Ten Years Of New Who: INTERVIEW: David Tennant's First DWM Interview From 2005
Continuing our look back to 2005 in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the relaunch of Doctor Who, we can bring you another of David Tennant's early interviews.
This is his first interview with Doctor Who Magazine as the Doctor. It was published in July 2005 and introduced the show's legions of fans to their new Doctor..
Let's start at the very beginning. How did you get into the acting business?
I just always wanted to do it, from before I really knew what it was! I just decided, at a very young age, that that was what I was going to do. And my parents weren't very sure of the idea because, y'know, I was very small and why should they imagine I'd stick with it? But I did and it hasn't changed since then.
What's your training been?
I went to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and di three years in conjuction with Glasgow University, which means that I've actually got a degree from Glasgow University, even though we only did one day a week there. So that was my training. Went in at 17, came out at 20, and have been doing it ever since.
What was your first job after you finished your training?
My first job after drama school was The Resistable Rise Of Arturo Ui, a Brecht play, and that wasw on a tour with 7:84 Scottish People's Theatre - to give them their full title - and we basically toured round Scotland in a van, doing one night stands, and it wa a fantastic first job with a worthy company. I mean when you're 20 and you're living in the back of a van, you're having a ball, aren't you?
What was your first big break?
Well the first thing I did on telly was a transsexual barmaid in Rab C Nesbitt, oh and I did an episode of Dramarama...
No?! Was it an ordinary Dramarama or a spooky one?
Yeah, it was a spooky one! I played a ghost, and a modern day person as well, you know they were the ghost of their ancestor or something. I had a dodgy highland accent and everything.
You have our undying admiration! That's almost as exciting as being in Doctor Who!
I didn't think anyone remembered Dramarama! Brilliant!
But the first major thing I did on telly was something called Takin Over The Asylum, which was made in 1993 and broadcast in 1994, and thatw as with Ken Stott and Katy Murphy. That was a great bit of writing. I was the young DJ boy and that was the first thing that got me noticed outside of Scotland - through Ken Stott in fact, because I got his London agent and moved down south.
So you've been a London boy for quite a while then?
Yeah, more than ten years now. I'm very old these days!
As someone who has performed in every medium - even internet drama - do you have a favourite?
Well you say internet drama, but I only had one line in Scream Of The Shalka, but it seems to have crept up on every biography of me ever. I suppose I can understand that now though. But no I don't have a favourite, I just like to be able to go from one thing to another. I think that's one of the best things about acting - the variety. The fact that there are three or four quite different jobs that you get to do, and that's fantastic.
So what do you think happened over the last couple of years which meant that you suddenly got major roles in just about everything? Was it something in the water?
It has been an amazing couple of years I guess, but all that actually happened was that I've been on telly a bit more. Because I was doing things at the National Theatre or in the West End or with the RSC before that, and if you're a fan of the RSC you'd be aware of it. But of course they have however many thousand loyal subscribers, whereas the telly gets you seen by millions.
Yeah I guess RSCM doesn't come out every four weeks...?
They do have a magazine actually, let me tell you! But television is just a different medium in terms of it's reach, and the fact that you are in people's living rooms and all that. And I suppose I've done three or four high profile dramas one after the other.
Was Blackpool the first biggie?
Actually it was probably He Knew He Was Right, an Anthony Trollope adaptation in which I played a dodgy vicar called Rev Gibson, who was a nasty piece of work. Or a sneaky piece of work at least. So Blackpool came right after that, and then Casanova, and then Doctor Who.
Oh yeah The Quatermass Experiment. Our live adventure!
Another classic sci fi revival. What was this one like? Hadn't you just been named as the Doctor by the tabloids?
Well nothing was confirmed, and we were still in talks, but it got leaked that week. So it was in the papers that I was the 'front runner' or however they described it, just days before they recorded it. Actually Jason Flemyng (Prof Quatermass) and Adrian Bower (Fullalove) made up a little song about it, but I can't repeat it cos it's rude! It was a very exciting thing to do, and that's why we all did it - the idea of live TV. It's just not something you get the chance to do nowadays. And that was terrifying enough, but then the Doctor Who thing broke... I could've done without it that week to be honest.
And you were playing a doctor, rather aptly?
Yeah and Jason Flemyng had a line when our characters first meet in the hospital which was 'Nice to have you back, Gordon' and he changed it to 'Nice to have you back, Doctor' just so he could be the first person to say it! (Laughs)
Of course you're no stranger to Saturday night telefantasy revivals, having been the villian in the first episode of the new Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) a few years ago.
Oh yeah, any remake of a television show and I'm there! Randall and Hopkirk, Dixon Of Dock Green, Quatermass, Doctor Who... I did Doctor Finlay's Casebook a few years ago! (Laughs) That's what I do. But Randall and Hopkirk was a funny one, cos in a way it was trying to do what Doctor Who's done, to be a big Saturday night family show. It was enormous fun to do though, because it was like being in an episode of Scooby Doo or something, running around with ghosts flying about, and I think Jim and Bob are comedy gods of course. I think that was the only episode that Tom Baker didn't do, so I never got to meet him.
The Big Finsh audio dramas were your first real brush with Doctor Who. How have you enjoyed them?
See, I always did Big Finish because I thought it would be fun to be in Doctor Who. Which does seem quite an odd thing now, in some ways. I mean, who'd have thought? It's been great fun doing all of them, actually. There so quick to do, which is the challenge and the great virtue of them as an actor. But they're always good scripts, and always good fun and there are always nice people to work with. So, yeah, I've had a great time doing Big Finish, and I hope that I haven't done my last.
How did you first come to the notice of Russell T Davies?
I don't know. I got Casanova in a very traditional way, just through auditioning. I read a couple of scenes, got called back, read them again, and then got the job. I didn't meet Russell at the interviews. I think he watched tapes of the audition process and went on that. So I didn't meet him until... probably the read through, or the first day we had any rehearsals. So whether he was aware of me before that I couldn't tell you. Although he is a bit of a telly fiend! He does watch a lot, so he might have seen me in other things. But yeah, that's the first time I met Russell, though obviously I knew of him and who he was.
Did you get on straight away?
Oh, he's so easy to get on with! How could anybody not? He's great fun and very bubbly. You do get nervous, you know, when you're doing a writer's work, and especially when it's as good a script as Casanova was, you're very nervous. You want them not to be recasting you at the end of the read through! That's the fear, that you finish reading and there'll be a gaggle of executive producers on your shoulder going 'Come heeeeere it was wroonnnng!' Every actor's nightmare. So I suppose it was very much a working thing when we met, but he's very easy to be around.
How long did it take between you meeting Russell and the words Doctor Who cropping up in conversation?
Oh I'm sure it was mentioned on the first morning! I must have said 'You're doing Doctor Who, can I have a part?' It was certainly mentioned a lot, but then at the time that's all anyone wanted to talk to Russell about. The whole world was fascinated by that show, and they were in production already when they started Casanova. So Russell was mostly on Doctor Who, and whenever he came over to do Casanova, everybody was quizzing him and asking for tales of how it was going in Cardiff.
So...how did it come about that you were the new Doctor Who?
You'd have to ask Russell and Julie - Julie Gardner who was also an executive on Casanova. I met them both on that. And you'd have to ask them what the thought process was, I can't tell you! I mean, they came to me when they knew Chris was going and they said, 'Look we're hoping we'll get a second series - will you be in it?' So that was it really.
Had you finished Casanova by then?
So when you were asked, how long did it take for you to say an official yes?
Well, it wasn't quite like that, because there wasn't anything to say yes to...yet.
I suppose I had to give a 'yes' to the general idea, but I don't actually remember doing that. It was funny, when I first got asked I just laughed! I found it hilarious and impossible! And I remember Russell, very perceptively saying 'Don't say anything now, because I know the experience is quite a weird one.' Because it has happened to him, having been a huge fan of the show and then suddenly being asked to write it. It's funny, because it's very exciting, but it's not an entirely celebratory thing, because there's part of you that goes 'Jings! This is serious suddenly!'
When the thing you love becomes your job...
Yeah I don't know if you had that with Doctor Who Magazine, but you suddenly realise that you have to take it very seriously. It's almost 'be careful what you wish for. ' So yes, it was a funny one, and I did have a few moments when I wondered if it would be a mistake. Is this what I should do? And then of course I woke up one day and thought 'Oh shut up! Obviously you'll say yes!' Because how could you walk away from it, and watch whoever it would be taking over instead, 'If you don't do this you'll never forgive yourself!' And the other thing is I wouldn't EVER have been able to tell anyone. Because you can't say 'Oh yes I turned that down' when they cast whoever else it would be. That would look terribly arrogant. So I would have had to have lived with that information for the rest of my life! (Laughs) It would have killed me!
So did you catch all of the new series?
Of course, yeah.
What did you make of it as a viewer?
I thought it was exceptional, actaully. As each week went on I thought it got better and better. And I don't mean to suggest for an instant that it was bad to begin with! It started so well , and was so sure of it's self, and then it just seemed to grow on that week by week. It was beautifully judged by everyone. I guess that starts with Russell, who's the creative head, but everyone involved seemed to have such a grasp of what Doctor Who should be, and how it works, and they did it brilliantly I think.
Did the fact that you thought it was so good, make it more daunting, knowing that it would be you on the screen come Christmas?
Oh without a doubt it make you more daunted. With every passing week the series was getting better and better and fulfilling all it's promise - and more. And Chris was so good in it. So sure footed with what he did. So it left me thinking 'There's an awful lot to live up to here'. And then the press coverage just got bigger and bigger, an the audiences seemed to get more and more into it. It really was a televison sensation, and that's so rare these days.
What was the day like for you - given that the series was still in the middle of transmission - when you had to go down to Wales and step into that leather jacket on the TARDIS set?
It was very surreal, because suddenly you're in the TARDIS, and as you say it was still going out every week. Very odd. But of course there's an element of it which is 'just do your job'. You have to learn the lines and turn up and do it. But because of the....import of the moment (laughs) and the fact taht I was starting something that was going to be a part of my life for goodness knows how long...
Fifteen years should do it we reckon!
Fifteen years is, I believe, how long I'm doing it for, yes! (laughs) But yeah it's difficult to separate the excitement of the moment from just getting on with it. And when I'd done it because my bits only took about an hour I just thought ' Is that enough? Do we not have to do something more special here? Have a party or something?' So yeah, kind of odd. But then I suspect there's going to be a lot of 'odd' over the next nine months....
How did the jacket fit?
Not as bad as I thought, actually! We're of a quite similar build. I'm quite lanky, so I assume everyone must be much beefier than me. But it fitted me not too badly. Which is good, cos I'm going to have to wear it again for a bit.
How many big decisions did you have to make just for that minute's worth of screen time in episode 13? I guess things like accent, hair style, even the way you wanted your Doctor to be remembered over the five month gap must have been decided upon in advance?
Well yes, that was part of the import of those few seconds. We did discuss these things. I remember we decided that I was going to have sideburns - which I'm currently growing back.
I wasn't sure if they were real! Prosthetics these days, you know...
Oh please! (Laughs) They were all my own sideburns, and shall be again. So we decided on that, we decided on roughly what my hair would be doing, I suppose. We didn't want to get too specific, so we had the chance to change it a bit if we wanted to. Just as long as it wasn't a pink mohican! The accent thing was decided for me, really. For reasons that will become apparent in the up coming Christams Special. I think you'll find it's explained, although I'm not saying any more on that...
Do you think there's still a lot more to decide before you really tackle the part when the full series starts shooting?
I'm a bit nervous of being too categorical at the moment. I think any decisions will come from playing the scripts that arrive. And because we've got Russell and Mark Gatiss and Steve Moffat and the whole gang, you don't have to worry about that because they're going to be well written.
How many have you read now?
At this precise moment? One. I've read the Christmas Special, but there are others on the way. And we're in pre production on another three.
And is the script what you were hoping for?
Oh yes! The Christmas Invasion is just brilliant. It's like a big, epic kind of space comic strip! It's magnificent. I don't want to say too much, but it's also a fantastic first episode for me.
You must know broadly what the sweep of your first series is going to be, so are there things you're really looking forward to? The papers have already been full of stories of Cybermen...
Oh yeah, and that's already pretty exciting, you know. It's brilliant to get to use some of those classic elements, but in a new way. I'm sure everything will be beautifully reimagined for the 21st Century. I don't know what the Cybermen are going to look like, but I should imagine that's a daunting job for the costume and/or prosthetics people to deal with.
Are there any monsters be they from the old series or the new that you'd really love to meet as the Doctor?
Hmmmm. Well obviously I would hope that the Daleks would appear at some point. I mean, you've got to fight them, haven't you? I wouldn't count otherwise! I mean it may not happen this year, but as next year has already been commissioned...(laughs) So fingers crossed I won't get the sack and everyone won't hate me!
So would you like to stay in the part for a while?
I honestly don't think you can know the answer to that question. Because it's such a particular job, and such a long job, and such a hard job. I mean, I imagine - and I pray I'm going to love it, and I'll stay for the rest of my life! (laughs) But I don't think that you can assume anything is a done deal, really.
What about your lovely companion Rose? Have you been in touch with Billie Piper yet?
Yes I have, we've met up a few times now. I didn't know her before, but obviously I've been admiring her in the show. She's just great. Fantastic. Just absolutely perfect. Spunky and quick and sexy... Just the ideal companion really. So I'm very very pleased that she's doing the whole series.
So come on, what can you actually tell us about the look and style of the tenth Doctor?
I can exclusively reveal that I'm going to be wearing a long frock coat, a frilly shirt and a stove pipe hat. And I will have a long multi coloured knitted scarf! (laughs)
And some pince-nez and a cricket jumper we hope?!
Yes! (laughs) No not really! Genuinely we don't know yet. I've got a costume fitting tomorrow and another one on Thursday, and I've had two already so we're working on it. But we really don't know for sure yet.
I know some actors - Mark Gatiss especially - adore costume fittings and playing around with clothes. Are you a fan of dressing up?
Well I'm not such a fan to be honest. I get a bit antsy-pantsy with all that getting in and out of trousers and shirts. It makes me want to run up and down and scream! But I have been quite good about this one, cos I realise I'm going to be in it for a while. So we're taking our time and we're getting there, and Louise Paige the new costume designer is being fantastic and is Anna Lau the costume supervisor. And Phil Collinson has been very helpful, and he's going to be there again tomorrow. So it is very exciting, but it's also a blank sheet of paper, which is always a bit scary. It could go anywhere! I mean it could be a frock coat and a stove pipe hat, but although it is still Doctor Who, in some ways it's not the same show that it used to be, and I think expectations of what people find acceptable in a modern hero have changed. So I didn't want to look too bizarre.
Can we assume you'll want a departure from Chris Eccleston's look?
Oh it certainly won't be what Chris was wearing cos that's part of what you do - change things. But we'll see.
You've already mentioned what a long job playing Doctor Who is so how are you looking forward to moving to Cardiff for the best part of a year?
I've scouted round a little bit already. I was there for a couple of days when we did the regeneration, but that's about the limit of my knowledge of Cardiff. I've got somewhere to live - which I haven't actually seen yet, but I'm sure it's all very lovely. The way I look at it, sometimes going away to work is better. It concentrates the mind. If you're working long hours and you're at home, there's always people to catch up with and things to cram in. But when you're away from home it's much easier to immerse yourself in the work and yes, nine months is a long time to be away from home, but I guess I'll get back at weekends sometimes, and I'm sure it'll all be cool.
I think we can guess the answer to this one, but did you like Doctor Who when you were a lad?
I did watch it...every week...yes! (laughs)
Who was your Doctor?
Well I grew up with Tom Baker. And Peter Davison really cos I was - what - 10, 11 when he was doing it. So there where my two Doctors. Tom Baker is the one I have the earliest memories of, and then I was still watching it very avidly through Peter Davison, and then I lapsed a little bit in the final years. But I caught up with those episodes later.
Where you a casual viewer, or a Target novelisation - collecting Doctor Who monster book scouring fan?
Listen, I've got a copy of the Doctor Who Monster Book signed by Tom Baker! I met him in John Menzies in Glasgow with my school pal Gordon Whyte when I was about 7. Gordon's Dad took us, and we met Tom Baker, and I don't know if my memory is playing tricks on me, but I think he was dressed up in the full gear. And it must have been the height of summer, because I remember thinking he must be hot! But it was amazing to meet him. I do think he was utterly spellbinding as the Doctor.
Well Tom likes you too! A quote from Mr Baker in the Sunday Mail ' I have caught a glimpse of Tennant and he has a kind of mercurial quality, I suppose it's star quality. You can believe he has secrets...'
I'm absolutely thrilled to bits about that. 'He has secrets' what a brilliantly mad and perfect thing to say. Wonderful! I will absolutely try and have some secrets for Tom I will make it my mission. (laughs) I mean all the Doctors have been good, but because Tom was the first one I saw, it's wired into my head that he's really the Doctor.
Did you play Doctor Who when you were a kid?
Oh yeah in the playground, didn't everyone?
And, more importantly, were you the Doctor in those days? Or were you the monster or even the assistant?
That's a very good question! I don't know. I don't think I remember. (laughs)
Did you have a favourite Doctor Who monster?
Genuinely I don't think I did. I do remember loving the monsters, loving the idea of monsters, and always looking for the next one and hoping it was going to be more horrific than ever. Tell you what though, I don't think I got what was so good about the Daleks, until I was much older. I just don't remember being particularly swayed by them. I mean, I get it now! With knobs on! (laughs)
Actually, do you have a Doctor Who collection? You know videos, DVDs, that sort of thing?
(Coyly) Ermmm....I might have some...
Well assuming you do have a few you will know just how much public recognition and interest that being Doctor Who brings. So are you prepared for that? You'll be on everyone's DVD shelf soon...
Well I don't know that you can be prepared for something that you've never had any experience of. I guess I'll see what happens, really. I've been acting for 14 years, so you experience it a little - tiny nibbles of what that might be like. Things like, when you're with the RSC in Stratford, in the town for the summer you're a bit of a celebrity, you know? So I have a little understanding, but I also realise that this is going to be on a level that I've never experienced before, and probably will never experience again. (laughs) But it has a particular pull, this show, and it crosses so many age boundaries and class boundaries and everything, and no other show quite does. It is weird when you realsie that some little flip comment you made to somebody one night becomes a story. There was this whole thing about me saying I wanted to wear a kilt as the Doctor. I mean, I wore a kilt to the BAFTAS and some journalist said to me something like 'Oh wouldn't that be a good outfit for the Doctor' I said 'Oh aye' and it has now been reported everywhere that I said 'I'm wearing a kilt' ! But I'll give DWM the scoop now - I'm not! And I never said that!
Are you up for the extra curricular side to playing the part? The Blue Peters, the opening fetes the chat shows...
I don't know. I think each individual thing has to be judged on it's own merits, nd you just do what you feel comfortable with. I mean, I can't see myself appearing in costume everywhere. I just don't think that's really me. I'm not saying it's a bad thing to do, but the blurring of the line between the character and yourself is a slightly odd one for me and I don't feel that comfortable with it. You know, if I went on Blue Peter in my costume trying to be the Doctor, I just think I'd be a bit dissapointing - unless it was scripted by Russell, Do you know what I mean? Someone like Tom Baker who was dressed up when I saw him as a kid in Glasgow, was never really himself, he was always the Doctor and that's what made him so glorious. But for me I think I'll just have to wait and see how I feel. I mean I might read this back in 5 years time and think 'what was I saying? Of course I love nothing more than flinging my coat on and appearing on Cheggers Plays Pop or whatever' (laughs) Of course I'm very happy to promote it, and go on Blue Peter if they ask me, but I suspect it will be as me. But who knows, let's see what happens. It's difficult to know how it will all pan out.
As the first actor to play the Doctor who could properly be described as a fan of the show, do you find yourself constantly being pulled up by the realisation that actually, yes, this is real and you are the tenth Doctor?
Yes, I absolutely do I don't think anyone whop grew up in the 1970s or 80s could not have those moments, but for me, who watched Doctor Who avidly, and loved the show, it is a bit surreal but you have to get beyond that quite quickly. That's what I've been discovering, that the moment of that slight 'Out-of -body experience' ends when you realise that you have to knuckle down and do it. I've been talking to Mark Gatiss about that, actually, cos that's what he went through when he had to sit down and write it. You just think how extraordinary, my dream job!
It's the moment you expect the end credits to roll isn't it? But then you realise it's actually real life and you still have the job to do.
That's it exactly. Because it is a job as well as everything else. And that's exactly how you'd want it to be, and that's great, but that does mean there's a certain extra responsibility to it. It's like
, at the fitting tomorrow, yeah it'd be great to go into Angles and try on as many mad outfits as possible, and find the silliest hat, and the most extraordinary cape, and the most bonkers boots, and a big Space Watch (laughs) But then actually you realise that would just be nonsense. And although we can have fun - and we're having a ball - we've got to get this right. So it's a balance of the two which is part of a fairly steep learning curve for me at the moment.
So finally - and it's a horrible question! Any last thing to say to all the DWM readers before you start on the series?
That's a very difficult one. I don't want to make any pronouncements because I don''t think it's for me to do. It's weird all that, because inevitably...
Well, when I was announced, I admit, I did go on Outpost Gallifrey to have a quick look, because, I just couldn't help myself, and everyone was encouraging me to go on and see wht the fans were saying about me. So when I went on there and the first comment I read was very nice, and the next comment was terribly flattering, and then the next one said something like 'I can't bear the sight of him!' and the one after that said 'Who?' The one after that said 'I'd rather have David Morrisey' the one after that said 'That's it! The dream is finished! Somebody who looks like a weasle could never play the Doctor! It's over!' And then I thought to myself that maybe it's best not to read this sort of thing too much. (laughs) And actually it's not for me. These forums aren't there for the guy playing the part, so I wouldn't pretend to have any pronouncements to make to the fans really. I just hope people like it. I hope they stick with it and give it a chance. I know everyone loved Chris, and so did I, but hopefully I won't disappoint people!