Season 5 is a hugely important one in Doctor Who history as it acted as an effective reboot of the series. Both showrunner Russell T. Davies and leading man David Tennant had gone, leaving incoming writer Steven Moffat and star Matt Smith to take the reigns. However, it turns out that it could have been very different, as Moffat worked out an alternate idea for the season involving Tennant.
In a fascinating, multi-part interview with The Fan Show (available on the official Doctor Who YouTube channel), Steven Moffat explained that the Tenth Doctor actor almost decided to reverse his exit from the show and remain on board for just one more season. In response, the writer came up with a new plan.
“Well, David was just going through the – now, to me, very familiar – angst about leaving. Piers Wenger [former executive producer] and I went to talk to David and I ran him through what that series would be if it was him. It would definitely have been his last one, there was no question about that.”
Fans may remember that season 5 began with “The Eleventh Hour,” an episode which saw the Eleventh Doctor crash land into the garden of Amelia Pond. In the alternate Tennant season, this would have kick-started his regeneration, though – in true timey-wimey fashion – the Doctor wouldn’t actually meet his end until the conclusion of the season.
“My version of that series would be that the David Tennant Doctor would crash into the back garden about to regenerate and little Amelia would help him back to the TARDIS and he’d fly off. And the she’d meet him again when she grew up but he’d have no memory of that because we come to realise that was the Doctor from the future – we’d make our way through the series to the point where the Doctor gets back to that (I sort of used that idea again later).”
As Moffat points out, we sort of saw this story structure eventually play out in season 6, which featured the Eleventh Doctor seemingly regenerate in the season premiere, with the mystery being solved in the finale.
Despite clearly being in two minds, David Tennant eventually let Moffat know that he had weighed up his options and decided to leave the role, after all.
“So, that would have been the show and he thought very hard about it and he left me a message on my answerphone saying he’d thought very hard about it and, as I thought he would, he decided to move on.”
Not that this would be it for Tennant in Doctor Who. He later teamed up with Matt Smith’s Doctor and John Hurt’s secret incarnation in the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor.” Since then, he’s also reprised his role in a series of audio dramas with former companions like Billie Piper and Catherine Tate.
Doctor Who returns with the Thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, this autumn.