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David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor
David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor
David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor

If you had to arrange the 11 Doctors in order of how old they appear to be in human terms, where would the Tenth go? Certainly the dignified First and haughty Third are at one extreme, with the Sixth and Eleventh not far behind, and at the other end, the Second and Fifth, larking about with recorders and cricket bats. But the Tenth? How old, figuratively speaking, is the Tenth Doctor?

There are times when he appears to be blessed with the callow self-regard and easy glee of youth. He’s got the sparkly eyes that light up whenever something interesting happens and an infectious sense of wonder. He started off by growing his own hand back and wondering aloud what kind of person he was. He really enjoys being the Doctor, and not all of them do. He’s got charisma by the bucketload, 3D glasses and tends to wear his leadership lightly. He’s a dab hand at charades.

However, he is also an old man, even when he hasn’t been aged by the Master. He’s beset by the kind of deep loneliness that only afflicts people who’ve been a few places and seen a few things. He misses being around people that really understand him. He’s all too aware that his old friends have found their own lives and believes they won’t have time for him any more. He even finds time to go back and visit them when he should be getting on with the necessary business of regenerating. Sentimentality meets self-pity, and it’s not just his sonic that has a touch of the blues.

And those are just the two extremes. In the middle there are all sorts of stages of development the Tenth Doctor goes through. He’s the Doctor that seems to want more than being the Doctor can offer, the Doctor that appears to want to settle down, find a partner, and raise a family, and ultimately, splits himself into pieces in order to do exactly that.

Before Ten, there was largely just Susan Foreman and a lot of close friends. After Ten, there was Jenny, there was John Smith, there was the Doctor-Donna and the Meta-Crisis Doctor and Jackson Lake (born of the myth of the Doctor) and the unknown lady who appeared with the Time Lords like a forgiving parent. There were doomed relationships with River Song and Joan Redfern—and a certain chemistry with Rose that looked a lot like a word he could only whisper in her ear—but these seemed to raise possibilities and dash them, leaving him even more bereft.

So Ten not only draws people to him to mask his loneliness, like all the Doctors do, he leaves a trail of family, exes and doppelgangers in his wake.

And when his time is finally up, he rages so hard against the dying of the light that it destroys his own TARDIS.

So it’s really hard to say how old he appears to be, because more than any of the others, the Tenth Doctor ages. He matures and develops just like you and I do, and when he does go, it is as much because he has run out of options as it is because Wilfred got stuck in that radiation booth.

One other thing. There are times when this clip feels like the truest depiction of the Doctor’s life in the entire history of the show, even though it’s played as if it happened to Jackson Lake.

Something tragic happens to a man, he runs away from it in his mind, and takes on the persona of a freewheeling Time Lord, a gadabout space/time hobo on whom feelings do not stick. How else could he possibly cope with what has happened, and what he has become?

Which makes his subsequent fall from grace, his descent into bad decisions and solo traveling and general unhappiness far easier to understand. For all that the Tenth is the guy that most wants to settle down, his family all leave him, for one reason or another. Is it too fanciful to suggest that he’s stuck in a fugue state of his own?

He is a mad man with a blue box, after all.

Find out more about the Tenth Doctor, Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited – The Tenth Doctor is on BBC AMERICA on Sunday October 27 at 8/7c.

See also:

A companion to the Ninth Doctor
Life outside the TARDIS: David Tennant (Part 1)
Life outside the TARDIS: David Tennant (Part 2)

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By Fraser McAlpine