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Paging the Doctor: David Tennant Talks "Doctor Who," "Hamlet," "Masterpiece Contemporary"

The bad news is that David Tennant is still leaving Doctor Who in a few months' time.

The good news for American viewers, however, is that digital cabler BBC America will be airing Tennant's final three Doctor Who specials--beginning with this autumn's Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars--as "quickly behind" the UK airdates as possible... and said that they will be airing the full, uncut UK episodes, even if they spill over into the next timeslot, at least in their premiere outings.

The statements were made by BBC America's Garth Ancier at last week's Television Critics Association session for BBC America in Pasadena; Ancier also told reporters that the channel would have aired Torchwood: Children of Earth day and date with BBC One but there were scheduling issues with BBC One.

Ancier moderated a packed session that included Doctor Who star David Tennant, head writer/executive producer Russell T. Davies, executive producer Julie Gardner, and director Euros Lyn, who helmed the final two David Tennant specials. (To read my exclusive interview with David Tennant, click here.)

"It's a goodbye for the Tenth Doctor but also for the last four years," said Julie Gardner of David Tennant's swan song on the series, which plays out over the next three specials. Not only is Tennant leaving the long-running British sci-fi series but Gardner and Russell T. Davies are also departing at the same time. The latter two have both relocated to Los Angeles, where Gardner has taken on a new role at BBC Worldwide Productions.

"When Russell and Julie were moving on, it seemed like a natural moving on point for us all," said Tennant. "I think sometimes you have to take a deep breath and make a difficult decision... [and] leave the audience and myself wanting more."

However, Davies doesn't feel that Tennant's departure will affect the series. The change of lead actor doesn't have as much effect because every week is essentially different show, tonally and stylistically, said Davies, pointing to the array of storytelling techniques, tonal shifts, and plotlines that mark the eclectic series.

Still, don't expect things to remain fun and fluffy in the lead-up to Tennant's departure. After two light-spirited specials, things take a decidedly dark turn in the next few episodes. "Planet of the Dead was the last hurrah, the last untroubled moment," said Tennant. "The sword of Damocles is dangling [now]."

"He knows the sands of time are running out," Tennant said later. "He's been told. He knows the bell is tolling for him and he doesn't want to go."

Tennant's final episode is said to run an hour and fifteen minutes in length and BBC America have promised not to edit out a single minute of Doctor Who action, an initiative they put in place with the recent five-episode Torchwood: Children of Earth mini-series. Ancier said that audiences know the episodes inside-out and know when alterations have been made.

But before the final moments of Tennant's run as the Tenth Doctor, there are the return of several familiar faces, including Catherine Tate's Donna Noble, Alexandra Moen's Lucy Saxon, John Simm's The Master, and Bernard Cribbins' Wilt, as evidenced by the trailer for Doctor Who: The End of Time, which BBC America played--twice!--for us again last week.

"It's important that there is a revolving door of confidantes for [the Doctor]," in these specials, said Tennant. Those confidants include Cribbins' Wilt, seen in "The End of Time" and Lindsay Duncan's Adelaide in "The Waters of Mars." "To attract people of Billie Piper and Catherine Tate's status," said Davies, "you've got to write [the Doctor's companions] well."

Despite the end being near for the Tenth Doctor, Tennant wouldn't rule out future Doctor Who appearances (especially for charity), so long as he can fit into those slim-line trousers.

Asked what the main difference was between Tennant's Tenth Doctor and Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor, Davies had a simple answer: "If the Ninth Doctor seemed harder, it's because he was recovering from a war."

Davies also said that he never liked the Time Lords and thought they were "boring." He knew right away that he wanted to kill off the Time Lords before his run on the revival series began.

In speaking of the massive reaction the series got last month at San Diego's Comic-Con, Tennant joked that he wanted to crowd-dive at Comic-Con but every one was sitting down.

"Even I felt like a fifth Beatle, just carrying the bags," said Julie Gardner, speaking of the reaction and fervor of the Comic-Con reaction.

And finally the session was an opportunity for one last look back at Tennant's run on Doctor Who. "David could just dance the dialogue," recalled Davies. "He throws it up and rattles it. He gets the humor and the comedy."

As for how he landed the role, Davies said jokingly of Tennant, "He's a great kisser." In all seriousness, Davies said that he and Tennant had worked together in the past on Casanova. "We were lucky in that we had already worked together... on Casanova," said Davies. "We used to make Doctor Who jokes in rehearsal."

"It's thrilling to be handing over the show in such great health," said Tennant. "It feels like we're leaving at the end of something special."

I have no doubt that audiences across the world feel the same way.

US viewers, meanwhile, will be able to catch Tennant in one of his new gigs, as the host of PBS' Masterpiece Contemporary programming strand this fall.

"Forget Doctor Who," joked WGBH executive producer Rebecca Eaton. "[Tennant] belongs to us now."

Tennant joins Laura Linney and Alan Cumming as the on-air hosts for Masterpiece this fall. Tennant joined PBS' Masterpiece Contemporary session yesterday in Pasadena to field questions about his new role as host and about PBS' upcoming airing of his filmed Royal Shakespeare Company performance of Hamlet (alongside Patrick Stewart), which will air next year as part of Great Performances. (It will also stream online at

"I'm a huge fan of both of them [Laura Linney & Alan Cumming]," said Tennant, who appeared wearing a trendy Lou Reed t-shirt underneath a pin-striped suit jacket. "Very flattered to line up beside them."

Tennant said that this version of Hamlet won't be period but will instead be enacting using modern dress. In playing the Doctor and Hamlet, Tennant said it's hard "not to be weighed down by history and the performances that have come before."

Just don't expect Tennant to use his native Scottish accent in Hamlet. "No, I did it all posh," said Tennant. "Patrick Stewart was playing my father. He's Northern but he plays quite posh."

"Hamlet is 400 years old... we set out to rediscover the play for 2009," said Tennant. "Hamlet was always something I kind of fantasized about... in my more extravagant fantasies, I imagined I was doing it with RSC."

Tennant will next be seen in Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars, airing this autumn on BBC One and BBC America.


Carolyn said…
Just over a year ago a friend and I took a vacation to London and Stratford-upon-Avon and were lucky enough to see David in Hamlet. It will forever be one of my favorite memories. I am so thrilled that American audiences who don't know this gifted actor will be able to see him when Hamlet is broadcast here. I will miss seeing David as "The Doctor" but look forward to what he has in store for us in the future.
Bodie said…
I'm thrilled to hear that they will be airing the final Doctor Who episodes in their original form and won't be cutting them down. You can always tell when a show has been altered and the Doctor deserves better than that!

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