David Tennant may have achieved a world first by becoming the Doctor five times – in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2022! But how?
For any actor, being cast as the Doctor must surely be a career highlight, and it was certainly a dream come true for actor David Tennant when he first became the Doctor in 2005. This was especially exciting for Tennant as something of a confirmed Doctor Who aficionado, and he was (possibly) the first hardcore Doctor Who fan to ever be handed the TARDIS keys.
David Tennant first became the Doctor, therefore, in the closing moments of ‘The Parting of the Ways’ following the Ninth Doctor’s regeneration. This was something of a low-key casting, as it hadn’t been officially announced that Eccleston would be relinquishing the role, and indeed it wasn’t certain that another series would even be produced. David Tennant has since speculated that the production team must have had an alternative ending in the pipeline had the 2005 relaunch failed to take off – although even he doesn’t know for sure.
But as we know, David Tennant canonically became the Tenth Doctor in 2005, but it’s in his first adventure ‘The Christmas Invasion’ that things begin to get complicated. This is because his hand is cut off during a sword fight with a Sycorax and tumbles to Earth – only to be retrieved by his friend Captain Jack Harkness and stored in a glass jar at Cardiff’s Torchwood facility. Later, when the Tenth Doctor and Captain Jack are reunited, it finds its way into the TARDIS console room where it remains throughout Series Three and Four.
And then we come to the Series Four finale ‘The Stolen Earth’ and ‘Journey’s End.’ In the first of these episodes, David Tennant’s Doctor is shot by a Dalek and he is forced to regenerate. However, the Tenth Doctor has no intention of changing his face and simply uses the regeneration energy to heal himself, syphoning the excess energy into his handy spare hand.
Thus, David Tennant was cast as the Doctor again – the Eleventh, in fact. (Technically he’s the Twelfth if we include the War Doctor, but this blog post is timey-wimey enough already…)
Anyway, we now have a severed hand bursting with regenerative energy. And when it’s touched by the Doctor’s companion Donna Noble, it triggers something called a metacrisis which fuses the pair’s DNA together, meaning that Donna becomes part Time Lord and the Doctor becomes… Well, yet again, it’s complicated.
Simply put, a brand new Doctor (in the shape of David Tennant) grows out of the severed hand, triggered by Donna’s touch. And he’s identical to his counterpart in every single way – even possessing the same memories – but he only has one heart, meaning he doesn’t have the ability to regenerate. So David Tennant became the Doctor once again, only in human form.
However, it is clear that there isn’t enough room in the TARDIS for both of them, and towards the end of ‘Journey’s End’ this metacrsis Doctor opts to stay on a parallel Earth with his former companion Rose Tyler so that they can grow old together as a couple. And in a deleted scene (which may or may not be canon – you decide) David Tennant’s metacrisis Doctor is also given a ‘piece of TARDIS’ by the other Doctor so that he can grow his own Gallifreyan space-time machine and travel the universe. Over to you, Big Finish.
Phew. We’ve now had three instances of David Tennant playing three separate versions of the Doctor. And it might have stayed this way had Russell T Davies not become the new Doctor Who showrunner in 2021. As things began to ramp up towards the programme’s 60th anniversary celebrations, the announcement was made that David Tennant and Catherine Tate (Donna Noble) were returning to shoot scenes to mark the show’s 60th birthday. Soon after this, a number of pictures appeared in the press showing the pair filming on location, with David Tennant wearing a brand new version of his iconic suit.
Russell T Davies teased Doctor Who fans with this casting ambiguity, suggesting that the return of David Tennant could be a dream or a trick or even a parallel universe. But this all changed when it came to the actual moment of the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration, when Jodie Whittaker transformed into David Tennant himself, complete with a surprise costume change. This was puzzling, at first, as the BBC had initially announced that Ncuti Gatwa was the new Doctor, but following this reveal they confirmed that David Tennant had canonically become the Fourteenth Time Lord, and Gatwa would be taking over from as the Fifteenth.
David Tennant, therefore, has now become the Doctor four times: first as the Tenth Doctor in 2005, then as the Eleventh Doctor in 2008 (we’re omitting the War Doctor here), then as the metacrisis Doctor in 2008 again, and then as the Fourteenth Doctor in 2022. That’s impressive, even by Time Lord standards.
But you’ll notice that we introduced this blog post by saying that David Tennant had become the Doctor five times? Well, this is where you have to stretch things slightly, but it makes for a good headline. You see, David Tennant played an entirely different version of the Doctor in the 2007 episodes ‘Human Nature‘ and ‘The Family of Blood’ when he rewrote his entire DNA in order to escape the eponymous family who sought his destruction.
Now, given that this was a complete body change (the Doctor literally turned himself into a human) he was entirely separate from his Tenth incarnation. So technically, he’s a fifth version of David Tennant’s Doctor – although, as we say, this stretches credulity somewhat, particularly given that this Doctor went by the name of John Smith and had a completely different personality, and had no concrete memories of his life as a Time Lord. But hey.
‘Human Nature’ notwithstanding, David Tennant’s long association with the programme is impressive, and fans are excited to see him return to their screens as the Fourteenth (Sixteenth?) Doctor for the show’s 60th anniversary celebrations in November 2023.
So when did David Tennant become the Doctor?
- In 2005, when he took over from Christopher Eccleston
- In 2007, when his human incarnation reverted back to his Time Lord incarnation
- In 2008, when he regenerated into himself after being shot by a Dalek
- In 2008 again, when Donna Noble triggered a metacrisis with his handy spare hand
- In 2022, when he took over from Jodie Whittaker
Phew! But tell us what you think. Should the ‘Human Nature‘ Doctor count as a separate incarnation? And how do you number your Time Lords in the midst of aborted regenerations and metacrises? Let us know in the comments below.
Seventh Doctor umbrella – order now from the Lovarzi shop!