David Tennant Saved Doctor Who’s Legacy In Small But Important Way

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

While there have been plenty of actors to portray the Doctor, David Tennant is often considered the best actor to appear in Doctor Who. In addition to his acting talents, Tennant is so great in the role because he grew up as a huge fanboy of the original show, and that caused him to make a small but important change to the franchise once he came aboard. Before this, episode credits typically listed the main performer as “Doctor Who,” and while the show did this for Christopher Eccleston, Tennant stopped this practice once he became the man inside the TARDIS.

The Doctor

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This is something that David Tennant revealed in a typically charming interview with GQ about Doctor Who. For the majority of episodes and the majority of Doctors, the credits would simply read “Doctor Who.” It most likely made sense to the BBC…after all, why not call the feature star by the name of the show?

However, since his inner fanboy is never too far from the surface, David Tennant had some strong feelings about himself or any other lead actors in the franchise being credited as “Doctor Who.” He claims that “it always bothered me” for the simple reason that “the Doctor was his name” and that “his second name isn’t ‘Who.’”

Small But Important Change

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Because of this, David Tennant decided to speak up, though it was too late to fix his earliest Doctor Who broadcasts. According to him, fans can still find older DVD sets that list his character as “Doctor Who” rather than “The Doctor.” But he was able to speak to a producer to change things, and to this day, “the Doctor” is how the character is credited for episodes new and old, and Tennant’s earlier eps have since been corrected for broadcast, streaming, and physical media.

Grew Up A Fan Of Doctor Who

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With some of his trademark humor, David Tennant described why he felt motivated to speak up: “Obviously, I’ve got enough Asperger’s syndrome kicking around that I had to get that particular box ticked.” However, he quickly emphasized that his request “wasn’t contractual” and that “I wasn’t going to the wall on it.” Fortunately, the producer listened, and the change made fanboys everywhere happy, including Tennant himself, a man who grew up with not one but two Tom Baker-esque scarfs (“Granny was a firm knitter,” he said).

An Unfunny Gag Driven Into The Ground

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While David Tennant was able to keep the show from calling its primary character “Doctor Who” in the credits, he wasn’t able to keep the writers from eventually turning this naming confusion into a long and typically unfunny punchline. For example, in “The Bells of Saint John,” we get a tired “who’s on first” style gag where Matt Smith keeps trying to introduce himself as the Doctor, prompting future Companion Clara Oswald to frequently ask “Doctor Who?” This eventually causes Smith’s Doctor to exclaim, “Do you know, I never realized how much I enjoy hearing that said out loud.”

It’s a weird little scene all around, not just because the writers run the joke so far into the ground that it might be in danger of hitting a Silurian or two. Why would someone who, as David Tennant noted, is not named “Doctor Who” enjoy being called by that name or otherwise hearing it out loud? It’s a winking nod to the audience that goes far too long and brings down an otherwise decent adventure.

David Tennant’s Future With The Franchise

As fans, we’re very happy that David Tennant spoke up and ensured that the credits never call his or other main characters “Doctor Who” ever again. Not only were his arguments completely sound, but it’s always a delight to discover what a huge fanboy this beloved actor is. And as excited as we are to see more adventures with Ncuti Gatwa’s newest Doctor on Disney+, WE hope the franchise uses bi-generation as an excuse to bring Tennant’s Doctor back quicker than you can say “allons-y!”