Both post-Eccleston iterations share common characteristics – they are young, dashingly geeky, physical and outwardly emotional, and they rely heavily on the companionship and friendship of their (mainly) female fellow adventurers. Both struggle with mixed messages picked up by said companions, and in turn the companions of both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors are largely defined by the intensity of this relationship. The Doctors, however, are different men; each gradually distanced from that epochal catastrophe of the new series – the Time War and destruction of Gallifrey, they react and encounter the universe that remains with them in contrasting ways. The Eccleston Doctor carries a palpable air of survivor guilt, while Smith’s Doctor has made new and deadly enemies through his gradual mastery of time and space; Tennant’s Doctor occupies territory between these poles – having regenerated past his immediate shell shock he is constantly testing himself against the cosmos in which he now inhabits (or imagines he does for the majority of his life) as the last of his kind.
Thus, the Tenth Doctor as the “lonely angel”, a man cut off from his past and his home, at first seeking to enjoy an unfettered life, before crucially overstepping the mark and edging towards something as terrible as the world he first escaped, the self-titled ‘Time Lord Triumphant’. Tennant’s Time Lord is a character of exuberant energy anchored in a universe of sadness and regret, his cries of action and enthusiasm (“Allons-y!” the aforementioned “Brilliant!”) matched by an equal, apologetic refrain (“I am so sorry”); little wonder that this anti-hero with his peaks and troughs of emotion would find a ready-made audience in adolescent viewers.
The Tenth Doctor’s first two companions are ready-made audience identifiers – perhaps we could also add others to this list – Astrid Peth, in particular; young women with varying degrees of infatuation for this outwardly young, outwardly exuberant and vivacious adventurer in time and space. Within, we know there is melancholy, and a sense that even these companions may not be able to fill the space left by the disappearance of his own people – witness the Doctor shrinking inwardly in The Impossible Planet, shuddering at the thought of ‘settling down’, and the cool eagerness with which he maroons his mortal second self on Pete’s World with Rose. Indeed , watch how those relationships are broken down with each companion: separation, estrangement, irreversible trauma, with the Doctor compelled to move ever on as he always has. If Eccleston’s Doctor was a reluctant survivor and reluctant hero, then Tennant is a hero still trying to free himself from responsibility, newly-reborn and finding fun in the Universe, before finding it a sometimes cold and empty place. Tennant’s Doctor is a complicated figure, often eulogised in lofty terms (“fire and ice”), but in turns paradoxically and remarkably tactile, chummy, brotherly.
All of which helps to create through his reactions and interactions and impression of the Universe of the new Who era, where for a while the remote and alien territory of the Hartnell and Troughton Eras are reduced and made occasionally very domestic (New Earth in Gridlock), or even silly, with silly names and faces. Indeed, the Universe is probably the most exciting and occasionally slapstick it’s been since the Graham Williams stories, as though showrunner Russell T Davies is imprinting his childhood era over the resoundingly successful relaunch. The remarkable turnaround of the Doctor in his final two years is therefore a story that probably does more to roll out his next incarnation than speak of the exuberance of the Tennant Doctor we might otherwise envisage. In short, here is a Doctor in microcosm; the most successful of Davies’ visions of the show, and in four varied and contrasting years we bear witness to the rise and fall of a pretty interesting and memorable incarnation.