Blame it on Tony Soprano, but all the best TV characters these days are assholes. Or worse, really nice guys (and gals) with a horribly dark side. Dexter Morgan, the devoted husband and father with his homicidal hobby. Don Draper, everything that a woman could ask for in a husband except for all the serial womanizing. Dr. Gregory House and Nurse Jackie Peyton have relaxed the whole “do no harm” oath to more of a suggestion. And then there are my favorite neighborhood drug dealers—Weeds’ Nancy Botwin and Breaking Bad’s Walter White.
I love these shows because of their moral complexity, but sometimes it’s just refreshing to pull for the good guy. For the last four years, David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor in the Doctor Who series has played that role. Since 1963, nine other actors have played the title character, but I wasn’t really a fan until Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner revived the series with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor in 2005. But British TV has a habit of killing off its main characters (see Primeval), and Eccleston lasted just one season before the Doctor’s time-traveling police box reincarnated him in the image of Tennant. In 2010, Matt Smith will take over as #11.
For a Time Lord who’d seen more than anyone in the galaxy, Tennant’s Doctor exuded enthusiasm with every new encounter. The show itself is an escapist’s delight, with no thorny realism to spoil the fun. Once you’ve taken the leap of faith that the Doctor’s time machine is a small, blue, British relic, a flatulant alien race taking over Parliament or a nick-of-time rescue aren’t going to jar you.
And with millennia to perfect his ethical code, the Doctor’s noble pursuits have been the perfect counter to all the morally ambiguous anti-heroes I’ve also loved watching these last few years. He occasionally shows cracks in his virtue, but they’re always quickly sealed as he resists the easy way out of whatever jam he’s eagerly jumped into.
The final two episodes of the Tenth Doctor’s run have just aired in the U.S., but I haven’t watched yet. “The End of Time” Parts 1 & 2 will be the end of the Tennant era, and I’m savoring the hero’s send-off. Then I’ll start on Season 4 of Dexter.