At the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con David Tennant and Julie Gardner sat down with a group of online journalists to talk about Doctor Who, specifically David’s impending departure.
To start things off David marveled over the array of technology before him on the table in the form of all the recording devices. He remarked that he had recently been surprised by someone interviewing him with an old Radio Shack tape recorder. The first question went to David about how his performance has evolved his performance as the Doctor since taking over from Christopher Eccleston.
“It evolves through the script, I suppose, through what the character is doing and where he is going. Inevitably things happen on a more sub-conscious level than that, but on a conscious level you take it from the script. The character probably develops from what I take off the page and what the writer’s take from what they’ve seen and it’s an ongoing exchange.”
Julie added, “And sometimes the scripts will pull to the fore things that have been buried for ages. The idea that informed the Doctor after he [regenerated from Christopher to David] was that he was the last of his kind. That was really a new thing. Sometimes that would play as a top line and be a real weight and other times it was just something we didn’t reference for three or four episodes.”
“But that’s going to come back in a big way in the final stories,” David teased and has been hinted in “The End Of Time, Part One.”
In reference to his upcoming departure and his emotional state regarding his performance in the final episodes, David remarked that “It’s really script-lead for me. You kind of see what the story’s going to be and that takes you on an emotional journey itself. Those final stories are pretty emotional.”
“They really are,” chimed in Julie. “The filming of them was a really intense time. I mean, there was crying. There were a hundred goodbyes, everyday there was a goodbye of some sort.”
“And also the story takes you to places that Doctor can’t go to on a regular basis,” continued David. “It affords the opportunity to confront this sort of immutable character with new challenges and things you can only do when that man is going to die. From an acting point of view that’s hugely challenging and liberating and exciting.”
I asked them both how much of the tenth Doctor was already committed to paper when David came on board and what David was able to bring to the character and contribute to the role.
“Well, we had surprisingly few big conferences about it really,” recounted David after a thoughtful pause.
Julie gleefully added, “We just threw David in! I mean, it was all there. We had a few conversations before the filming of [David’s] first episode, but they were more of the overview of the series. All you want as a Producer on a show is to have the best possible actor…”
“But you can’t get him, so you get me!” Interrupted David, to much laughter.
Added Julie, “Or as Russell [T Davies] once said in a read through, ‘It’s fantastic to work with such great actors, you’re the best in your price range.’ At which point I got a bit sick, but happily it worked, he got the timing right and everybody laughed. But you just need a great actor [for the Doctor], you need actors great at their craft, but will also spend a day or more hanging off a wire. That’s something we don’t talk about, it’s a very, very physical role.”
“Well, it has been, but it isn’t necessarily and we don’t know what Steven and Matt will do with it, maybe he’ll sit in a chair for four years,” David quipped. “But it certainly can be and I think that was something that developed over the years, the running and the hanging and the things exploding.”
Julie surmised that “as a production team I think you get more and more confident about how far you can go. There certainly were more stunts with David.”
When asked about some of his favorite lines, David responded with “Raxacoricofallapatorius. Um, learning the square root of pi to the thirteenth decimal and having to learn it with Lesley Sharpe so that we were right on cue when we said it together. When I got that script [for “Midnight”] I thought, ‘Russell, you f*cker!’ I read through it and thought ‘all right, I’m going to show him’ and I stayed up all night learning it and went to the read through and just read it out. The line about the hermit, which I’m now going to misquote, from ‘Utopia’ is one of my favorites. Oh, how does it go…’Hermits United, we meet up in a cave every four years…it’s great fun for a hermit’ that’s how it ends anyways. There’s just so many. That’s one of the great things about playing the Doctor is you get all the best lines. Until Catherine Tate shows up and then she gets all the best punchlines! But she was really good at them so I couldn’t really feel too bad about being slighted.”
The subject of the Doctor repeatedly saying he is sorry came up and when questioned why he said it so much David responded, “Because I think he feels guilty. He’s in a very difficult position, he has to make hard choices and he’s riddled with remorse for what happened to his people and the part that he played in that, which we’ll learn a little bit more about before I disappear. He’s tortured and he travels time and space trying to make it better, but some of the side-effects of that are not always as he would wish them to be.”
Julie added, “I always think the Doctor is at his best and his most exciting when he’s suffering. I do, I love that sort of tragic suffering. Particularly when he’s hanging off a wire.”
“That’s not the Doctor suffering, that’s me chafing!” remarked a bemused David.
Asked about some of his personal highlights from the show David said, “There has been so many!”
Julie immediately though of the satsuma moment from “The Christmas Invasion,” when the Doctor says, “No second chances, I’m that sort of man.”
David thought for a few more moments before picking the filming of “Journey’s End” with everyone who had been a companion on the show. “I literally had a TARDIS full of my mates. They were hard days to get through because they were so funny and so much fun. Everyone was quite naughty, but such a joy and very symbolic of everything we had done over the years. It almost feels disloyal to start picking moments out because it’s been the most extraordinary time filled with high points really. Very, very few low points.”
To which Julie teased, “And there are such high points to come in the final stories, some of our strongest work is coming.”
David again: “Bernard Cribbins, playing such a huge and fundamental part in the final story and doing it with such high quality. And Catherine coming back again, a bit more of Donna. That’s never a bad thing. And John Simm, we’re admitting that now, I think we were pretending for a while. Having John back was great and Timothy Dalton! Bloody hell.”
I asked David and Julie if, as fans of the show, they were looking forward ot the new series and seeing Matt Smith as the eleventh Doctor.
David jumped right in, “I really am, yeah. We both are.”
Julie, equally enthused, said, “Yeah, I’ve deliberately not read scripts and kept away from it because I want to be a viewer. I think Russell said to Steven, ‘Come on, hurry up with filming, I’ve been waiting twenty years to be a viewer! I want to see something I haven’t written or been involved in!’ So, we all want to literally be a viewer on the sofa on a Saturday night watching it with the UK.”
David was asked if he was able to spirit away one of the sonic screwdrivers to which he revealed, “I got presented with one. I was very touched to be given one as I left. I don’t know if this means they’ve built new ones or what. The Doctor may not even have one now, I don’t know. He might have a sonic pencil or something. I’ve got one now in my house of which I am very proud.
“I think there’s lots of practical things I could say, you know, a tribute to Russell T Davies’ great creative leadership of the show, the great actors that we’ve had lead by David and Chris, but I think it’s something beyond that. Obviously there’s the nostalgia, particularly in the UK, but I think it’s more the tone of the show that Russell kind of hit on, which I think is a very optimistic, very romantic, very life-affirming tone. I think people just engaged with it, that family audience. There’s a huge romance in going out on a journey to the stars through the past. Beyond that, the creation of the show was an act of genius. It’s a format that can tell any story and it’s just the most brilliant thing to work on. It’s a format that can last.”
David added, “It should also be said, because it hasn’t been said enough, that the program coming back in 2005 would not have happened without Julie Gardner. It’s not said enough, because obviously Russell is the kind of artistic creative genius, but Julie’s indefatigability about life and her intelligence and brilliance and strength is incalculable…it’s not said enough. It would not have happened without Julie and would not have been the sensation it has been without her.”
Julie ended with, “I think it’s really a show made with absolute love. There will always be differences of opinion on the choices made, particular with a show with such a loyal fanbase, but I really think that every single member of that crew were so hopeful for it and loved it so much and I think that came through in the show.”
Thank you to Julie Gardner and David Tennant for taking time to meet with us online journalists at Comic-Con. “The End Of Time, Part Two”, David Tennant’s (and Julie Gardner’s) final episode of ‘Doctor Who’ airs New Year’s Day on BBC One at 6:40 PM and January 2nd on BBC America at 8:30 PM.