Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

One last spin in a rather nifty phone booth

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Nobody ever really owns Doctor Who. At present, the lofty honour still goes to Scottish-born David Tennant, who appears in three more instalments of the world's longest-running sci-fi series, starting with this weekend's Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars (Saturday, Space at 9 p.m.).

As the 10th actor to inhabit the role, Tennant spent four years as the time-travelling doctor and moves on with no regrets.

"These past few years have been a dream come true, really," said Tennant on the TV critics tour last summer. "Like many kids in the U.K., I grew up on Doctor Who and never believed I would one day be playing him. It has felt like a remarkably good run."

Following Tennant's portrayal (Space airs his final two Doctor Who chapters on Jan. 2), the responsibility of traversing time and space in a craft called the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space) - which still faithfully resembles a London police telephone box - and occasionally saving the universe falls upon English actor Matt Smith. "I believe he's going to do a brilliant job," said Tennant diplomatically.

As with jellied eel and bowler hats, Doctor Who has been an acquired taste since it debuted on the BBC in late 1963. Rarely shown in the United States, and sporadically at best in Canada, the offbeat adventures of the dimension-hopping alien were long believed too ornate - or intellectual? - for North American sci-fi fans, until several years ago. Rotating the lead role has always been part of the show's unique mythology.

The concept began when the very first Doctor, William Hartnell, announced his intention to leave the series. The show's writers thereafter decreed that the Time Lords - the alien race to which Doctor Who belongs - were capable of regenerating into new human form over and over. Exit Hartnell and enter Patrick Troughton, who was succeeded in order by Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston before Tennant took over in 2005.

"It has certainly become a clever way to keep the character fresh," said Tennant, who also took the title role in the BBC serial Casanova and played the "death eater" Barty in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. "The Doctor Who of my childhood was Tom Baker, but the show has always attracted a strong class of actor, and each has put his own spin on the role."

As a TV franchise, Doctor Who sputtered in the nineties and went off the air for nearly a decade before the BBC resurrected the series in 2005 with greatly improved special effects and Eccleston in the lead role. The new incarnation of Doctor Who was penned by British TV gadfly Russell T. Davies, creator of the original version of Queer as Folk. For a start, Davies heightened the value of the human "companion" that traditionally moves through dimensions with the good Doctor.

"Here is a character more than 900 years old, and he's a Time Lord and practically immortal," said Davies. "So the human just brings him down to Earth, literally. It's the yin and the yang of the story."

Eccleston brought a brooding quality to the character and stuck with it for only one series. The shrewd decision to cast Tennant instantly elevated Doctor Who to higher TV ground on this side of the pond.

From his first appearance, in the episode The Parting of the Ways, Tennant brought a boyish, bungling charm to the role. In The Waters of Mars, the Doctor travels to the angry red planet in the year 2059, where he encounters the first human colony, cheekily known as "Bowie Base One." The colony is overseen by Captain Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan), a companion whom the Doctor knows will one day play an enormously important role in the fate of humanity.

"The stakes are much higher, compared to earlier shows. The story includes some massive set pieces and several action sequences. It's a cracking big adventure," Tennant said.

The Waters of Mars garnered strong ratings on BBC One last month, and fans here will be watching closely this weekend. Under Tennant's reign as the Doctor, the show has become a mainstream hit in the U.S., where it ranked among BBC America's highest-rated programs. An appearance by Tennant and cast members at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego last August drew thousands of fans, some of whom camped overnight merely for the chance to glimpse their TV heroes.

"None of us were really prepared for that sort of rock-star reaction," mused Tennant. "I wanted to crowd-dive, but all the fans were sitting down."

By any measure, Tennant has already made his mark in TV history. A readers' poll in the British fan magazine Doctor Who named him "Best Doctor" - no small feat considering the fussiness of sci-fi fans.

The bigger payoff will come with the affable Scot's transfer to American network television. Currently Tennant is filming the pilot for the NBC legal comedy-drama titled Rex Is Not Your Lawyer, which co-stars Jerry O'Connell and Jeffrey Tambor and is expected to join the network's schedule next September.

"I'm particularly proud of what we've done with Doctor Who, but the wise person knows when to move on," said Tennant. "If playing the Doctor has taught me anything, it's not to back away from the unknown. I'm about ready for some new challenges."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Ryan, Andrew (2009-12-18). One last spin in a rather nifty phone booth. The Globe and Mail p. R20.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Ryan, Andrew. "One last spin in a rather nifty phone booth." The Globe and Mail [add city] 2009-12-18, R20. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Ryan, Andrew. "One last spin in a rather nifty phone booth." The Globe and Mail, edition, sec., 2009-12-18
  • Turabian: Ryan, Andrew. "One last spin in a rather nifty phone booth." The Globe and Mail, 2009-12-18, section, R20 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=One last spin in a rather nifty phone booth | url= | work=The Globe and Mail | pages=R20 | date=2009-12-18 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024 }}</ref>
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