From his first appearance in 1974 Tom Baker seemed to win every ‘favourite Doctor’ poll. To many he was the epitome of what the Doctor should be. So much so that his large curly haired frame would seem to over shadow all those that followed. That was until 2006, when the then incumbent Doctor won the ‘Official Doctor Who Magazine’ greatest Doctor poll. So who was this skinny young pretender to fours throne and what was with the sandshoes?
David Tennant was born David McDonald on the 18th of April 1971. His father was a protestant minister in Church of Scotland his mother a housewife. Born in Bathgate West Lothian the family would later move to Ralston Renfrewshire.
From an early age David was a big TV fan. Aged just three years he announced to his parents that he would become an actor and his specific plan was to play the lead in his favourite show ‘Doctor Who’. His love of ‘Doctor Who’ was so strong in his youth he would travel to Glasgow to meet Tom Baker at a signing.
He would act in school productions and attended Saturday classes at the ‘Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama’. It was whilst at the school he was spotted by actress Edith MacArthur who, singled David out as a future star. Aged sixteen he successfully auditioned to become a full time student at the academy and would study up to age of twenty. It was during his first year at the academy he was given his first professional job appearing in a ‘Department of Health’ anti-smoking advert.
It was also whilst at the academy that he changed to his stage name. There was already a David McDonald within Equity. David flicked through the pages of the teen pop magazine ‘Smash Hits’. The surname of the front man for electro pop duo ‘The Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant seemed to fit and was adopted by the future Doctor.
Once he had graduated Tennant started to make a name for himself on the Scottish theatre network and would also get small parts on TV. This included playing a transvestite barmaid in an episode of the comedy ‘Rab C Nesbit’.
It was whilst still in Scotland that David’s first break would come. He would play Campbell Bain in the BBC drama ‘Takin’ Over the Asylum’. During the filming he would meet and befriend comedian and actress Arabella Weir. Weir would help David move to London and even secure parts in productions she was writing or the lead actress in. This included a part in a Big Finish ‘female Doctor Who’ adventure in which Arabella was playing the lead.
David was also starting to make a name for himself on the London theatre circuit appearing in a number of successful productions. He would also secure parts on TV and small parts in films. Including sharing a scene with a fellow future Doctor Christopher Eccleston in the 1996 feature ‘Jude’.
During this period David would also sneak a voice role in the ‘Doctor Who’ animation ‘Scream of the Shalka’. David had not originally been cast but, was recording in the same building and had begged for a small part.
In 2005 he was cast as Doctor David Briscoe in the BBC film of ‘The Quatermass Experiment’. It was during the filming he was spotted by the then ‘Doctor Who’ show runner Russell T Davies. He was offered the role of the ‘Doctor’ before the filming of Quatermass has finished but, was contracted to keep this a secret. Unable to keep from his fellow cast and crew members a few lines within Quatermass were changed to hint at David’s new role.
Tennant would start developing the character with Davies. It was agreed that David would assume an English accent for the role. Despite a rumour this upset Tennant he’s always stated he had no problems with changing his accent.
David Tennant was a hugely popular ‘Doctor’ and his time as the ‘Time Lord’ is fondly remembered by all but a few ‘Whovians’. He still is regularly within the top two when favourite Doctors are polled and seemingly never out the top three. His love for the show shone through and every line and scene was done with such enthusiasm.
He even got to share a short charity episode ‘Time Crash’ with his favourite Doctor Peter Davison. He would later go on to marry Davison’s daughter, Georgia Moffat, who had played David’s Doctors daughter Jenny in one episode.
He would leave in 2010 the same year Russell T Davies would resign as the show runner. There was no full series that year. Instead three specials, one two part, were shown. So Christmas 2010 David regenerated into Matt and we lost a ‘Whovian’ as the Doctor. His final line ‘I don’t want to go’ was truer then you might think. David only decided to quit as he felt the audience would eventually become board of him.
He would return to the role in the in 2013’s fiftieth anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ and in 2015 recorded some Big Finish audio episodes with Catherine Tate returning as the companion ‘Donna Noble’.
As predicted by Edith MacArthur, David Tennant has gone to be a big star. Since ‘Doctor Who’ he has appeared in some of TVs biggest shows including lead roles in ITV’s Broadchurch and the Netflix’s series Jessica Jones. He has also forged a film career which has included roles in Fright Night and How to Train Your Dragon.
David Tennant’s legacy as the Doctor is that he is so well loved. Go to any sci-fi convention and they’ll be more than one cosplayer dressed in a tight suit, long coat and sandshoes. He also had an influence on the two actors who have played the role since. Arguably the greatest Doctor of the modern era even, it could be said, in the shows history.
Recommended films and TV appearances (outside of Doctor Who):-
Barty Crouch Jr. – Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire
Spitelout – How to Train Your Dragon
Dr. David Briscoe – The Quatermass Experiment
DI Alec Hardy – Broadchurch
Kevin Thompson / Kilgrave – Jessica Jones
Peter Vincent – Fright Night