Friday, November 21, 2008

New Doctors and New Movies (Goodbye David, Prematurely)

The news has been out for a while, confirmed by the company and the star himself in a mostly unsurprising interview. David Tennant is leaving Doctor Who when he finishes filming the tv-movies that will broadcast over the course of 2009. At the end of the movie broadcasting over Xmas 2009, David will regenerate (for real this time) into the eleventh incarnation of the Doctor. Naturally, I'll miss him, though we'll always have those dvd box sets.

He's been an excellent Doctor, comparable to William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, and Tom Baker in terms of the consistent quality of his Doctor performance. And his acting skills themselves are in the same league as Hartnell, Troughton, and Peter Davison. And as my friend Kelli-rae told me when I broke the news to her over the internet, her sexual fantasies are never going to be the same. It wasn't just the sexy characterization and plot structure of Doctor #10 that enraptured people. He was also one of the best looking actors to play the part.

I knew he was a huge fan of the show when he joined for the 2005 Xmas movie, and when his performance was good, it was so good that I hoped he would stay long enough to break Tom Baker's seven year tenure. But four years was long enough for him, and he's made some wonderful stories. His first amazing performance was season two's The Girl in the Fireplace, where he completely sold falling in love and losing her through a cruel twist of fate and time portals in one episode. Rise of the Cybermen was a multifaceted story that called on the Doctor to run through the full palette of his character. Then The Impossible Planet's chilling atmosphere and imagery, witty script, and genuinely intriguing philosophical investigation made me qualify it as the best Who story of all time.

Season three had a fairly consistent quality of writing aside from three mediocre stories and a rather silly final episode after a brilliant bait-and-switch and Doctor-on-the-run combo leading up to it. David's best performance of the year was in Human Nature, where he spent most of the story playing a fictionalized personality instead of the Doctor. But season four was undoubtedly the best of the revived show, arguably the best season since the legendary season 14 of 1977. Every performance from David was perfect, especially the horrifying desperation of the closing moments of Midnight. But the series hit its height with the terrifying, surreal, irreal, mind-bending, soulful, beautiful Silence in the Library.

Can Doctor Who get better than Silence in the Library? I don't know, and I'm hesitant to answer the question in either direction since I had asked that very thing two years ago after I watched The Impossible Planet. And I asked it the year before that when I saw the uncensored version of 1977's The Talons of Weng-Chiang on dvd the year before that. And I asked it as a kid when I watched Genesis of the Daleks on YTV.

Of course, David had his wince-worthy moments too, especially in his first year. At times, he articulated his Doctor's manic enthusiasm as a cloying mawkishness that bordered on the childish. This was especially evident in his almost idiotic performances in New Earth, The Idiot's Lantern, and at some moments early in Army of Ghosts. These were toned down quite a bit by the end of the season, and by The Runaway Bride, David had achieved a perfect balance of enthusiasm and gravitas that only became more nuanced as the next two years went by. Perhaps he found this as he delved into the subtleties of the philosophical and emotional conundrums in the script for The Impossible Planet, the last story to be filmed for season two, even though it was numbered episodes eight and nine.

As soon as his departure was confirmed, the bookies were on the job, ranking odds as to the probable successors. David Morrissey leads the pack, already cast in the upcoming Xmas tv-movie as the title character, The Next Doctor. But this is so obvious, it has to be a red herring. The preview clip of Morrissey's performance broadcast as part of a BBC charity special this month illustrates it as well. Morrissey's "Doctor" plays like the arrogant manic moments of #10 in season two, dressed in the Victorian outfits of Paul McGann's #8. My own theory is that he'll turn out to be an imposter, perhaps a con man or a superfan who decides to emulate his hero. There's an old audio play (The One Doctor) where the Doctor meets a man who pretends to be him, and I think this would be the rough source material. It wouldn't be the first time an audio has served as loose inspiration for a tv story. Look at Dalek (Jubilee), and Return of the Cybermen (Spare Parts).

But the real story has to do with a slip of the tongue that has worked its way onto the internet as an actual plausible clue: Paterson Joseph. One of his co-stars recently let it slip that he's been in negotiations with Steven Moffat the new showrunner for 2010 onwards. And he's been interviewed by BBC Entertainment, and said he would relish the role if he had it. Joseph has even worked with Moffat before, as a scenery chewing villain on his series Jekyll. And he's worked on Doctor Who before, as a scenery-chewing dick in the first season finale. In fact, the Jekyll connection supported the rumours that Jekyll star James Nesbit would be up for the eleventh Doctor. But Nesbit doesn't want it anyway.

You can probably guess what I think Paterson's weakness will be in his characterization if he does get the part: his propensity to chew scenery. But there's also a villainous edge to him, a harder quality in his voice and his manners than David, or even Christopher Eccleston had. Paterson has the potential for a contribution to the Doctor's character that we've never really seen before. William could pull it off when the situation required, but he couldn't put the physical force into it. Colin Baker could lose his temper, but this is more than just anger. Sylvester McCoy's Doctor was written this way, but he could never quite sell it in his performance.

I'm talking about menace. To his enemies, the Doctor is a villain, and Paterson Joseph can sell villainy. It would be an interesting companion dynamic too, because Paterson has an icy quality that could seriously alienate his friends simply from seeing it. The Doctor can be cruel sometimes, and Paterson would give his cruelty an extra cold spice, a menace, and a sneer. It could make for one of the most intriguing and enrapturing Doctor performances yet.

This is all incredibly premature, of course, since David has the role for another year, during which we'll see him in four tv-movies. But the fact that we know of his departure so early will just build up the expectation to that moment at the climax of Xmas 2009 when we'll say goodbye and hello. After all, there's a black President in America. Why not a black Doctor in the TARDIS?

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