Doctor Who, the mysterious stranger
who travels through time and space in a battered London police phone box, is a difficult character to define. As one
of the most enigmatic characters in popular culture - along with film spy James Bond, sleuth Sherlock Holmes and
Shakespeare's Hamlet - he has been played by many actors and interpreted in many ways.
David Tennant is a British actor
of rising acclaim, whose credits include Casanova and Blackpool. Wearing a dark brown pinstripe
suit, brown overcoat and Converse sneakers, he is the 10th actor to portray the Time Lord and admits the Doctor is a hard
man to master. "He's not Hamlet or Benedick because they will always have the words they have," Tennant says. "It's not James
Bond or Sherlock Holmes because each time somebody comes to one of those characters, the character is still who the character
always is - James Bond will always be 'shaken not stirred', Sherlock Holmes will always be 'elementary', deerstalker and pipe."
So, who is Doctor Who? "Each
actor gets to rewrite the rule book a little bit," Tennant says, and perhaps that's the beauty of it. Tom Baker (1974-1981),
arguably the most loved Doctor, was belligerent and stand-offish, even childish at times. Jon Pertwee (1970-1974) was dashing
and elegant in a ruffled shirt and velvet smoking jacket. The first, William Hartnell (1963-1966), was crotchety and temperamental.
"You have an expectation to be different though there
are certain Doctor-ish traits to do with his morality, his humanitarianism, his egalitarianism, his anarchy that are always
there," Tennant says. "Inevitably, I will be interpreting it a different way because I'm different to Tom Baker and William
Hartnell and whoever else."
Tennant has his work cut out
for him. Doctor Who is British TV's most successful franchise - nearly 700 half-hour episodes produced in the UK between 1963
and 1989, a US telemovie in 1996 and nine actors in the title role before him, accompanied in the Tardis - the show's signature
London police box - by no less than 30 companions, typically young women who required rescuing from the clutches of aliens
such as Daleks, metallic Cybermen and scaly Ice Warriors.
Last year, the BBC relaunched
the series after a 16-year absence from TV. At its conclusion, Christopher Eccleston's ninth Doctor was fatally wounded and,
as is the custom in Doctor Who, regenerated into David Tennant.
Tennant says he agreed to take
the role because of the pedigree of the creative team behind the revival of the series - notably, writer-producer Russell
T. Davies (Queer as Folk) and writers Steven Moffatt (Coupling), Mark Gatiss (The League
of Gentlemen) and Toby Whithouse (Hotel Babylon). "They're the best writers you could possibly want
and if the scripts are good, then the battle is half won already," he says.
The second series begins with a
Christmas-themed episode in which Earth is invaded by aliens. It features an encore appearance by Harriet Jones (Penelope
Wilton), the pollie from the previous series who is now the prime minister, and the Doctor's first brush with Torchwood, an
Earth-based secret agency, which Davies is developing into a spin-off series.
From there it settles into some
of the strongest writing in the show's 43-year history - a taut, thrilling Victorian-era werewolf story titled Tooth
and Claw, a beautifully crafted romance-horror hybrid set in the Palace of Versailles titled The Girl in the
Fireplace and the much-hyped return of the Cybermen, the steel-skinned villains from the classic Doctor Who
series, who will appear in four episodes. Tennant quickly proves himself worthy of the role, perhaps the best Doctor Who ever.
Davies promised this season
would be "more emotional" than the last, a departure from the classic structure of Doctor Who - simple morality plays wrapped
in the distracting kitsch of period science fiction and peppered with MacGuffins and deus ex machina twists.
"I think one of the great things
about the way the show has been reimagined is the relationship between the Doctor and Rose [his companion, played by Billie
Piper], which is now a love story more than it was ever allowed to be before," Tennant says. "It's still not consummated -
that's important because that's not the vibe - but the emotional back and forth is an important part of the show. I think
we dip our toes into some new waters in this coming season."
And, on at least one occasion,
some quite old waters. One of the most anticipated episodes is School Reunion, by Whithouse, which sees the return of Elisabeth
Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith, a Tom Baker-era companion whose headstrong feminism made her a fan favourite. Sladen is the first
classic-era actor to reprise a role in the updated series.
The episode examines, with powerful
effect, the impact the Doctor has on his companions, in particular Sarah Jane, whom he abandoned abruptly on Earth at the
end of the 1976 serial The Hand of Fear. (Sladen has reprised the character twice already - in the 1981 pilot
K-9 and Company and in 1983's 20th anniversary special, The Five Doctors.)
"One of the things about the
Doctor is that he goes through life picking people up and moving on," Tennant says. "That's never really examined in the show.
Like an old girlfriend; they split up. The Doctor dumped her and, years later, they meet up again."
Sarah Jane Smith says in one scene,
her voice heavy with bitterness: "I waited for you. You could have come back." It stings, and its impact on the Doctor is
profound, an illumination of the Doctor's strong sense of disconnection and, in some ways, a return to the roots of the
character - an immortal alien who merely looks human. "You can spend the rest of your life with me, but I can't spend
the rest of mine with you," the Doctor later tells Rose. "I have to live on, alone."
Well, at least until a third
series, which is planned for next year. Tennant has confirmed he will stay with the series at least until then, less fearful
of typecasting than his predecessor, Eccleston, who bowed out after just one season.
Tennant has just finished a
dramatisation of the 1960 Lady Chatterley's Lover obscenity trial, The Chatterley Affair,
written by Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, To Play the King, Bleak House) and directed by James Hawes
(Holby City) for the BBC. He will soon star in Recovery, a BBC telemovie by Tony Marchant
(The Canterbury Tales).
"There's no set of rules, really,"
Tennant says. "A lot of actors talk pompously about the choices they've made and I think it's all a bit more ramshackle
than that for most of us really. You just kind of go from one job to the next and you hope you can join them up.
"I just bumble from one to the
next and, if there is a choice to be made, I just have a couple of sleepless nights and hope I make the right one."
Doctor Who returns to the ABC on Saturday, July 8, at 7.30pm
Source: Sydney Morning Herald