Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Tenth Doctor
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.
It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.
So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…
THE TENTH DOCTOR: DAVID TENNANT – 2005 – 2010
Just as Doctor Who in the 1970s became synonymous with Tom Baker, so Doctor Who in the ‘noughties’ became The David Tennant Show. A lifelong fan of the series, Tennant was the only real consideration for the Tenth Doctor, and for just over four years, he gave the show his all.
A rising star when he took the part thanks to roles in Blackpool, He Knew He Was Right and Russell T Davies’ rumpy-pumpy romp Casanova. Infused with decades of fan-admiration for the series, he had also appeared in several Big Finish audio productions, and took a cameo appearance in the 2003 animated webcast story, Scream of the Shalka.
This, coupled with his boyish, geek-chic looks and the usual wit of Davies pen made him an instant hit with both died-in-the-wool Whovians and a younger generation of new fans, male and female, but especially the latter. His Doctor started off as quirky but cool, menacing but lovable – flipping on a knife’s edge from a manic public persona to a battle-scarred, weary warrior with ease.
For all his duality, however, what tied his Doctor together was his romantic side. When Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor kissed his one-off companion Grace in the American pilot, it created an uproar, and Eccleston’s Ninth incarnation only kissed Rose Tyler to save her life. The Tenth Doctor, by and large, became known as the ‘Snogging Doctor’ – managing to kiss almost every companion he had, and for the first time In the show’s history, he appeared to genuinely fall in love.
Across his first series, he continued to be accompanied by Rose, who found her best friend had turned into the love of her life. This left her sort-of-boyfriend, Mickey, with somewhat on a dilemma, and while he was briefly welcomed aboard the TARDIS for adventures in time and space, he soon left of his own free will, realising Rose had moved on. By the time he returned, from a parallel dimension, no less, Mickey had become a gun-toting destroyer of Cybermen, ready to save Earth from the metal men… and the Daleks too.
Sadly for Rose, her time with The Doctor was coming to an end, and she found herself, Mickey, her mum Jackie and an alternate version of her long dead father, Pete, stuck in that parallel universe. Her story would echo throughout the rest of the Tenth Doctor’s era, with her successor Martha (Freema Agyeman), being overshadowed by definition of not being Rose.
A medical doctor herself, Martha is clever and sassy, but The Doctor is, for most of her travels, rather out-of-character. He’s actually pining for Rose, in a surprisingly pathetic way – the new fangirls loved it, but diehards rolled their eyelids, and wished that Agyeman would be given a stronger characterisation to develop. Eventually, after a brief return of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman, then heading up his own spin-off show, Torchwood), Martha moved on – refusing to live in the shadow of Rose Tyler any longer, though she would return the following season for a number of additional adventures, and later ended up meeting and marrying Mickey!
This soap-opera dimension divided long-term fans, but brought in huge critical and commercial acclaim, mostly because, on the whole, it was done well. When Russell T. Davies decided to bring back Elisabeth Sladen as popular 70s companion Sarah Jane Smith, he retconned her departure from the show to become a heartbreaking moment that shattered her world. In the old days, the idea of potential love affairs in the TARDIS was never on the minds of producers or writers, yet now Sarah Jane had been in utter love with the Time Lord who left her behind.
Yet somehow, it worked, and the results were so popular that she ended up fronting her own spin-off show, which we’ll cover in a later instalment alongside Torchwood. Similarly successful, against all odds, was the rise of ‘stunt-casting’, with big name actors lining up to appear in the series, and celebrity names desperate to cameo as themselves. This was the era in which McFly, Paul O’Grady, Reggie Yates and Trisha Goddard were just some of the names added to the cast lists with dubious merits, but thankfully they were also joined by such stellar names as David Morrissey, Timothy Dalton, Lindsay Duncan, Kylie Minogue, Anthony Head, Jessica Hynes, Lesley Sharp and a certain Peter Capaldi, but more on him another time…
Other big name stars turned up in the Tennant era and made a lasting impression. The biggest and brightest of these was Catherine Tate, who was, at the time, just about the biggest comic name in Britain. Her shock appearance at the climax of Season Two led into Christmas special The Runaway Bride, and she proved so popular that her character, Donna Noble, became a series regular in Series Four.
Donna was loud, opinionated, lost in the wilderness, and a little bit thick, but over the course of the series, the wonders of the universe saw her grow into a mature, independent woman who saved the world on several occasions. Whereas Rose wanted to be the love of The Doctor’s life, Donna became his best mate, and Tate managed to silence most of her critics by being magnificent in the role. But all good things must come to an end, and as Tennant’s reign began to reach its conclusion, Donna met a tragic end – her mind wiped of all memories of her adventures in order to save her Time Lord infused brain from burning up.
Coming as it did just minutes after all of Tennant’s companions came together to defeat Davros in a joyous moment of celebration, and Rose finally getting a happy ending, it was a complete sucker punch to the system. The results became one of the most beautifully realised sequences in the entire pantheon of Doctor Who, made all the more effective by the performances of Tennant, Tate and the incredible Bernard Cribbins as Donna’s grandfather, Wilf.
Yet it was at this point, that The Tenth Doctor’s reign, which had so far been a mostly enjoyable experience, began to wobble. A series of specials dragged out Tennant’s tenure for another 18 months, but the cracks of a production regime winding down began to show. Russell T. Davies, and his co-executive producer Julie Gardner both decided to step down alongside Tennant, and with Steven Moffatt about to take the reins, there was suddenly a surprising element of “Taking Our Ball Home Syndrome”.
It began by making The Doctor a rather unlikable man. In The Next Doctor, he was foolish to the extreme. By Planet of the Dead, he was an irritant – a cartoon caricature of the layered portrayal Tennant had previously brought to the role. The Waters of Mars was much better, but its final act turned The Doctor into a vengeful demi-god, willing to bend the laws of time any which way suited him, culminating in a final showdown against Time Lord leader Rassilon and the now super-powered, back from the dead once again version of The Master.
Ah yes… The Master. Temporarily played by Sir Derek Jacobi for all of five minutes, most of his 21st century incarnation was brought to life by John Simm, who had so brilliantly led Life On Mars to cult status a few years previously. Now, The Master had always been a ridiculous villain, and at times the likes of Antony Ainley and Eric Roberts had devoured the scenery in the name of camp nonsense. Yet by the time Simm came along, the character as written was so far removed from the Roger Delgado original, that he may well as not have been The Master at all… and his two stories got lost in ridiculous, quasi-religious imagery that, quite frankly, felt baffling from a self-confessed atheist like Davies.
Simm did his best with what he had, but his version of The Master, and those final two episodes summed up all that let the side down during the RTD era. It was acted magnificently, with Cribbins again rising to the occasion and moving many a grown fan to tears… but tonally the scripts were all over the place, defied logic and were just a little bit… well… overtly comedic.
Doctor Who always works best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but when it stops taking itself remotely seriously, it ends up being a bloated mess, like an Absorbaloff after a LINDA meeting. Great ideas, and beautiful setpieces would be cast aside later because it felt like an excuse to get people back for a shin-dig… Rose’s haunting farewell spoiled by continued reappearances right up the Tennant’s penultimate scene… Martha’s defiant goodbye ruined by her reappearing several times, then randomly marrying Rose’s ex… and Donna. Poor, magnificent Donna, was brought back for two episodes to mostly stand in the background, act stupid, pass out a bit, then get married to a random bloke, when surely the best way to bring back such a character would be to fix that memory wipe and give her a truly happy ending.
If this sounds like a condemnation of RTD, rest assured that’s far from my intention. When his Doctor Who worked, it was magnificent… truly, mind-blowing material. And let’s not forget, he brought it back in the first place, and Tennant’s Doctor built on Eccleston’s groundwork to cement the show a place in our nation’s hearts. It’s just that, in recent years, certain fan elements are regarding it as some magnificent, golden age that could do no wrong.
A recent Radio Times poll voted Tennant & Piper to be best Doctor and companion by a considerable margin, thanks to a string of diehard fangirls (and sorry to say it, but it is a section of vocal female fandom, swooning like Benedict Cumberbatch just asked to borrow their toothbrushes), and neglects to remember that for every Blink or Human Nature, there was a Fear Her or Love & Monsters. Both the Cybermen and the Daleks had woeful two-parters in this era, which also gave us wonderful two-parters like The Impossible Planet, or The Stolen Earth, the latter of which was so popular it topped the UK ratings charts for the only time in the show’s history, and got the whole nation talking.
If anything, what RTD and Tennant provided was a Greatest Hits version of Doctor Who. All the big guns were there, doing what they do best, but the real nuances of what makes the show special – those b-sides and album tracks – were featured more sporadically. There’s an argument that, in recent years, the show has gone the opposite way around, which could very well be the case, and all of this is down to personal preference anyway. Perhaps it’s just the way The Tenth Doctor ended his life being a stoppy, whining ball of pathetic loathing, insisting he was going to die instead of regenerate, and ending his life with the god-awful last words of: “I don’t want to go”, that have left a sour taste behind. Maybe his appearance in the 50th anniversary special will let me fall in love with the Tenth Doctor again… but for now, he remains a wonderful, if ultimately flawed version of my favourite time and space adventurer…
STORIES TO START WITH:
Blink: It had to be Blink, really. Often cited as the finest episode of Doctor Who ever made, this episode barely even features The Doctor or Martha at all, concentrating on the adventures of Sally Sparrow (Oscar nominated actress Carey Mulligan), and her encounter with the mysterious Weeping Angels. If you only ever watch one episode… make it this one.
Human Nature/The Family of Blood: It’s odd how Tennant’s finest episodes are the ones with the least amount of screen-time for his Doctor, but this is a tour-de-force for his acting abilities regardless. Disguised as a human teacher in a pre-WW1 public school, The Doctor is now John Smith, his memories suppressed until bad guys with a death-wish come a calling.
Turn Left: Another Doctor-lite story, this one focuses on Catherine Tate’s wondrous performance as Donna Noble, whose timeline is altered so that she never meets The Doctor. As a result, the Time Lord dies, and so do all of his friends, one-by-one, as the Earth falls to alien attacks he would have prevented. The only way to fix the timelines is for Donna to trust a strange woman who calls herself Rose Tyler…
The Girl in the Fireplace: A true whirlwind romance for The Doctor, which manages to be far more believable and heart-breaking in 45 minutes than the Rose love-story was over three seasons. On an abandoned spaceship in space, The Doctor, Rose and Mickey discover a series of passageways into the life of 17th century aristocrat Madame de Pompadour…
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End: An epic two-parter in which a revived Davros leads a Dalek attack on all of reality itself, and The Doctor and Donna must call on Martha, Jack, Rose, Mickey, Jackie, Sarah Jane and even shamed former Prime Minister Harriet Jones to save the universe.
STORIES TO AVOID:
Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel: This story falls down for pointlessly revamping the Cybermen – aliens from the planet Mondas who replaced their body parts with cybernetic limbs and organs in a bid for immortality – with a factory-produced overtly-stomping product made by Trigger from Only Fools And Horses. Ol’ Trig decides it’s a great idea to deliver every line as if he’s narrating the Rocky Horror Show, and one devious sequence featuring The Lion Sleeps Tonight aside, it’s an absolute turkey, in which humanity is saved by the villains having a random slot on their MEGAPLAN computer that just happens to be the exact docking station for Rose’s antiquated, virus-enabled mobile phone. No, really.
Planet of the Dead: Former Eastenders actress Michelle Ryan channels balsa wood as an aristocratic antiques thief, who ends up stuck on a London bus transported to another world alongside The Doctor. Also along for the ride are fly people, ineffectual UNIT soldiers, terrible CGI baddies and Lee Evans. Pretend you left your Oyster at home, and wait for the next bus.
Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks: In which Spider-Man himself, Andrew Garfield, gets to practise his ropey New York accent alongside lots of other British actors with equally poor diction in a park in Wales, whilst a Dalek merges with a human and ends up like a cross between a squid, and a bag of flaccid penises in a pin-stripe suit. Ridiculous.