Today (June 18) marks 10 years since the Tenth Doctor’s face first came squeezing out of the Ninth Doctor’s in a big spurt of fire, giving Rose Tyler quite a fright. He arrived just as the reborn Doctor Who was starting to make serious waves—only three months after the debut episode “Rose”—and by the time it was his turn to face the regeneration jetstream himself, the show was a colossal worldwide hit.
So it’s no stretch to say that had the Tenth Doctor not been quite the man he turned out to be, we may not be talking about Doctor Who to the degree and scale that we currently are. For a lot of fans, he’s the first Doctor that won their hearts, managing to be charming and witty and riddled with glee one moment, and then pained and old and angry the next. His is a vulnerable personality, more of a performer than his predecessor (who still walked around with a sour chunk of the War Doctor about him), but less prone to strutting than the fellow who came along later.
Not that anyone knew this on June 18, 2005. For the first six months of his tenure, all anyone had to go on (apart from a Children In Need skit set just after the regeneration) was this moment of confusion around teeth:
Until this point, everything we had learned about the Doctor since the Time War had been issued in terse nuggets from a man who would clearly rather forget the whole thing. He’s so traumatized by what he has seen that it’s all he can do to maintain a bluff front, one that only collapses when he’s once again faced with his worst enemy—a Dalek. But with the Tenth Doctor letting the guard drop a bit, even at the risk of revealing the true depth of his trauma, we learn an enormous amount of things about the Doctor that no one knew before.
We learned that it’s possible to divert the regeneration process, providing you’ve got a spare hand lying about. We learned that the Time Lords weren’t just a lofty officious race; they were warlike rotters too. And we learn, by observation at least, that he’s desperate to play a role, to have something of consequence to do after serving his time at the front line.
So when the Master reappears and enslaves humanity, the Doctor is quick to offer his services as a jailor and is distraught when even this is taken from him. When the Family of Blood attack, forcing him to become the human John Smith—something else we did not know was possible—he imprisons at least one of them in a place that requires a bit of checking up from time to time. These are not the actions of a man intent on running away.
And when Davros returns from the Time War, ready to erase reality, it’s the Doctor that offers to save him when the Dalek ship burns, anything but the same old rounds of traveling, meddling and leaving, especially when it means saying goodbye to the friends—Rose, Martha, Donna—that make him feel better.
And with the Tenth Doctor we also find out that he is someone that can express genuine affection, and not in the benign uncle way he did in the past. There’s a lot more kissing, for example. It does help that he looks the way he does, but also that’s his personality. He’s a bit of a flirt, confident in his own charisma. Not so much that he can spot someone with a big crush on him—poor Martha—but much more than, say, the Eleventh Doctor.
So, just as the Tenth Doctor gave solidity and structure to the modern age of Doctor Who, he also spent some time chipping away at the foundations of what was expected of his character. Which is only right and proper, given that he is still a lost and broken-hearted alien with all of time and space to play in and no one to come along for the ride.
Apart from us, that is:
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5 of the Doctor’s Greatest Moments of Fear
Search Happy Birthday, David Tennant! 10 Great Tenth Doctor Moments