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Time Lord bows out

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DAVID TENNANT hands off Doctor Who role to Matt Smith: 'It feels like we're coming to the end of something very special'

LOS ANGELES - David Tennant, actor, would never suggest that the burden of playing the current Doctor Who, the 10th Time Lord, was starting to weigh on his shoulders. Doctor Who is not Titus Andronicus, after all.

On the other hand, David Tennant, human being, knows all too well the strange pull Doctor Who has had on a generation of viewers in Britain and beyond.

Playing Doctor Who, he says, was the realization of a childhood dream: like countless other children growing up in Britain at the time, he found himself immersed in an imaginary world of Daleks, Cybermen, Autons, Sontarans and the dastardly Master. "Who wouldn't want to be the Doctor?" Tennant once said in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. That's not something one walks away from lightly.

The time has come for a parting of the ways, though. When Tennant appears in a Doctor Who special The Waters of Mars next Friday, it will be his final appearance before he hands off the role to Matt Smith, a 26-year-old native of Northampton, England, in the two-part The End of Time. Smith will be the youngest actor to play the Doctor; William Hartnell was 55 when he played the original Doctor in 1963. Tennant was 33 when he took on the role.

The End of Time and, to a lesser extent, The Waters of Mars, have a feeling of inevitability about them. The Doctor knows he is about to die soon - his spirit will live on in regenerated form, as with past Doctors - but he doesn't want to let go.

Tennant knows the feeling. It was time to move on and tackle other roles, he says but that doesn't make it any easier to walk away "I think this Doctor likes being the Doctor" Tennant said. "You see it there - he's raging against the dying of the light. That's the beat we play on. That's the story. He knows the sands of time are running out. He's been told. The bell is tolling for him, and he doesn't want to go quietly. And I think that's how I played it."

Tennant's favourite Doctor was perennial fan favourite Mill Baker, who played the fourth incarnation of the Doctor for seven years, from 1975-81.

"I was a Tom Baker man, really," Tennant said. "I was just the right age. That's when I really, really fell in love with it. This has been the most extraordinary combination of an actor and a part coming together, just absolute television magic. I love that very much."

Guinness World Records lists Doctor Who as the world's longest-running science-fiction TV serial. Last month, Guinness editor-in-chief Craig Glenday added another title: The most successful sci-fi series of all time - a title a Time Lord would appreciate - after taking into consideration Doctor Who's longevity, ratings, DVD sales, book sales, iTunes traffic and illegal downloads. "It's hard to quantify illegal downloads," Glenday told Variety, "but we included those as well."

Doctor Who premiered on Nov. 23, 1963, on BBC. It has taken numerous breaks over the decades - the Canadian-made Stargate SG-1 holds the Guinness title as the longest-running consecutive sci-fi series, at 10 years - but it is Doctor Who's present incarnation, which had its debut in March 2005 with Christopher Eccleston in the title role, that has captured the public imagination, winning a 2006 BAFTA Award for best drama series and routinely topping BBC's ratings charts.

The new Doctor Who is "simply masterful," the Times of London proclaimed at the time, "as thrilling and loved as ... bread and cheese, or honeysuckle, or Friday. It's quintessential to being British."

Ever since Tennant's brief cameo appearance at the end of the aptly titled Doctor Who episode The Parting of the Ways -Eccleston was playing the Doctor at the time - he has been an indelible part of the Doctor Who canon. The ending, now that it's almost here, is bittersweet.

"It's so many things, actually" Tennant said. "It's very exciting, but it's also very sad. It's thrilling to be handing over the show in such good health.

"We've all sort of come on this journey together, and it feels like we're coming to the end of something very special. It's a whole mixture of emotions, actually. And until the moment's actually here, I won't quite know how it feels. I don't think any of us will, because we're still clinging on until the shows go out"

Tennant hasn't ruled out future Doctor Who specials. The series has a decades-old tradition of reuniting former Doctors in one-time-only specials to combat an overwhelming threat to the universe - Doctor Who's version of a reunion special.

"I'll wait for the right opportunity" Tennant said. "I've got the costume hanging up in my wardrobe. As long as I can keep my waistline and still fit into the trousers, never say never"

Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars premieres Friday, Dec. 18, on Space at 9 p.m.

Caption: David Tennant, with the suit and tie, appearing in The Waters of Mars — it is his final appearance as Doctor Who.

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  • Title: Time Lord bows out
  • Publication: The Gazette
  • Date: 2009-12-11