David Tennant: The Sexy Doctor

For many fans, the return of Doctor Who to BBC had its highlights during the David Tennant years as the 10th Doctor.  During his reign, he was consistently voted highly in public polls on favorite actor, best actor, and sexiest actor by British fans, and by fans from around the world.  10Rose was a favorite shipping by fans in their discussions and fan productions.  Even after Tennant was replaced by Matt Smith, 10Rose shippers continue to focus on stories about the 10th Doctor and his companion Rose Tyler.  I count myself in that group, having written my own 10Rose story.

Of course, part of the reason for this continued infatuation with the couple is due to the way the canon dealt with their relationship.  Rose, while initially another in the long tradition of companions for the Doctor, took on more of a romantic interest in The Doctor after his regeneration — the move from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant.  In the stories of the second series, she is more pronounced in her romantic interest in The Doctor, which is most apparent in the double episode of “The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit” when she suggests that she and The Doctor could settle down into a “normal” life together, implying some type of marriage or domestic partnership.  Then, of course, there is the heartbreaking ending to that season, when in “Doomsday” she is trapped in an alternate universe and The Doctor’s last transmission to her is cut off before he can say something 10Rose shippers really wanted him to say: “I love you”.

Like Joss Whedon, Russell T. Davies has honed his craft at creating stories of unrequited love that the fans can latch unto and run with, creating their own fan productions to fill the gaps, answer the questions, and relieve the tension the showrunner has created.  I have no doubt that that gappiness of the text is a driving force in the fans’ creation of stories and art that serves their emotional needs for seeing the 10Rose relationship arrive at a satisfactory (in their view) conclusion.

But then there is also an intertextual aspect that I think deserves consideration.  And that is, the fans’ — and mostly the fangirls’ — reaction to David Tennant himself as a site of reception.

Beyond the fact that David Tennant is rather handsome (in that geek chic) kinda way… and that he was routinely positioned in advertising and fan magazine features so as to highlight this aspect of him being the youngest actor to date to have played the titular role, and perhaps the sexiest, as he was dubbed David TenInch as a “joke” … there is also the fact of Tennant’s acting career before becoming The Doctor.

Before appearing as The Doctor in the 2005 Christmas special (he had appeared earlier that year after Eccleston’s Doctor regenerated at the end of series one), Tennant appeared in two BBC mini-series play rather sexy roles.  In 2004, he was D. I. Peter Carlisle in Blackpool, a six episode series about a murder investigation, in which Carlisle’s character becomes romantically involved with the murder suspect’s wife.  Oh, and there is singing — some very sexy singing…

After Blackpool, Tennant starred as the legendary romantic scoundrel, Casanova, in Russell T. Davies’ Casanova.  Unsurprisingly, Tennant’s Casanova is a man who enjoys sex – lots of sex — but is also immensely in love with a woman he can never have.  Tennant himself said in interviews after Casanova‘s release that he would approach the actresses who would be playing Casanova’s lovers and introduce himself with “Hello, I’m David Tennant and today I’m gonna take you from behind”.  Tennant’s sexiness in Casanova has led to a number of fanvids that pay homage to his characterization of the legendary lover.

It is through these two characters that fans of Doctor Who may have come to know Tennant before he stepped into his trainers as The Doctor.  By having experience with the actor in such sexy roles, the fans may have come to interpret Tennant’s performance as The Doctor through the lens of expecting him to be sexy as The Doctor.  Now, most likely this was not consciously done on their part — but when paired with the expectations Rose as a character had from the Doctor — along with having Rose and The Doctor kiss (albeit when Rose wasn’t exactly herself) in “New Earth” — we could see a “perfect storm” in their interpretation of Tennant’s Doctor, as well as his Doctor’s relationship with Rose, as involving romance and sex that the show was not showing them.

In other words, the fans’ experience with Tennant outside of Doctor Who could have produced an intertextual reading of Tennant’s Doctor, and his Doctor’s relationship with Rose — the fans may have been expecting even more romance and sex than the, ostensibly, kid-friendly Doctor Who could show (until the end of Tennant’s run as The Doctor which resolved the 10Rose relationship in an arguably satisfactory way).  With the show not showing the romance and sex, there was a gap between what the fans wanted and the show could show.  Thus, the fans sought to fill this gap with their own activities: such as writing fanfiction, running from the mild to the pornographic, that resolves the sexual/romantic tension of The Doctor and Rose to the fans’ satisfaction.  When the storyteller is slow, unwilling, or incompetent to fill in the gap we perceive, then we will take matters into our own hands.

As reception scholars, we can never forget the role of everyday lived experiences in how a person makes sense of a mediated text.  It is never just what is in the text that determines how that text is received.  Nor is it just the person’s sociocultural standing or their psychographic composition.  Their experiences with other mediated texts can have an influence on how they make sense of even a snippet of another text.  I would be very curious to talk with any 10Rose shippers, and find out how many of them, like myself, became a shipper because of having Tennant’s roles in Blackpool and Casanova impact how I see him as The Doctor.

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