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!”, Allonsy!”), is catnip
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
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
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.”
Source: The Times 5th July 2008