people, the Time Lords, and so the Tenth Doctor had to die to himself in order to put aside those flaws and become a new man, one less likely to lose the core of his being.
That was the Tenth Doctor’s last act of heroism for the universe – not following the path of his people and becoming a monster, but identifying that darkness within and not succumbing. The legend willingly dies to save an old man, because everyone is valuable and because it’s the right thing to do. He becomes someone less cool, less dashing in the process, and maybe that was his penance,
Tennant’s Doctor was hugely popular and deservedly so – for all some would like Doctor Who to be a cult show, providing hard science fiction stories to a select group of aficionados, the fact is it’s meant to be a big, popular Saturday night highlight that resonates with a general audience while maintaining its geek roots. The Tenth Doctor was great at achieving that, and Tennant was a fantastic ambassador for the show. Even before he started in the role, pictures of him wearing t-shirt reading “Trust me, I’m a doctor” made me think he was going to be good. And he was.
Happy birthday David!