Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

If woke is an insult that's quite dangerous

From The Doctor Who Cuttings Archive
Jump to navigationJump to search

2022-10-02 Sunday Times.jpg


If woke is an insult that's quite dangerous

David Tennant talks about his dad, Doctor Who — and the rise of populism as he prepares to play a 'good' Nazi

Aside from the usual Baftas and Emmys, David Tennant has some unusual awards. Disappointingly, in 2008 he came only 16th in Cosmopolitan's sexiest man in the world survey, a bit of a letdown, since the Pink Paper had voted him the sexiest man in the universe in 2006. Later, on a technicality, he missed out on a more specialised prize.

"Do you know," he says with a hint of pride, "I got voted rear of the year once. But you only get rear of the year if you pose in a particular manner for the photo - basically sticking your arse at the camera." He declined - he has five children, all of whom would be cringing. The ROTY was at once - and shamefully - withdrawn.

Never mind, aged 51, he is doing OK; better than ever, really. We meet in a small room in the Lyric Theatre, west London. At once it is apparent that Tennant shares a talent with Tom Hanks - he can fill a room with his voice and presence. It's not about just being big or loud - it's something else.

The great director Dominic Cooke is with us and he explains the phenomenon - Tennant is not just a great actor, he is a leading actor. "A leading actor is really different from a good actor. When they get the chance to be the centre of the play, they do it."

Tennant has seized the lead sensationally three times well, four if you count this room - as Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Dl Alec Hardy in Broadchurch and, of course, the tenth Doctor in Doctor Who. The last he played with such energetic, capering wit and charm he was voted the best Doctor yet. He had loved the show since the age of three.

"It's got a delight to it. It's a tenacious idea. It was sketched together in 1963 because they needed something to go between Juke Box Jury and The Telegoons. It was sort of a children thing, sort of a family thing, sort of an educational thing. It has that slightly nebulous quality to it."

There were rumours that he would return next year (when Russell T Davies helms the series for a second stint), the tenth Doctor regenerated as the 14th. He squashes that. "Ncuti Gatwa [best known for Sex Education] will be the next Doctor Who and that's about as much as I am prepared to say."

Actually it isn't - he will briefly return as the tenth Doctor for the 60th anniversary show later this year. But the truth is once you're a Doctor you're always a Doctor. Meanwhile, he's receiving great reviews for his role as a vicar alongside Stanley Tucci in the BBC's Inside Man.

Yet we're here to talk about his very serious next job playing Dr Halder, the hero and villain of CP Taylor's Good, which was commissioned by the RSC in 1981. It is the great Holocaust play, the story of a good man - Halder - who is seduced by Nazism to the point of becoming an SS officer. Why now?

"I think", Cooke says, "the conversation about why the Holocaust happened is always a good one to have. It places a liberal, intelligent, sensitive, decent man as an architect of the Holocaust. That strategy really does relate to how we deal with huge, unknown negative changes in society. The great parallels at the moment are the environment - how we respond as a collective - and the rise of the right."

Tennant chips in: "And how quickly we normalise those moments. If you think about the rise of these populist movements in recent years, things happen and then we are amazed and then we very quickly assimilate them. So that becomes the new normal and the new normal is insidious."

"If you can identify with Haider," Cooke says, "that is the crucial thing."

Greg Doran, who directed Tennant in Hamlet in 2009, attributed his professional and personal balance to his upbringing. He was born in West Lothian and his father was a minister of the Church of Scotland. "It was good to have a mental image of a good man who wouldn't really end up where Halder ends up. My dad was an image playing through my head a lot. When I reach for a good man, that's who I reach for."

Nevertheless Tennant does occasionally find himself at the rim of a lethal crater labelled "politics" - notably on the subject of Scottish independence. He once said he would back independence in a second referendum. He's not going there again. "I do not comment on it because I don't get a vote, I don't live there. I think both sides have taken what I've said and used it. I'm staying neutral."

Yet there is always some simple fun to be had in watching actors themselves in knots over the culture wars.

"The idea", Tennant says tentatively, "that 'woke' is now used as an insult is quite dangerous in itself because the opposite of 'woke' is asleep ... Sure, sometimes subdividing the outrage can produce moments that seem nonsensical. But the outrage is there for a reason and it's because someone has been hurt by something. It's better to just acknowledge that, surely."

I am beginning to feel sorry for bringing it up. The truth is that speech is not free for actors - "You do have to be careful what you say," he admits. Laurence Fox - DS James Hathaway in Lewis - has been at constant war since he came out against woke. Nobody needs that, least of all Tennant.

"There is a balance", he adds cautiously, "between being interesting and contentious and you have to try to tread that line." He is married to the actress Georgia Moffett, 37, whose father, Peter Davison, was the fifth Doctor, and has five children. Two are heading towards acting. He laughs when I ask if he tried to stop them. "It's a terrible profession - full of reprobates!" he cries, but it's a joke.

Good is destined to be one of the great West End openings; a sharply topical play. On its theme, Tennant allows himself a political opinion. "It's a reminder of the fragility of the societies in which we live. Clearly what happened in Germany in the Thirties was a very extreme event. But things like January 6 [the storming of the Capitol] - well, there are events that happen that we all have to be mindful that freedom, liberty and democracy are not a birthright. They have to be cherished and protected. The slide away from them is precarious."

Good opens at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London SW1, on Wednesday

Caption: Act of faith David Tennant in rehearsals for Good. Below: with Catherine Tate in Doctor Who

Caption: When I reach for a good man, I reach for my dad

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

  • APA 6th ed.: Appleyard, Bryan (2022-10-02). If woke is an insult that's quite dangerous. The Sunday Times p. Culture, p. 8.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Appleyard, Bryan. "If woke is an insult that's quite dangerous." The Sunday Times [add city] 2022-10-02, Culture, p. 8. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Appleyard, Bryan. "If woke is an insult that's quite dangerous." The Sunday Times, edition, sec., 2022-10-02
  • Turabian: Appleyard, Bryan. "If woke is an insult that's quite dangerous." The Sunday Times, 2022-10-02, section, Culture, p. 8 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=If woke is an insult that's quite dangerous | url= | work=The Sunday Times | pages=Culture, p. 8 | date=2022-10-02 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 December 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=If woke is an insult that's quite dangerous | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 December 2023}}</ref>