David Tennant
Tennant in 2023.
Born
David John McDonald

(1971-04-18) 18 April 1971 (age 52)
Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland
Alma materRoyal Conservatoire of Scotland
OccupationActor
Years active1987–present
Known forTenth incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who
Spouse
(m. 2011)
Children5, including Ty
Relatives
Signature

David John Tennant ( McDonald; born 18 April 1971) is a Scottish actor. He is best known for portraying the tenth incarnation of the Doctor in the sci-fi series Doctor Who (2005–2010; 2013). He returned to the show as the fourteenth incarnation of the character from 2022 to 2023.[1] His other notable screen roles include DI Alec Hardy in the crime drama series Broadchurch (2013–2017) and its 2014 remake, Kilgrave in the superhero series Jessica Jones (2015–2019), Crowley in the fantasy series Good Omens (2019–present) and various fictionalised versions of himself in the comedy series Staged (2020–2022).

Tennant has worked extensively on stage, including a portrayal of the title character in a 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet that was later adapted for television. He is also a voice actor, featuring in the animated series DuckTales (2017–2021). In 2015, he received the National Television Award for Special Recognition.

Early life

Tennant was born David John McDonald in Bathgate on 18 April 1971, the son of Helen (née McLeod; 1940–2007) and Alexander "Sandy" McDonald (1937–2016).[2] His father was a minister who served as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.[3][4] He grew up with his brother Blair and sister Karen in Ralston,[5] where his father was the local minister.[6][7] Two of his maternal great-grandparents, William and Agnes Blair, were Northern Irish Protestants from County Londonderry who were among the signatories of the Ulster Covenant in 1912; William was also a member of the Orange Order. Tennant's maternal grandfather, footballer Archie McLeod, met William and Agnes' daughter Nellie while playing for Derry City FC. McLeod was descended from tenant farmers from the Isle of Mull.[8][9]

At the age of three, Tennant told his parents that he wanted to become an actor because he was a fan of Doctor Who,[10] but they encouraged him to aim for more conventional work.[5] He later said that he was "absurdly single-minded" in pursuing an acting career. He watched almost every Doctor Who episode for years and once spoke to Fourth Doctor actor Tom Baker at a book-signing event in Glasgow.[5] He was educated at Ralston Primary School and Paisley Grammar School; he acted in various school productions.[11] His talent was noticed by actress Edith MacArthur, who told his parents that she believed he would become a successful theatre actor after she saw him perform when he was 10 years old.[12]

Tennant attended Saturday classes at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland before passing an official audition at age 16, becoming one of their youngest students and studying there between the ages of 17 and 20.[11] After discovering that there was another David McDonald already represented by the actor's union Equity, he created his stage name by adopting the surname of Pet Shop Boys frontman Neil Tennant, whom he had seen in Smash Hits magazine while deciding on a new name.[13][14] He later legally changed his surname to comply with rules set by the American Screen Actors Guild (which was later merged into SAG-AFTRA).[15]

Career

Early work

Tennant made his professional acting debut while still in secondary school. When he was 16, he acted in an anti-smoking film made by the Glasgow Health Board which was shown on television and was also screened in schools.[12] The following year, he played a role in an episode of Dramarama. Tennant's first professional role upon graduating from drama school was in a staging of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui co-starring Ashley Jensen; one of a few plays in which he performed as part of the agitprop 7:84 Theatre Company.[11] He also made an early television appearance in the Scottish TV sitcom Rab C Nesbitt as a transgender barmaid called Davina. In the 1990s, he appeared in several plays at the Dundee Repertory Theatre.[16]

Tennant was awarded his first major TV role as Campbell Bain in the BBC Scotland drama series Takin' Over the Asylum (1994), after impressing director David Blair during filming of another drama – Strathblair (1992). As Tennant recalled from the audition, "they needed someone who could believably act 19 and bonkers".[17] During filming of Takin' Over the Asylum he met comic actress and writer Arabella Weir. When he moved to London shortly afterwards, he lodged with Weir for five years[11] and became godfather to her youngest child. He has subsequently appeared with Weir in many productions: as a guest in her spoof television series Posh Nosh, in the Doctor Who audio drama Exile (during which Weir played an alternative version of the Doctor), and as panellists on the West Wing Ultimate Quiz on More4 (Weir later guest-starred on Doctor Who itself after Tennant left the series). One of his earliest big-screen roles was in Jude (1996).

Tennant developed his career in the British theatre, frequently performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company. His first Shakespearean role for the RSC was in As You Like It (1996); having auditioned for the role of Orlando, the romantic lead, he was instead cast as the jester Touchstone.[18] He subsequently specialised in comic roles, playing Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors and Captain Jack Absolute in The Rivals, although he also played the role of Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.[11] He also starred in the 2003 London production of Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman.[19]

Tennant contributed to several audio dramatisations of Shakespeare for the Arkangel Shakespeare series (1998). His roles include a reprisal of his Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors, as well as Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice, Edgar in King Lear, and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. In 1995, Tennant appeared at the Royal National Theatre, London, playing the role of Nicholas Beckett in Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw.

In television, he appeared in the first episode of Reeves and Mortimer's revamped Randall and Hopkirk in 2000, playing an eccentric artist. During the Christmas season of 2002, he starred in a series of television advertisements for Boots the Chemists.[20]

Tennant was nominated for Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for his performance in Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero.[21] The UK première was staged at the Donmar Warehouse, in previews on 4 April, opening 10 April and closing on 4 May 2002.[22] This production transferred to the New Ambassadors Theatre from 26 June (opening 1 July) to 10 August 2002.[23]

Tennant appeared in Bright Young Things (2003), a dramatisation of He Knew He Was Right (2004), Blackpool (2004), Casanova (2005), and The Quatermass Experiment (2005). Later that same year, he appeared as Barty Crouch Jr. in the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.[24]

Doctor Who

See also: Tenth Doctor and Fourteenth Doctor

Tennant with Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies (left), regular director Euros Lyn (centre right), and executive producer Julie Gardner (right) at San Diego Comic-Con International in July 2009

A fan of Doctor Who since childhood, Tennant had had a small role in the BBC's animated Doctor Who webcast Scream of the Shalka and appeared in several audio plays based on the Doctor Who television series which had been produced by Big Finish Productions.

Doctor Who returned to British screens in March 2005, with Christopher Eccleston playing the role of the Ninth Doctor in the first series. Tennant replaced him as of the second series, making his first, brief appearance as the Tenth Doctor in the episode "The Parting of the Ways" (2005) at the end of the regeneration scene. Tennant's first full-length outing as the Doctor was a 60-minute special, "The Christmas Invasion", was broadcast on Christmas Day 2005. He appeared in three full thirteen-episode series of Doctor Who, broadcast in 2006, 2007 and 2008, plus Christmas specials.[25]

Tennant made his directorial debut on the Doctor Who Confidential episode that accompanies Steven Moffat's episode "Blink", entitled "Do You Remember The First Time?", which aired on 9 June 2007. In 2007, Tennant's Tenth Doctor appeared with Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor in a Doctor Who special for Children in Need, written by Steven Moffat and entitled "Time Crash".

Tennant featured as the Doctor in an animated version of Doctor Who for Totally Doctor Who, The Infinite Quest, which aired on CBBC. He also starred as the Doctor in another animated six-part Doctor Who series, Dreamland.[26] Tennant guest starred as the Doctor in a two-part story in Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, broadcast in October 2009.[27] In October 2008, Tennant announced that he would be stepping down from the role after three full series.[28] He played the Doctor in four special episodes in 2009, before his final episode aired on 1 January 2010, where he was replaced by the Eleventh Doctor, portrayed by Matt Smith.

Tennant and Billie Piper returned to Doctor Who for the 50th anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor", broadcast on 23 November 2013, with then-stars Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman and guest star John Hurt. The same month, he also appeared in the one-off 50th anniversary comedy homage The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot directed by Peter Davison.[29]

In October 2015, Big Finish Productions announced that Tennant would appear in the role of the Tenth Doctor alongside Catherine Tate as his former companion Donna Noble in three new stories from Big Finish. The three stories were released in May 2016.[30] In November 2017, three new audio dramas were released by Big Finish Productions, with Tennant once again starring as the Tenth Doctor, alongside Billie Piper as Rose Tyler.[31] Tennant also returned to the role on 13 July 2018, as part of the live Muppets show The Muppets Take the O2 in London (in which the Tenth Doctor appeared onstage as part of a live Pigs in Space sketch).

In May 2022, in relation to the show's 60th anniversary, it was announced that Tennant would once again return to the show, alongside Tate, who would reprise her role as Donna Noble.[32][33] Previously thought to be returning as the Tenth Doctor, in October 2022, the ending of the special episode "The Power of the Doctor" revealed that Tennant would return as the Fourteenth Doctor, a role previously thought to be played by Ncuti Gatwa, who would follow on as the Fifteenth Doctor.[34] The three 60th anniversary special episodes aired between November and December 2023.[35]

2005–2010

Tennant appeared in the ITV drama Secret Smile in December 2005. He appeared onstage as Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger at the Theatre Royal, Bath, and Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. He revived this performance for the anniversary of the Royal Court Theatre in a rehearsed reading. Tennant played Richard Hoggart in a dramatisation of the 1960 Lady Chatterley's Lover obscenity trial, The Chatterley Affair. The play was written by Andrew Davies and directed by James Hawes for the digital television channel BBC Four.

On 25 February 2007, Tennant starred in Recovery, a 90-minute BBC One drama written by Tony Marchant. Later that same year he starred in Learners, a BBC comedy drama written by and starring Jessica Hynes, in which he played a Christian driving instructor who became the object of a student's affection. Learners was broadcast on BBC One on 11 November 2007. In November 2008, Tennant played Sir Arthur Eddington in the BBC and HBO biographical film Einstein and Eddington[36]

Tennant at San Diego Comic Con 2009

On 13 March 2009, Tennant presented Red Nose Day 2009 with Davina McCall. He joined Franz Ferdinand onstage to play the guitar on their song "No You Girls" on a special Comic Relief edition of Top of the Pops. In summer 2009, Tennant filmed St. Trinian's II: The Legend of Fritton's Gold. The film was released in December 2009. From October 2009, he hosted the Masterpiece Contemporary programming strand on the American Public Broadcasting Service.[37]

In December 2009, he shot an NBC pilot for Rex Is Not Your Lawyer. The legal drama, which would have starred Tennant as a lawyer with an anxiety disorder, was not ordered to series.

On 7 March 2010, Tennant appeared as George in a one-part BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Of Mice and Men in the Classic Serial strand.[38] In October 2010 he starred as Dave, a man struggling to raise five children after the death of his partner, in the British drama Single Father. For this role he was nominated as Best Actor at the Royal Television Society Programme Awards 2010.

Tennant has described theatre work as his "default way of being".[39] He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), to play Hamlet with Patrick Stewart and Berowne in Love's Labours Lost in 2008.[40] From August to November 2008 he appeared at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon as Hamlet, playing that role in repertory with Berowne that October and November.[11] Hamlet transferred to the Novello Theatre in London's West End in December 2008, but Tennant suffered a prolapsed disc during previews and was unable to perform from 8 December 2008 until 2 January 2009, during which time the role was played by his understudy Edward Bennett.[41] He returned to his role in the production on 3 January 2009, and appeared until the run ended on 10 January. Tennant's performance of Hamlet was critically acclaimed.[42][43] In 2009, he worked on a TV film version of the RSC's 2008 Hamlet for BBC Two.[44] On 12 April 2011, a photograph of Tennant as Hamlet featured on a stamp issued by the Royal Mail to mark the RSC's fiftieth anniversary.[45]

2011–2015

Tennant with Jessica Jones star Krysten Ritter in 2015

In 2011, he starred in United, about the Manchester United "Busby Babes" team and the 1958 Munich air disaster, playing coach and assistant manager Jimmy Murphy.[46] In September 2011, he appeared in a guest role in one episode of the comedy series This is Jinsy, and also started filming True Love, a semi-improvised BBC One drama series which was broadcast in June 2012. Later in September 2011, it was announced that Tennant would voice a character in the movie adaptation of Postman Pat with a planned 3D theatrical release for spring 2013.[47] In October 2011, Tennant started shooting the semi-improvised comedy film, Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger in Coventry.[48][49]

Tennant at the 2017 Wizard World Columbus Comic Con

Between April and June 2012, he filmed Spies of Warsaw for BBC Four, in the lead role of Jean-François Mercier. This drama series shot in Poland is an adaptation of Alan Furst's novel The Spies of Warsaw.[50] In 9 June 2012, he started filming the 3-part political drama series The Politician's Husband for BBC Two, playing an ambitious cabinet minister who takes drastic action when his wife's career starts to outshine his.[51][52] In 2012 Tennant also presented the comedy quiz show Comedy World Cup.[53]

In January 2012, Tennant was appointed to the Royal Shakespeare Company board, to be on the selection committee interviewing and choosing the new artistic director.[54] It was announced on 23 January 2013 that Tennant would return to the RSC for the company's 2013 winter season, playing the title role in Richard II at Stratford-upon-Avon (from 10 October to 16 November) and transferring to the Barbican Centre in London (from 9 December to 25 January 2014).[55] Tennant repeated his performance as Richard II at the Barbican Theatre in 2016[56] before transferring to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.[57]

Tennant starred in the ITV detective series Broadchurch as DI Alec Hardy between 2013 and 2017.[58] Between January and May 2014, Tennant also filmed the US remake of Broadchurch, re-titled Gracepoint.[59]

Tennant appeared in The Escape Artist, a three-part series which aired on BBC One in October and November 2013.[60] Tennant starred opposite Rosamund Pike and Billy Connolly in What We Did on Our Holiday, a semi-improvised comedy film; shooting took place from 17 June to 30 July 2013 in Scotland. The film was released in September 2014.[61]

On 9 February 2015, Tennant appeared on the Radio 4 panel show Just a Minute, becoming the show's most successful debut contestant.[62] Tennant also portrayed the villainous Kilgrave in Jessica Jones, a television series from Marvel and Netflix. All 13 episodes were released on 20 November 2015.[63]

2016–present

Tennant at a Good Omens panel at New York Comic Con 2018

In February 2016, Tennant began filming Mad to Be Normal (previously titled Metanoia), a biopic of the renowned Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing.[64] The film premiered a year later at the Glasgow Film Festival.[65] In 2017, Tennant appeared in writer/director Daisy Aitkens' first feature film, You, Me and Him. The film was co-produced by Tennant's wife, Georgia.[66] Between March and June of that year Tennant appeared in Patrick Marber's Don Juan in Soho at the Wyndham's Theatre.[67] He also became the voice of Scrooge McDuck for Disney XD's DuckTales reboot, replacing the character's longtime voice actor Alan Young, who died in May 2016.[68]

Tennant played villain Cale Erendreich in the thriller film Bad Samaritan (2018), written by Brandon Boyce and directed by Dean Devlin.[69] Tennant also plays Crowley in the series Good Omens,[70] which was released in full on Amazon Prime Video on 31 May 2019 and was released on BBC Two on 15 January 2020.[71][72] In February 2019, Tennant launched his own podcast, titled David Tennant Does a Podcast With... The podcast's episodes have featured Olivia Colman, Whoopi Goldberg, Jodie Whittaker, Ian McKellen, Jon Hamm, Gordon Brown, Jennifer Garner, Catherine Tate, Krysten Ritter, James Corden, Samantha Bee, Tina Fey, and Michael Sheen.[73]

Tennant starred as a doctor suspected of murdering his family in Deadwater Fell, a Scottish true crime miniseries, which premiered in January 2020 on Channel 4. He also received his first credit as an executive producer for the series.[74][75][76] In September 2020, he portrayed Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen in Des, a three-part miniseries on ITV.[77] For his performance, he won the International Emmy Award for Best Actor.[78]

From 2020 to 2022 he starred in three seasons of the TV series Staged, with Michael Sheen.[79] In September 2022, Tennant starred as Reverend Harry Watling in BBC1's Inside Man, which was written by Steven Moffat.[80] The series premiered on 26 September 2022 to mixed reviews from viewers and critics alike.[81][82][83][84] In December 2022, Tennant starred as Alexander Litvinenko in the ITV1 dramatisation Litvinenko. The drama was based on the 10-year fight of Marina Litvinenko and the London police force as they work to prove the guilt and release the names of those responsible for the 2006 poisoning of Litvinenko.[85][86]

In August 2023, Tennant once again began to provide the voice for the droid Huyang, this time in the live action series Ahsoka.

Public image

Tennant was named "Coolest Man on TV" of 2007 in a Radio Times survey. He won the National Television Awards award for Most Popular Actor in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010. He was voted 16th Sexiest Man in the World by a 2008 Cosmopolitan survey.[87]

In 2008, Tennant was voted "Greenest Star on the Planet" in an online vote held by Playhouse Disney as part of the Playing for the Planet Awards.[88]

Tennant was ranked the 24th most influential person in the British media on 9 July 2007, according to MediaGuardian. He appeared in the paper's annual media rankings in 2006. In December 2008, he was named as one of the most influential people in show business by British theatre and entertainment magazine The Stage, making him the fifth actor to achieve a ranking in the top 20 (in a list typically dominated by producers and directors). He was voted the third best dressed man in Britain in GQ reader's poll for 2013.[89][importance?]

In December 2005, The Stage placed Tennant at No. 6 in its "Top Ten" list of the most influential British television artists of the year, citing his roles in Blackpool, Casanova, Secret Smile, and Doctor Who.[90] In January 2006, readers of the British gay and lesbian newspaper The Pink Paper voted him the "Sexiest Man in the Universe".[91] In October 2006, he was named "Scotland's most stylish male" in the Scottish Style Awards.[92]

Tennant is an ambassador for Worldwide Cancer Research.[93]

Political views

A self-proclaimed liberal and socialist,[94] Tennant was a supporter of the Labour Party and appeared in a party political broadcast for them in 2005. He declared his support for then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2010, and labelled David Cameron a "terrifying prospect".[95] In April 2010, he lent his voice to a Labour election broadcast.[96] In 2012, he introduced Labour Party leader Ed Miliband onstage at the Labour Party Conference. In 2015, he also lent his voice to a Labour Party General Election broadcast.[97]

Tennant remained neutral on the issue of Scottish independence in the run-up to the 2014 referendum, stating that it was not his business as he no longer lived in Scotland.[98] However, in the wake of Brexit, which he called "depressing", he stated in 2017 that he would support an independent Scotland in the event of a second referendum.[99]

Tennant is a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly those who identify as non-binary, frequently appearing in interviews wearing pride pins.[100][101][102]

Personal life

Previously, Tennant rarely discussed his private life in interviews,[11] citing his belief that "relationships are hard enough with the people you're having them with, let alone talking about them in public".[103] Since November of 2023, he has become more open about discussing his private life in interviews.[104] Tennant, whose father was a Church of Scotland minister, believes religion "must have" shaped his character, and revealed that he is an occasional churchgoer.[105]

Tennant is married to English actress Georgia Moffett, making him the son-in-law of actress Sandra Dickinson and Fifth Doctor actor Peter Davison.[106] The couple met in 2008 during the filming of the Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Daughter". They married in 2011,[107] and live in the Chiswick district of London.[108][109] They have five children, including Ty Tennant,[110] Moffett's child from a previous relationship whom Tennant adopted.[111]

Filmography

Main article: List of David Tennant performances

Bibliography

Forewords

Awards and nominations

References

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Further reading