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Mania Interview: David Tennant on Doctor Who
Tennant and Gardner discus the Doctor
By Robert T. Trate
December 17, 2009
David Tennant as the tenth Doctor in Doctor Who
© BBC/Bob Trate
The Doctor’s time is almost up. David Tennant’s term as the tenth Doctor Who is about to regenerate into the next Doctor played by Matt Smith. The show will change, as it always has when the Doctor takes on his next body. This time though the show and the audience might just suffer its greatest blow. For when David Tennant disappears it is for good and our Doctor will be gone forever.
In 2005 the BBC and producer Russell T. Davies re-launched Doctor Who with Christopher Eccleston at the controls of the Tardis. By the time the show got air dates in the U.S. word had already come across the pond that Eccleston was out and would be replaced by David Tennant. Where Eccleston was recognizable by non Doctor Who fans for his work in 28 Days Later, Shallow Grave and Gone in Sixty Seconds Tennant was not. American audiences on a larger scale had only seen Tennant in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as Barty Crouch Junior, a minor role. In England Doctor Who is bigger than Star Trek here so outside of the British Empire could this new show survive a change of actor in the lead role over seas? The answer, if you have never watched Doctor Who, was YES. David Tennant fulfilled a life long dream when he stepped into the role he had always wanted to play and left his mark on the character that may never be surpassed.
For the next few weeks BBC America will be airing the final adventures of Tennant as the Doctor in the Waters of Mars (December 19, 9:00pm ET/PT), The End of Time (December 26, 9:00pm) and The End of Time Part 2 (January 2, 8:00pm). Mania was given the privilege to sit with the tenth Doctor in a rare stateside appearance as well as Doctor Who producer Julie Gardner to talk about the final days, memories and what’s next for our Doctor.
David Tennant in the Waters of Mars
© BBC/Bob Trate
Mania: When you took over for Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor he had this manic depressant air about him. Over the years this has changed dramatically. Where did your interpretation of the Doctor evolve from?
David Tennant: It evolves from the script I suppose. It evolves from what the character is doing and where he is going. Eventually things happen slightly more subconsciously than that as well but on a conscious level you just take it from the script. The character develops from what I take from off the page and from what the writer, coming in, takes from what they see on the screen. It is an on going exchange.
Julie Gardner: Sometimes those scripts were pulled to the front, whereas before those things had been buried for ages. The idea was that when the Doctor returned he would be the last of his kind. That was a very new thing and sometimes that would play as a top line and be a real weight. Other times it would just be something we never looked at for two or three episodes.
DT: But that is going to come back in a big way in the final stories; the Doctor being the last of his kind or nearly the last of his kind (smiles).
M: How is this for you as an actor? You who have been such a strong part of Doctor Who? How are you approaching the end? What is your emotional state for the character?
David Tennant with the Tardis as Doctor Who
© BBC/Bob Trate
DT: It’s script lead really for me. You can see what the story is going to be and that takes you on the emotional journey itself. Those final stories are pretty emotional.
JG: They really are. Oh my lord they really are. In filming them it was really an intense time. There was crying behind the monitor and there were a hundred goodbyes. Everyday there was a new goodbye of some sort to someone.
DT: The story takes you to places the Doctor can’t go to on a regular basis. It affords an opportunity to confront this sort of immutable man with new challenges and places you can only take it when that man is going to die, this version of that man. From an acting point of view that is hugely challenging, liberating and exciting. It’s sad but it’s thrilling to think that we will make people cry a bit.
M: How much of the tenth Doctor was created and committed to paper before you came on and what were you able to contribute to the Doctor?
DT: We had surprisingly few big conferences about it.
JG: (smiles) We just threw David in (laughs). It was all there. We had a few conversations before your first episode but they were more the top line big kind of discussions, the overview of the series. All you want as a producer with a show, such a great show, is you want the best possible actor you can possibly have and I think…
Doctor Who Producers Julie Gardner and Steven Moffat
© Bob Trate
DT: But you couldn’t get him so you get me (laughs).
JG: (laughs) As Russell [Davies] once said in a read through, it’s fantastic to work with such great actors. You’re the best in your price range.
DT: (laughs) Wow.
JG: Yeah. At that point I felt a bit sick but happily it worked and the entire company laughed. You just need a great actor because the foreman of this show can do anything. You can tell such a range of emotions, action and adventure. You need actors who are great with their craft but they will also spend a day or more hanging off a wire. It is very physical. It’s something we don’t like to talk about, a physical role.
DT: Well it has been but it necessarily has to be. We don’t know what Steven [Moffat, Executive Producer of the 11th Doctor Series] is going to do with it. Perhaps he’ll have him [the Doctor, played by Matt Smith] sit in a chair for four years. It certainly can be and something that is developed over the years.
JG: The running.
DT: Yeah (smiles) the running, the exploding, the flying around.
JG: I think as a production team you get more and more confidant about how far you can go so there were more stunts. I always think the Doctor is at his best and most exciting when he is suffering. I love it (laughs). I do, I love that kind of tragic suffering; especially when he is hanging off a wire.
DT: That’s not the Doctor suffering, that’s just me chafing.
Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor
© BBC/Bob Trate
M: As a fan of Doctor Who are you looking forward to watching the show with Matt Smith as the Doctor?
DT: I really am.
JG: I have deliberately not read scripts and kept away from it because I want to be viewer. We all want to be sitting on the couch on a Saturday watching it with the UK.
DT: It’s exciting.
M: You recently played Hamlet on stage and a TV version of Hamlet is in post production. What roles are you hoping to play now that your term as the Doctor has expired?
DT: I have no idea. I’m sort of waiting to see what’s next. There are some scripts around with some very exciting things. Whether they will come to anything or not you’ll have to wait and see I guess. I am waiting for Julie here to offer me a job.
JG: I am playing hard to get.
David Tennant as Hamlet in the RTS production
© BBC/Bob Trate
M: Would you at all consider a play on Broadway so that your American fans could see you?
DT: Hamlet again? I don’t know. It is a possibility. It would all depend on what it was and when it would be. I am open to anything and possibilities.
M: Is there a David Tennant dream project?
JG: (to Tennant) You kind of have done that already with the Doctor.
DT: Whenever I was asked what parts I aspire to I said I would like to play Doctor Who and play Hamlet for the RST [Royal Shakespeare Theater] so I guess I should retire (laughs).
Matt Smith has a lot to live up to in his term as the Doctor. David Tennant’s Converse sneakers as well as the Tardis will be tough to fill. This regeneration will be the hardest yet for all Doctor Who fans. We, like all the Doctor Who fans on both sides of the pond, will be watching.
Robert Trate was ready to geek out when David Tennant sat down next to him at the interview. Thankfully he was able to compose himself in time. When not watching Doctor Who, Robert writes two weekly columns for Mania the DVD Shopping Bag and the Toy Maniac. Robert also participates in a pod cast that reviews movies, comics and celebrates all things geek. Check it out at You’ve Got Geek on You.com.