What led to the departure of the Tenth Doctor David Tennant in 2010?
The Tenth Doctor’s departure from Doctor Who may have been the longest (and most anticipated) in the series’ history. The build-up to the big moment took almost a year, with the actor David Tennant announcing his departure via a live video link at the National Television Awards, just as he was receiving the prize for outstanding drama – and during the interval of Hamlet, which he was appearing in!
Although viewers could have been forgiven for thinking that his departure would be sooner. In the closing moments of the 2008 episode ‘The Stolen Earth,’ the Tenth Doctor was shot by a Dalek and began to regenerate. Fortunately, he was able to syphon the regeneration energy into his spare hand, which just happened to be bubbling away in a glass jar on the TARDIS floor. Are you keeping up?
What this basically means is that the Tenth Doctor actually regenerated in 2008, but kept the same face; he simply used the regeneration energy to heal himself. And when we factor the War Doctor into the Doctor’s timeline, the Tenth Doctor actually becomes the Eleventh, meaning that in ‘The Stolen Earth’ he regenerated into the twelfth. And then when we remember the game-changing events of ‘The Timeless Children‘ (where it was revealed that the Doctor had lived countless lives before the First Doctor) things get very confusing. Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey, you might say.
But we’ll call him the Tenth Doctor for now. Obviously, the regeneration tease at the end of ‘The Stolen Earth’ fanned the flames of speculation as to when David Tennant would depart. This all came to a head in October 2008, when David Tennant made the big announcement at the NTAs. He also revealed that he would be going on to film four more Doctor Who specials, which would be shown in 2009.
And at this point, the rumour mill went into overdrive as people scrambled to work out who the Tenth Doctor’s successor would be. The Doctor Who team played into this speculation, titling the 2008 Christmas special ‘The Next Doctor’ and apparently casting David Morrissey as the eleventh incarnation.
But for those of you who have seen ‘The Next Doctor,’ you will know that this was all a ploy. David Morrissey was not David Tennant’s successor. That privilege fell to the relatively unknown actor Matt Smith, who was unveiled in January 2009.
And Smith’s casting caused controversy. This is nothing new in the Whoniverse, or in fandoms in general; there was a backlash when Daniel Craig was first announced as James Bond, and many fans were upset when the Fifth Doctor Peter Davison was cast in 1981, as some felt he was “too young” to play a 700 year old Time Lord.
And the Tenth Doctor’s successor had a similar problem. At the age of 26, Smith was the youngest actor to have ever been cast as the Doctor, and this went against some fans’ expectations as to what the character should be like; some saw him as an older, more authoritative figure in the vein of William Hartnell or Jon Pertwee.
So it’s fair to say that the initial reaction to Matt Smith was a mixture of curiosity and dislike. It was clear that the Eleventh Doctor would have his work cut out for him.
That being said, these reactions were premature. The Tenth Doctor still had four more specials to shoot, all of which would build up slowly to his regeneration. And this was arguably the longest regeneration build-up in Doctor Who history, with the seeds being planted in 2009’s ‘The Planet of the Dead’ – some nine months before the Tenth Doctor’s actual death in the two part special ‘The End of Time,’ which aired at Christmas.
And it was certainly an epic conclusion to his tenure. ‘The End of Time’ saw the return of the Master, Donna Noble and her granddad Wilf, plus the Time Lords and their resurrected leader Rassilon.
The regeneration itself was bittersweet. The Tenth Doctor survived the Master, the Time Lords, and a spectacular fall from the sky – only to be zapped with a deadly dose of radiation in the final minutes. He took this willingly, as it meant that he could save the life of Donna’s grandfather.
With his life slipping away, the Tenth Doctor visited a number of familiar faces to say goodbye, including Captain Jack Harkness and Sarah Jane Smith. On screen, the only characters that were shown were ones that had appeared in the Russell T Davies era, but it was later revealed in an episode of ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’ that the Tenth Doctor had, in fact, revisited everybody who had ever travelled with him, including Jo Grant.
As such, the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration was a lengthy one, and culminated in composer Murray Gold’s famous ‘Vale Decem’ song, which played as the Tenth Doctor returned to the TARDIS for the last time. His final words – “I don’t want to go” – have become famous in Doctor Who history, cropping up in the 50th anniversary special and in the Twelfth Doctor episode ‘The Doctor Falls.’ It was arguably the most emotional regeneration the Doctor had ever experienced, his eyes swimming with tears as the regeneration energy built up around him.
Undoubtedly, this was a tough regeneration for the audience as well. The Tenth Doctor had been immensely popular with viewers, and his legacy endures to this day. Indeed, the recent multimedia story ‘Time Lord Victorious‘ features him heavily, and he has made frequent appearances alongside the Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker in comicbooks and video games.
Moreover, following the announcement that Russell T Davies would be returning as the Doctor Who showrunner in 2023, fans immediately began speculating about a possible return of the Tenth Doctor – in fact, as soon as the news broke, David Tennant became a hashtag on Twitter.
What is your favourite moment from David Tennant’s time as Doctor Who? And would you like him to return in the new Russell T Davies era? Let me know in the comments below.
Click here to read about the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration.
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