David Tennant, best known for Good Omens, Broadchurch, and of course his stint as the 10th Doctor on Doctor Who, started his panel early, a good omen for the fans who were lucky enough to get a seat in the packed Marriott Atrium Ballroom on Friday morning. The entire mood of the panel from the beginning was energetic and playful, due in no small part to the energy coming from Tennant.
Tennant began by saying, “Everyone’s always said to me, ‘This is the best con in America.’” He appeared to be delighted with everything, including the pen and paper, the “purple awning” (aka the Dragon Con banner) that he said goes with his eyes, and wonder of wonders, the rolling chair. Upon being handed a wireless microphone, he started rolling around, cautiously at first and then with more enthusiasm. “It’s a health and safety nightmare,” he said with a laugh. Then he rolled jauntily around the stage, challenging moderator Tony Gowell to a chair race. Although Gowell gave it his best, Tennant emerged victorious. “I see why Dragon Con’s the best con! Pens, chairs, tables—you’ve got everything!”
His energy simply couldn’t be contained to the stage, however. Whenever someone who was not able to go to the volunteers holding the microphones for the Q&A, Tennant would leap from the stage (despite the two sets of stairs at the front that were provided for him) and bring his microphone to us. It was quite the moment for everyone who was suddenly confronted with a lanky, grinning Scotsman directly in front of them.
Of all the characters he’s portrayed, Tennant thinks he’s most like Scrooge McDuck because at least they have the same accent. “I wear pants more regularly than he does,” Tennant joked, “and I’m not quite as rich.”
Tennant’s favorites scenes in Good Omens were when he and Michael Sheen got to go through history and dress up in all the costumes. He said there were “various bits of hair” around as they went through the different periods in time. The show was “kind of dress-up anyway, but that was dress-up times 10.” He said they’d both be expectantly waiting for the other one to emerge from makeup that morning to see what they looked like. He didn’t mind the wigs or the heat of the desert in South Africa because he was too focused on dealing with the snake-eye contacts.
When asked if he had a funny story from Good Omens, he related something that he didn’t think was funny at the time. “I got bitten by the Hellhound.” Yep, that cute little mutt. The dog had been trained to attack the stunt Famine’s leg, which was sufficiently padded, but when Tennant as Crowley yelled and cast the time-freeze spell near the end, the dog thought it was his cue. “It was hanging off my leg… little cretin. It was slightly funny after the event… but it was quite painful. I had to have shots and everything.” Which apparently Tennant didn’t know was a requirement after getting bit by a dog.
It didn’t escape our notice that Tennant often plays villains and one person asked if he found them difficult to play. “It doesn’t seem to be a stretch,” he said with a laugh. But he views his parts in shades of gray. “No character is evil or good… No one defines themselves like that. Everyone is on a spectrum of reality. Crowley is a very good example. He’s supposed to be the epitome of evil and yet he’s far from it and rather cuddly and rather kindly… a nicer creature than Aziraphale at times.” He thinks the two characters balance each other out, neither all good nor all bad, which is true of everyone. He tries to see characters as doing what they think they need to do at a particular moment, and their actions can only be seen in their entirety and judged afterward. “It’s interesting,” he admitted, “to go to the extremes of human experience.”
Asked whether he had to choose from the Doctor’s TARDIS, Crowley’s Bentley, or the desk chair as his sole means of transportation, Tennant lovingly rubbed the back of the desk chair, and sighed. “This chair feels like it could be dimensionally transcendental.” But he ultimately said he’d have to choose the TARDIS. “All my life I’ve fantasized about having a TARDIS. You can go back and correct mistakes, change things, win the lottery…. Time travel is a very seductive idea. It would be wonderful . . . and awful and destructive and terrible. Think of all the good you could do. And let’s hope we’d all do good rather than just winning the lottery.” After thinking about it for a moment, he pointed out that if you won the lottery, you could do a lot of good with the money, but if you changed things . . . ah, that could be a problem. “Then it’s chaos theory and butterflies and Amazon forests, you know?” Not having a TARDIS might be for the best. “But I would quite like one,” he added with a sly smile.
The Bentley, lovely and authentic though it might be, was a nightmare to drive. “It looks pretty, but old cars are hard to drive. No power steering…double clutching…while remembering your lines.” Not to mention that it was actually a real Bentley and very expensive. “I was quite happy to let other people drive it now and again. Put someone else in a wig and shove them in it.”
Earlier this year, Tennant released the first season of his podcast, David Tennant Does a Podcast With…that had 14 episodes in the first season. Asked about a second season, Tennant said, “I like the idea of it. But I don’t know when… Maybe we should record an episode now. Press Play and Record,” he called to a fictional person off to the side. “I’d like to do more. It was great fun but it just sort of happened by accident… The actual interviewing is great but what’s time-consuming is the kind of prep for it… The homework side of it was difficult to schedule in but I loved doing the interviewing and meeting or re-meeting some of the people.”
Asked who else he would like to have on the podcast if he did do another season, Tennant said he would like to interview someone with a world view he really doesn’t understand so he could maybe figure out what is going on inside their brain. Everyone who was on the podcast previously had some kind of connection to Tennant, so it’d be interesting to have people on who were quite different.
When asked to name an actor with which he had the best chemistry, Tennant wisely chose his wife, Georgia. He noted, however, that he’s been privileged to work with a number of great actors, including Michael Sheen and Olivia Coleman. He also named Georgia as his best friend and his sounding board. Her comments on his acting can be withering, but she keeps him grounded and from getting too pretentious.
His family has also brought the first dog he has ever lived with into his life. They have a non-allergenic toy cockapoo, which Tennant called a “very stupid dog” who loves to play with a ball but seems to believe it no longer exists the moment she can no longer see it. It’s the only pet they have, but Tennant joked, “We have a lot of children… they count as pets.”
With an abundance of his own experience playing iconic Shakespearean characters, Tennant was asked which female Shakespearean character he would like to play. He said that he thinks it’s maybe not the right time for that; he’d like to see more women take parts instead. But since he was asked, he thinks it would be interesting to reverse the rolls in The Taming of the Shrew. He was also asked if he was ever tempted to “rewrite Shakespeare to put in references to 20th century Doctor Who.” The answer was “not really, no.”
Although he’s had some wonderful roles, he admitted that the first time he thought about being an actor was while watching the episode of Doctor Who where Jon Pertwee regenerates into Tom Baker. He has a vivid memory of being mesmerized by these two actors who were playing the same person. He remembers thinking, “That would be a great job. It was the start of what I miraculously ended up doing for a living so far. It was 1974, when I was only three years old.”
Tennant and Gowell ended the panel with another chair race. We counted them down from five, and Tennant won again. How could it be otherwise? After all, he’s the Doctor.