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Tennant, David (1971-)


Main image of Tennant, David (1971-)

David Tennant leapt to national fame in 2005 when he was cast as the tenth Doctor in the BBC's Doctor Who (2004-). Over the next four years, he became - according to more than one poll - the most popular Doctor in the cult show's 46-year history. In doing so, he fulfilled an aspiration born while watching Doctor Who in early childhood: "I was very small, about three or four I think, and just wanted to be the people on telly telling these wonderful stories. Obviously the idea grew and matured with me but I can't ever remember wanting to do anything else. I've just sort of taken it for granted all my life that that was what I would do."

He was born David McDonald in West Lothian, the son of a Church of Scotland minister, and educated at Paisley Grammar, where he acted in school plays. At 17 he entered the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. After graduating he made his professional debut with the agitprop 7:84 Theatre Company, changing his stage surname as there was already a David McDonald on Equity's books. His wiry physique and intense, dark-eyed stare led him towards emotionally acute roles; his first major TV appearance was as a manic depressive in Donna Franceschild's BAFTA-winning drama series Takin' Over the Asylum (BBC, 1994). He made his film debut as a drunken student in Michael Winterbottom's Jude (1996), which starred his Doctor Who predecessor, Christopher Eccleston.

Over the next few years Tennant consolidated his stage career with the RSC and the National Theatre, taking only minor roles in films and TV dramas - a rare exception being his second-billed part as a river policeman in ITV's short-lived comedy series Duck Patrol (1998). He gained more notice as the embarrassed, compromised curate Mr Gibson in the BBC Trollope adaptation He Knew He Was Right (2004), and followed up with well-received performances for two of modern television's most exuberant writers: as the quick-witted police inspector in Peter Bowker's Denis-Potterish drama-with-songs Blackpool (BBC, 2004), and in the title role in Russell T. Davies' Casanova (BBC, 2005). As the famous 18th-century rake, Tennant faced the challenge of playing a young version of Peter O'Toole (who portrayed the aged Casanova) and rose to it impressively.

Confirmation of his growing fame came with a role in the Harry Potter series: he played Lord Voldemort's sidekick Barty Crouch Jr in the fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005). Then came a second collaboration with Russell T. Davies in Doctor Who, and after only a few episodes Tennant had made the role his own, bringing to it a youthful dynamism and enthusiasm, tempered with ironic humour, and establishing a particularly strong chemistry with Billie Piper, who played his companion Rose. Since bowing out of the series in 2009 he has extended his range. His acclaimed stage Hamlet was televised by the BBC (tx. 26/12/2009), and he played a newly-widowed dad coping with bereavement and responsibility in the four-part BBC Scotland drama Single Father (2010). The role of Elven King Thranduil in The Hobbit is rumoured.

Philip Kemp

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