It's the beginning of the end of David Tennant's run on 'Doctor Who'
There are generally two categories of “Doctor Who” episodes: thrillers and adventures.
“The Next Doctor,” a “Doctor Who” special that airs this weekend (8 p.m. Central Saturday, BBC America), definitely falls in the latter category. Prepare yourself for a Dickensian romp complete with snow, street urchins and gentlemen in waistcoats.
Aside from a typically energetic and enjoyable performance by David Tennant as the Doctor, the best thing about this lightweight outing is the guest turn by David Morrissey (star of the original “State of Play” TV miniseries).
“From the moment I took over [as the Doctor, the U.K. tabloids] were all saying, ‘Well, who’s going to be next’” in the role, Tennant said in a recent phone interview. “One of the names that always came up was David Morrissey, so it was nice to be able to play with those expectations a little bit.”
“The Next Doctor” is part of a series of specials that mark the end of Tennant’s run as the Doctor. On July 26, a “Doctor Who” special titled “Planet of the Dead,” which guest stars Michelle Ryan (“Bionic Woman”), debuts on BBC America.
A third special, “Waters of Mars,” is likely to air in the U.K. in the fall, and the actor’s final, two-part turn as the Doctor will probably air in England around Christmas, Tennant said. (U.S. air dates have not yet been announced for “Waters of Mars” or Tennant’s final two-parter).
“'Planet of the Dead’ is a bit of a larky one, a bit of a romp, and really that’s the last time we’re going to see the Tenth Doctor allowed to have quite so much fun,” Tennant said. “I think inevitably, because we all know the Tenth Doctor’s days are numbered, the storm clouds hang over the last stories. ‘Planet of the Dead’ is, in some ways, the Doctor’s last hurrah. He’s clearly in a death-defying situation, but he’s enjoying himself and having a blast.”
Tennant was a wise choice for the role of the Doctor; he's got a light touch with the comedy, bounteous energy and a lively spark in his eye. Yet thanks to Tennant's versatility, you never forget how much the Doctor has seen -- and lost -- in his 900 years of existence. He's a great deal of fun, to be sure, but he's also one of the loneliest men in the galaxy.
Writer Russell T. Davies revived the "Doctor Who" franchise in 2005, and now that Tennant's run is almost over, Davies has handed the reins to Steven Moffat, who penned many of the show's most memorable and emotionally acute thrillers. From the start, Davies liked to "turn the thumbscrews on [the Doctor] and give him ever more emotional moments to navigate, but from an acting point of view, that's what you want," Tennant said. "You want to have that range of emotions and states to play. That's what makes it just about the most exciting character to inhabit, because he can be everything and is everything.
It has been hard for Tennant to say goodbye to the role, but he said it’s the right time to move on.
“As a rule, it takes an enormous infusion of creativity and energy and enthusiasm to do it justice, which I’ve had, I think—I’ve really enjoyed the last four years,” Tennant said. “I’m quite happy to leave it still feeling that way, leave it before it starts feeling like a job. ... I have such fond memories of watching ‘Doctor Who’ when I was a kid and growing up, that if I’ve left anybody anywhere with memories as fond, then I feel like I’ve done my job.”
An edited and slightly condensed transcript of my interview with Tennant is below. Here are the highlights, in case you don't want to read the whole thing:
British tabloids have said that all 11 doctors, including Tennant and the next Doctor Who, Matt Smith, would be featured in a short "Doctor Who" film that would benefit charity. Tennant said he knew nothing whatsoever about that project. He finished filming "Doctor Who" about three or four weeks ago. "It was very emotional, very exciting. We managed to go out with some of the best scripts I had in four years." Tennant and Davies will visit San Diego Comic-Con for the first time July 26. He has "no idea" what to expect he is "fascinated to see what I'm coming to." Before ending his run as the Doctor, he filmed a two-parter for "The Sarah Jane Adventures" that will air in the U.K. in the fall. He's also completed work on "Glorious 39," a Stephen Poliakoff film, and also just finished work on a film version of "Hamlet" for the BBC. The entire transcript follows.
Questions are in bold, answers are in regular type.
Where are you in the filming of the "Doctor Who" specials?
I'm all finished. Three or four weeks ago, I filmed my last scene. So it's over. Still a long time to go before they're all broadcast, though, so I'm still clinging on for a bit. But yeah, it's done. It was very emotional, very exciting. We managed to go out with some of the best scripts I had in four years. So it was a real treat.
Is the general plan for the last specials to be broadcast around Christmastime?
I believe so. I mean, these things can always change. But that's the plan at the moment. "Planet of the Dead" has already [aired] here, "Water of Mars" will be toward the end of the year, as it leads into the final two-parter [that concludes Tennant's run.]. The plan for those is Christmas-New Year's time, but they'll be very secretive about what their plans are until the last minute.
They like to keep us guessing, don't they?
They keep us all guessing.
Oh, I just thought it was us in the press that they wanted to keep in the dark.
No, it's exactly the same for us. We usually find out [when the holiday special is on] when the Christmas edition of the Radio Times [the UK's TV Guide] comes out. Then we finally learn what the scheduling is.
You also appear on "Sarah Jane Adventures" too, right?
Yeah, I filmed an episode of that.
Was it one episode or two? I thought I read that it was a two-parter.
Eh, ah, without giving too much away, yeah, it's a two-parter.
Now I also have to ask, I read a story about all 11 Doctors being united for a charity special some time this fall. Is there any truth to that?
Ooooh, that sounds like a good tabloid wheeze!
Well, if there's one thing I've learned from reading UK tabloids it's not to trust UK tabloids. So I thought I'd ask the source.
Oh sure. So what are they saying?
They're saying that for Children in Need, there will be a 15-minute charity film, it will reunite all the past Doctors via old footage or newly shot scenes. So I didn't know if you knew anything about that.
It's not something I've heard anything about. And I would have thought they'd be in touch. But that'd be quite a curious way to introduce Matt Smith, I'd have thought they'd wait until his first ["Doctor Who"] story. Not anything I've heard about yet.
Well, one of the stories I read today misspelled TARDIS, so I wasn't taking it all that seriously.
So maybe they're not going from an official press release [laughing].
Maybe not. Just to get back to your final run of specials as the Doctor, I was thinking that there's sort of a split in "Doctor Who" episodes -- there are the more larky, adventurous, light-hearted episodes, then the darker episodes with more of a psychological thriller aspect. Would you say [the fall special] "Water of Mars" and the final two-parter are more in that second category?
I think inevitably, because we all know the Tenth Doctor's days are numbered, the storm clouds hang over the last stories. "Planet of the Dead" [the special that airs July 26] is in some ways, the Doctor's last hurrah. He's clearly in a death-defying situation, but he's enjoying himself and having a blast.
By the time we come to "Waters of Mars," things start to happen that mean things can never be quite be the same again. Stuff occurs in "Waters of Mars" which leads directly into the final story, where the doctor really is on the run from the inevitable, I think it's fair to say.
There's a tiny little hint at the end of "Planet of the Dead," a tiny portent of doom is whispered in the Doctor's ear. And really that's heralding the beginning of the end. So yes, "Planet of the Dead" is a bit of a larky one, a bit of a romp, and really, that's the last time we're going to see the Tenth Doctor allowed to have quite so much fun.
And "The Next Doctor" is sort of in that realm too. What was it like working with David Morrissey on that?
Well, David and I worked on a show called "Blackpool" a few years ago.
Oh yeah, "Blackpool." That was great.
Yeah, I think it was called "Viva Blackpool" over there. Then I guess it was "Viva Laughlin," which I guess wasn't so successful.
It was … really bad. It wasn't as good as your one, put it that way.
OK [laughs]. Well, I was quite proud of our one. Don't know what went wrong there. But yeah, Dave and I got to know each other on that, so it was a real treat to have him in "The Next Doctor."
And of course you know what tabloid stories are like. From the moment I took over [as Doctor], they were all saying, "Well, who's going to be next?" One of the names that always came up was David Morrissey, so it was nice to be able to play with those expectations a little bit.
I'm going to make this next question a double-decker, and you can skip over the first part if you want, because I'm sure you've been asked it a million times. So the first part is, why leave "Doctor Who"? And the second part is, "Doctor Who" is such a long-lived franchise -- what do you feel you've brought to "Doctor Who" or left it with?
Oooh. It's very hard for me to answer that. It may be for others to answer and for history to dictate. I've had a wonderful time. I hope I'm leaving at the right time. I think you can overstay your welcome and I hope I'm not doing that. It's funny because it's difficult to leave something that you love so much and have such a great time with. It's hard to ever move away from--I could stay forever. I think it's always best to leave yourself and hopefully everybody else wanting more. I'm hoping I've done that and I'm hoping I'm leaving at the right time.
As a rule, it takes an enormous infusion of creativity and energy and enthusiasm to do it justice. Which I've had, I think--I've really enjoyed the last four years. And I'm quite happy to leave it still feeling that way, leave it before it starts feeling like a job. So it's probably not for me to say what I've left it with, but hopefully some stories that people will come back to and enjoy and feel very fondly about.
I have such fond memories of watching "Doctor Who" when I was a kid and growing up, that if I've left anybody anywhere with memories as fond, then I feel like I've done my job.
Do you have a favorite episode or a favorite memory of making the show?
It always feels wrong to choose favorites. It feels like choosing between children. It's unlike filming any other series, because every story is so different. Every story leaves you with particular memories. And we have a different guest cast every time. There's very few shows that are like that, I suppose. We have one standing set, which is the TARDIS, which we're only in for a couple of scenes. So each story is such a different world, with such different people. I genuinely have fond memories of every story we've done and each one lives very vividly in my memory still. It feels disloyal to choose.
It's the people I'll miss, and getting those fresh scripts, and being the first one to read them. But at the same time, it'll be lovely to return to watching the show and not knowing what happens next. I'm a genuine fan of it and I look forward to being a fan again, in a more traditional sense, rather than a fan who happens to have the best job in the world.
But it seems as though it's a taxing job -- there's lots of running around.
Oh, it's full-on. The Doctor is the kind of character -- because the guest cast is changing all the time, there are very few constants in the show, so the Doctor -- when you're there, you're in it a lot. You're speaking a lot. It's a lot of lines to learn and he speaks quickly, so you've got to learn them well. There's a lot of running around and a lot of energy and it takes a level of commitment and enthusiasm to serve that stuff up the way that it needs to be fulfilled.
I'll miss all that because that kind of energy is very inspiring in itself. But yes, it's relentless, that filming schedule. You have to keep on top of it and you have to keep ahead of the game to give it what it requires. But I'll miss that too. I'm jealous of Matt starting out [Matt Smith, Tennant's successor in the role, starts shooting "Doctor Who" in July] and having all that to look forward to, but at the same time, it's correct and the right time to move on for me.
One thing I've always appreciated about your take on the Doctor, and obviously this was Russell's doing as well, is that he has many emotional colors, if you will. He's not just lighthearted and adventurous all the time, there's an undertow of melancholy or sadness to him as well. There's a sense of the knowledge he has or the history he's lived.
Well obviously some of that kind of thing is script-led, but it's something that I'm always delighted to play, because it just makes sense, doesn't it? It's just real, that someone who's 900 years old, when no one else in the universe can live that long -- he's going to be lonely. He's never going to be able to find happiness.
And Russell likes to turn the thumbscrews on him and give him ever more emotional moments to navigate, but from an acting point of view, that's what you want. You want to have that range of emotions and states to play. That's what makes it just about the most exciting character to inhabit, because he can be everything and is everything.
I think perhaps in the classic show, the emotional life of the Doctor wasn't quite as investigated as it is now. But I think that's wonderful [that we see moments of that], it's great to get to play all those different colors and all those different scenes.
So you're coming over here for Comic-Con. Have you ever been to things like that before? Do you have any expectations of what that'll be like?
Never. Absolutely none, I have no idea. We're sort of in and out, I think. I think Russell [T. Davies, the show's outgoing head writer] and Julie [Gardner, the BBC executive in charge of the show] are there for longer. I think we do a panel and Q&A. And then I'm doing the TCAs [after Comic-Con, the Television Critics Association's summer press tour takes place in Pasadena]. But I don't even know where San Diego is, that's how green I am.
But I'm fascinated to see what I'm coming to. San Diego Comic-Con has become a bit of a sensation, hasn't it, a huge industry event after starting out as a fan meeting. It's become this huge industry event. I know Julie and [new "Doctor Who" head writer] Steven Moffat were there last year.
So what's next for you as far as roles you'll be playing?
I've done a sort of cameo in a movie called "Glorious 39," which Stephen Poliakoff wrote and directed. Then there is some stuff but it's all a bit unconfirmed so I better not say anything in case it all falls apart. I don't quite know what the next move is, really, so I'll just wait to see what scripts come in.
I just finished "Hamlet" for the BBC. I did it on stage last year, in the break from filming. The day after I finished "Doctor Who," I started shooting that ["Hamlet"] production, a TV version of the stage production. So I just finished that. As soon as I get off the phone with you, I'm on my way to the wrap party. I'm just beginning to unfold my brain from all that. It was very quick. We had three weeks to shoot three hours.
So it's been a fairly manic, fairly high stress-level three weeks. But I'm really chuffed that we get to have a permanent record of what I think was a very special show, I think.
So you've been busy.
I really have, yeah. To go from one to the other -- I finished "Doctor Who," then went the next day to "Sarah Jane," then the next day started "Hamlet." So I might have a drink tonight.
Well, let's not go crazy. It's been very hard work the last few months, I'll be quite a lightweight. I don't want to embarrass myself.
The Chicago Tribune