David Tennant, 2005-10
There's only been one actor who has threatened to knock Tom Baker off the top spot and gain the title of Most Popular Doctor, and that's David Tennant. In this fiftieth anniversary year, every media site and newspaper has run a poll to find readers' favourite Time Lord, and it's invariably one of those two that come out on top. Something about Tennant's performance has propelled him to superstar status among Doctor Who fans. Certainly, it was during his tenure that the series truly took off and became a must-see fixture of television. For its first series, Doctor Who was a surprise success; during its second, it became a runaway triumph, and no little part of that is down to David Tennant.
Perhaps the aspect that comes through most in Tennant's performance is his sheer joy at being the Doctor. Young David McDonald grew up watching the show, developing an ambition to become an actor due to his enthusiasm for television like Doctor Who. Indeed, he has admitted himself that he became an actor basically because, one day, he wanted to be the Doctor. Taking the stage name of Tennant – pinched from Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, proving his eighties geek credentials – David McDonald began a slow rise to stardom. The usual small parts led to his breakthrough performance in BBC's Blackpool, and from then, to Russell T. Davies's first production for the Beeb, Casanova. Indeed, Tennant's turn as Giacomo Casanova can easily be viewed as a dry run for his time as the Doctor. He plays the part of the Doctor much the same, minus the shagging and the swearing. The bravado, the mad sense of adventure, the romantic streak, it's all there. Davies made no secret of the fact that his new star was an unabashed Who-head. When Christopher Eccleston's quitting the series was announced, the identity of his replacement was no mystery. Tennant was a shoe-in.
It's tempting to see the tenth Doctor and his era as the purer version of Davies's vision for the series. While Davies remained careful to drip-feed the sci-fi and myth elements into the series for fear of scaring off the Saturday night audience, the second season began to reveal more elements of the Doctor's universe. The ninth Doctor never even said the name Gallifrey, skirted around references to the original series, and never even left the Earth and its immediate environs. In his first year, the tenth Doctor went off planet, named dropped the Kaleds and Daemons and met Sarah Jane Smith and K-9. By series four, he was making off the cuff references to The Sensorites in high-concept sci-fi episodes. Tennant pours out his love for Peter Davison's performance face-to-face during Time Crash, but he also incorporates little hints of other Doctors. He rubs his neck like Pertwee and makes some distinctly Tom Baker-ish faces.
Set against that traditionalism, though, is the new, more likeable, more romantic version of the Doctor. The tenth Doctor is handsome, sexy and charming. For the first time, the Doctor was cool. You only have to look at the outfit. While it's got a hint of geek-chic and Britpop, it's a very modern take on the old-fashioned look of the earlier Doctors. It's recognisably a Doctorish look, but one that young men could, and soon did, take to emulating themselves. The pinstripe suit with the long coat and trainers is a look that works for a skinny younger man. It was a little annoying when the Doctor pinched it off me (actually, the tenth Doctor's look was apparently inspired by an outfit worn by TV chef Jamie Oliver, for which we should both feel ashamed). The in-universe origin of this snappy new Doctor is clear though: he's made for Rose.
It's inarguable that the tenth Doctor is more suited to being a partner for Rose than the ninth was. The ninth Doctor was as much a father figure as a potential love interest for Rose, and until the closing episodes of the first series Rose didn't seem to feel the same way about the Doctor as he did for her. The Bad Wolf event changes this, however; Rose falls for the Doctor when it seems that she is to be separated from him. Saving him, and the universe, against all odds, seals the deal for both of them. Each prepared to sacrifice themselves for the other, Rose and the Doctor are now inseparable. Then the Doctor changes, and the somewhat dour, damaged, older ninth Doctor becomes Rose's perfect boyfriend. He's still, physically, older than her, but not too old. He's handsome, but not in a classic, Hollywood, Captain Jack kind of way. The humour of his previous life comes easier, the snark is toned down, and the enthusiasm that once bubbled through now overflows. He's still the Doctor she came to love, but refined for the tastes of a young woman not quite out of her teens. It's no wonder the fangurls love him.
The new Doctor, unlike his predecessor, emphatically does “do domestic.” The first thing he does after the events of the Sycorax invasion, after he's picked out his outfit, is to settle down for Christmas dinner with Rose, Mickey and Jackie. It's impossible to imagine the ninth Doctor doing that. While this Doctor has flashes of eccentricity and antisocial behaviour – sticking his fingers in a pot of marmalade in a stranger's house, or occasionally being blunt to the point of rudeness – he is far more relatable, far more human, than almost any of his predecessors. The weirdest he gets is tasting things to determine their chemical make-up, a tendency not unlike his, similarly likeable, fifth incarnation's trick of smelling things out. He's a Doctor Rose can take home to her mum. Imagine her trying to take the eleventh Doctor home; he'd break things, set up experiments on the dinner table, spit wine on the floor. The tenth Doctor, for all his wanderlust, is thoroughly domesticated. He's even picked up Rose's estuary accent, all the better to help him fit in with her and her family. (It's a big change from either the heavily northern ninth Doctor or his posh predecessors, and notably the same mockney drawl Tennant used as Casanova.) He's not the only Doctor we've seen hanging around a council estate, but he's the only one we've seen who actually looks comfortable there. It all points to one thing: the Doctor has adapted to become the perfect partner for Rose. He's Doctor Tyler.
As an aside, there's a definite sense that the Doctor has finally developed some control over his regenerations. While his previous transformations often seemed to be a reaction against the version of the Doctor who was dying, it never seemed as though the Doctor was controlling the outcome, even though he showed no surprise when Kanpo or Romana picked their new forms. He clearly hasn't got it quite nailed yet – if he had, he'd be ginger – but the tenth Doctor really seems to have modelled his new appearance to deliberately become a better fit for Rose. It may not be conscious, but it's the definite implication. The modern process of regeneration is very different from its classic series counterpart, though. For one thing, it's far more uniform; previous regenerations varied hugely in appearance and effect, but from now on, all the Doctor's regenerations are of a kind, as are River's and the Master's. The first regeneration of this type that we see is that from the eighth Doctor to the War Doctor, which suggests that either it's something to do with the Sisterhood's special methods, or that it's some kind of upgrade given to Time Lords in the Time War.
The Doctor is even more formidable than before, able to shrug off a bolt of lightning or excrete Roentgen radiation through his toe, and to perform Spock-style mind melds. The regeneration itself doesn't go well – it can hardly have been designed to deal with chronic exposure to the time vortex – but even when the Doctor is recovering from his renewal, he is a force to be reckoned with. Then he goes and gets his hand hacked off, only to grow a new one, due to a hitherto unmentioned ability of Time Lords who are within the first fifteen hours of their regeneration. And his new hand - “it's a fightin' hand!” It all smacks of a wartime upgrade. Of course, the lost hand will come back to play a part in the Doctor's future. The tenth Doctor is fleet-footed and bursting with energy. And as for his hair – well, the Doctor's hair always manages, somehow, to style itself during regeneration, but how the hell does it gel itself up?
One aspect of the new Doctor that divides viewers is his attitude to the Time War, and his actions during it. On the surface, certainly, he appears to have gotten over the War at last. It no longer defines him the way it did in his ninth life. Watching closely, though, and this is clearly a front. The tenth Doctor is as pained by his actions in the War as the ninth was. Now we have a little more information, including the revelation that the ninth Doctor was, in fact, the tenth, and the tenth is really the eleventh. While this Doctor never mentions his forbidden incarnation – naturally – he refers to his actions in the War, to the Fall of Arcadia, to the final decision to end Gallifrey for the sake of the universe. By The Day of the Doctor, there's no pretending. He is still subsumed by the guilt of it all, and full of bitterness at the fact the Daleks keep returning, again and again. All the enthusiasm, the jokes, the endless, non-stop jabber – it's all another mask.
Another aspect that some fans wish to overlook is that the tenth Doctor is, by a country mile, the most arrogant of the Doctors. This is, of course, quite some achievement. Yet not even the sixth Doctor was ever quite so cocky and full of himself. The tenth Doctor, or course, can get away with it. He has an easy charm that makes him very difficult not to like (unless you're his companion's mum). He gets by on sheer charisma. It's no surprise that, during his aborted regeneration, he expresses disdain at the idea of changing form. “Why would I want to?” he asks. “Look at me!” The man is, in spite of his inner turmoil, completely in love with himself. On some occasions, his “I'm brilliant!” self-adoration will get him into trouble, particularly on the planet Midnight. This arrogance is evident from his earliest actions, and will come to overshadow his actions in throughout this incarnation, until, finally, it spells his end.
The Christmas Invasion is a perfect introduction for this new Doctor. One criticism some fans made of Eccleston's Doctor was that he didn't get directly involved; the ninth Doctor preferred to watch from the sidelines, nudging events towards a satisfactory conclusion. Sometimes, this allowed situations to get out of hand, and his interference often had unforeseen negative consequences. In reaction against this criticism, the tenth Doctor's debut has him incapacitated for the bulk of its running time, and shows us how much impact the Doctor has on those around him. With him, even temporarily, out of the picture, Rose goes to pieces and the world is at the mercy of the Sycorax. Harriet Jones broadcasts a desperate plea for the Doctor's help, and all that Rose and her family can do is sit it out. Davies is plainly showing us how much impact the Doctor has on those around him, making them more capable by his mere presence.
And yet, the new Doctor embraces the criticism of standing at the sides, and to react against it. Once finally revitalised (by vapourised tea!) the tenth Doctor leaps into action, loudly working out his new persona while running rings round the Sycorax, before fighting the Chief for the fate of the Earth. Once he's back, he no longer stands on the sidelines; he's in the thick of the action from now on. The Doctor shows the defeated Chief some compassion, but fully anticipates his betrayal, nonchalantly dropping the warrior to his death. “No second chances; I'm that sort of a man.” It's a bold statement of intent.
More questionable, though, is his treatment of Harriet Jones. The Doctor allows the Sycorax to leave the Earth, with the warning that they should not return to Earth, for “it is defended.” From the off, the tenth Doctor declares his ties to his adopted homeworld, yet he seems to have no qualms in letting a shipful of slavers go off and, presumably, enslave someone else. The Prime Minister, however, realises she cannot rely on the fly-by-night Doctor being there at the right time, and orders Torchwood to destroy the ship. The Doctor rounds on her, turning his anger on humanity in general and Harriet in particular. We could argue all day over whether what she did was morally right – it's a blatant take on Thatcher's order to destroy a retreating vessel in the Falklands War, but not really comparable at all. She certainly has a point when she says that the Doctor isn't always there, that he comes and goes. Out of spite, the Doctor lays the seeds to destroy her career, and boasts while he does it. Not only is this a terrible betrayal of someone who trusted him, with Harriet out of office, the door is opened for one Harold Saxon to take power. The tenth Doctor's actions on his first day of life will come back to haunt him.
The Sonic Screwdriver: One element of the tenth Doctor's stories that created consternation amongst some fans is his total reliance on the sonic screwdriver. Whereas the ubiquitous tool was once used for manipulating screws, it has, over the years, developed more and harder to believe abilities. The Doctor probably kept bolting extra bits on. The tenth Doctor is never without it, using it to do everything from opening doors to miraculously fixing rocket engines. Fall all the technobabble, it is essentially a magic wand, performing whatever tasks the plot requires at the time, to the extent that an anti-screwdriver system, the deadlock seal, had to be invented to stop him using it. Often, he uses it in the manner of a Star Trek tricorder, only how he reads the data is anyone's guess. For all the jokes about putting up cabinets, one of the most common uses is being pointed at enemies in threat. What's the point of the Doctor refusing to pick up a gun, if he's just going to use his screwdriver as one?
There are times when his declaration of “no second chances” fails in light of his better judgment. This Doctor is still capable of compassion; right after his new mission statement, he takes pity on Cassandra and takes her back to her last good night. More often than not, however, the tenth Doctor is more than ready to dole out his own form of justice. “Don't go looking for a higher authority,” he states, “because there isn't one.” As the last of the Time Lords, the Doctor has taken on himself the role of supreme moral guardian of the universe. “I'm so old now,” he tells Mr Finch/Brother Lassar of the Krillitanes. “I used to have so much mercy.” He is tempted by his offer of mastery over time, but then turns on him, setting the Krillitanes up for a massacre. Perhaps the most contentious of actions are against the Family of Blood, where he avoids his self-appointed responsibility before lashing out and administering horrific, albeit poetic, punishments on the aliens. “The Doctor and the monsters, they go together,” says Reinette – but how different are they?
The Doctor's self-importance and zest for adventure rub off on Rose, and they become increasingly alike. Their bantering relationship rubs even their friends the wrong way, let alone those opposed to them. Queen Victoria is grateful for their help in defeating the werewolf, bestowing honours upon them, but then proceeds to banish them from the British Empire, citing their lust for danger as a terminal fault. The Doctor's lust for adventure can appear to be just a further sign of his arrogance, and influences, in this instance, the creation of Torchwood, as an organisation directly opposed to him. It's Rose who comes off worst in these adventures, though. The meeting between the tenth Doctor and Sarah Jane is an absolutely joyous moment for die-hard fans and those who watched the series in the seventies, reuniting the Doctor with one of his best-loved companions. It's also the point at which Rose becomes completely unlikeable, descending into complete bitchery and jealousy at the Doctor's “ex.” From this point out, her selfishness and self-obsession become hard to stomach, and the Doctor's adoration of her harder to fathom.
Sarah Jane Smith: It has to be said, the return of Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane is something of a phenomenon. It was a risk, bringing back a character from the original run of Doctor Who, but it worked, and not only for those viewers who watched the series back in the seventies and the die-hard fans. The kids loved Sarah Jane, for the same reasons they loved her back in 1973 – she's a great character, and Sladen brings her to life beautifully. Having reintroduced both Sarah and K-9 to the viewing public with School Reunion, Davies then went ahead and gave Sladen her own series. The proliferation of spin-offs just is testament to Doctor Who's success in this period – we had The Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, Totally Doctor Who and Doctor Who Confidential, and, unofficially, the K-9 Series. SJA was the undoubtedly the greatest triumph, though, a series that reinvigorated children's television the same way its parent series revived Saturday night family viewing, and so much of that is down to Lis Sladen's performance.
Rose and the Doctor continue to adventure together, with Mickey along for the ride for just long enough to deposit him on the parallel Earth and give him a little closure. Certainly, Mickey's relationship with “the boss” is far easier than with the previous Doctor, due in no small part to his own improved self-confidence, and also the fact that he has finally gotten over Rose. The Doctor also has a far greater respect for the young man, although he does till tease him mercilessly. The happy couple continue on their adventures, despite the overhanging threat that something, somehow, will spit them up. The Doctor doesn't seem to take these vague prophecies too seriously (he'll learn his lesson regarding this later), and is more unnerved about Rose's suggestion that they get a house together when he loses his TARDIS on Krop Tor.
Eventually, though, they are torn apart. The finale to series two, Doomsday, is perhaps the biggest emotional wrench in Doctor Who's history. Despite her vow to travel with the Doctor forever, Rose is torn from him, left stranded on Pete's World, the parallel Earth. It's testament to how much Rose has changed over the two years, that this is considered a terrible fate. When we first met her, Rose's perfect life would have been with her mother, father and Mickey, living happily together as a family and not worrying about money. By now, being stuck on Earth, even with her father returned to her, even as a “Defender of the Earth,” is a miserable comedown. All she wants to do is travel with the Doctor. From the Doctor's point of view, it's just as bad. The loss of Rose is the most significant trauma to the Doctor in centuries (the Time War notwithstanding), and he is left devastated by her loss. He rips open a rift between universes just to say goodbye to her, and yet, he still can't actually come out and say “I love you.” (He responds to Rose's profession of love with a characteristically arrogant “Quite right too.”)
Human Nature: The new TV series has adapted several stories from other media to become episodes, but generally quite loosely. Human Nature is another matter, for, while there are significant differences, it remains essentially the same story as the original New Adventures novel. Paul Cornell updates the Doctor's motives however. The seventh Doctor, recognising that he could not experience love as humans do, elected to spend time as a human in order to better understand them. This was never going to work with the tenth Doctor, a man who very clearly does experience love. Nonetheless, he still doesn't understand the intricacies of human emotion, not realising that Martha has feelings for him, or that his human counterpart, John Smith, might himself fall in love, or have a desire to remain alive once his usefulness is over. The story is very much a hangover from the New Adventures era, the Doctor's baroque punishments being more in keeping with the style of that series. Joan Redfern is quite right, though – if the Doctor had not chosen to hide out in her school, on a whim, would anyone there have died?
Soon enough comes the Doctor's fateful trip to Cardiff, a quick pitstop to refuel off the Rift that ends with Captain Jack launching himself at the TARDIS, propelling it in fear towards the dark days at the end of the universe. There's a perfect moment for the Doctor when he nervously accepts that he is out of his depth in this distant future era, has no idea what to expect and should really leave... before flashing a huge grin and running out into the endless night on Malcassairo. There, with Martha and Jack in tow, he finds Professor Yana, who turns out to be none other than the Master, using the same chameleonic technology to hide as a human that the Doctor used previously. Had the Doctor never come to Malcassairo, the poor old Professor would have pottered away his few remaining days on his project to build a ship to reach “Utopia.” Instead, the very presence of the Doctor is the trigger for him to once again become the Master. In many ways, this whole sequence is that of new Who burying the old, with the Professor, a deliberately Doctorish figure in the Hartnell mould, being outdone by the new Doctor's brilliance. We get only a brief glimpse of Sir Derek Jacobi's viciously callous Master, before he is shot and regenerates into a new version, played with manic glee by John Simm. It's the final step in the process, as a villain of the old school is comprehensively rewritten to become a foe for the future.
The Doctor's panicky attempt to limit the Master's freedom by knobbling his own TARDIS is what leads to the newly regenerated villain arriving in London several months in Martha's past. Were it not for this, the Master could have gone anywhere; instead, he arrives in, essentially, the Doctor's back yard, and proceeds to form a power base. Once his timestream has caught up with the Doctor's, the Master has set himself up as Prime Minister, taking advantage of the power vacuum left by Harriet Jones's ousting. He then proceeds to victimise Martha's family, before inviting his allies, the Toclafane – the twisted future of humanity, warped to his own vision – down to Earth. None of this would have happened were it not for the Doctor's own short-sighted actions.
All of it is for the Doctor, of course. The Master has always been obsessed with his old friend, to the extent of tailoring his plans for domination around impressing him, and letting him live when killing him would be the wiser decision. The new Master, young, verbose, arrogant, silly and sexy, is a reflection of the new Doctor, his charms and flaws turned up to maximum. And once again, his desire to keep the Doctor by his side, to impress him, even as he makes him suffer, is what leads to his failure. The Master reduces the Doctor to decrepit old age, forcing him to watch helplessly as he decimates mankind and conquers the Earth. It's the Master's ultimate victory, and he would have remained in power if he had just killed the Doctor. Instead, he keeps him around, basically in a kennel, reduced to what is essentially a victim of torture that can be shown on kids' TV. While he dances to the Scissor Sisters. For a year.
Given the opportunity to finally have the Master strung up for his crimes, the Doctor steps in and refuses to allow humanity to have justice. Quite understandably, there are immediate cries for his execution, but the Doctor, as he did once before, steps in. by what right does he appoint himself as the Master's judge and jailer? The Master has committed appalling crimes against the population of the Earth, yet the Doctor refuses to allow them to try or punish him. In another sign of his arrogance, the Doctor states that, as a Time Lord, the Master is his responsibility. Or perhaps it's simpler than that. The Doctor simply cannot deal with being alone, with being the last of his people. The Master has long been obsessed with the Doctor, but now, with no one but his one-time friend left from his own civilisation, the Doctor has become obsessed with him too. Indeed, it's very hard not to see the relationship between the two Time Lords as distinctly homoerotic. “I like it when you say my name,” purrs the Master. “You could be beautiful,” coos the Doctor. It's a whole level beyond bromance. However, if there's one thing the Master needs more than the Doctor's approval, it's to get one over on him; and so, shot by his abused wife Lucy, the Master refuses to regenerate. He dies in the Doctor's arms, as he howls with grief, alone once more.
It would be easy for Martha to justify staying with the Doctor at this point. After all, he has suffered for a year, and then seen the only other extant member of his species die. He needs someone with him. And yet, to her eternal credit, Martha chooses to leave the Doctor. She goes back to care for her traumatised family, even her appalling mother. She escapes her unrequited love for the Doctor by turning around and walking out of the TARDIS. Martha Jones, who saved the world through bravery and sheer determination, not with superpowers. Finally out of the shadow of Rose, and still underappreciated.
Captain Jack: Jack's return to the TARDIS is something the Doctor initially finds hard to deal with. As Jack presses him, his abandonment of the former Time Agent is based on a weird sort of prejudice, and runs counter to the Doctor's normally compassionate attitude to his companions. What's more, by leaving Jack to his own devices, he has surely allowed him to do more damage to the timeline than if he had taken him with him and helped him through his new found immortality. Once the difficult part is over, though, Jack and the Doctor get on better than ever, although this new, more sexually confident Doctor is no less forgiving of Jack's continual flirting. Meanwhile, Jack has been heading his own series, as chief of the Welsh branch of Torchwood. An organisation that is dedicated to using and abusing alien life, with a particular vendetta against the Doctor. It's no wonder that the Doctor has a problem with this, although he's pragmatic enough to see past it when he needs Jack's help against the Master. By the end of the Year of Hell, the Doctor seems to have decided that the best thing for both Jack and the Earth is if he stays here running Torchwood's operations.
The tenth Doctor is far more sexual than any of his other selves, locking lips with all manner of women across time and space. There's Reinette, Elizabeth I, Lady Christina – he certainly has a way with the aristocracy. Whether he goes any further than snogging is open to question, although rueful comments about the “Virgin Queen” suggest that his accidental marriage to Elizabeth I may have gone further than we know. Even when he's with Rose, it doesn't take too much to turn his head. He falls head over heels for Reinette, Madame de Pompadour, an undeniably impressive woman who immediately gets the measure of him. (The chemistry between the two is undeniable; it's no surprise that David Tennant and Sophia Miles became involved after filming.) The Doctor risks being stuck on 18th century Earth so that he can rescue Reinette from her robotic assailants, before finding a way back to the TARDIS. In a typically display of overexcitement, he rushes through a faulty time portal without thinking things through, separating himself from her forever. Once Rose is out of the picture for good, the Doctor allows himself to pick up a new girlfriend. Astrid, other than being from the planet Sto, is rather like Rose: curious, brave, desperate to escape a dreary life and played by a pop star (although Kylie Minogue is big step up from Billie Piper in star appeal, being the most blatant example of stunt casting in the series' history). The year or so of travels and torture appear to have given the Doctor time to finally get over Rose altogether.
After two years of non-stop adoration from pretty young things, what the Doctor really needed was someone to put him in his place. Thank heaven for Donna Noble. The brassy temp from Chiswick began as a one-off joke companion, a bit of stunt casting for the 2006 Christmas special. She was Catherine Tate doing a turn as a typically Catherine Tate-style character. She existed purely to wrench the Doctor out of his post-Rose downer and get him on a fun, frothy adventure for Chrimbo. Even by the end of that episode, though, they had each made a positive impact on the the other. Donna had seen the vastness of the universe, putting her little life in perspective, and the Doctor had been reminded that, without a companion, he was at risk of becoming just as monstrous as the creatures he fights. With that in mind, he asks her to come with him – and, quite sensibly, given the horror she's just been through, she says no.
A year or so later, we catch up with Donna, bitterly regretting missing the chance she had of travelling with the Doctor. She's travelled, gained new perspective, but is still living the same old life. The Doctor, meanwhile, is alone once more, talking to himself in the TARDIS and going on self-set missions for the sake of it. Through a web of coincidence that binds their timelines together, the Doctor and Donna find each other again, and this time, she's coming aboard. The Doctor's not quite sure he wants this after all, but Donna doesn't give him much choice. Thankfully, for both the Doctor and the viewers, Donna has absolutely no romantic or sexual interest in the Time Lord whatsoever. In fact, she resolutely refuses to be impressed by him, at least, not openly. Behind closed doors, speaking to her granddad, Wilfred Mott, she'll rave about the man in the blue box, but he's hearing none of it. She's just what he needs: someone who will puncture his ego, and shout him down when he needs it.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in Pompeii, when the Doctor is faced with the terrible decision of whether or not to try to save the locals from the inevitable volcanic eruption. (It is, admittedly, slightly odd when you consider that, according to other adventures, both his seventh self and Captain Jack are there at the same time.) The Doctor is adamant that he cannot interfere and stop the disaster, that it is a fixed point in time and cannot be altered. From a mere human point of view – and, I would argue, a dramatic one – there is no reason to which events are malleable and which are fixed. However, the Doctor, with his privaleged insight to the workings of time, seeing across the timelines, can see which lines of history can be rewritten, and which cannot. What makes it all the more questionable is that it the eruption turns out not to be a natural event, but one caused by the Pyroviles own interference in history. The decision ceases to be “Should we change history?” and becomes “Should I allow a city to be destroyed in order to spare the world?” We see the incredible burden the Doctor has taken upon himself in his travels, and for once, it doesn't come across as arrogance, but fear at doing the wrong thing. Donna, of course, is having none of it. When she finally understands that the Doctor must let Pompeii burn, she stands by him, refusing to let him trip the switch alone. It's a beautiful moment of solidarity from a more mature companion. Finally, she manages to get through to him: if you can't save everyone, then save someone. She's the human perspective he needs to keep grounded.
Ood dear, Ood dear: The Ood are one of the more visually arresting additions to Doctor Who's mythos, and one of the more troubling. Barring a couple of cameos, they are wholly confined to the tenth Doctor period. On his first encounter with them, the Doctor ignores their obvious plight as an oppressed culture in favour of focussing on the more immediate threat of the Beast, which has turned the Ood into its own personal death squad. Ye, once the Beast is defeated, he still elects to save his new human friend Ida, at the expense of the dozens of Ood slaves who have just experienced a complete takeover of their minds and bodies.
At least the Doctor has the good grace to feel guilty about this, and once he arrives on The Planet of the Ood with Donna, takes it upon himself to find out just what is going on behind the scenes of humanity's oppression of this race that is supposedly born to serve. In the event, he makes very little difference to the Ood's revolution, which was already underway and ready to get hot at any moment. However, the Ood still sing songs in thanks to the Doctor and Donna, while the one man who really helped them, Dr Ryder, dies, unthanked and unmourned. All the Doctor really does is stand by and elect not to get involved when the revolution reaches its bloody climax. Later, the Ood are instrumental in the tenth Doctor's final moments, attempting to warn him about the coming of the Master and The End of Time, and singing him to his sleep. The Doctor states that the Ood have advanced too far in a mere century of freedom, but we never hear any more on the subject, and this, to date, remains a mystery.
In Turn Left, we see that yes, he really does. The web of history breaks when a simple decision by Donna sends her life on a different course, in which she isn't there to stop the Doctor losing control fighting the Racnoss. In this timeline, he dies, and the events of the last two series occur without his involvement. The Titanic crashes into London. The Sontarans invade. The Judoon kill hundreds of people in the course of their own vendetta. A spiral of catastrophes leave the world devastated, and Donna's life falls apart. Then, finally, the stars start going out. It's only Donna who has the ability to put her life back on course. The Doctor does do good, the world would be worse off without him, and we do need him. However, Donna proves that she has what it takes to be a hero, Doctor or no.
Nonetheless, it could never have happened without Rose. Taking clinginess to a new and terrifying level, Rose Tyler returns, fighting her way through the crumbling walls between universes in search of the Doctor. OK, yes, she is trying to save the universe, and finding the Doctor is the best way to do that. Still, there's no little emotion involved here. The Stolen Earth, one of Doctor Who's most celebratory/indulgent (delete according to taste) episodes, brings all of the tenth Doctor's companions together. Harriet Jones gives her life to help fight the Daleks. Wilf takes up arms. Martha is ready to make the most appalling of decisions on behalf of the world. Sarah Jane and the Torchwood lot turn up. Rose is jealous.
When she and the Doctor are finally reunited, they run to each other, overcome with emotion, apparently forgetting that a Dalek invasion force is patrolling around them. The Doctor is shot, receiving a glancing blow from a Dalek death ray. A human would be killed instantly, but the Doctor's souped up biology can withstand it enough to last until regeneration. The msot talked about cliffhanger in Doctor Who history follows. The Doctor, reunited with his handy spare hand, channels all his excess regenerative energy into the severed member, healing but not transforming. Whether this uses up one of his allocated twelve regenerations is as yet uncertain, although scuttlebutt about the upcoming 2013 Christmas special suggests that it does.
The Meta-Doctor: Following Donna's unlikely encounter with the Doctor's extra hand, a “Time Lord metacrisis” occurs, transferring Time Lord-ish energy into Donna, and triggering a complete regeneration from the hand into a new Doctor. At first glance an exact copy of the tenth Doctor, this new “Meta-Doctor” is revealed to be half-human, having absorbed a number of Donna's traits. (His disgust at being half-human suggests that, whatever developments the TV movie may have given us, do not apply in the new series. Perhaps the Sisterhood of Karn removed the human element from his DNA when they fashioned his regeneration?) While the surface changes are minimal – the Meta-Doctor picks up a few of Donna's courser verbal tics – this version of the Doctor is quite different to the man who shares his face. He has one heart, is expected to age at a human rate and cannot regenerate. What's more, he is emotionally more capable than the “real” Doctor, able to profess his love for Rose in the way his twin never could. However, he is filled with a fire that needs quenching; as the real Doctor puts it, “he was born from battle.” This is, however, exactly what is needed in this situation, with the Daleks threatening all of time and space. Indeed, it's hard to see the Doctor's criticism of his twin's act of genocide as distinctly hypocritical.
Having returned the Earth to its rightful place in space, the Doctor has two uncomfortable tasks ahead of him. Firstly, he returns Rose to the parallel Earth, dropping her off with his new clone. There are two ways to consider this scene. One is that the Doctor is doing the kindest thing he can in the circumstance, leaving his damaged duplicate with the one person he trusts to help him, and giving Rose the one thing that he can't: a proper relationship. The other interpretation is that, finally, the Doctor is over her. Sure, he's pleased to see her, but over time, he has moved on, in a way that Rose has totally failed to do. What is he to do now, with this incredibly needy woman hanging off his heals? Easy – give her a clone, and lock the universe behind him. Then he must go forward and take his best friend home, wiping her memory of all their time together so that his own Time Lord essence doesn't burn her out. It's a tragic end to the best team of this period.
Walking in Paternity: In spite of the episode's title, there is no way that Jenny can be considered the Doctor's daughter in any real sense. A force-grown human, extrapolated, somehow, from the Doctor's distinctly non-human DNA, she appears to retain some of his Time Lord abilities, although this is far from clear. Whether her return to life was an effect of the terraforming technology around her, or a form of regeneration, is unclear. In any case, the Doctor initially dismisses any responsibility for the person he immediately identified as his daughter, and after all, a soldier created from his cells without his consent is arguably nothing to do with him. However, as he says to Donna, and had briefly admitted once to Rose, he had been father before, back in the depths of his own youth. If anything, it is the memory of this that Jenny stirs, that leads him to become involved in the fight on Messaline. The original ending to the episode had her die, but Steven Moffat stepped in and suggested she be revived, leading many to assume he would bring the character back later. So far, this hasn't happened. For all the efforts of Georgia Moffett in the role, Jenny's absence is no big loss to the show.
It all comes to a head on Mars. Arriving there purely for some sightseeing, the Doctor strolls into another of his fixed points in time. Really, he should be more careful about landing in them. Confronted with Captain Adelaide Brook and her doomed team of scientists, he knows he cannot interfere and help them escape the terrifying onslaught of the Flood. It's vital that events continue as they are intended to, otherwise human history could be knocked completely off course. He almost leaves, and then, at the last moment, something snaps. Having spent centuries helping the “little people,” the Doctor realises that it is in his power to change things in a big way. He's a Lord of Time; he's the Lord of Time. The winner of the Time War. The last Time Lord standing, and he can make the rules. He rescues Brook and her two surviving crew, returning them to Earth. This is the high point of the Doctor's arrogance: he truly believes that not only can he do anything, he has the right to. The Time Lord victorious.
Adelaide sees just how dangerous a being the Doctor could potentially be. She kills herself, setting history back, more or less, to its rightful course. The shock of this is enough to knock some sense into the Doctor. “I've gone too far,” he realises. It's a relief, but perhaps a shame. Resolving such a crisis in one episode is the easy way out. His could have been taken further. After all, with only one story left, a dangerous Doctor on the verge of true corruption could have made for a fascinating subject. It's easy to imagine that the Master began with ideas that weren't so different. Perhaps that's what the Doctor suddenly saw himself becoming, and why his sympathy for the Master is greater than ever on their next (final?) encounter.
River's Run: The two-part story that introduces River Song is an oddity amongst the tenth Doctor episodes. While all of Steven Moffat's episodes share his concerns and style, Silence in the Library and The Forest of the Dead – collectively known, I suggest, as River's Run, after the working title – comes across in retrospect as a slice Moffat era Who that has slipped back a few years in time. Which is, of course, entirely appropriate. The fact that we see the Doctor so utterly out of his depth is unusual in this period, in which the Doctor is generally presented as all-knowing and nigh-on unstoppable. For River though, he's little more than the prelude to the main act. He has yet to become the man that can stride into battle and make armies flee in fear. “I'm the Doctor,” he says. “Yeah, someday,” she retorts. We've seen this Doctor now, for good or ill, and the conclusion, upon rewatching this story, is simple: Moffat had big plans for the Time Lord.
Through the Doctor's final few adventures, he is dogged by the knowledge that his time is coming up. A prophecy that his “song is ending,” “it returns, through the darkness,” and that “he will knock four times.” The Doctor has no intention of going quietly though. When the Ood summon him, he realises that this is the beginning of the end, and again, refusing to take responsibility, he goes on the run. We know something of what he does in this period of his life. He visits Dreamland, crashes The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, travels with Majenta in the comics, meets his next incarnation and marries Queen Elizabeth I. The image is of constant adventure, outrunning his fate. By the time he finally arrives on the Ood-Sphere, it is too late. His personal timeline is linked to the Master's, and now the warning of his resurrection is too little, too late. He's back – again. Well, of course he is. The Master always comes back, and he was never going to let himself die without some typically over-complex plan for survival. The web of incidence and coincidence that threads through the tenth Doctor's life comes together at its end. To refresh: the Doctor deposes Harriet Jones. This leaves a power vacuum that is taken advantage of by the Master. The Master dies and is resurrected, his presence on Earth at this time being the key for the Time Lords to make their escape from the Time War. Meanwhile, the unlikely events of Donna's life keeps bringing her back to the Doctor, and through her, he is linked to Wilf.
Wilf is an unlikely companion for the tenth Doctor, but he is oddly perfect. An old soldier, like the Doctor, he understand the need to defend what you care about. And, in spite of the fact he is centuries younger than him, Wilf provides the Doctor with a father figure. Someone to respect. (Also, he's played by Bernard Cribbens, who's brilliant.) There's no one better suited to be at the Doctor's side at his last moments than Wilf, a truly loyal ally. On the other hand, we have the Master, more desperate than ever. Once he was the Doctor's closest friend, centuries ago on Gallifrey. His madness drove them apart, but it was, it is revealed, the Time Lords who implanted the seed of this madness.
Over the last few years, we've heard the Doctor wax lyrical on the subject of his lost people. It's difficult to square this with his dismissive attitude to the Time Lords in the classic series, but absence does make the heart grow fonder. Faced with the Time Lord High Council, breaking their way through the time lock, with Gallifrey hanging above the Earth in an impossible to maintain cosmic balancing act, the Doctor finally admits that he has been lying about his people. Lying to himself. To begin with, he wouldn't even talk about them; it took Martha to force him to open up and deal with the death of his culture. Since then, he has been painting them in a very rosy light.“That's how I choose to remember them,” he says to Wilf, when asked about his wonderful civilisation. He talks then about the last days of the Time War, berating the Master for running away before the real hell started. The whole horror of the Time War is threatening to pour through the hole in time, and as if that weren't enough, the High Council have other plans. To survive, they, led by the Lord President Rassilon (resurrected to lead them into war?) are to enact the Final Sanction. They will destroy the universe utterly, while ascending to a higher plane to survive. Faced with this, the Doctor does the only thing he can: he destroys their link with the Earth, knowing that Rassilon will destroy him.
The fact that we have now seen the end of the Time War retconned doesn't matter. Depending on which way you look at it, the saving of Gallifrey either hasn't happened yet, or the Doctor cannot remember it until he reaches the right point in his timeline. As far as the Doctor is concerned, he destroyed Gallifrey, and now, he destroys it again. The Doctor finally embraces his terrible decision as the only one that could have been made in the circumstances he found himself, and he is prepared to pay the price. Unexpectedly, though, the dying Master steps in, fighting back Rassilon with his inhuman powers, holding him off in those final moments as time is locked shut again. His attack on a common enemy is hardly enough to redeem his many past crimes, but perhaps, if we see him again, there may be a chance of reconciliation with the Doctor. (And now we know that Gallifrey survived, somewhere, presumably both the Master and Rassilon have too.)
The Woman in White: The identity of “the Woman” is a mystery that has yet to be explained, and probably won't be for the foreseeable future. Evidently a Time Lord, suggestions for her identity have ranged from a regenerated Romana, an older Susan, or even a female regeneration from the Doctor's own future. Whoever she is, she is one of only two member of the High Council who stand against Rassilon when he calls for the End of Time. Both Russell T. Davies and producer Julie Gardner have gone on record saying that they consider her to be the Doctor's mother (another one in the eye for the “half-human on my mother's side” idea), but that they are leaving it open to viewer interpretation.
The End of Time averted, his body bruised and bleeding, the Doctor is surprised to find himself still alive. And then come those four knocks. The final part of the prophecy comes true as Wilf, quietly, meekly, asks to be let out of a radiation cell, into which he had stepped in a moment of blind bravery, rescuing an unknown technician. What Wilf does with quiet dignity, the Doctor rails against. We've seen the Doctor sacrifice a regeneration before, but always with that same dignity. This time, he is filled with anger and self-pity. Again, there's a real arrogance to this incarnation, an indication that he considers himself to be the best of the Doctors. There's an ongoing debate concerning the nature of the Doctor's different incarnations. Are they one man wearing a series of different faces? Or are they a series of men, linked through causality and memory? The truth probably lies somewhere in between, but in The End of Time, we get the clearest indication that regenerated personalities do actually die. “I die,” says the Doctor to Wilf, “Some other man goes sauntering away.” The tenth Doctor screams at the injustice of it. “I could have done so much more!” he cries. Indeed, if we take the Doctor's declared age as read, this incarnation has lasted barely seven years (he's 900 in series one, and 906 in The End of Time). Hardly a breath in the life of a Time Lord. What else could this most formidable of Doctors accomplished, given more time?
Yet, he doesn't back down. He steps in to save Wilf, declaring that it would be his honour to do so, and absorbs a lethal dose of ionising radiation. For the second time, the Doctor dies a painful death by radiation, but this time, he holds off the inevitable. We have seen him fight off regeneration before, at the end of his fifth life, but it was nothing like this. The Doctor goes to collect his reward, holding back regeneration long enough to visit all his companions, including not only those from this lifetime, but apparently all those before as well. This long, extended coda is self-indulgent, maudlin, and designed solely to make everyone cry – but by god, it worked on me. His final visit is, of course, to Rose, still the most significant person in his recent life. The first character we saw in Davies's revived series, the first person the Doctor saw through his tenth incarnation's eyes, and the last. He risks a moment with her months before they first met at the department store, and finally staggers back to the TARDIS, where at last, he allows the regeneration to take him. So much repressed energy pours out, that the interior of the Ship is destroyed along with his old body.
First, though, are his last, heartfelt words. “I don't want to go.” (Seriously, floods. Absolute floods.) They come from the mouth of the tenth Doctor, but it's hard not to conclude that David Tennant is speaking for himself as well. He's moving on from his dream job. For four years, he got to be the Doctor, and now he has to hand it over to someone else. But don't worry, he'll be back.