The Tenth Doctor (from Doctor Who)

A topical note, Nicolas Courtney, aka Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, passed away yesterday.  He will be missed.  Now, let’s get back into our normal swing with a BANG!

That brings us to the BBC’s version of Chris Metzen, Russel T. Davies.

Not so much in that RTD plays fast and loose with his own canon (though some would argue otherwise), but in that his fans have a love/hate relationship with his written work.

It’s a strange thing that people who adore certain aspects of RTD’s creations despise other elements as “the worst thing EVAR”. And the biggest symbol of his legacy is the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant.  And, no, I will not be having it both ways here.  The good parts of the Tenth Doctor are not the work of David Tennant, and the bad parts are not the work of RTD.  They both have equal credit, and equal BLAME in this blog.

For those unfamiliar with Doctor Who (all three of you), it is a British sci-fi serial that has been going off and on since 1963, a total of 39 seasons all told.  How can a series go for so long when it’s based around a titular character? Well, the Doctor has a sneaky trick (plot convenience) called “Regeneration”.  When faced with mortal wounds, the Doctor’s species, the Time Lords, can trigger an energy process inside their bodies that rapidly regenerates the cells from near death, but it leaves them with a slightly different genetic make up.  Hence, a new face, a new actor to play the Doctor.  Originally it was said Time Lords only had 13 “lives” and so you can imagine, with four left, it was probably the last chance to get a strong career actor into the role before the BBC started casting based on longevity in the part (as they APPEAR to have done with Matt Smith, a little more Tom Baker, a little less Patrick Troughton.)

It only took one year for David Tennant to become the most popular Doctor of all time, quite a feat considering that Tom Baker had held onto that distinction since 1977.  It’s probably because Tennant’s Doctor was VERY different from all his previous incarnations.  He stands alone in the line up, and that is both good and bad.

A Symbol of an Era

If you’ve seen the new Doctor Who, it was probably Tennant.  He has played the role for three seasons, and four years, as opposed to one season each for his bookends, Christopher Eccleston and Matt Smith (Smith’s second season will be this spring). The Tenth Doctor represents the RTD era of Doctor Who quite well.  He’s obsessed with contemporary times, his life is divisible by the women who travel with him, and he’s worshiped by some, and anyone who disagrees is a villain.

This is definitely one problem.

Another is the sacrifice of other characters for the Doctor….or Rose…and that’s just as bad for the series legacy as Tennant’s performance.  In fact, it may indeed be more important when the FINAL episode of Doctor Who airs, and we look back on this amazing series, and the short period that was the RTD era.

An example.

Let’s examine two episodes, one from the RTD era, and the other from Steven Moffat’s tenure as head developer.  Episodes 2×03 and 5×06, School Reunion and The Vampires of Venice. Now, both these stories were written by Toby Whithouse.  They follow a very similar formula, but end up very, very different.

I want to focus on the villains, for now, as that’s the point I’m trying to make with the legacy comment.  I’m going to try and be fair, as Vampires of Venice aired much more recently and is fresher in our minds.  And personally, I like Smith better than Tennant.  I know, I know, stone me.  Get over yourself.  But these things in mind, I will try to be fair.

In the Vampires of Venice we meet the Countess, who is perhaps the most intriguing, popular, beloved stand-alone villain in season 5.  In School Reunion we meet the Headmaster, who is, in every meaning of the word, forgettable.

School Reunion is remembered more for the drama.  I don’t mean the dramatic plot line, I mean the catfight between Sarah Jane Smith and Rose Tyler, who acted like a complete bitch, girl power! >.>.  The human-interest, high school drama is whats remembered, not the actual story, which was a HUGE insight and wasted moment for the Doctor.

And before anyone says “Well Vampires of Venice was all about the sci-fi plot”, not true.  It was the episode where Amy got over her momentary infatuation with the Doctor and ended the episode back in love with Rory, and Rory stopped being belligerent towards the Doctor and came to see him as a friend.  A LOT happened here from the high school drama point of view.  It was just a BETTER episode.  This is even more glaring in the face of the fact that the Headmaster was played by Anthony-fucking-Head.  A brilliant actor was wasted on that part.

But essentially the stories were the same thing, villains asking the Doctor to help them, lead them, because they deferred to his wisdom.  They were three dimensional, but in the RTD era it was hidden under a bedsheet so we could see Rose Tyler acting like a pompous ass. So, if you want my opinion on the RTD/Moffat debate, there it is.

As for Tennant, when he first took the role he said he made it a point not to watch the other Doctors when finding inspiration for his character.  This is good, and bad.  The reason his Doctor ended up so different, is because no one previously thought to incorporate traits antithetical to the Doctor’s core personality before.  Easy right?

Not that I put all the blame on Tennant for that, I mean he was written pretty bad as far as “antithetical” goes.  But he used the scripts he was given to give a performance the script warranted.  This is good.  In fact he’s brilliant.  The “problem” comes from the consideration that he’s not just doing a lone story, a single stand alone play, it’s a serial, of 40+ years, there is LOTS of established story that he acts against, that’s all I’m saying.

Personality

The Tenth Doctor was unusually obsessed with contemporary Earth culture. Though his prediction for the seventh Harry Potter book seems flat.  Unless he was referring to Snape? He was slightly more jovial than the Ninth Doctor, but still just as guilt ridden over the Time War.  That’s important I think.

Many people take that to mean the Doctor has “moved on” by this incarnation.  As evidence they use his bubbly, smiling personality, whereas the Ninth was a dark and brooding Doctor.  But the one has nothing to do with the other.

When people smile about the horrible things that happened in their life, be it war, or child abuse, or rape, they are smiling because that is the brain’s ultimate defense mechanism.  They have detached themselves from the emotions that they feel with that.  Not even professional THERAPISTS will breach that barrier unless it’s absolutely necessary, because sometimes it could destroy that person, and it will be a long, LONG road to recovery.

In my estimation, the Ninth Doctor had a better, more realistic grasp of the War than the Tenth Doctor did, because he was still working it out.  It made him harder, darker, and cruel, yes.  But it was always forefront in his mind.  Note how the TARDIS was always taking him places ravaged by the Time War, so that the Doctor, the inheritor of the conflict, could set right a few of the many many wrongs caused by that fight.

In his Tenth incarnation the Doctor decided to move on, and we notice that he becomes harder, and colder, after the Master reappears.  I like to think that that isn’t a coincidence, as he’s finally had to deal with his emotions regarding the Time Lords.

“But Anna, he had been dealing with the Daleks many times previous.”  To which I’d say yes and no.  In Doomsday, I’d wager, just a little bit? that the loss of Rose impacted the Doctor way more than ANOTHER Dalek remnant of the Time War.  In Manhattan, it was an optimistic Doctor, he was trying to work WITH Sec.  If the Daleks could become a gentler power again, it might redeem them, and him of all the horrors that happened in the past, similar to how France and Great Britain have put aside their differences and settled on a friendly rivalry instead of hostile warfare.

That and, they were Daleks.  It’s true that committing a little genocide on the Daleks might give him pause from time to time, but I’m pretty sure most of the guilt is from that he destroyed his own race.  And the Daleks survived, his conscience is “free” at that point since he didn’t REALLY kill them.

So when he finally meets the Master again, he is forced to face that history head on, instead of side stepping it and running away. But this is a good thing, I think.  It helps establish the Tenth Doctor as the undisputed, darkest of the Doctors.  After the Master dies, the Doctor is mixed.  Now he really IS the Last of the Time Lords, and yet he hopes deep down maybe another escaped like the Master.  However, I think, it becomes quite obvious that the Doctor realizes his status as the Last Time Lord.

And we didn’t even have to wait long for this revelation.  In School Reunion, the Doctor’s third episode in his tenth incarnation, he is presented by the Headmaster with the choice of ruling the Krillitanes, and controlling the very fabric of reality.  And for a moment, we see the Doctor consider it, the ability to undo the Time War.  This is almost a reflection and comparison to the Ninth Doctor in “The End of the World” when he says coldly “Everything dies,” which happen at roughly the same time in each Doctor’s story (to us).

Personally, I feel the best part about the Tenth Doctor IS his god complex. Several times through the series we see the Doctor getting hints of it, mirroring the Master’s attitude.  “I’m a Time Lord.  I have that right.”  It starts at School Reunion and continues all the way to the Waters of Mars.  And in fact it’s in Waters of Mars that the Tenth Doctor makes his remark “Lived too long”. It’s his admission that in his long life he’s started to let it get to his head.

And quite frankly, with RTD’s obsession with every sentient being in the known universe sucking the Doctor’s cock, that’s not hard to imagine. I mean, at first it was cute, like End of the World where the ONE plant girl was amazed at his existence, or my personal favorite the Sontaran Strategem where Stal recognizes the name.

But as the RTD era winded down we got to Planet of the Dead and EVERYONE had to waste ten minutes of the special talking about how awesome the Doctor is and how good his balls would feel slapping them in the face.

Of course, maybe that’s just his lazy writing, and he couldn’t fill out the script.

Hand in hand with the Doctor Worship is the idea that anyone who disagrees with the Doctor is a villain.

“But Anna, you mentioned Vampires of Venice, and the Countess was a villain.” Yes, but the way the story is structured, the Countess is 1) an adversary, I don’t know if I’d call her a “villain” in the traditional sense.  The Doctor is a Time Lord, he knows that Venice didn’t sink into the ocean 500 years ago, and that is the primary reason he opposes the Countess.  And 2) he is preserving the time stream, even though he CLEARLY sympathizes with the Countess’ position, he doesn’t -actually- decide to stop her until she doesn’t recognize the name “Isabella”.  The Countess is only a villain because she’s ruthless and unfeeling, NOT because she disagrees with the Doctor. Compare this to some of the Tenth Doctor’s villains.

The Fires of Pompeii is a good example. Exact same position.  The Pyroviles, though the story is structured so they ARE villains, world shattering kinds not just sinking one town, the story has already established them as the enemy before the Doctor finds out their plans.

While we’re on the subject, there’s a scene, after the Doctor has set off the volcano and is leaving, where Donna convinces him to go back.  I think as a contribution to the continuing story of the Doctor, this scene was very good.  The Doctor basically says “If my race had to die, why should anyone else live?” but Donna convinces him to go back and rescue one person (or, one family as it ended up being).

You might say “Well that’s a blemish on the Doctor, Anna”, but you’d be wrong.  The Doctor has always been this way, from the very first serial.  He is often ruthless and cruel, much like other Time Lords, but when in the company of Humans, for some reason, he stays his hand and does the kind thing.  In the first serial (either An Unearthly Child or 100,000 B.C., Firemakers, etc depending which label you read) the Doctor almost kills one of the cavemen to make their escape easier, but Ian stops him.  Donna talking the Doctor into saving some lives is just another example of this trait.  It’s been said that this is why the Doctor travels with Humans, because they make him better, as much as he makes them better.

Relationship with The Master

The Tenth Doctor is currently, and probably will remain, the only Doctor of the revived series to encounter the Master.  This relationship, however, has taken some scrutiny. But, as we must with much of RTD’s script work, we have to forgive it for his accidental adherence to canon. Well, not so much canon, as intention.  See, when the Master first appeared during John Pertwee’s Third Doctor stories, it was originally planned he would be a villain for the Third Doctor alone.  After all, once his Third form regenerated, he wouldn’t BE exiled anymore, he’d have plenty of other villains to fight.  But as long as he was stuck on Earth, you needed a more “present” villain to keep the plot rolling.

Originally, the Master was supposed to die saving the Doctor at the end of Pertwee’s run.  However, Roger Delgado died in a car accident before the end of the season.  His sudden death meant the Master had to regenerate somehow, because the character had become SO integral to the story, you couldn’t just DROP him and never mention him again.  That would be fucking stupid.

So, they went into the Master’s new shtick of “stealing” new lives.  This was kind of at the detriment of the Master’s character, but served to give the Doctor a long standing nemesis.  The Master and Doctor always tended to share drinks, witty banter, and all around have fun thwarting each other.  In this respect the Tenth Doctor’s relationship with the Master had more in common with the Third’s than even the Fourth had with him, at least in spirit.

While their two encounters were high stakes, and almost habitual in their adversarial nature, both characters showed a deep need to connect with the other.  And for a few moments, we see the Master contemplate going with the Doctor to solve the mystery of the Drumming. And, of course, any character who can inspires loyalty in the Doctor that pushes Rose Tyler off the map for a few brief moments, is a godsend. That reminds me…

The Emo Doctor

This was the worst calculation done with the Tenth Doctor.  And it was probably the worst thing to happen to Rose Tyler.  I don’t MIND Rose, really I don’t.  I disagree that she should be the model for all future companions, she’s imperfect (VERY imperfect) and that’s just part of being Human in the Doctor Who universe.  I disagree that her departure should scar the Doctor so deeply.

I mean we have a man who has committed genocide on his entire race, killed countless others, seen the entirety of creation, up and abandoned companions in the past, but he can’t deal with the departure of a SINGLE companion? She didn’t even DIE like some of them!  That shit, does NOT fly.

Perhaps I am biased, but my favorite Tenth companion was Wilf.  Followed closely by Donna. I know, it’s weird right? I rag on the Doctor worship and I like the dynamic between him and the MOST cock sucking companion of all (figuratively speaking).  Maybe it’s just how cute it was ^_^ I mean, Wilf IS cute, no doubt, he has the most innocence about the affair than the other companions, probably because he’s never seen the Doctor commit horrible acts like the rest.  I didn’t say those acts weren’t necessary! But something can be necessary and horrible, like blowing up Pompeii.

Final Vindication

As almost a payback for the angst and black eyeliner the Tenth Doctor brought us, he was also the Doctor who moved past his guilt from the Time War.  The Eighth Doctor’s life following the Time War is blurry, the Apocrypha hops back and forth if the Doctor’s use of “the Moment” was what led to his regeneration or “soon after”, which could be anything, for a Time Lord.  But we know at least the Ninth and Tenth have been working through these emotional scars.

In The End of Time, the Doctor earns his absolution.  He has the option to just let his people return, to allow Rassilon back into reality. He can undo the war.  And not for a second does he consider it. The Doctor has the Time War shoved into his face, and he has to deal with it head on.  I think this is very reminiscent of any major actions that are made in war, such as the bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Years later, we go back and say “well, we didn’t have to did we?”  It’s survivor’s guilt, we blame ourselves for acting in our best interests.  But then crunch time comes, and we have to look at the reality of that decision (or, one like it), and we often say “Under the circumstances, I can see why, I agree, I’d do it again.” The Doctor liberates himself from all his guilt the moment he severs the Master’s link with Rassilon.   He was given a second chance, and he made the same choice.  He was suddenly reminded WHY he had to end the War.

I think this shows through in the Eleventh Doctor’s era, where he isn’t as despondent over the conflict, in fact barely mentions it, only holding onto his grief that he HAD to lose his entire race.  He grieves for the fallen, but he wouldn’t change it anymore.

He will knock four times.  Then you will die.

Well surprise surprise, even the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration is polarizing.

Some people think it was a beautiful send off to the greatest Doctor ever.

Others feel it was a self indulgent piece of crap to the most self centered Doctor ever.

Okay, several points.  David Tennant was BRILLIANT at the moment he realizes it’s his time.  We see him fight off the Time Lords, the Master, the whole of the Time War.  The Master valiantly sacrifices himself so the Doctor may live (as intended!), and we hear the knocking.  A rhythm of four, repeated four times.  The realization that comes across his face (and ours) is still breath-taking.  I sometimes watch the whole movie JUST to see that moment.  It’s worth it.

Then, the Doctor’s “moment”, as Tennant puts it.  I like it.  Some people bear down on it with fury and rage.  I can see, sort of, where they’re coming from.  The Doctor should be selfless, should gladly give his life to save Wilf. Except, that’s the thing.  HE DOES.  Like, I hate Dr. Laura with a passion, but her bump a few years ago, when she had her show, had a bit about a woman complaining that her husband complained whenever he was asked to do chores.  Laura’s response was “Does he do them?” “Yes” “Then what the fuck are you complaining about?” (I may have embellished).  That’s how I feel about this scene.

This IS the self-important Doctor.  He’s GOD COMPLEX Doctor.  He’s the Doctor who, for a little bit, desired the whole of space and time to obey his will.  And after he saw his hubris, he only muttered “Lived too long.”

Why do people mourn? Why do they grieve? Same reason they apologize.  For themselves.  When we apologize (As a culture, not necessarily individuals) we do it for us.  If we sleep with our best friends boyfriend, we apologize, and if she throws a fit about it, well, it’s her fault for being a bitch, I said sorry!  The blame for ending our friendship isn’t on me.  Similarly, we grieve for the absent part of our lives, clinging to our past, nostalgic for the way it made us feel.  Even Star Trek recognized this at Tasha Yar’s funeral, where Data says “I am sorry for the void it is in MY life.  I believe I have missed the point.”  To which the crew only smiles and says “No, Data, I think you understand just fine”.  Funerals are for us.  The dead don’t care.  They’re fucking dead. Now consider how much the Doctor grieves for Rose, her absence.  That’s the act of a self absorbed child (or a lesbian, we’re cooky like that).

I’m not saying the Tenth Doctor is incapable of selfless acts or sympathy.  But he is SO much more self absorbed than his predecessors. So, “his moment” isn’t really a bother for me because it FITS the character.

“But, Anna, it’s the Doctor, he’s always the same person!” Well, no.  Otherwise we wouldn’t remember Tom Baker’s jelly babies, Patrick Troughton’s flute, Christopher Eccleston’s leather jacket, or Sylvester McCoy’s manipulative nature.

Further, the Tenth Doctor has been shown to sidestep regeneration once already, in Journey’s End.  He pours the regenerative energy into his spare hand, rather than change his face.

Further, the Doctor was forced to regenerate his second time as punishment from the  Time Lords.  If regenerating was such a “meh” event, why would it be considered punishment?  They clearly hoped that would solve the problem of the Doctor’s meddling in affairs that weren’t Time Lord.  Not that they seemed to be paying attention, his Second Life was a meddler and his First Life was a thief.

Fourthly, when the Ninth Doctor regenerates he says goodbye to Rose, even though she will be right there when the regeneration is done.  The Ninth Doctor shares the Tenth’s sentiment that it is a kind of death.

So, no, it doesn’t really do a lot of disservice to the character.  You don’t have to LIKE the traits it demonstrates, or the things it implies about the greater Who universe, but it was only using characteristics established in seasons past.

Also, the long goodbye. I submit to you that, I understand RTD’s desire to say goodbye to his characters, really I do.  Personally…I would have used the two specials to take care of most of that.  Captain Jack could have been involved in Waters of Mars, Mickey and Martha could have been in Planet of the Dead, what harm would it have done?  As it stands, the two “end of run” specials were very mediocre, though Waters of Mars was VERY good, but it just seemed like a really good two parter (ala the Byzantium from the Smith era), not a -special-.  RTD could have used those two specials to whittle down the list of goodbyes, or, you know, show us Mickey and Martha falling in love.  Because being told after the fact was so much more awesome, right?!?!?!?!

Finally, there’s his final words, “I don’t want to go”.  Some people think this was RTD torpedoing Moffat’s inheritance, and really it kind of did.  The most recent season, from the BBC perspective, has been very toned down, less sensational to the average TV watcher. However, unintentionally, I think I approve of the theory that the Doctor was planning on not regenerating.  I like to look at it as that he wasn’t going to go on, that he would take the Master’s route of non-regeneration and ending the Time Lord race there and then.  Hence his need to say goodbye to everyone. But then, upon seeing everyone, and remembering the good times, he says “I don’t want to go.”

I actually really LIKE this interpretation.  And I have no idea of RTD’s opinion of it, fuck him.  This makes sense and is easier on the broader universe.

Now, to prove I’m a fair girl, I want to praise something about The End of Time.  It was brilliant bringing the Time Lords back.  It’s true what he says! We have seen the Time Lords in years past.  They are petty, spineless, soft, and, well, evil.  They have always been adversaries to the Doctor, either, killing him, forcing him to do their bidding, like sending him on a fucking suicide mission against the Daleks, or otherwise pains in the ass.  Also, they got conquered by the Sontarans.

Any society, with that much power, with that much wealth, one day, goes soft, and is not ready for real hardship.  The Sontarans, as we see from The Sontaran Strategem, are one of the “lower” species, as they were not consciously affected by the Time War.  They knew -about- it, but so did Captain Jack, and he’s a human, like us, a lower species.

If the Time Lords could be conquered by the Sontarans, what chance would they have against the Daleks? They would be shocked, stunned, and throw a hissy fit.  Which is exactly what they did.  That’s why they MADE the Doctor Lord President, ironically, his meddling gave him real world experience that the vast majority of Time Lords lacked to deal with threats. The rest of the Time Lords are nerds locked away in the library studying all day.  They don’t know HOW to fight.  That’s the biggest reason the Daleks had a real chance against them.

Final Thoughts

Believe me when I say I like the Tenth Doctor.  He was a worthy successor to the legacy.  The only reason this seems to come down so hard on him is because I’m focusing on the parts that separate the Tenth from the other Doctors, not the sameness.

But I do not believe he was the best incarnation, nor should he be a model for future incarnations.  Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor seems to have a much better handle on where an immortal alien would be than the Tenth Doctor did.

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2 Responses to “The Tenth Doctor (from Doctor Who)”

  1. […] Anna-mal Antics, the Quest for Depth in Pretend Creatures! Character Review Site « The Tenth Doctor (from Doctor Who) […]

  2. Very well thought out post. I like your arguments.

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