Ten Years Of New Who - INTERVIEW: David Tennant In 2005 - Tennant Of Time And Space
Doctor Who returned to TV screens ten years ago today, with Chris Eccleston in the lead role and Billie Piper as companion Rose. But as the first episode of the initial 13 was being broadcast, Eccleston was already tendering his resignation. Fortunately Russell T. Davies turned to the star of his last big TV series, Casanova, and offered David Tennant the role.
In July 2005, just before shooting began on David's first full episode, The Christmas Invasion, Starburst Magazine caught up with him for a chat.
Starburst - July 2005
Tennant Of Time And Space
David Tennant is in Los Angeles to sing the praises of Blackpool. Not the town you understand, but the 2004 BBC musical drama that first brought him to our attention, a series which is now getting a well deserved broadcast in the US.
We've not heard much from the actor since his dramatic entrance to Doctor Who was aired in June. yet when we suggest that he's the actor who is bringing sex appeal to the last surviving Time Lord, Tennant breaks into a broad grin.
So here we are in the middle of sun drenched Hollywood, chatting away with the new Doctor. He's an actor who came to the role by stealth: even before series one had been broadcast, Christopher Eccleston had quietly shared his decision not to return with executive producer Russell T Davies. The last scene of Parting Of The Ways, was secretly rewritten, the pages kept from all but the key members of cast and crew. Tennant was Davies' replacement choice, they had worked together on his recent three-part BBC drama Casanova, in which the actor gave a brilliantly effervescent performance as the Venetian lothario.
"I didn't do a screen test because I'd done Casanova, that became my audition," says Tennant.
"I'd been working so closely with Russell on that. I didn't know the role was a possibility then and it probably wasn't at that point."
In contrast with any of his predecessors, Tennant is a paid up fan of Doctor Who. He even said in the past that the show is the reason he became an actor in the first place. He buys the DVDs, subscribes to the licensed magazine, and he's been a regular guest actor for the Big Finish range of audio adventures, popping up in stories such as Colditz, Medicinal Purposes and the Dalek Empire III mini series. Even then he had to think twice when the Holy Grail came his way.
"I think when you take on anything that is as big deal as this, or is as big a commitment as this, you have to think about it," he insists, "Because it's a long time and it attracts a lot of attention. The fact that I'm in LA and still talking about it, it's that kind of show, it's got that kind of reach."
Tennant's casting proved to be one of the biggest secrets in showbusiness - until, of course, the tabloids ruined the surprise by leaking news of Eccleston's departure three months before the regeneration aired.
Did the actor tell his parents? "No, I couldn't tell anyone," he responds.
But how's it possible to keep news like that from your mum?
"Because it was such a high voltage secret that I was aware that there was really no choice," he says. "I wanted to tell everyone, of course, and it was pretty hard - my agent was the only person I could talk to about it."
It's been said that the actor was forced to keep hush hush about it for six months, is that true?
Born in April 1971 in West Lothian, Scotland, Tennant (real name David MacDonald) attended Paisley Grammar School, learned his craft at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and quickly established himself as a classical actor of quality. His stage work has garnered widespread acclaim and awards, and there has been a steady flow of TV (Randall and Hopkirk Deceased, Foyle's War) and film (Bright Young Things, Being Considered). The role of Mr Gibson in the BBC's adaptation of Anthony Trollope's He Knew He Was Right was a major step in his career; playing love interest DI Carlisle in Peter Bowker's unique Blackpool showed his undeniable screen presence, while Casanova confirmed Tennant's status as a rising star.
Doctor Who will change his life forever: he'll be recognised in the street, mobbed by fans and receive sack loads of fan mail. In fact, after his explosive introduction in The Parting Of the Ways, the mass attention has already begun.
"The letters have certainly begun arriving by the van load," he reveals, "But it's lovely, it's great that people are so interested. It's not really like having any other job. I've done all sorts of different things, and that's all been great fun, but suddenly I get cast in something and it's on the news! - The news! I happened to be visiting my parents, and we were sitting in the kitchen having breakfast, and it came on the news. So that's just a whole other world of attention.
"But it's great, it's fantastic be involved with something that's so loved and that people get excited about. And it's quite a privilege to be part of history, but also a bit daunting as well."
From just a few seconds of screen time so far it's hard to tell how Tennant will place his stamp on the role. We know the Tenth Doctor has got new teeth and he's off to he planet Barcelona, and we've observed that he has an English accent - but that, we suspect, will change.
"I don't know have any sort of big ideas for the part," he muses. "I'm not going to do it with a limp or anything."
Is he at all nervous about winning over the new generation of Doctor Who fans, those pre-teens who might believe the role belongs to Christopher Eccleston?
"Isn't that always the way though?" he says. "I seem to remember that as a kid, when Peter Davison started I thought 'this can't be right.' But two weeks later you're like, 'Yeah come on Pete!'."
Tennant has already received the blessing of arguably the most popular Doctor ever, with Tom Baker enthusing about his casting to The Sunday Mail.
"It makes me feel very happy and proud," said Baker. "I have caught a glimpse of Tennant and he has a kind of mercurial quality. You can believe that he has secrets."
"You know when I heard about that", beams Tennant. "I was completely thrown, that's very lovely. I haven't actually confirmed it, I've only heard it third hand, and of course I never believe anything I read in the newspapers. I'm choosing to believe it's true because I am a huge fan of his."
William Hartnell was 55 when he first played the Doctor, although his performance suggested a more frail and elderly figure. Patrick Troughton was 46 when he took over, while Tom Baker and Christopher Eccleston inherited the role at 41. Might Tennant, at a sprightly 34, be a little too young to play a 900 year old eccentric who has travelled through time and space.
"I think he can be anything," insists the actor. "Peter Davison was younger than me when he did it, Paul McGann I think was about the same age. The Doctor started as an old man but he has got progressively younger, and I think that's the joy of it, it can be whatever it is, and hopefully the part shrinks to fit."
Nevertheless, he is clearly mindful of the fact that a large factor in the success of Doctor Who's first series was the tangible screen chemistry between the Doctor and Rose. With Eccleston's departure, that relationship will need to be defined again, and Tennant and Billie Piper have already made the effort to get to know each other.
"Yeah we've met a few times," he explains. "We've had dinner a couple of times and she's very easy to get on with, a very lovely girl so hopefully we will work together quite well. She's the perfect companion. She's spunky and she's modern but she's still sexy and sassy and she's all the things that you need for Doctor Who."
It's Thursday 14th July when Starburst meets Tennant. His visit to America will be brief; the following Monday he is due to begin rehearsals for the One-hour long Christmas Special, with shooting commencing on Monday 21st July. Which means of course, that preparations are far advanced, and the actor has already been fitted with the costume that will define the Doctor's tenth life.
"Obviously as we start on Monday we have chosen it" Tennant admits. Did he have much input?
"I did yeah, It's interesting I think the clothes in the old show did get quite wacky, especially towards the end. Nowadays it's a different kind of show. I don't think you can get away with frock coats and frilly shirts. We won't be doing that. I said I'd be playing it in a kilt as a joke one night and somebody wrote it down as a fact."
Maybe it's time then, to star a brand new rumour that can be interpreted as Gospel.
"I'm wearing a large space watch throughout," he laughs.
On a more serious note, the first series brought terror to London - albeit in the form of an alien invasion. In Rose the city was attacked by Autons, in Aliens Of London a giant spaceship crashed into the Thames, while World War III saw the destruction of Downing Street. Could the appalling events of July 7 affect the way that the Doctor Who writers address the portrayal of alien assaults in the city?
"That's a very interesting question," ponders Tennant. "There's certainly nothing in the scripts that we're starting with that would give pause for thought."
Following the undisputed success in the ratings, the BBC has wasted little time in assuring the future of Doctor Who, contacting Davies to oversee at least another 28 episodes. Given Eccleston's sudden departure, one might also hope that the corporation has locked his replacement into a long term contract, but Tennant is remaining tight lipped about his terms of employment.
"Oh I think we'l just take it as it comes and see. I don't want to say 'Oh I'll stay for 10 years', and then get kicked out after one, that would look rather a mess if I did that. I'm doing 14 episodes and we'll see what happens."
Casanova was written by Russell T Davies and starred David Tennant. Doctor Who is written by Davies, and likewise will star Tennant too. Will people who saw the rumbustious period piece recognise any similarities to the upcoming second series?
"Well as Russell's writing them they'll both they'll have a similar joy and wit," he says. "Casanova was one of the finest scripts that I have ever worked with, so when you've got him in charge of it you kind of know it's going to be OK. Even on a bad day, Russell's better than most."
And might the Tenth Doctor have anything in common with Giacomo Casanova?
"Well there's less shagging in Doctor Who!" grins Tennant. "Although who knows we might change that too!"
Tennant On TV
He knows his Rutans from his Jagrafess, but he probably couldn't speak a word of Klingon even if his life depended upon it. Tennant is proud to classify himself as a fan of Doctor Who, but admits that other SciFi series like Star Trek leave him cold.
"I've never been a big Star Trek fan," he says. "I never quite got Star Trek to be honest. I think it's a great show, but there's something about the slightly homely quality of Doctor Who, that I think made it more accessible, to me anyway. Just the fact that he's travelling round time in a battered old police box which is hanging together with string, and it doesn't always work, and it needs a kick now and then. Whereas Star Trek is all quite plush with doors that slide open. Blake's 7 was another favourite of mine, which was really a poor man's Star Trek."
So who's his favourite Doctor?
"I grew up watching Tom Baker, and you kind of impregnate on the one you grew up with, I guess. I was still only 10 or 11 when Peter Davison was doing it, so they are the two I identify with."
What TV show is he watching now?
"I'm a big West Wing fan. I've just seen season four, and I bought season five on DVD. I heard it goes down a bit, but then someone told me it gets better again in season six - so the world is fine!"