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Has time finally run out for coolest man on TV?

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2008-07-05 Times.jpg

  • Publication: The Times
  • Date: 2008-07-05
  • Author: Andrew Billen, Caitlin Moran
  • Page: 18
  • Language: English

Viewers will tune in tonight to find out if David Tennant is to be regenerated as Doctor Who or not, writes Andrew Billen

There was a crazy rumour going around last year that Daniel Craig was going to keep his shirt on for his second Bond movie. Now, what would have been the point of that? In his Bond debut, Craig's body not only made his predecessor look sissy (Pierce Brosnan ran like a girl) but announced the return of the Real Man. Britain has been on the prowl for brute males ever since: Freddie Flintoff, Prince Harry ... even, if you squinted, Andy Murray.

But didn't a rival alpha-male attract the largest television audience of last Saturday, condemning ITV to its lowest-rated Saturday ever? I speak of Doctor Who, and specifically of the Time Lord's tenth incarnation, David Tennant, 37, voted by Radio Times readers the "coolest person on TV".

When the Doctor, zapped by a Dalek, went into premature regeneration, the nation's women joined his lady assistants in a teary tizzy. Their brains knew that Tennant had signed for three more feature-length episodes but their hearts panicked that another actor was about to helm the Tardis. And he just wouldn't be as sexy.

The difference between Craig and Tennant is obvious. Tennant not only never reveals his chest, he may not have a chest to reveal. From that, everything else flows: his gabbiness, his wit, his nerdish love of facts, his natty dress sense, his determination that might shall never be right. As some old sleaze once said, the most erogenous zone in the human body is the brain and girls fall every time for this Doctor's supersized model. The high-speed banter Russell T. Davies writes for him, peppered with cultural references and foreign mots ("Molto bene!", "Allons-y!"), is catnip to them.

Rose Tyler, whose first pash was the earthier incarnation, Christopher Eccleston, was initially in awe of the Tennant Doctor's brain. Happily, she soon noticed it was raising her own IQ and loved the new version all the more. Her successor, Martha, fell in love with what she imagined was a kindred doctor's IQ, not knowing the rest of her was not his type. Now Donna fancies herself in a Cary Grant-Katherine Hepburn screwball comedy with him.

That clever is cool again is excellent news for British culture — but we should beware. In the week we discovered that correctly punctuating "F*** off!" will earn you a distinction at GCSE, I advise caution before any declaration that intelligence has generally become sexy. The casting of Doctor Who has reflected our society in complex ways ever since his first appearance in 1963. It was the era of the teenager, and Sydney Newman, who commissioned the pilot, insisted that a teenager be central. He was not, however, willing to cede authority to the coming generation and the teen, Susan, was finally relevant only in that she introduced us to her grandfather, an alien who had stolen a time machine from his planet. He was played by William Hartnell, only 55 at the time, but looking, if not every one of his character's 900 years, well into his sixties.

The first episode was broadcast the day after President Kennedy was assassinated — and in a little way helped mark the death of that dream of youth. Overnight, a white-haired man was back in the White House leading America into futile battle against the Vietcong just as on Saturdays a white-haired man led humanity into inconclusive battle with the Daleks. Old and lame, dressed as a Victorian, the first Doctor managed to contradict the Age of Aquarius, while being at the same in the vanguard of the space Age of Apollo. His immediate successors, the cosmic hobo Patrick Troughton, and the dandy Jon Pertwee, kept faith with the project: Victoria ruled, if not her old empire, at least the galaxy.

Only later were younger actors given the gig. The only great one among them was Tom Baker. When he started in 1974 he was 40, a year younger than Eccleston would be, but he could have been any age. As eccentric off-screen as on, he was the Doctor's truest incarnation and as contradictory to the spirit of the times as any before or after. His multicoloured scarf became a knit-your-own fashion accessory, but his optimism and humour challenged an era of bleak industrial disputes and aggressive punk.

Over the younger incarnations that followed until the series was put out of its misery in 1989 it may be best to draw a veil. Their tragedy was that they tried to be of the Eighties, but lacked the period's glamour.

When the series returned three years ago, the Doctor rematerialised as a serious actor, Eccleston. Dressed in a leather coat, his hair cropped, this northerner ("Lots of planets have a north!") was, in Richard Ingrams's indelible phrase, the scary, starey type you'd take care to move away from in a café. He looked as if he could handle himself in a fight, and sometimes did, but being a serious thesp he did not stay long.

It is Eccleston's replacement, Tennant, the weed, who has perfectly melded the old Who with the new. His Doctor is the Complete Metrosexual. He speaks in a cheeky Estuary accent — a dash of Jamie Oliver. He has a woman for a best friend. He is in touch with his emotions.

Davies, who first cast Tennant in his TV drama Casanova, is so in love with this interpretation that with the daring, if not the judgment, of Philip Pullman, he has even clothed him in the iconography of a Christ. Last season, as the Doctor lay dying, Martha toured the world, a Jane the Baptist preaching how He had saved them. At Christmas, the Doctor completed this Easter parable by ascending to Heaven on the arms of two robot angels. Responding to the religious agitators who complained, Davies said: "The series lends itself to religious iconography because the Doctor is a proper saviour."

Caption: Cliffhanger: The Doctor (David Tennant) begins to regenerate ...

Caption: David Tennant with all those who have accompanied the Doctor on his time travels since the sci-fi series returned


1975: Dr Who blamed for epidemic of spider phobia among children

Think outside the Tardis: who he, the new Who?

I spend more time than a 33-year-old woman should healthily spend on Doctor Who fan forums and news sites. Over the past few weeks, speculation over who the new Doctor will be has reached the level of Epic Frothing. It's been a total "who new Who?" hoo-ha.

But I've got to say — guys, guys, guys, calm down. These dreams you're having are never going to happen. Of course it would be amazing if Johnny Depp, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry or James McAvoy took the role, but let's face it, they're not going to. Being the Doctor means spending seven months a year in Cardiff, drinking filthy coffee, and turning down Oscar-wining roles to fight off a sock-puppet called the Mardyarsian. It would be nice if Robert Carlyle or Michael Sheen, the latest two rumoured Doctors, were up for that kind of misery, but they're probably not. Similar problems arise with Christopher Eccleston and John Simm who, respectively, have already played the Doctor/The Master. Of course, because it's Who, those metaphysical difficulties can be fixed with a single space-time paradox. As Russell T. Davies always says: "You can fix the impossible in one line."

However, be that as it may, I asked John Simm, and he said he wasn't, so that's that. So, who's left? James Nesbitt keep being mentioned, mainly because he's a favourite of the Who executive producer, Steven Moffat, but I find the idea of those eyebrows on the end of a sonic screwdriver too horrifying. Alan Davies has been linked to the role since the beginning of time, and ticks all the boxes of a modern Who: off-centre, hot and voluble.

I love the idea of Eddie Izzard — there is an unexpected darkness in the man that we still haven't seen on screen. And David Mitchell, the divine, black-eyed sex-penguin of Peep Show, has suddenly lost a lot of weight, since coyly saying: "I'd love to be [the Doctor] — but he has to be attractive these days."

To be honest, I haven't got a bloody clue, and neither has anyone on those fan forums. I'll tell you what I do know: it's about the most important thing that's ever happened, ever.

Like if, after four years, Brian Epstein had auditioned for a new Beatle. It's a "who Who? whoo-hoo, x 2".

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to

  • APA 6th ed.: Moran, Andrew Billen, Caitlin (2008-07-05). Has time finally run out for coolest man on TV?. The Times p. 18.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Moran, Andrew Billen, Caitlin. "Has time finally run out for coolest man on TV?." The Times [add city] 2008-07-05, 18. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Moran, Andrew Billen, Caitlin. "Has time finally run out for coolest man on TV?." The Times, edition, sec., 2008-07-05
  • Turabian: Moran, Andrew Billen, Caitlin. "Has time finally run out for coolest man on TV?." The Times, 2008-07-05, section, 18 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Has time finally run out for coolest man on TV? | url= | work=The Times | pages=18 | date=2008-07-05 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 March 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Has time finally run out for coolest man on TV? | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 March 2024}}</ref>