With Doctor Who celebrating a 50th anniversary next year, fans are eager to see how the show will mark the occasion, and many are wondering if current Doctor Matt Smith might catch us all off guard with a surprise regeneration. After all, it’s been three years since the much-beloved David Tennant handed his TARDIS keys over to Smith, so while there’s certainly nothing concrete to suggest Smith might wrap up his run next year, it also wouldn’t surprise us terribly. Regardless, whenever Smith does pass the role on to whoever comes next, he’ll be hard pressed to make it a more emotional departure than that of David Tennant. You remember, don’t you? “I don’t want to go.” You’re starting to cry a little at that aren’t you? No, wait, that’s me.
Since all of us have had three years to work out our residual issues from “The End of Time” with our therapist, Tennant spent some time reflecting on his iconic run as the Doctor, and more specifically on the final line that split our poor little hearts right clean in half. Talking with The Big Issue, Tennant recalled his time as the Doctor fondly, saying that he has nothing but good memories of his time spent playing the Time Lord. He also addressed that line…
I think that was a very clever line. It absolutely made sense in terms of character—that’s exactly what that version of the Doctor would say. So it didn’t break the fiction. But at the same time it was a bigger line than that. It was partly Russell [T Davies] expressing how he felt about leaving the show because we were all leaving together.
We all felt it was the right time to go—we’d given it all we could—but at the same time we all knew there would be nothing else we’d ever do that would be quite like this. You might have real success doing something else, you’ll work on other things, but whatever happens this is unique. There’s nothing else like Doctor Who. In the world. So yes, it was a bittersweet goodbye.
Tennant really hits on the core of what made that line so powerful (aside from his heartbreaking delivery of it). While the Doctor has regenerated many times before, the strange paradox of the process is that, while he is still a new version of himself and incorporates all the memories of his previous incarnations, the person he is right then is still being lost in some way. When he regenerates, he may still be very much like the man he was, but he’s also a new being. Tennant’s version of the Doctor always felt somehow more human than some of the versions that came before, and I think that was why he connected with so many fans, both new and old. It was only appropriate that, at the end of his run, the Doctor had to face something all the rest of us will eventually: death, or something not wholly unlike it.
And just to refresh your memory…
If you’ll excuse me, I have something in my eye… all right, fine, it’s a tear, is that what you want to hear? Yes, there’s a tear in my eye, you heartless bastard!