BBC Roundtable: David Tennant & Julie Gardner

Wed, August 19th, 2009 at 10:58am PDT

TV/Film
Shaun Manning, Staff Writer

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David Tennant as Doctor Who in "Planet of the Dead"

At San Diego's Comic-Con International, CBR News took part in roundtable interviews with “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood” writer-producer Russell T. Davies, director Euros Lyn, producer Julie Gardner, and the Tenth Doctor himself, David Tennant. Earlier this week, we presented the roundtable session with Davies and Lyn, and now CBR brings you a discussion with Tennant, who is in the midst of filming his final episodes of the series, and Gardner, who helped relaunch “Doctor Who” in 2005 and who now works with BBC America.

“Hello everyone!” Tennant said enthusiastically, taking his seat. The first question from the table was about the evolution of the Tenth Doctor, from the manic energy he displayed at the beginning of series two (having taken over from Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor, who starred in the first season of the relaunch) to the more refined or subtle excitement of later seasons.

“It evolves through the script, I suppose. It evolves through what the character's doing and where he's going,” Tennant said. “Inevitably things happen a little more subconsciously than that, as well, but on a conscious level you take it from the script. The character develops from what I took off the page, and then what the writers take from what they've seen. It's kind of an ongoing process.”

Gardner added that sometimes more subtle elements of scripts become more major plot points in later stories. She noted that, since the series relaunch in 2005, the Doctor is the last remaining Time Lord (more or less). “The idea that he's the last of his kind was a very new thing,” Gardner said.

“But that's going to come back in a big way in the final stories,” Tennant added. “The Doctor being the last of his kind, or nearly the last of his kind.”

In the beginning of his run, Tennant said, there were “surprisingly few discussions” about how he should play the role of the Doctor. Gardner added that, in those conversations, what Tennant and the producers talked about were mainly “kind of top line discussions, the overview of the series.” “All you want as a producer of such a great show is to get the best actor that you can have,” Gardner said.

Scene from "Planet of the Dead"

“Yeah, and you can't get him, so you get me,” Tennant joked.

“What was it Russell [T. Davies] said in the read-through? 'It's fantastic to work with such great actors, you're the best in your price range,'” Gardner recalled. “You just need a great actor because the format of the show can do anything, I really believe that. You can tell such a range of emotion and action. You need actors who are great at their craft, but who can also spend a day or more hanging off a wire. That's something we don't often talk about, it's a very physical role.”

“Well, it has been. It isn't necessarily,” Tennant said. “We don't know what Steven [Moffat, oncoming writer-producer] and Matt [Smith, the next Doctor] are going to do--maybe he'll sit in a chair for four years. It's something we've developed over the years, the running and the exploding.”

“I think as a production team you get more and more confident about how far you can go,” Gardner said. “So, yeah, there'll be more stunts.”

With the end of his time as the Doctor fast approaching, Tennant was asked about his feelings toward the character. The actor replied that, to a large extent, his emotional state for these last stories is tied to that of his character. “You kind of see what the story's going to be and that takes you on an emotional journey in itself,” Tennant said. “Those final stories are pretty emotional.”

“They really are, oh my lord, they really are!” Gardner said. “In the filming of them, it was a really intense time. There were a hundred good-byes. Every day there was a new good-bye of some sort, to someone.”

“Yeah. And also the story takes him to places that the Doctor can't go to on a regular basis,” Tennant said. “Therefore it's an opportunity to confront this sort of immutable character with new challenges and places when that man is going to die, that version of that man is going to die. And that, from my point of view, is hugely challenging and liberating and exciting.”

Tennant has recently performed as the titular character in “Hamlet” at the Royal Shakespeare Company, but when asked what other roles he might like to pursue after leaving “Doctor Who,” Tennant replied, “I have no idea!” Then, joking, “I'm waiting for Julie to offer me a job, basically.”

“I'm playing hard to get,” Gardner said.

Scene from "Planet of the Dead"

“Whenever I was asked what parts I aspire to, I said 'well, I'd like be on 'Doctor Who' and I'd like to play 'Hamlet' for the RSC,” Tennant said. “I should probably retire, then.”

On the subject of “Planet of the Dead,” the second of five specials that compose Tennant's final season (and the first to be broadcast in America), Tennant and Gardner told the roundtable that shooting in Dubai for the episode proved remarkably difficult. “Here we were looking at a sandstorm on day one, which we had to try and keep shooting through,” Tennant said.

Gardner explained, “We were only there for three days. We only were out there for the exterior shooting, for literally the desert scenes. It was a very technically complicated shoot, because everything else was done in our studio in Wales. The interior of the bus was shot in the studio.”

“And done first,” Tennant chimed in, “which was another problem when we got to our little bit with the sandstorm. It really didn't match. I was all sitting sweating on a bus. And there's places with sand caked in.”

“It's quite well documented that that was a really difficult shoot,” Gardner said.

From difficult shooting to impossible lines, Tennant said that one of his greatest challenges was learning the square root of pi to thirty-two places for the “Midnight” episode.

“Can you still do it?” Gardner asked.

“No. I should have kept it topped up!” Tennant said. “Not only having to learn it but having to learn it with Lesley Sharp so that we were exactly on cue when we said it together. That was fun.”

Gardner agreed, “That was an amazing scene.”

Tennant said he enjoyed a line about the Doctor being a hermit with friends: “Hermits United. We meet up every 10 years, swap stories about caves. It's good fun. For a Hermit.”

“One of the great things about playing the Doctor is you get all of the best lines,” Tennant said. “Until Catherine Tate shows up, then she gets some of the punchlines! She's brilliant. She's a great actress and a great human being.”

Scene from "Planet of the Dead"

The next question focused on the Doctor's many apologies— Tennant's Doctor reportedly says the word “sorry” 120 times. Why is the Doctor is so apologetic? “I think he's guilty. I think he's in a very difficult position,” Tennant said. “He's making hard choices and he's riddled with remorse for what happened to his people and the part he played in that. Which we'll learn a little bit more about before I disappear. Not that much, just a little. It's not a three-part miniseries starring Paul McGann. I think he's tortured. He travels time and space trying to make it better—literally, it's like he's the Doctor--and then the consequences of that are not always as he'd wish them to be.”

Gardner added, “I always think the Doctor is at his best and at his most exciting when he's suffering.” Everyone except the producer laughed at this. “I do! I love him as this tragic sufferer. Particularly when you're hanging off the wire.”

“That's not him suffering, that's me,” Tennant said. “Chaffing.”

Tennant was asked to describe some on- or off-camera highlights from his time on the show. “There have been so many,” Tennant said. “It's been the most extraordinary four years. There were so many, it really is hard to... filming 'Journey's End,' when everyone was there and you literally had a TARDIS full of your mates. Those were hard days to get through, because they were so fun. They were so much fun. It was such a joy, and sort of symbolic of what we'd done over those years, having everybody back. It feels almost disloyal to start picking some out because it's been the most extraordinary experience, filled with high points and very few low points.”

“And in this series, there are such high points to come,” Gardner added.

“There are, actually,” Tennant agreed.

“Some of our strongest work,” Gardner said.

Tennant said that Bernard Cribbins, the actor who portrays Donna's grandfather, “Is playing such a huge and fundamental part in this final story” and doing so, in Gardner's words, with “such humanity.”

“Jack will come back again, bit more of Donna, that's never a bad thing,” Tennant added. “And we can all say now that John Simm's in it. We're admitting that now, I think we were pretending for a while. Having John back was great. And Timothy Dalton. That's been one of the eternal joys, that's been highly exciting, is the guest characters that join us.”

Scene from "Planet of the Dead"

When asked whether he was able to “spirit away” a sonic screwdriver, the Doctor's signature tool, Tennant said he was actually presented with one. “Yeah, I was very touched to get given one as I left. I don't know if this means, have they got new ones or—? [The Eleventh Doctor] might not even have one now. He might have a... sonic...”

“Pencil,” Gardner suggested.

“I have no idea if they're now one down or they don't need it anymore,” Tennant said. “But I've got one now in my house, which I'm very proud of.”

In response to a question about his portrayal in comic books, Tennant said that he was familiar with the strip that runs in Britain's “Doctor Who Magazine,” but was pleasantly surprised to learn of the American series published by IDW. “I was given one this morning I had no idea it existed! It was an American comic book, it was great! I was thrilled to see this! Julie lives here now, but I have very little sense of where 'Doctor Who' is outside of Britain and what sort of level of recognition he has. So I was amazed that it had a comic book!”

“And the artwork was fantastic,” Gardner added.

Gardner was asked what she thought made the “Doctor Who” relaunch such a success. “There's a lot of practical things I could say, which I could attribute to Russell T. Davies, the great actors we've had in David and Chris, but I think it's something beyond that,” Gardner said. “There's obviously the nostalgia, but I think it's more the tone of the show that Russell kind of hit on, which is very optimistic, very romantic, very life-affirming tone.”

Tennant added, “It should also be said, because it's never said enough, 'Doctor Who' coming back in 2005 would not have happened without Julie Gardner.” The table applauded, and Gardner joked that she now had one up on Davies, who was not applauded during his session minutes before. Tennant continued in his praise. “Obviously, Russell's kind of the artistic creative genius, but Julie's indefatigability, life, and intelligence and brains, strength, is incomparable and has been—it's true, and it's not said enough, it would not have happened, we would not be the sensation it is, without Julie Gardner.”

Scene from "Planet of the Dead"

“I think it's really a show made with absolute love,” Gardner said. “I really think every single member of that crew and people coming in were so hopeful for it, loved it, gave so much. I think that really came through.”

Gardner and Tennant were also asked about the possibility of a feature film starring the Tenth Doctor. “We have to do some expectation limitation. There's all sorts of things people think we're going to talk about at this panel tomorrow,” Tennant said of the then-upcoming Sunday panel at Comic-Con. “We're just here to celebrate the specials.”

“We need to make up an announcement, 'cause we don't have one!” Gardner said. “We're scared this is it, we're scared!”

Continuing on the subject of the panel discussion, Tennant was asked if he was looking forward to seeing how many people are dressed up as his Doctor. “Pff. Of course,” Tennant said. “I shall be nude. Just to balance it out.”

“Oh, there's your announcement!” Gardner said.

“If everybody comes to the panel dressed as me, I will do it nude,” Tennant said.

TAGS:  doctor who, david tennant, bbc america, julie gardner

 
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