Hey, Turn That Down: The Doctors Revisited (David Tennant)

(17 comments)

At last, we reach the end of history, with an episode that is set up to, basically, repeat the same talking points about the Tenth Doctor that were being used when he was still on screen. This is as straightforward as it is possible to be - an unabashed display case for an era of Doctor Who that everybody knows is a classic.

Which, fair enough. There's really no getting around the fact that the Tennant era was wildly popular, and that Tennant is always going to be one of the iconic portrayals of the Doctor. There are no apologias to make, and as of 2013, at least, the Tennant era hadn't slipped into history, not least because Tennant was going to be making a return in less than a month anyway, with no explanation of why he looked older or anything like that necessary. There was, really, no other way to do this.

That said, the selection of what to focus on is interesting. Noticeably absent is any standing in the rain. There's a little bit of the Bad Wolf Bay scene from Doomsday, but for the most part the two iconic emotional scenes from Tennant's era, the departures of Rose and Donna, are entirely skipped over. This is even more striking given that Martha's departure is featured in detail. There's no mention of Human Nature/Family of Blood either. In other words, all the moments of Tennant's Doctor being pushed to extremes are skipped.

Instead we get a focus on Tennant in default mode. There are sizeable clips from The Sontaran Stratagem and The Idiot's Lantern, both of which are fine scenes, but which would appear on almost nobody's instinctive list of major David Tennant scenes. To some extent, this demonstrates the level of confidence that they clearly have in the material: nobody is trying to sell David Tennant. Indeed, it's somewhat refreshing to look at him in these scenes. Tennant's best scenes are indeed extraordinary, but it's easy to forget that he was also extraordinarily good at just being a foundation for the show to build on.

This also gets at the closest thing to a problem with this episode, however. For all its confidence, it shares the Peter Davison episode's strange failure to actually ever describe what this iteration of the Doctor is actually like. Loads of talking heads are ready to line up and, quite rightly, say how wonderful David Tennant is, but nobody can actually nail down what his Doctor was like and why he was so iconic. Perhaps it's simply too soon, but either way, it's a glaring omission.

The other strange thing is the story chosen. It's not that it's a poor choice - indeed, there may be no story quite so Tennanty as The Stolen Earth/Journey's End. But the story notably, gets no coverage in the episode itself, unlike the previous few, which took pains to get the viewer up to speed on what they were going to watch. This works fine - really, who needs a substantial introduction to the most popular Doctor Who story ever? But it does mean that Moffat is, in effect, the only way into the story.

And so it's notable that Moffat breaks from the norm in The Doctors Revisited and opts to frame The Stolen Earth/Journey's End in terms of the writer as opposed to in terms of the actor. He describes it straightforwardly, as a celebration of the Davies era, and, more importantly, as a deserved celebration. The position is hardly a shock - Moffat has always, after all, been unhesitating in his praise for Davies. But the explicit acknowledgement, not just of the era's quality, but of the creative force behind it is a significant but revealing fact: as much as we have, by 2013, firmly moved past the Davies era, it remains, creatively, utterly and completely in his debt.

Comments

Jarl 2 years, 8 months ago

In America, this was the only way to see the uncut version broadcast. The broadcast version eliminates a huge amount of material. For example, Martha goes right from disappearing from her mother's house to being with all three Osterhagen stations. Terrible, terrible edits. The Bad Wolf Bay scene is completely perfunctory in the BBC America cut.

I guess it helps to drive up DVD sales, if nothing else...

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Carey 2 years, 8 months ago

A well timed essay considering how here in the UK the first episode of Russell T Davies Cucumber was broadcast last night, and it really showcased Davies talents as a writer, and his differences from the current show runner. Moffat is, as you've said many times, a puzzle-box writer, with a gift for sit-com dialogue: he is brilliant at wit. Davies, meanwhile, self admittedly hasn't the patience for mystery writing: he wants to explore thear after-effects, and his dialogue... Davies is brilliant at constructing images from dialogue. There is a brilliant scene in Cucumber where the protagonist has a room full of people captivated with a fantasy about how a certain Hollywood actor must be gay simply because he must worship his own penis. It is the same sort of brilliance he brought to Doctor Who's best moments (Ruffello's brief appearance, "my planet is gone, Rose," and so many more. It is this, coupled with the energy he brought to the series that contributed to it's success (and possibly what people miss most since).

When asked what David Tennant's Doctor was like, I think the correct answer is that he was Russell T Davies personified on screen: full of tall, charismatic, full of enthusiasm, but with a huge layer of darkness hiding underneath the surface. So it makes complete sense that Davies is celebrated as much as Tennant in this segment: unlike any other Doctor, I don't think the two are divisible.

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David Anderson 2 years, 8 months ago

Phil used Idiot's Lantern as an example of a script not written with Tennant's particular strengths in mind.

In the meantime, Tennant is doing anguished running around in Broadchurch. It's perhaps a bit more pulpy than the first series, but still doing quite well. It may be playing fast and loose with trial procedure, but it's doing a great job at looking at how the dramatic devices of the police procedural would look if they actually came up in a trial.

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ScarvesandCelery 2 years, 8 months ago

I noticed a similar thing when I was watching "Last of the Time Lords" on Netflix the other day. They cut the scene where Francine turns the gun on the Master, but they keep the shot of her spotting the gun, so it's really jarring, and I'm still not quite sure why it was cut. Netflix doesn't seem like the place for a "somebody please think of the children" cut.

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TheOncomingHurricane 2 years, 8 months ago

It's not that, it's because they've got the broadcast US version (whereas they have the uncut version of every other longer than average episode). If it was about the children, they wouldn't keep Lucy firing the gun. The Doctor's plan to get the laser screwdriver is also cut down, and the Master singing 'I Can't Decide' is sadly gone completely.

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IG 2 years, 8 months ago

You say that Carey, but Steven Moffat has finally managed to cast an acerbic, curly-haired, 50-something Scotsman as the Doctor :)

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Blueshift 2 years, 8 months ago

That's interesting. I know the song was cut for licensing reasons, presumably they grabbed the US broadcast version of the ep rather than cut it out of the final ep, for ease? Very odd.

That said, Netflix also have the US intros with the voiceover on series 6, which are horrid and jarring and I wish they'd get the proper versions.

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Blueshift 2 years, 8 months ago

You know, I actually find the decision to just all-out celebrate the Tennant era interesting, as there would surely be the temptation to try and historicise him, insofar as 'Tennant paving the way for the current show' as opposed to 'The Tennant era was the most popular era of the show in history, and even though this current era is popular, it isn't as popular or culturally relevant as Tennant'. Though maybe in America that isn't quite true, as it was during the Smith era that the show really broke out. Certainly in the uk, while the show is still ridiculously popular, the Tennant era was insanely popular.

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ScarvesandCelery 2 years, 8 months ago

@theoncominghurricae That makes sense - I wasn't actually seriously entertaining the "protect the children" option for the reasons you give.

@blueshift I don't actually mind the "my name is Amy Pond" intros - they give series six its own unique feeling, which I appreciate.

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Katherine Sas 2 years, 8 months ago

Ha! You're both so right. But that makes Eccleston and Smith as interesting - two Doctors decisively different in personality from their showrunners? Hmm... I'll have to think about that, but there's something there.

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Katherine Sas 2 years, 8 months ago

What a lovely little write-up. Among all the Davies and Moffat fans bickering, it's nice to have eras just celebrated for and confident in what they do well. And you're right, he really was a solid foundation as far as a leading man. It's one of my favorite things about Tennant's Doctor - his flexibility. Put him in any episode/story and he'd tune himself to the piece. Not that the others are too rigid, but with Smith's Doctor, for example, he's always emphatically himself. I find both approaches valid and enjoyable in their own way. Actually, just as you say that the Moffat era has experimented with different genres and tones of storytelling through its use of narrative and cinematography, Tennant largely did through characterization.

I understand why you say it's refreshing to skip the dramatic, emo, rainy goodbye scenes - it risks becoming the cliche of the era rather than looking at what else Tennant could do - but if my one issue with that is that it DOES skip over what I think was his big, iconic thing which sets him apart and that was his relationship to his companions. Don't get me wrong - all Doctors clearly have strong bonds with their companions, and Tennant is far from the only emotional Doctor - but there's a quality of openness and demonstrativeness that I think is unique to him, and it does come across most strongly in those farewell scenes. While I don't like for him to only be pigeonholed as the "emo Doctor", there is a truth in the hyperbole. But that's okay. As you say, maybe it's too soon to say what he'll be remembered for and why he was so successful. On to Mr. Smith!

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David Anderson 2 years, 8 months ago

Tennant and Capaldi are the notorious Doctor Who fans.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

When asked what David Tennant's Doctor was like, I think the correct answer is that he was Russell T Davies personified on screen: full of tall, charismatic, full of enthusiasm, but with a huge layer of darkness hiding underneath the surface.

I was just going to ask "so how DO we characterize Tennant's Doctor?" and I think you nailed it. Nicely framed.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

"The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End" does make sense from a certain point of view -- it's got the full smorgasbord of companions, lots of elements from the previous few seasons, two versions of Tennant, the diverted regeneration, and so on -- but it does make me question who these specials are really for. You'd think that the interview/clip stuff leading up to the episode would be directed at casual fans or people less familiar with the show, right?

But if that's the case, what sense does it make to follow that up with a two-parter that begins with (what is almost) the end of Tennant's era? What, do these relative newbies then go back and watch from "The Christmas Invasion" knowing what happens with not only Rose but also Donna, Martha, and Harriet Jones, not to mention Dalek "James" Caan (or whichever one it was) and a number of other characters and threads? I know a good set of stories can survive being spoiled, but it's rather a strange place to begin.

So are these specials more for completist fans to enjoy a retrospective and then buy an episode they almost certainly already own? Or is the problem just an accident of the choices available for the Tennant era (and we had the same problem to a lesser extent with "Bad Wolf/Parting," really)?

I mean, whatever. I'm pretty sure I saw the first and last episodes of Twin Peaks before I saw a lot of the ones in the middle and it never stopped me. It's just odd to imagine what goes through the heads of the presumably extant handful of people who watch these episodes for the first time on these specials.

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 8 months ago

Somebody or other - it might have been Eric Saward - said that when JNT cast Colin he basically cast himself...

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ferret 2 years, 7 months ago

The "must be about 90 minutes" format is a bit limiting, I don't see why they felt they couldn't possibly show 2 disconnected but representative episodes instead - especially for Ecclestone.

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Dissertation help & writing services 3 days, 13 hours ago

On the off chance that you found and purchased these DVDs independently, you'd spend significantly more cash. I cherish that you have the alternative of observing every story as individual scenes or the altered adaptation where it is appeared as an unbroken story.

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