This year’s Wizard World St. Louis Comic Con truly was a treat for “Doctor Who” fans. Not only was Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith in attendance (read about his entertaining panel session here), but so were David Tennant and Billie Piper, who played the Tenth Doctor and his most popular companion, Rose Tyler. Tennant, who has recently appeared in the TV shows “Broadchurch” and “Jessica Jones,” is a popular choice among fans when asked who their favorite Doctor is, while Piper’s Rose is often a top pick for favorite companion (Piper can currently be seen on the acclaimed series “Penny Dreadful”). On the afternoon of April 2, they joined together for a panel session with fans, where they answered an abundance of questions about their careers and their time on “Doctor Who.”
One fan mentioned that “as actors we all know that eventually you’re going to have to be intimate with another actor. Would you rather have to do a scene with someone who you’re good friends with or a complete stranger?”
“Both are good,” Piper responded. “It’s good to do it with someone you really like and it’s also good to do it with a stranger just to do it.”
“Unless that stranger has bad breath,” Tennant chimed in, adding that once he when he was performing on stage he had to act opposite someone who had really bad breath. “It wasn’t just one bad afternoon on set,” he said. “It was every afternoon you knew it was coming.”
Another fan brought up Tennant’s recent role in the Marvel Netflix series “Jessica Jones,” in which he plays the villain Kilgrave. “They’re both very different but they’re also both crazy characters,” the fan said.
“Well they’re very different shades of crazy, aren’t they?” Tennant replied. “It’s quite delicious to kind of indulge the darker corners of your psyche. The bad guys do tend to get some of the most edible lines. It’s an extraordinary thing that obviously you would never entertain in real life and you get to flirt with what that feels like. Kilgrave was a fascinating character because he has this extraordinary ability and that’s an interesting thing to play with….It was also very well-written, so it was a lovely opportunity. Having said that, there’s something about playing the Doctor….You get to save the world, the universe, the infrastructure of time. That is quite hard to beat.”
Regarding the genre itself, Piper added that “Because there’s a love story involved it’s quite easier to access the sci-fi….and I also think it’s much more likely to appeal to a family as opposed to a guy who likes hardcore science fiction.”
“I think that central relationship is key to accessing a general audience rather than a genre audience,” Tennant continued, “because….it becomes cross-generational and it appeals to sort of everyone in the house rather than just people who like hardcore sci-fi.”
Tennant was also asked whether playing Kilgrave in “Jessica Jones” affected him in any way, to which he responded, “It would be pretty dark if it did. Quite alarming.” Piper chimed in, “Remember what you did when you’d just started ‘Doctor Who’ and you’d done that…TV show….We were walking down the street and someone just went, ‘Psycho!’ and you got really upset about it.”
“I was so naïve,” Tennant said.
One fan brought up the transitions in both Tennant and Piper’s careers, Piper going from 90s pop star to acting in “Doctor Who,” playing a vixen in “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” and now playing a dark, complex character on “Penny Dreadful.” Tennant, meanwhile, went from playing the fun, quirky Doctor, to the serious detective in “Broadchurch,” to Kilgrave on “Jessica Jones.” When asked if they had ever been worried about the effect their transitions would have on their careers, Piper responded, “I don’t really think like that in terms of work. I don’t think that I’m trying to do something new to shock people…it just feels like a natural progression….I think I would get a bit sort of bored if I did the same thing every time. And that’s sort of the thrill of being an actress, you potentially get the opportunity to play a selection of people. I’m definitely drawn to a certain type of character. But I’ve always really walked into those decisions quite blindly and sometimes it worked and sometimes it’s been really disastrous.”
“I think if the opportunity arises to do something very different than what you’ve done before you sort of embrace that,” Tennant said. “That’s sort of what you’re looking for really. I don’t think you really stop to consider whether the audience will come with you because audiences are quite bright. Audiences get what actors do. I love seeing someone do something new and different and surprising and if I can do that myself then, you know, that’s the joy.”
A girl who claimed to also be a big “Harry Potter” fan (Tennant had a small role in 2005’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) asked him what Hogwarts house he thinks he would be a part of. “You mean like semi-detached?” Tennant joked before exclaiming, “Oh, you mean like Harry Potter! I’m in Slytherin.” He and Piper joked about how that correlated with them transitioning darker in their careers, before Tennant continued, “I always found it a bit odd that as a child you turn up and you think you’re a happy-go-lucky easy-going kid and then on the first day you turn up and they go, ‘No, you’re a baddie.’”
Regarding “Doctor Who,” Tennant and Piper were asked what the scariest part of the show was. “Schedule. Night shoots,” Piper laughed. “In terms of stories I’ve always found ‘The Empty Child’ really creep….We didn’t really do any stunts, we had people do them for us, so I can’t say that we did anything terrifying or courageous.”
“I’m very jealous of Matt [Smith] in the 50th when he got to hang in Trafalgar Square,” Tennant said. “He got to hang on the Tardis and go way way up. He went right up! I was very jealous of that. It would have been really cool.” Tennant continued, “The Daleks are pretty exciting to be on set with.”
“But not scary,” Piper interjected.
“No scary, but they’re fully formed, do you know what I mean? And when they talk it booms around the set. And there’s speakers and the lights flashing and they move at you. Nothing with the Daleks is added after.” Tennant also added that “Julian Bleach as Davros was quiet scary when he went mental.”
One fan brought up Tennant’s prolific stage career and the many times he appeared in Shakespeare plays—in fact, at the time of the convention he had just begun a run in “Richard II” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. When asked if, as a Shakespearean actor, he had any say in what happened in the “Doctor Who” episode “The Shakespeare Code,” Tennant replied, “No, I didn’t in that but what was exciting…about filming ‘Shakespeare Code’ is we were the first drama that was ever allowed to use the Globe Theatre as a location….We had to do it overnight because they would do a performance and then the theatre would close and we would move in and we’d shoot all night and then we’d have to leave in the morning to let the tours start again. But I didn’t have any say in the making of the episode as such. We were never asked for comments [on the writing].”
“Certainly not,” Piper added, continuing, “It wasn’t subject to change, it was like, ‘This is it, say it.’ But it’s fine because Russell [Davies, the showrunner for “Doctor Who” during Tennant and Piper’s run on the show] is an absolute genius and you want to honor everything he writes.”
“Absolutely,” agreed Tennant.
One of the panel’s moderators said that with their characters in “Doctor Who” “it seemed like you were challenged as an actor as well with different trials you had to go through and some of the storylines were so devastating. Was that pleasing as an actor to say, ‘Yeah, I get to take this character through this massive challenge?’”
“David, your job was really challenging daily, and mine was really challenging too,” Piper said. “You get the opportunity to do a lot of different things, especially in the second series when everyone had found their feet and everyone was feeling quite confident.”
“Yeah, it never felt like it was standing still, did it?” asked Tennant. “That’s because we had Russell T. Davies, who is always trying to find new directions to take these characters and new challenges for the actors.”
“There were episodes that were slightly more comedic and then the ones that were way more emotional. ‘Father’s Day’ for me,” Piper said.
Tennant said, “It always felt very different. That’s the challenge where the characters have sort of got to be set to zero a little bit at the end of every story so they could start again.”
One fan said, “I saw on one of the ‘Doctor Who’ specials that when a new Doctor came in they were very excited that this one seemed to like running, and they liked writing a lot of running scenes, and that you brought a great physicality to the Doctor that may not have been there with Eccleston [Christopher, who played the Ninth Doctor opposite Piper when the new series of ‘Doctor Who’ first started]. Was that your choice or was that something they write in like that because of the practicality of monsters being there, or was it because you’re a Doctor who regrets and you’re running from yourself?”
“Eccleston runs a lot actually,” Tennant said in defense of his predecessor. “He’s like an actual runner.”
“You’re really hyper,” Piper added.
“I run more like Phoebe in ‘Friends.’”
“You were very very physical though. You can’t stand or sit still, especially in that role.”
“Well, no, it’s got a lot of energy to it certainly.” Tennant continued, “It’s hard to know as well whether you’re bringing something or if the writers are putting something on you. Things sort of evolve quite kind of organically. I suppose writers will start responding to what they’re seeing in you, you’ll start responding to things in the script in a different way perhaps than another actor might have done, so it’s hard to find the actual roots of why things develop in certain ways.”
Someone else asked if there were any unscripted moments that made it into the show, to which Tennant replied, “It’s very much a writer-driven show….the script was first. But obviously you bring things to the script and finds ways of doing certain scenes and then I think there’s nowhere the script ends and the performance begins.”
When asked if there was an episode outside their era of starring on “Doctor Who” that either of them would want to be in, Tennant, who is a lifelong Whovian, responded, “Probably one of the ones that I have the earliest vivid memories of would be something like ‘Genesis of the Daleks.’ I believe I was four or five when that was on TV but I have such vivid memories of that, such clear visions in my head. That meant so much when I get to be in the show with Elizabeth Sladen, for instance, or with Julian Bleach doing his Davros.”
As for Piper, she said, “I feel like I had a really good run and I was not left sort of wanting. I’ve seen things beyond our series but I’m sort of happy with my lot really. I was a bit jealous about that trip to the desert.”
“Fancy overseas filming,” said Tennant. “We got one trip to Dubau. Since we left they’re never in Cardiff anymore! They spend their whole time touring the world, going to fancy hotels and shooting in deserts. They shot in Times Square for goodness sake!”
One man asked Tennant if, with five or six years of hindsight, he ever looked back and asked himself if he should have stayed on the show another season, and if there was ever a moment he sincerely regretted leaving. “There wasn’t, actually,” said Tennant. “There was a moment before I finally decided to go when I having thought I knew I was leaving I had a bit of a crisis and thought ‘Maybe I’ll stay’ and Steven [Moffat, who succeeded Davies as showrunner] and I talked about what that might be and went back and forth for a bit. But my time on the show was so tied to Russell…and with them leaving I thought, if I don’t leave at the same time as them I don’t know what it will be like. It will feel like-“
“You’re having an affair,” Piper finished, adding, “You’d really exhausted every route, every story….You got to do a bit of everything. I can’t imagine what else there would be left.”
“I think it’s once you do go and then you look back on it it feels like such a different show, and you stop thinking about what you might have done and just see what’s happening now.”
“Like I should have with that in mind left when Chris left,” Piper said amid groans from the crowd.
“I needed you to stay on,” Tennant said. “I think the show has obviously gone from strength to strength and has thrived, but I look back on it not with regret, but with huge fondness. Which then makes it a lovely thing to revisit when we both came back for the 50th. [It’s] such a lovely thing to go back to because you feel like this is such a huge part of my life and important part of my life and something that I cherish that I can still go back to and enjoy it.”
“Again, and again, and again,” Piper intoned.
“Here comes the 60th!” laughed Tennant, before finishing, “I thought it was the right time to go and I don’t regret it.”