David Tennant: ‘I had to watch Doctor Who DVDs, but then it just came back’

David Tennant is back as Doctor Who for the BBC’s big 50th anniversary episode, The Day Of The Doctor.

What’s On TV went to the Cardiff set to speak to him about playing The Doctor alongside Matt Smith, John Hurt and Billie Piper…    

Was it strange to be back in your Doctor’s brown suit again?
“I’d put it on once since leaving the show in 2009 and the rest of the time it’s been in storage. It’s peculiarly familiar and, yes, a little weird.”

In terms of being the Doctor again, was it hard finding his voice, mannerisms and character?
“There’s something in the tone of Dr Who and the character as well that I was finding a little elusive. I was trying to learn the lines and imagine it. I had to get a couple of DVDs and re-watch it. It just came back. There’s something about the energy of it. It’s not naturalistic in the way some other parts are. The tone of Doctor Who is unlike anything else, and you can kind of forget. It’s been a lovely thing to revisit because once I got into it, it felt very comforting and familiar.”

Did you have any doubts about returning to the role?
“You never know how you’re going to feel about it and you never know if it’s a wise thing to go back to anything, but I suppose with Doctor Who there’s always been a precedent for actors returning to it so I guess it was always a possibility. When you start in Doctor Who the question you’re asked continuously is ‘When are you leaving?’ Then when you leave Doctor Who, the question you’re continually asked is ‘When are you coming back?’ It’s been out there as a possibility so I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered it. It’s not like I’m returning, it’s not like I’m doing a series – it’s a handful of filming days really. It’s something I still feel very fondly about. I had a wonderful, very happy time on Doctor Who so it’s no great trial to have another wee go.”

It must have been strange to meet Matt Smith on set as the Doctor?
“It’s Matt’s gig now and I’m a guest on his show, so it was kind of down to him to be OK about it, which mercifully he was. The attention Doctor Who gets is relatively unique so it’s been interesting to share lots of those stories with Matt.”

Was there any envy over the length of your sonic screwdrivers?
“Everyone’s is bigger than mine! Maybe I just don’t have to compensate as much. Maybe I’m very happy with my sonic length.”

How did you find Matt’s TARDIS?
“It’s very beautiful. It’s very different to mine so I don’t feel like they compete. Matt’s is very robust, lots of fantastic switches and levers. It’s all one TARDIS and all one doctor at heart!”

What was it like working with Billie Piper again, who returns as Rose Tyler?
“It’s always lovely working with Billie. She’s one of the best actresses around and one of the loveliest human beings, so I was very happy to be in her orbit. It wasn’t strange acting with her again, it’s easy how you slip back into these things. And I suppose it’s not been a massive amount of time. If we’re all brought back in another 20 years it might be a bit different – and we’d be spending even longer in make up! Us being the Doctor and Rose is still within relatively recent memory so it’s not been too difficult to dredge up, although it’s hard to tell objectively whether things are the same or not.”

The Zygons are your favourite Doctor Who monsters aren’t they? You must be delighted they’re in this adventure…
“It’s almost as if they were brought back just for me! It’s very exciting because I spent my four years in the show wishing these shape-shifting aliens were coming back, and now they are!”

*Doctor Who’s 50th special, The Day Of The Doctor, will screen on BBC1 at 7.50pm on November 23.

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