Unpopular Opinion: The Tenth Doctor
Guest contributor Matt Gavin gives an alternate viewpoint on David Tennant’s Doctor.
“I’m The Doctor, and if you don’t like it, if you want to take it to a higher authority, there isn’t one: It stops with me!”
While Christopher Eccleston brought Doctor Who back with a spectacular bang in 2005, it would be fair to say it is David Tennant’s portrayal of the Tenth incarnation of the Doctor which has lingered in most fans’ minds and – dare I say it – hearts. Ranking consistently high on fan polls for favourite Doctor, one could quite easily make the case for Tennant being an iconic Doctor, alongside Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor.
However, I think he’s a sanctimonious, hypocritical, self-pitying narcissist. A rather pious individual who takes the moral high ground regardless of if he has any right to do so. If I said this to the wrong people (and I fear I may be doing so right now), I would have genuine concerns for my safety. However, having made such bold and cutting claims, it would be pretty rude to not even attempt to explain why.
Deposing Harriet Jones
My dislike for the Tenth Doctor started at the end of his first story, The Christmas Invasion. Here, Harriet Jones destroys the leaving Sycorax using Torchwood technology. In response to this act of murder, the Doctor brings down Harriet with six simple words: “Don’t you think she looks tired?”
To reiterate: Ten takes it upon himself to fiddle with Human politics to prematurely end the tenure of a Prime Minister he himself noted would lead Britain into a golden age. What deserved this act? Destroying a group of aliens who had tried to enslave the Earth and had already proven that their promise to leave the Earth in peace could not be trusted, given their leader attempted to quite literally stab the Doctor in the back mere minutes before.
The Doctor argues that the Sycorax were leaving, but if they weren’t going to come back there would have been nothing to stop them bringing reinforcements, or carry out the same invasion on another species elsewhere. Ten arrogantly assumes the position of Earth’s only defender: acting with flippant aggression against those daring to fight for themselves. This isn’t the only time he acts like this: He’s the same in Army Of Ghosts, and his attitude towards Colonel Mace in The Sontaran Stratagem is abhorrent. Yvonne Hartman from Torchwood phrases it perfectly: “The Doctor, lording it over us; assuming alien authority over the rights of man.”
There is a cut scene which was supposed to be included in The Last of the Time Lords where The Master would taunt the Doctor by noting that his actions ultimately allowed for Harold Saxon to become Prime Minister. I think it’s a dreadful shame this was cut, because one of the greatest issues I have with Ten is that he is very rarely called out on his negative behaviour, and this scene would have at least partially addressed that. I can also only speculate as to how radically different the events of Torchwood: Children of Earth would have been had Harriet Jones still Prime Minister.
To conclude this section, I present this conversation from Doomsday:
PETE: They’re calling this The Golden Age.
DOCTOR: Who’s the President now?
PETE: A woman called Harriet Jones.
DOCTOR: Oof. I’d keep an eye on her.
As if the above wasn’t enough, here the Doctor passes judgement on another version of Harriet Jones who he has never even met.
His Treatment of Martha
Rose’s departure was always going to cast a shadow over the Doctor. As insufferably smug as I found the pair to be throughout Series 2, I simply cannot fault that. I think anyone would be lying if they said they wouldn’t be affected if the woman who helped restore them after committing genocide became lost forever… or for at least two seasons, anyway.
However, I don’t think that excuses his frankly quite vile treatment of Martha throughout Series 3. From the beginning she was definitely not replacing Rose. Nope. Not at all. Except by that point, the Doctor had already planted his lips firmly on Martha’s mouth and the act of taking Martha under his wing in the first place suggests more than rewarding her with “Just one trip”. The constant extension of this to mean “A trip to the future as well” and then taking the scenic route back comes off as a cruel tease on the part of Ten. You wouldn’t expect Ten’s bitters to disappear so rapidly, but Rose’s shadow hangs over Martha for the entirety of Series 3.
I don’t buy that Ten was oblivious to Martha’s crush on him. I was eleven when Series 3 first aired, and a fairly dense kid to boot, and even I could see it. Ten is not innocent in this situation. Getting into the same, tiny bed in The Shakespeare Code was thoroughly insensitive. Taking half the season to even acknowledge Martha as his companion was totally unfair on her. Between spending three months living in 1913, supporting the Doctor for who knows how long in Blink, and travelling the world in The Year That Never Was, Martha had the roughest ride of Ten’s companions. Despite this, he never looked at twice. Good on you for getting out Martha. Some people don’t have that kind of strength.
The Lonely God
I’ve deliberately avoided talking about the “Time Lord Victorious” because despite being an almost perfect example of everything I dislike about the Tenth Doctor, I don’t have any issues with it. The Waters of Mars is one of the few times Ten’s negative traits are explicitly emphasised; in fact it may be the only one which doesn’t appear superficial, like Davros’ lecture in Journey’s End does.
Despite his character flaws, Ten is consistently depicted as basically being the next Messiah: a tragic figure who always loses everything but carries on, never asking to be thanked. I would go as far to say that the “Lonely God” theme that permeated Tennant’s era bothered me more than the character does himself. To compare, Eleven certainly holds some of the traits I dislike Ten for. However, he is treated far more like a flawed hero than Ten ever was. His righteous anger in The Beast Below, for example, is portrayed as being a dangerously bad thing which led him to miss the incredibly obvious. In fact, the majority of Series 6 can be viewed as an attack against the God-like image that honestly went too far during Russell T Davies’ era.
I have commented a few times before that I feel the way the Tenth Doctor left is a brilliant example of how not to do a regeneration. I will admit that the ‘Four Knocks’ scene in The End Of Time got to me a little the first time I watched it. Even I felt sorry for Ten when – after truly believing he’d made it out alive – “tap, tap, tap, tap.” However, this is almost instantly ruined by the Doctor’s childish and desperate attitude. Screaming “IT’S NOT FAIR!” and throwing a tantrum over saving Wilf, a man he would be proud to call his father, did not do him any favours in my eyes. Personally, I think the Doctor is as self-absorbed and conceited here as he is in the “Time Lord Victorious” scenes from The Waters of Mars, except worse because we as an audience are supposed to sympathise with him.
I shan’t dwell too much on his infamous last words because they’re slated often enough without me doing more. I will criticize the line on an Out-of-Universe level, however: While I may have disliked the Tenth Doctor, many don’t. A lot of people disliked Matt Smith when he first took over from David Tennant, and I think this has a bit to do with his last line. When Ten whimpers “I don’t want to go”, a lot of his fans don’t want him too either. The entire build up to the regeneration is rather emotionally heavy and melodramatic, and then what happens? Some hyperactive moron starts dancing around the TARDIS, behaving like a total idiot. Of course, Matt Smith blew most of his early critics away with his performance in The Eleventh Hour, but that’s just a little beside the point.
I also find his description of regeneration as feeling like dying incredibly selfish. His envious snarl of “Some other man goes sauntering away” in particular makes me uncomfortable; he acts as if that sauntering man wasn’t once him. It’s almost disrespectful to all nine incarnations who came before him.
I’m sorry, but I can’t like the Tenth Doctor. His attitude rubs me completely the wrong way, and his flaws are not called upon often enough for me to invest into him as a character. I didn’t write this with the intent to convert everyone into angry Ten-haters, but I hope at least I have adequately explained why I struggle to enjoy his presence.