Tate-à-Tennant: What Who’s Funniest Duo Did On Their Holidays…

If Mac ‘scary eyebrows’ Hulke had chosen the next geological period to inspire the moniker of Doctor Who’s eighth most popular monsters (according to BBC America in 2013), then his earth reptiles would have been called The Devonians…

… Yes, a fearsome yokel race in peasant smocks, armed with shepherd’s crooks and burning torches with their chilling battle cry, ‘Get arff our land!’ (I can make these borderline offensive statements because my wife’s half Devonian. No, her mum’s not a re-awoken lizard creature, she’s from Devon.) But fast forward forty years and if The Devonians had been the chosen name, the comedy dynamic of Madame Vastra and Strax would have been fatally unbalanced. The sparring of two thuggish dunderheads would not have had the same sparkle as one dunderhead and a sexy posh lizard…

Okay, so I need to find a smooth transition to the actual subject of this article… um… here goes… For me, the point at which I felt convinced the Tennant/Tate combination was a winner occurred near the end of The Runaway Bride: the scene when they mount those two-wheeled electric vehicles (appropriately called Segways).

It starts deadpan, with the pair silently rolling along the tunnel on the wheelie things, then Donna realises the absurdity of the situation and begins to laugh uncontrollably – soon joined by a guffawing Tenth Doctor. It’s joyous moment that sums up their relationship perfectly.

A comedy duo is all about finding a special something that only shines as brightly when the two are brought together: Vic and Bob, Laurel and Hardy, Cameron and Boris, Vastra and Strax, The DoctorDonna…

There have been many beloved Doctor/companion combinations – Troughton and Hines, Pertwee and Manning, Baker and Sladen, McCoy and Aldred (pick your own) – but none of them – correct me if I’m wrong – have taken on a life outside Doctor Who. The pairing of Tennant and Tate has blossomed even after the shocking events of Journey’s End – spanning TV, theatre, and radio.

And it’s a durable combination that’s not just the couple reprising their on-screen characters; they are just as fun and feisty as themselves and taking on other roles. So, here’s a quick catch-up of David and Catherine’s extra curricular activities, from Comic Relief to Shakespeare, Radio 2 to Never Mind The Buzzcocks

The Catherine Tate Show – Comic Relief Special, March 2007

The Runaway Bride clearly convinced Tate of Tennant’s comic potential. So when she amassed an impressive roster of guest stars for the 2007 Comic Relief special of The Catherine Tate Show – featuring Frazer ‘Look at the size of that’ Hines, Bonnie ‘How utterly evil’ Langford, Noel ‘If you think it’s Big Ron’ Edmonds, Lenny ‘Peri this is a children’s programme’ Henry, and some hangers on including Daniel ‘Stormtrooper cameo’ Craig, and Tony ‘war crimes’ Blair – she also chose to spar with David in a sketch where she played Lauren ‘Amest I bovvered’ Cooper facing up to (cue screams of delight) Tennant’s schoolteacher character, Mr Logan.

It’s great fun but your appreciation probably depends on whether you enjoy Tate’s brand of character sketch comedy, but the chemistry of the two stars is undeniably dynamic.

Chain Reaction, BBC Radio 4, February 2008

‘The unlikely double act of Catherine Tate and David Tennant prove that, happily, there is plenty of life left in Radio 4.’ Miranda Sawyer, The Observer

Shortly before Donna was reunited with Doctor Ten and became a fully-fledged member of the TARDIS crew, Tate chose to interview Tennant as part of Radio 4’s Chain Reaction (the tag-team talk show). The simple format works like this: ‘Each week an individual from the world of entertainment selects someone that they would like to interview. This interviewee goes on to be the next week’s interviewer.’ (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

The result is 30 minutes of radio gold. Honestly, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, with Tennant matching established comic Tate with absurd observations, one-liners, and friendly mick-taking. I remember listening to it on earphones at work, and having to stifle the the guffaws so as not to look like a loon.

Fionaxoxo has been enterprising enough to put it on Soundcloud, thanks Fi(oxo)!

Don’t take my word for it; Kirsty Birch 1 on Soundcloud says, ‘This interview still makes me laugh.’ Somewhat more surprisingly, THE DALEKS instead of screaming ‘EXTERMINATE THE ABOMINATION’ say, ‘lol cool’. Clearly Tennant and Tate exude the human factor.

‘The joy of two funny people impulsively out-funnying each other was immense and immensely strange for Radio 4. It reminded me of Jonathan Ross’s Radio 2 Saturday-morning show – a compliment,’ adds Sawyer.

Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre, London, 2011

‘The pairing of David Tennant as Benedick with Catherine Tate as Beatrice is a marriage that, if not made in heaven, is certainly cemented by television and pays off superbly.’ Michael Billington, The Guardian

(Set phasers to Smug.) Back in June 2011, I was in the audience at the Wyndham’s Theatre to see first-hand the chemistry between Tennant and Tate as Benedick and Beatrice. I was there with my half-Devonian (not Lizard) wife, who was heavily pregnant with our first child. And it was an absolute scream. Listen not to the cream faced loons who tell you Shakespeare isn’t funny (or attempt to confirm it by writing lackluster sitcoms, I’m looking at you Mr Elton).

If you don’t know what all the fuss is about (geddit?), here’s a taster of Tennant and Tate in action…

You can also download and watch the whole performance from Digital Theatre Plus.

Sadly, the pair have never trod the boards together since the glorious summer of 2011. But, as Billington noted in his Guardian review, ‘the Tate-Tennant partnership should be pursued. Why not try their hand at Restoration comedy or Coward’s Private Lives?’ Why not, indeed…

By, the way, about a month after seeing the play, my half-Devonian wife and I were blessed with a (quarter Devonian) baby (non-lizard) boy, who we called Benedict. Spooky.

Never Mind the Buzzcocks – The Doctor Who Special, BBC Two, December 2009

Just a snippet from the 30-minute episode of the comedy music panel game which again demonstrates the chemistry between Tate and Tennant. As usual, David takes the role of the optimist fanboy geek – he likes sci-fi, the Proclaimers and Coldplay. Catherine, however, plays the gormless, ill informed and more cynical counterpart – she doesn’t know much about Doctor Who, and she’s got no idea who Chris Martin is…

Surprisingly, the two stars are slightly eclipsed by Bernard Cribbins here with his surreal interjections, and advice on how to gun down dancing rock singers – the reaction to the latter is met with gasps usually reserved for a sick Frankie Boyle one-liner.

Jonathan Ross Show, BBC Radio 2, April 2009 & January 2010

Someone at BBC Radio 2 possibly saw Miranda Sawyer’s Observer review of Chain Reaction in which she favourably compared Tennant and Tate’s banter to Jonathan Ross’ Saturday morning radio show. Whatever the prompting, David and Catherine twice sat in for Mr Ross and they proved to be the perfect company for a lazy Saturday morning.

Both shows have a Doctor Who flavour. An ‘Easter treat’ in April 2009 sees Tennant and Tate joined by Captain Jack himself, John Barrowman and by Dave’s faves, The Proclaimers. They also play co-star Bernard Cribbins’ signature tune, Right Said Fred.

In their second outing David once again goes head-to-head with (um) Anthony Head, best known to Whovians as Mr Finch in School Reunion. They are also joined by Ricky Gervais, best known to fans for his totally off-target swipe at Doctor Who in the sitcom Extras, in which Ricky proves he hasn’t watched the show since 1977. Which is fine, but if you are writing a major BBC/HBO series, you’d think you’d do a bit of basic research. Ricky!

Thanks to the David Tennant Fansite, Doctor/Donna obsessives about to embark on a six-hour car journey can once again re-live the heady days of 2009/10 as both show are available in full as MP3 files. Here’s their 2009 show, and here they are again in 2010. Enjoy!

The Ballad of Russell & Julie, March 2009

We’ll leave you with possibly the greatest concentration of the Tennant/Tate partnership (with a big nod to John Barrowman). We probably should never have seen The Ballad of Russell & Julie as it’s an indulgent 6-minute song that joyously re-works Victoria Wood’s ‘Let’s do it’ song to celebrate the Russell T Davies/Julie Gardner golden era at the helm of Doctor Who at their wrap party.

For those outside the production team, it could have been cringe worthy and self-indulgent. But it’s not. It’s glorious. And how glorious that Big Finish have brought these two back together, and as the Doctor and Donna. May the golden age continue for many years to come…