David Tennant is officially the Doctor! And has been before. In fact, the actor’s connection with the series goes back further than you might think…
Surprisingly, it’s quite hard to pin down when, exactly, David Tennant’s first Doctor Who episode was. Officially, his first full episode was the 2005 Christmas special ‘The Christmas Invasion,’ in which the newly-regenerated Doctor went up against the blood-thirsty Sycorax who had their sights set on the enslavement of mankind.
But technically, his first appearance as the Doctor was at the very end of ‘The Parting of the Ways’ after taking up the baton from Christopher Eccleston. He made a brief appearance after the Ninth Doctor’s regeneration which, interestingly, was filmed over a course of several weeks; the two actors never met during this historic scene. David Tennant filmed this moment in isolation, and even his companion Billie Piper was absent from the recording.
So is this David Tennant’s first episode? Yes, insofar as it marked his first appearance in the modern series, but it doesn’t exactly constitute a full episode. If we’re being pedantic, David Tennant’s first Doctor Who episode is the much more obscure ‘Pudsey Cutaway’ which was broadcast during the BBC’s autumn Children in Need telethon in 2005. This was a specially-written scene set entirely within the TARDIS, and saw Rose Tyler coming to terms with this strange new man who had appeared in front of her eyes.
In the past, this kind of interaction would have been incorporated into a full episode. For example, the Second Doctor spent a great deal of time in ‘The Power of the Daleks‘ trying to convince his companions Ben and Polly that he really was a “renewed” Doctor, and not merely an imposter. Similarly, there were entire subplots built around the Fifth and Sixth Doctors’ troubled regenerations in ‘Castrovalva’ and ‘The Twin Dilemma‘ respectively.
But, presumably, writer Russell T Davies wanted to avoid all of this exposition in ‘The Christmas Invasion.’ After all, this was (technically) the first Doctor Who Christmas special in the series’ history, and would doubtless have huge swathes of new viewers tuning in. It’s possible that he didn’t want the story to be weighed down with long scenes in which the new Doctor explained the regenerative process to his companion. Perhaps he wanted to leap straight into the action.
The Children in Need special, on the other hand, was the perfect place to do all this. It allowed David Tennant’s Doctor and Rose Tyler to get all the complicated, awkward stuff out of the way before leaping into their next adventure. Rose, of course, is deeply suspicious of the new man who is claiming to be her best friend. She isn’t convinced that she witnessed a regeneration; she accuses the man of being an imposter who trans-matted himself into the TARDIS. At one point, she even questions whether he’s a member of the Slitheen family.
Of course, the Doctor is able to convince her of his legitimacy by sharing memories that only the Doctor could have. It’s a touching moment, beautifully underscored by Murray Gold‘s “Flavia” theme which served as a recurring motif throughout the original Russell T Davies era.
At least, it did in the broadcast version. Because, interestingly, the official edit of the Children in Need special didn’t make it onto the original Series Two DVD release. The set’s producers inadvertently put the episode’s rough cut onto the disc by mistake, with some scenes being underscored with placeholder music, including spontaneous interjections of the Doctor Who theme.
It’s still a great little scene though and, technically, the Children in Need special is officially David Tennant’s first Doctor Who episode, brief though it is.
Or, at least, it’s his first Doctor Who episode as the Tenth Doctor…
You see, David Tennant had already appeared in Doctor Who prior to the Ninth Doctor’s regeneration. Back in 2003, he provided a short voice over for the animated adventure ‘The Scream of the Shalka,’ which starred Richard E. Grant as an alternate Ninth Doctor. Interestingly, David Tennant wasn’t originally meant to be part of this production, but it just so happened that he was recording in a neighbouring studio when ‘The Scream of the Shalka’ was being produced, and he asked the director if he could have a small role. He performed this is in his native Scottish accent, playing the meaty part of Man Trying to Deter a Baying Mob.
So is ‘The Scream of the Shalka’ David Tennant’s first official Doctor Who episode? Technically yes, in visual form – even if it is an animation, and he’s playing a different part.
But then we get into the complicated world of Doctor Who audios. Because in the Wilderness Years when Doctor Who was off the air, the programme was being kept alive by swathes of audio adventures produced by the prolific Big Finish, and David Tennant acted in a number of these adventures including ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ ‘The Wasting,’ ‘Medicinal Purposes’ and Dalek Empire.
So David Tennant’s very first piece of Doctor Who acting was in the 2001 Seventh Doctor adventure ‘Colditz’ in which he played a Nazi officer. It may not be as well-known or as grand an entrance into the Whoniverse as ‘The Parting of the Ways,’ but it’s an historical moment nonetheless.
And it’s quite barmy, when you think about it; the Tenth and Fourteenth Doctors were originally discovered by an audio production company that was striving to keep the programme alive during its darkest hour. Little could David Tennant (or Big Finish) have known what was to come.
So if you want to listen to ‘Colditz,’ it’s still available on the Big Finish website. In meantime, tell us: what do you consider to be David Tennant’s very first Doctor Who episode? Let us know in the comments below.