In Defence Of…”I don’t want to go.”
A lot of people hated the final lines of the Tenth Doctor, saying they were out of character or too melodramatic. In this edition of “In Defence Of…” guest writer Ben McCarthy presents an intriguing counterargument.
After watching Matt Smith’s brilliant departure in “The Time Of The Doctor” last Christmas, I’ve been thinking about David Tennant’s exit from the role of The Doctor. Comments across the web often cite Tennant’s exit as being inferior by comparison to Smith’s; after all, Doc 10 went out crying that he didn’t want to go whilst Doc 11 went out accepting the change, even being excited by it. And while I have never really liked the Tenth Doctor’s final line, I’ve concluded that it was actually the perfect way for that incarnation to go, and made sense for The Doctor’s character as a whole.
It all goes back to the Eighth Doctor’s choice to become the War Doctor, throwing aside everything he had always believed in and chosen to be. As the War Doctor, he hated himself; hated that he couldn’t seem to save everyone, hated the things he had to do during the Time War and hated that he was no longer The Doctor. So desperate was he for that the war to be over, he was prepared to wipe out all of Gallifrey to do it. Although we now know that he didn’t succeed, as far as the Ninth Doctor was concerned…he did.
We meet the Ninth Doctor at probably the lowest point ever in the Doctor’s long life. He’s fresh from the War, fresh from an incarnation he despised and, more than anything, he’s disgusted with himself for what he had to do to end the conflict. However, the War was finally over and, for the first time in probably hundreds of years, he could finally travel the universe again. He could finally start helping again, save lives and, with the help of Rose, he began to get better. On Satellite 5 he was prepared to die to finally wipe out the Daleks and was prepared to sacrifice himself to save Rose. But in the end he refuses to kill the Daleks if it means destroying Earth, basically the same decision he had to make on Gallifrey. The Ninth Doctor was an incarnation who was still recovering when he met Rose but, right at the very end, he realised that he was still The Doctor after all and that he didn’t have to spend the rest of his lives carrying so much guilt.
And thus, along came the Tenth Doctor. Now less burdened by the Time War, Doc 10 threw himself into his adventures. He was The Doctor again, the man he’d always wanted to be. In this new incarnation, he felt something that he’d not felt in years; he genuinely loved being himself. The Eleventh Doctor states in “The Time Of The Doctor” that he had “vanity issues” during his tenth incarnation and that’s certainly true, but it’s not because Doc 10 was handsome and didn’t want to change physically. It was because he was happier than he had been in years during that incarnation. The guilt carried over from the war was still there, but he was able to look past it and try to move on.
So, when Doc 10 was faced with a regeneration, he really didn’t want to go. After so long, he was finally the man he had always strived to be once again. That’s why, more than any other incarnation, the Tenth Doctor is so gung-ho heroic and swashbucklingly charming. He’s relishing the fact that he’s The Doctor again. To loose the incarnation where he finally felt he could face himself in the mirror, the incarnation in which he properly recovered? It terrified him. He had no idea what he would turn into. Would his new persona see things the same way he did? What if the crushing guilt of the war came back? Or worse, what if the new incarnation was more like the War Doctor and he ended up doing something even more terrible than he had done before? So desperate was the Tenth Doctor to cling on to the better man he’d become, he chose not to change in “Journey’s End”, basically wasting a regeneration.
However, in “The End Of Time”, there was nothing to stop it. He was going to change no matter what he did. And he didn’t want to. He couldn’t abide the thought of it. He couldn’t become a “new man that goes sauntering away,” not after he’d come so far as the Tenth Doctor. But change he did…
Doc 10’s final moments make even more sense when you look at the journey of the Eleventh Doctor. In that incarnation, The Doctor realised that change was not a bad thing. He had an even better time than his predecessor in most cases, always choosing a scenario or adventure that kept him intrigued and smiling. In “The Day Of The Doctor”, the Eleventh Doctor had a bit of a sarcastic reaction to Doc 10 saying “I don’t want to go.” Maybe that’s because he remembered just how afraid he was when he regenerated and how, on reflection, he really needn’t have been so worried. After hundreds of years as the Eleventh Doctor, after saving Gallifrey and after having decided he was going to truly die on Trenzalore, Doc 11 welcomes his regeneration. He’s grown up, realised that change isn’t a bad thing but a welcome one. He’s no idea who he’s about to be but, for the first time since his regeneration into the Eighth Doctor, he’s not petrified at the thought of it.
So, there you have it. My ramblings on a massive character arc for The Doctor, started by RTD and properly completed by The Moff. On reflection, I think it was beautifully done; Eccleston, Tennant and Smith played The Doctor so differently yet, because of this, it’s easy to remember that all three Doctors are, fundamentally, the same man. A wounded man going on a journey and finding himself once more.
And it’s been a treat to follow that journey. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the Twelfth Doctor.
Written and edited by Ben McCarthy