David Tennant (2007)

Here’s a transcript of David Tennant talking to MSN in 2007, promoting the launch of series three of the revived ‘Doctor Who’. Perhaps most notable for him claiming not to have a favourite villain, then talking for quite some time about the Zygons.

Q: How has ‘Doctor Who’ changed your life? Your character’s just been voted the coolest person on TV?

A: Has it?

Q: Jack Bauer from ’24’ came second.

A: I had no idea that I’d been voted the coolest person on TV, that’s slightly overwhelming. I don’t know what to say about that… hang on, what about Ricky Gervais and cool people like that?

Q: I think it’s coolest character.

A: Oh I see, now you’re changing the goalposts. Obviously he’s the coolest character. It’s huge, this show, and the amount of attention it gets and the amount of coverage it gets can be overwhelming, so I suppose in that sense it’s changed my life. There’s not a day goes by that ‘Doctor Who’ isn’t mentioned, even when you’re not working on the show it’s still a huge part of your life. And that’s great! But it’s unlike anything I’ve done before, and it’s probably unlike anythng I’ll ever do again, just the level of attention and the level of enthusiasm that people have for it, it’s very humbling to be in the midst of all that.

Q: Another poll recently voted you the best Dr. Who ever, who do you think is the best ever? You can say yourself.

A: Myself. (laughs) I can’t say anything else, even if I don’t believe that I can’t start having favourites!

Q: So you think you’re the best Doctor?

A: Well of course I don’t, but I’m not going to start singling anyone else out!

Q: Tom Baker was your favourite growing up, wasn’t he?

A: Tom Baker was the first one I saw, and there’s something about this show that if it grabs you and makes you a fan, there’s something about the first experience you had of it that sort of imprints on you.

Q: And is it true that you had a Tom Baker doll as a child?

A: I’ve still got it somewhere! I’ve lost his sonic screwdriver, I think he came with a sonic screwdriver but I lost that twenty years ago. But I’ve still got that somewhere. I had a Dalek too, but I never had the Leela doll because it looked a bit like a doll, a bit like a Cindy, I could never bring myself to get a Leela doll because it felt just a bit wrong. But one of the great things about the show now is that the toys are so good! I know that if I was a kid now I’d be loving it! When I was a kid I had the ‘Star Wars’ figures, and now it’s us, with a TARDIS playset. It’s a world of plastic joy.

Q: Do you have a toy yourself, at home?

A: I do! It’s very odd to be presented with a little plastic replice of yourself, it’s very hard not to get it out and put it on the mantlepiece… not that I’m saying that’s what I’ve done, obviously…

Q: What was your favourite ‘Doctor Who’ baddie when you were a boy?

A: I didn’t have a favourite particularly, I liked the fact that each week, each story there was something new, and I think that was my favourite bit, and I wanted it to be more horrific and more grizzly than the one before. So I don’t think I had a particular favourite, I liked the grizzly ones, the really weird-looking ones… the Zygons, the Sontarans. I mean, there were some really brilliant designs, the Zygons are case in point, they managed to make it not look like a human being, they had these huge coned heads and they made the faces small and scrunched up, and they did things. I mean, I was talking to Neil Gorton who does the prosthetics on our show, who designed a lot of our monsters, and he was saying that were we to do the Zygons again there’s not much to do, it’s a perfect bit of design. The technology of these things was a lot more primitive then, just because it was thirty years ago, and you couldn’t really better what they came up with, and I think that’s a testament to the talent of the people who are making the show now, and were making the show then.

Q: As an actor, how do you feel about the fact that you’re instantly compared to every other Doctor from the past?

A: Well it’s interesting, I mean comparisons are odious but completely inevitable and you have to accept that, you know when you take the job on that that’s going to be part of it. It’s okay, I’m proud to be part of that line, there are some great actors in that line-up.

Q: Did it make you nervous, because it is your first career-defining role.

A: Is it?

Q: It’s the first prime-time series that everyone remembers?

A: Yeah, I mean the first line of the obituary has probably been written, hasn’t it? And second, third and fourth, and the big picture that goes next to it. Well, I say big, who knows? The tiny little footnote will have a ‘Doctor Who’ theme.

Q: Would you have liked to play the Doctor as a Scot?

A: It’s funny, it never occurred to me, the whole accent thing. I’d just worked with Russell T. Davies and Julie Gardner, our executive producer, on a show called ‘Casanova’, and they kind of said ‘The voice you used in that is what we’re thinkg of’, and I said ‘Fine’ because that’s what you do as an actor. And then suddenly people ask you the question like it’s some big political decision, and it’s really not. It’s just what actors do, it’s part of the job, isn’t it? I don’t know, I could have done it with a Scottish accent, but I didn’t.

Q: Why do you think the series has taken off now, in the last few years?

A: Well there’s a couple of reasons. One is, it’s a brilliant idea and it’s an ever-malleable format. It just works. Even when it’s not been on TV, it’s existed. It’s still talked about, it just catched something in the public imagination. Obviously it just does, or it wouldn’t have been going since 1963. Add to that Russell T. Davies, as our executive producer, who just gets it, who knows what the show needs to be and who knows what works on television, and he’s supported by an incredible team of very creative and brilliant people in every department, so it’s a meeting of all those facts and for the time being it’s very popular, and that’s great.

Q: Do you think it’s restored confidence in the family drama on Saturday evening?

A: Well people say that, don’t they? I don’t know. Is it the slot, is it the show? ‘Robin Hood’s done very well, ‘Primeval’s done very well, maybe they wouldn’t have happened without ‘Doctor Who’, but maybe they would, I don’t know. These are probably things that have to be decided ten years down the line, when we can be more objective about it.

Q: And will you be watching on a Saturday evening?

A: I don’t know, it’s a funny one, usually you get to see the episodes before they transmit, sometimes a few weeks before, sometimes days before, as the series goes on the post-production timetable gets squeezed tighter and tighter, I remember last year we got episode thirteen the day before it transmitted. But if I’m around I’ll watch them when they go out, probably, or I’ll have them on, pretend I don’t care.

Q: What other TV programmes do you enjoy watching?

A: I love ‘Life on Mars’, I’m fascinated to see what happens at the end of that. I got invited to a special screening of the final episode and I can’t go, I’m furious! I love that show, it’s a great idea. ‘The West Wing’ also, that’s now finished but I’ve got it on DVD and I’m slowly, I’m rationing myself, I’ve got four episodes to go and it’s unbearable, the thought that it might finish. I don’t think there’s anything else I’m following religiously at the moment, but I’ve not had a lot of time recently because I’ve been filming.

Q: Which of your contemporaries do you admire?

A: Well that’s a hard question because immediately I’ll forget someone, won’t I? I’m loving all the guys on ‘Life on Mars’, er… it’s very difficult to start plucking people out of the TV firmament, isn’t it? There are a lot of good actors and writers around in British television right now. That’s often denied, but I think it’s the case. Particularly at the moment, and there’s always great stuff in the theatre in London and around the country.

Q: Tell us about auditioning with Freema, it was quite top secret, wasn’t it?

A: Well it was more for her. I was on the inside, but it was exciting to think of the process for her. I’d met her, she did a part in the last series of ‘Doctor Who’ (series 2) so I knew Freema, not particularly well but we’d worked together for a couple of days and she’d been great, and then the powers-that-be indicated that they wanted to audition her for Martha. But of course it was all top secret. I think she did two auditions where she was told she was auditioning for ‘Torchwood’, but at her final audition she was finally told ‘Actually, you’re auditioning for ‘Doctor Who” and we had to do a screentest – that makes it sound terribly posh, it was in our producer’s flat in Cardiff, again it was all top secret, with a little video camera on a tripod and we sat on Phil’s sofa and did a scene from… ‘The Impossible Planet’, one of last year’s scripts, and it was around the time that Billie and I were filming the actual scene, very odd, slightly surreal, but it was exciting because the cloak and dagger can be a bit exhausing but it’s fun. There’s a lot of cloak and dagger on this show, we try to keep it in but it all leaks out, we all lie valiantly but, you know… the good thing is that there are as many erroneous stories printed about the show as true scoops, so we can hide behind those and pretend it’s all nonsense.

Q: How does the Doctor’s relationship with Martha differ to his relationship with Rose?

A: Well it starts from a slightly different place, I suppose, the Doctor is still slightly in mourning for Rose and thinks he doesn’t need a companion. I think he’s had a bit of a wake-up call with Donna in ‘The Runaway Bride’, when he sort of got a bit carried away and she stopped him from torturing the Racnoss to extinction. So he’s in a slightly dark place when he meets Martha. I think when he met Rose he was looking for a friend, he was looking for someone to share time and space with. Although he is in that position when he meets Martha, he doesn’t think he is, so it’s up to her to make herself indispensible, which she does. She’s a little bit older, she’s a little bit more front-foot in saying how she feels to the Doctor, which of course freaks him out completely, him being this a-sexual being he doesn’t quite get it when she talks about how he looks in his suit, things like that really don’t compute with the Doctor. And as you’ll see, he keeps threatening to drop her off. He’s guarded with her, but I think Martha knows what he needs more than he does.

Q: You’ve kept in touch with Billie Piper, haven’t you? You went and saw her in her play, was it odd seeing Rose not playing Rose?

A: Not at all, because she’s an actor, that’s what she does, and Billie’s a consummate actor. It’s great seeing her doing anything, although I haven’t seen ‘Mansfield Park’ yet, I’ve got it on tape and I’ve still got to watch it, but everyone says she’s brilliant in it.

Q: Did you miss having her on set this time round?

A: Well again that’s what acting is. I think maybe from the outside it seems odder than it is, as an actor you don’t expect to work with the same people all the time anyway, it’s a novelty when it happens. I missed having that friend around, but then Freema arrives and you make new friends, it what happens, it’s how the show works.

Q: Tom Baker’s outfit recently sold for £23,600…

A: You know I think the truth is he never wore it… I mean he did wear it, I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but not on screen, I think it was a sort of public appearance outfit or something, and it still sold for that. Madness, isn’t it? If I’ve got scripts and things, they’re quite nice things to give for charity auctions and things like that… I’m not at the stage yet where I’m selling anything purely for my own gain, but I’m sure that day will come, as a pension.

Q: Do you have any plans for a robotic sidekick like K9?

A: Well we had a bit of K9, he came and visited. There’s no immediate plans for that, I don’t think, certainly not in series three, no. Do you think that’d be a good idea?

Q: Yes, there are a lot of fans on the website.

A: Really? What kind?

Q: Just saying having K9 back.

A: Well you’d have to speak to the creators of K9. I don’t think they’re very keen on the idea. I probably shouldn’t have said that, but it’s true.

Q: When you hand over to a new Dr. Who, how would you like to die?

A: Valiantly.

Q: And if you could choose the actor who plays the next Doctor when you leave, who would you choose?

A: It’s going to be Wee Jimmy Crankie. In the traditional outfit. That’s how he’s chosen to play it, and Ian Crankie will take over as Martha Jones, they’re going to fall into a sort of regenerative thing. It’s good, you just get a glimpse of it at the end of episode thirteen.

Q: Russell T. Davies said he’ll leave the show when you leave -

A: Did he? When did he say that?

Q: This week. He said it’s break his heart.

A: Oh, he’s just too lazy to reinvent it again, that’s what he means. Can’t be arsed.

Q: Does that affect your decision, knowing that when you leave it’ll be the two of you?

A: I don’t know, because I don’t know if he really… he hasn’t said that to my face. Questions about leaving go with this show like wheels go with bicycles, literally from the moment I took over, and a boy could get a complex. I think it’s best not to talk about leaving, Tony Blair tried it, didn’t work for him.

Q: And what is the very best thing about playing the Doctor?

A: Probably getting to read the scripts first, getting to know what happens next first, because the writing’s so good and the stories are so genuinely exciting, so that is probably my favourite bit yet. Usually you get into your trailer and someone’s left a little buff envelope, and you think ‘Oh, that’s the next one!’.

Q: Is there any other role that could top this for you?

A: Well, funnily enough, what’s going to happen is I’m taking over from Wee Jimmy Crankie, because he’s got a lot of end of the pier panto stuff and I’m going to take over from that. It’s very iconic.

Q: How does it feel to become a legend yourself?

A: It feels slightly odd to join a line of people who in my head have become slightly iconic, you know, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, all the line of them, that feels like a major culturally iconic thing. It’s quite difficult to really appreciate that you’re part of that line, it’s very difficult to be objective about a thing like that, so I don’t know that I’ve quite got a handle on it. I don’t feel like a legend myself.

Q: Have you met any of the actors who’ve played the Doctor in the past?

A: Yeah, I’ve met Sylvester, Colin and Peter.

Q: Did they offer you any advice on how to play the role?

A: No. I think that would be rude. I would certainly never… I think you’ve got to allow somebody to find their own way, and make their own mistakes or not. They certainly didn’t propose to give me any advice, I didn’t ask for any. I met Tom Baker when I was tiny, and I met Chris, but a long time ago and not since this has been a thing for either of us, so it’d be nice to bump into Chris again and exchange notes, but he’s in America now I think. And I did meet Paul McGann, but again that was before this was a thing for either of us. That’s just about the whole set, isn’t it?

Q: When did you meet Tom Baker?

A: I was tiny, I was about eight and he was in Glasgow and he signed my book.

Q: Are you interested in writing or directing?

A: A bit. I’m quite interested in directing, but something like ‘Doctor Who’ is not something you can be in and direct, it’s too big, it’s got too many arms. You couldn’t be in the show and be doing that. When I think about directing, I think about directing theatre, because I understand how that works. With television there are still some bits that leave me slightly bewildered in the technical aspect of it. I’d like to at some point, but I don’t know when or how it could happen.

Q: Could you take ‘Doctor Who’ to the stage?

A: You could, and it’s been done before, but I think ‘Doctor Who’s a TV programme, that’s how it works, and I think if you took ‘Doctor Who’ to the stage it’d be a celebration of a TV programme, it wouldn’t be a theatre event in its own right… and that’s not a bad thing, it’s been done very successfully before.

Q: What have been your best and worst experience as an actor?

A: This interview is both. No, that side of it, the kind of bits where you have to be yourself, which are sometimes the most enjoybable, like I did ‘The Friday Night Project’ and that was such a laugh, but at the same time having to be yourself is excruciating, much more painful than watching yourself acting. The highs and lows are very extreme, in every aspect, when it works it’s a high like no other and when it doesn’t you really seriously think about suicide (laughs).

Q: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing?

A: I don’t know, and it worries me sometimes. If it all dried up… I lay awake at three in the morning sometimes…

Q: Before ‘Doctor Who’ you appeared in heavy dramas. Do you ever look at being in ‘Doctor Who’ as a bit of fun between heavy roles?

A: No, I don’t differentiate, and whether it’s a heavy drama or not is to do with how the piece objectively ends up being seen, and it’s the same job, really, whether it’s comedy, drama, family viewing at seven o’clock or heavy swearing on Channel 4 at ten o’clock.

Q: You played a bad guy in ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, do you prefer playing baddies or goodies?

A: I don’t have a preference, really, it’s just if the part’s interesting. I suppose it has to be said that the bad guys are often more interesting than the good guys because you get to indulge part of your nature that hopefully gets subsumed most of the time. But I just like playing interesting characters, and variety’s the spice of that, as it is with life, I suppose.

Q: Finally, if you could ask any actor, dead or alive, to guest in ‘Doctor Who’, who would it be?

A: Audrey Hepburn, circa ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’.

Q: Why?

A: What do you mean why?

Q: Would she be playing that role?

A: No, she’d just be hanging out. Any part she wants, she can have.

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