David Tennant always seems to be making news for some reason or the other. The man is prolific. One of the reasons it is happening (in addition to Season 2 of Good Omens, award nominations, The Legend of Vox Machina, etc – legitimate news) is the rumor that he may be returning to Doctor Who as the 14th Doctor.
Responses in the community are divided. Many fans will take all the David Tennant the can get without complaints. I admit I am among those. After seeing him in Good Omens, I got curious and found Doctor Who – a show I normally wouldn’t have bothered with, but ended up enjoying immensely. Then I saw more of his work. With each film, TV series, mini-episode or Shakespearean play, one common factor was that he is a fantastic actor and a chameleon. Each character is distinct and each performance is excellent and has often made a film watchable when other parts were mediocre – no mean feat for someone whose Filmography and Awards have their own pages on Wikipedia.
There is also a lot of opposition, which I will address in a bit, but first, why I think he should return to Doctor Who as the 14th Doctor.
- Doctor Who is a mess right now. Ratings are at an all time low, storyline has been revised to the point of making several established facts improbable. Videos criticizing the show on YouTube probably earn more revenue collectively than the show does. If the show is to survive, the next Doctor has to deliver a stellar performance and win over fans and get fans who gave up on the show to return and ideally get new fans.
- David Tennant fulfils these considerations. He is a consistent and excellent actor whose charismatic performance has already created the most popular Doctor in the rebooted show. Long after his run as the Doctor was over, his appeal remains unchallenged. With critically acclaimed work like Broadchurch, Good Omens, Around the World in 80 Days, Des, Jessica Jones… you get the idea… He has a huge fan base beyond Doctor Who who will get interested in the show because of him. This is nothing to sneeze at given the show’s current ratings.
- He is older and versatile enough to create an entirely new personality as the 14th Doctor.
- But my concern is also for the actual show beyond ratings and fans. The show is a mess. The storyline is a mess. If the new Doctor can take concerns about performance and audience appeal off the table, it gives the creative team some breathing room to figure out how they handle the weird changes manifested by Chibnall. An otherwise charismatic performance has the power to get the audience to overlook problematic continuity or clumsy fixes that may be needed to set things right.
- There are undoubtledly many talented actors. If it weren’t for this mess, I’d have liked to see one of Matt Ryan, Tom Ellis or Michael Sheen in the role, among others mentioned more often. If it had to be a woman, I’d have liked to see Suranne Jones – who already played Idris/TARDIS with such superb style that a regenerating Doctor might have emotional cause to choose that face.
- BUT, the situation is not normal. ANY casting will be caught in the crossfire of political agendas versus fans who hated the thirteenth Doctor. Casting a woman will probably have longterm fans quitting on the show – if any remain. Casting a man will either have to be a man of colour or will face accusations of the white male bias. Tennant as a highly successful Doctor, talented actor and established part of the history of the show will allow the show to bypass this guaranteed civil war in a torn community at a time the show is floundering. Or at least dramatically reduce it and reboot the show back to the main business – storytelling – fastest.
- While the current rumors are that he will regenerate into the 14th Doctor for the three specials and then regenerate into someone else for the 15th, in my view, they should announce him as the 14th Doctor like a regular new run of any Doctor, continuing on to a series or more till the show is back on track and can proceed in a manner that allows the fans to move forward together. Three specials might feel a bit gimmicky given the overall disappointment the show has become. Like conning fans back to the show without any actual change and the fandom will remain polarized about the Doctor to come.
- If David Tennant can’t do it, a wonderful alternative might be to see if Christopher Eccleston can get a proper run as the Doctor. Every fan wishes he had more time on the show after he did such a fantastic job bringing it back to life. Or Matt Smith might work (* I would not like this – addressed at the end). Peter Capaldi probably won’t – he was just before Jodie. Paul McGann, who appeared in the film as the Eighth Doctor might also be an interesting option and a new face to the series, while also still being an already accepted Doctor. That said, Tennant would be the best bet.
- The possibility of David Tennant returning was always on the cards. He regenerated with the same face, moving the surplus energy into the severed hand to not complete the regeneration. The Metacrisis Doctor was a loose end left open. The tenth Doctor famously said he didn’t want to go. And this is even before his run as the Doctor ended – it was always kept as a possibility. Tennant himself has never ruled out returning to the show. The 12th Doctor chose his face. The 50th Anniversary special saw Tom Baker return as the curator and already establish that the Doctor can return to previous faces in future regenerations as well as explicitly said that he would revisit old favourites. What better time to do it than around another iconic anniversary?
- The show is at an all time low, and the 60th Anniversary is approaching. The return of Russell T Davies, while welcome, also means they are facing this challenge as their first on returning. David Tennant being the face would go a long way toward guaranteeing more interest, better quality and pleasing fans.
- Last but not least is the matter of what fan would want more of. Seeing more of Donna and Rose/Bad Wolf is always welcome, but what I’d really love to see more of is River Song and David Tennant as the Doctor. They had phenomenal chemistry and there is so much more potential to explore. David Tennant returning as the 10th Doctor doesn’t work, because she sees him only the one time and he is really all about Rose. But him coming as the 14th allows that arc to be explored when they both know about each other and honestly, what red-blooded fan wouldn’t want to see that? It would help propel the show to success and blow past most of the current challenges in terms of ratings, storyline, and pure FUN.
Some objections to David Tennant’s return that I found surreal.
- The show must move on – I don’t even know what this means. The show will move on one way or the other. Why would David Tennant prevent that? Perhaps what they mean is that they prefer regenerations to only result in new faces. Fair enough. Everyone has creative preferences. Many didn’t want a female Doctor or female Master. Others want or don’t want Tennant back. At the end of the day, it is the showrunner’s call.
- Return of 10th Doctor for specials is okay, but not as 14th – Well, the good news is that technically he’d be 15th at least, given the mess of the timeline in the Chibnall era. Jokes apart, where is the problem with him creating a new personality to be a new Doctor? How would it be any different from any other actor being cast into the role? As for whether he can do it so that they seem distinctly different – look at all his critically acclaimed shows – none of the characters are similar to each other. No reason why 10 and 14 would be. But again, it is a preference. Everyone has one.
- Same face can’t be the Doctor twice – Actually, it is already established that it can. If anything, going by the Chekov’s gun maxim, if the idea was introduced in the 50th anniversary, good storytelling practically insists it should happen by the 60th. Only real question is the duration.
- The show has to evolve – That is practically guaranteed with Tennant as the Doctor. Besides, Jodie’s run is ending on a record low. David Tennant couldn’t hit those lows even if he tried, given that the social media comments on the show have been completely eclipsed by a rumor of his return – not even confirmed news. That right there is your guarantee of evolution from whatever pit it has dug itself into.
- “I don’t like David Tennant” or “David Tennant is just not good enough an actor” – okay, I invented that one. No one said it.
Some other thoughts about the transition from Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor
She didn’t really get crossovers with other Doctors. I don’t know the reason for this. Perhaps it may be the pandemic, as the other Doctors certainly seemed to endorse her being the Doctor. Or perhaps they didn’t endorse to the point of sharing a screen. Regardless, her Doctor is now fact, and it would be better if she had some specials with David Tennant, who is also her friend and Matt Smith and so on.
Much of the problem with her image as the Doctor is also rather bland chemistry with companions and so on. Working with them might give her a chance to leave a mark. They are experienced, they already are skilled with the synergy and work impeccably with each other. She is far more animated in interviews with them than she is as the Doctor.
One risk is that sharing a frame with David Tennant might swallow her portrayal alive altogether and send her into oblivion, but somehow I still have faith based on her other work that given a capable actor to work with, who operates at a much more natural and successful tempo, she might rise above the muddled portrayal of the Doctor she seems to be committed to and surprise us. It is a hope. Somewhere, I don’t want to believe that this is how it is with her.
I do hope she stays the hell away from Yaz. I discovered on Twitter that they are headed for a homosexual romance. It took me completely by surprise. She didn’t even seem to like Yaz much (though I’ve not seen all their episodes with full attention – got bored). It would tug at people’s hearts as unrequited love, but not convince as a relationship.
Besides, if she got into Yaz at this late date, it runs the risk of “bury your gays” in addition to breaking another long established reluctance of the Doctor to fall in love with humans because they will die on him. He has deep relationships with companions that haunt him when they leave, but he has avoided romance. Even serial-kisser Tennant’s Doctor be like “You can spend the rest of your life with me. But I can’t spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on, alone. That’s the curse of the Timelords.” Rose got the metacrisis clone who is human and will age and die. The Doctor committed to River Song, but she was similar to a Time Lord.
Their romance happening this late would simply get more criticism from all sides other than a few who just want romance, any romance no matter how implausible, but watch Sci-Fi instead of Rom-coms.
Besides, the affection between the Doctors and companions was far more poignant than this alleged love between “Thasmin” – that is what their “ship” is called. I don’t know why.
(Edit: Thirteen + Yasmin = Thasmin – Sounds about as romantic as their interactions. Also pretty ironic given that thirteen’s story arc confirms she isn’t the thirteenth Doctor.)
But there should be some attempt to fix her doctor post Chibnall. Even if it is specials, better writing, better co-actors. Ideally, they should have recognized this train wreck and got the tenth Doctor’s human version to play her companion and at least get people in the habit of responding to long expositions by others instead of just standing there – some action, some impact, some expression – before things crashed so bad. Go beyond the lines told. Though I guess that might not work as much as it does in my imagination…
(Before Jodie critics outrage, yes, I know it is a mess, but it has already happened. If her getting better writers results in an interesting Doctor, at least she would be able to deliver good performances in “hindsight” with specials. Once her run is over, you’ll feel bad about the backlash she’s getting.)
To be honest, I haven’t watched Flux and probably won’t, but the crashed viewership indicates that the problems got worse, not better.
* I had not wanted to write this here, given that fans are already polarized, but I am not a fan of Matt Smith as the Doctor. He has some good moments, but if there are any Doctor Who seasons that give credence to the “white male gaze” accusation, it would be the Matt Smith series. From the unnecessary lusty Amy Pond unable to take a “no” for an answer to unnecessary nudity and non-consensual exposure of Clara as naked when she believed she was being seen as clothed. None of it is acknowledged as wrong or apologized for. I am less worried about the kissogram or “the legs” kind of sexualization where she has no job that doesn’t capitalize on her sex appeal in her entire run – she clearly had no problem with it, so I don’t have a problem.
The infidelity to Rory in making a pass at the Doctor while engaged to him, before the night she was to marry him is also not stellar ethics. While I don’t have a problem with it, it does make Matt Smith’s run my least favourite after Jodie Whittaker’s – a rather unpopular view, I think.
I don’t know what passes as family friendly in the UK, but I’d hope my children were watching something that did not blur lines on consent or honesty and ethical behaviour. I am no prude and I don’t have a problem with children watching sexualized content if they wish, but role models blurring the line on consent is what literally no one needs. While this was the Moffat era and it is now Russell T Davies coming back, I’d rather not see Matt Smith glorified given the past content he does not seem to have had a problem with.
Before someone points out that David Tennant too regenerated naked as the Metacrisis Doctor, I know. It was circumstantial and not a sexualized context and he immediately wore clothes, instead of the script finding reasons why Donna should have to watch him naked whether she wanted to or not. This is exactly the point. Nudity or sex can be realistic. What it cannot be is forced on someone.