David Tennant is my doctor.
It used to be Tom Baker, the mad-haired, bescarfed whirlwind who toured the universe in the late 70s, but that has all changed. I now belong to the tenth Doctor, a slender Scot given to occasionally shouting Brilliant! and Alonns-y! for no good reason whatsoever.
Every Doctor Who fan has _their_ Doctor. You can love the show as a whole across its four decades of intermittent broadcast, but there is always one actor, one Doctor persona that rings more true in your head than the rest, and that becomes your Doctor. When you talk about favorite episodes, it is their episodes you will mention first. When you think of the dozens of companions, somehow that Doctor’s companions were genetically superior to all others. And, when you see that actor anywhere else, he is The Doctor first and a real person doing a job second.
Now David is my Doctor, and he is dying. (The Doctor, that is. Not David.)
Over the coming two weeks I will celebrate his glorious incarnation and mourn his passing. When the impossibly young Matt Smith takes his place, I will hold an irrational grudge because he is not my Doctor, but I will watch because this has been a surprising show for four years running and I can't endure the idea of not knowing what happens next.
Doctor Who is not a television show for everyone, most certainly not for the stone hearted whose respect must be earned through unerring adherence to realism or even continuity. But, even under the harshest lights of criticism, I believe that some episodes have risen to equal the best of any modern genre show. 2007’s Blink, for example, is right up there for me with Firefly’s Out of Gas, Buffy’s Once More With Feeling or the best of the X-Files mythology episodes in making with the happy endorphins in my brain.
For a long time, decades in fact, Doctor Who had stopped being relevant. It was just a show I had watched when I was a kid. It was catchy theme song and kitschy costumes, frantic nonsense about time travelling madmen and barely ambulatory monsters. And as one of the dozen or so people in the US who bothered to watch Paul McGann’s aborted effort as the eighth Doctor in a 1996 Fox/BBC co-production that still flummoxes canon purists, it was something that could not be resurrected.
This is why I forgive Russel T. Davies, creator of the revitalized series, his many narrative sins. For all the things he may have done wrong, he did the really important things right. He cast a proper Doctor -- twice. He found and breathed life into the soul of series. He knew how to bring back and make relevant a slumbering beast whose time had come round again. Sure, he gets a little ham fisted with his writing, particularly when he feels like he has to go epic, but I can live with that.
And, I liked Christopher Eccleston — the Ninth Doctor — well enough. He had a manic sensibility and did a wonderful job conveying the wonder of the series. He was no Tom Baker, but who ever would be again? And, he showed moments of brilliance. The Doctor Dances — are you my mummy? — is a stand out that builds to a wonderful climactic resolution exploring the character in ways that had never been touched on before, all while introducing the iconic character of Cpt. Jack Harkness who would go on to lead Torchwood.
When Eccleston passed on the mantle to this new upstart, David Tennant, I was skeptical but not actively distraught. By the newcomer's 4th episode, The Girl in the Fireplace, I knew that the 10th Doctor was mine.
In its current format, this is a show that makes me feel the wonderment of childhood. I have no objectivity, no malice that I can muster to talk about this show. It is one of those shows that I talk about characters and events as they though they are real and we have some unbroken connection. Doctor Who does not happen in the context of television, but it happens within and around my own life in a way that no other series does. Where I can harden my heart to even the most gut wrenching film, I will openly weep when Rose and the Doctor are separated by a wall between universes in The Parting of Ways like I haven’t since Fry’s dog closed his eyes on that sidewalk at the end of Jurassic Bark.
And I come back to David Tennant here, because he carries the show in a way that is true to the character and unique to himself. He can shift emotional gears like a Ferrari, move from manic joy to a quiet bubbling darkness before you realize it has happened. I can't watch his portrayal of the tragic John Smith in Family of Blood without rubbing tears from my eyes in a very manly way. When, in the most recent episode The Waters of Mars, he bursts into the room shouting “We are fighting time itself, and I’m gonna win!” I want to leap to my feet and watch the fury of a timelord in all its insane glory.
Whether this is all great acting on the back of expertly crafted writing, I can't really say, but I can say this has been a meeting of genius minds on creating a Who universe that is steeped in the pure soul of the series. As Steven Moffat takes over the big chair and Matt Smith the iconic role, I don't know what to expect, but I do know that when I categorize my favorite episodes of the past 4 years Moffat's name comes up again and again.
For now, though, I'm not ready to look past the end. I am happy to know that David Tennant is starring in a new NBC pilot for next year (Rex is not Your Lawyer), but I am genuinely sad that his Doctor Who role is two episodes from an inevitable end. I suppose if nothing else I can take solace that he is going out on top.
The End of Time, premieres on Christmas Day on BBC-1 and on Dec 26th on BBC-America. You can see all four seasons of the updated series on Netflix Watch Instantly service. I highly recommend Blink (Season 3) or Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (Season 4) if you want a nice taste of what the current series offers.