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.