Following Christopher Eccleston’s excellent (if short-lived) portrayal of the Doctor, David Tennant stepped into the ring. With Billie Piper staying on, the stories wouldn’t need to introduce her to us again, they would just need to reinforce what had been put in place before, and build upon the Doctor’s legacy in his tenth incarnation.
Behind the scenes, most of the key players remained in place. Russell T. Davies was still Executive Producer and Lead Writer with the same team in place. The directors, composer, set and costume designers would all carry on their roles – Murray Gold, for his outstanding scores the previous series, was given the BBC Orchestra of Wales to play his future works.
Rose, as we will discuss, is the greatest strength of the early episodes in Tennants tenure, and will become the shows biggest weakness.
“The Christmas Invasion” starts Doctor Who off well, with both an action piece involving Rose, and a character piece involving the Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones (Prime Minister, who was first met in “Aliens of London” in Christopher Eccleston’s time). The Earth comes under attack, the Doctor is in a coma, and all the people with A+ blood are being held hostage. During this episode, a number of themes that will hold true for the Doctor are set up. He get’s his arm cut off, and through deux ex machina grows another hand….a fighting hand. This Doctor is far more physical than many of his previous incarnations. Upon giving an enemy a chance to live and retain their honour, when the enemy then attempts to attack again, he is killed without remorse: the Doctor stating “no second chances, that’s the kind of man I am.”
Mickey, Rose, the Doctor and Jackie
The Tenth Doctor is a healthy mix of nuances and trends from the Third, Fourth and Fifth portrayals of the Doctor. A lot of the dress sense comes from the Fifth (the smart glasses and the trainers); the rapid shifting over a broad range of emotions and thoughts about unfolding events before regaining his composure and returning to the topic at hand was a trademark of the Fourth Doctor; and from the Third Doctors persona, he gains his arrogance and fighting spirit.
The remaining episodes give a nice mix of styles, from out and out action to pure character development. Among the most acclaimed is “Girl in the Fireplace,” another story by Steven Moffat, and while it is certainly amongst the best, some of the ideas put forward here lead to contradictions later in the series. This is where the writing stumbles.
For most of this series, it is obvious to the viewer the affection and love that Rose Tyler has for the Doctor, and the affection that he returns: not love. If anything this is cemented both by “School Reunion” (which features the return of Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith – who, despite being from the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker eras of Doctor Who, is heralded as one of the best companions ever) and “Girl in the Fireplace,” which both placed an emphasis on the Doctor’s ongoing friendships with his companions, and how he inevitably leaves them behind. So when, at the end of “The Army of Ghosts” and “Doomsday,” at the end of the “Torchwood” ark (the strongest ark of Tennant’s tenure), asking the audience to accept that the Doctor’s attempted final words to Rose are “I love you” is too much. For me, it was heartrending to see Rose, desperately in love with the Doctor, stranded in a mirror universe, but it was not because of their love, but their bond of friendship that I felt this. For its flaws, this finale was epic, both in terms of action and character growth – a must see for Doctor Who fans.
The Christmas specials tend to be a bit of fun, so I shall spare them, as their relevance to the overarching plots and character development is negligible.
Moving onto the next series, Russell T. Davies decided to make the stories darker and scarier. The companions family would not be as friendly (or in the end as well developed) as the Tyler’s, and the overarching plot (the return of the Master) would end up concluding on another deus ex machina – amongst the most unbelievable endings that even hardened science fiction viewers will ever have seen. For example, *spoilers, but you really aren’t missing much* the Doctor is restored to full health by the people of the Earth uniting and thinking and saying his name….and he is given Jedi powers as though this was Star Wars. Despite dreadful sections such as this, the series introduced the fantastic “Blink” and the Weeping Angels to the Doctor Who mythology. Stephen Moffat manages to introduce a novelty companion that proves to be more likable and has more depth than that of Martha Jones (the series companion). The season has a large number of weak episodes, from the poorly considered (and scientifically flawed) “42,” to the Dalek ruining “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks.” “42” has no real redeeming features, while the Daleks two-parter is an attempted homage to the Patrick Troughton masterpiece “Evil of the Daleks.” The downfall of this episode is poorly considered characters, awful dialogue and three of the dumbest Daleks in the history of Doctor Who – they don’t think to use the self-destruct on the converted humans until after two of the three remaining Daleks in existence are destroyed.
Martha and the Doctor
Now, Martha Jones is regularly slated as being the worst of the new series companions, but it must be emphasised that this is not the fault of Freema Agymen (the actress who played her), as she brought more depth to the character than the writing should have permitted. The principal reason for the lack of development of her character seemed to be the emphasis put on the unrequited love she has for the Doctor…and the writers seem to ignore the fact that Rose’s love for the Doctor was also unrequited.
After the flop that was “the Sound of Drums,” the Christmas special needed to be epic to restore viewers faith in the writing team. Thus “Voyage of the Damned” was born, with Kylie Minogue as the guest companion. This, in every way, shape and form, was an epic adventure, with the Doctor flaunting the arrogance he inherited from his third incarnation in his epic speech on the star liner Titanic.
David Tennant’s final season as the Doctor was a return to the more light-hearted episodes of his first season, and the returning companion (Donna Noble) was written to have absolutely no romantic interest in the Doctor: a vast improvement. While Donna’s mother was written as hostile towards the Doctor, Wilf (her grandad) is portrayed as being open to her exploration of the wonders of the Universe, as he can live his dream through her. Donna is a sympathetic character, as, whilst she doesn’t have the skills for better than a dead-end job, she isn’t proud of the fact that she doesn’t have GCSE’s in the same way that Rose proved to be in the opening episode of Christopher Eccleston’s year as the Doctor.
Donna and the Doctor
The overarching plot for this season is the return of Davros. This is well done as it weaves together several plot threads, not always convincingly, but it is Doctor Who after all, so some suspension of disbelief is normally required. The massive reunion that the conclusion to the ark provides is satisfying. It is of particular note that despite being deposed by the Doctor, Harriet Jones gives her life in order for there to be a chance of him saving the planet. This allows her character to keep the depth and integrity that had been evident in all the viewers encounters with her, and for her priority to be her people, wherever that may lead. The initial confrontation with Davros is amongst the best in all of Who. He berates the Doctor, before reminding him of all those who have died in his place throughout the years, how even though he abhors weapons and violence, that is what he turns his companions into. In fact, it should be noted that the only companion not to be seen with a device built solely to destroy is Donna.
Once the principle plot of this series is resolved, the final episode takes a nosedive, one that was obviously planned from the start, and as such is so hard to swallow. After the heartrending departure of Rose in “Doomsday,” fans were mournful of her departure, throughout the time of Martha Jones in the TARDIS, they treated to a Doctor so caught up in his depression over the loss of Rose that he didn’t notice that he was slowly pushing Martha out the door. In this season Rose appeared in the first episode, and Russell T. Davies proceeded to take one of the strongest companions in the history of Doctor Who, and overuse her to the point where even the most casual of viewers were getting tired of constant plot devices to bring her into the picture.
The Doctor and his Companions
After giving Rose a cheesy send-off, Russell T. Davies then destroyed Donna’s character, removing all the character development that we had seen to this point. Killing her would have been more satisfying an end for her, showing that while travelling with the Doctor is the best experience you can have, it can and does have consequences. However, if done it needs to show them happening to a character you care about: not a passing reference to Martha Jones’ family who were so one-dimensional that their suffering brings about less pity for their ordeal that you feel for the dead henchmen in Austin Powers.
From this point on, the Doctor travels alone. Here we move into the specials, which were, on the whole, poor. The Christmas special “the Next Doctor,” was a fun, if rather obvious gimmick, “the Planet of the Dead,” saved by the excellent setting, was amongst the worst episodes from the new series. “The Waters of Mars” was a return to the excellence of Doctor Who, with a dark story, where a time locked event prevents the Doctor from being able to take part and save everyone. This also brought back the arrogant streak in Tennant’s Doctor, where he announced that he wasn’t just a survivor, he was the winner. The secondary protagonist committing suicide at the end of the episode, showing the Doctor that he was going too far, was amongst the most inspired conclusions to an episode since the TARDIS dematerialising to save the day in “Blink.” Unfortunately, this ending did not carry over to the Tenth Doctor’s final story “The End of Time.” This episode was so riddled with plot holes and contrivances that I may devote an entire review to it. However, a possible one line summary to David Tennant’s final outing as the last of the Time Lords is: “An era ends as the Master returns, turning all of humanity into Aryans, with deux ex machina saving the day…twice.” This meant that David Tennant’s swan song episode was more like a pidgeon squawk…except that would be mean to pidgeons!
The Tenth Doctor Regenerating
I, much like most of the viewership of Doctor Who, loved David Tennant’s portrayal of the Doctor, but he was mired by weak scripts, too much running, and too much emphasis on Rose throughout the entire run. Russell T. Davies left Doctor Who at the end of David Tennant’s time portraying the Tenth Doctor, meaning that as the beautifully stirring and aching music of Murray Gold played through the regeneration scene, audiences everywhere were left wondering whether the successors, Steven Moffat and Matt Smith, would be up to the challenge of replacing these giants of television.