Now, don't get me wrong. I love the Tenth Doctor. I love all the Doctors. What I'm addressing today is the fact that on any given list of favorite Doctors Ten is nearly always tops. His only real competition for the number one spot in popular opinion is Tom Baker, who managed to be everyone's favorite Doctor for more than three decades. Not a bad piece of work for our Ten.
But that acclaim has always baffled me, especially as I go back and rewatch the series in anticipation for August 23. Ten is good, but is he really great? I don't think so because...
He Treats His Companions as Disposable Ten is a hardcore serial monogamist. In three seasons he forms three intense attachments to three different women, none of whom survive as primary companion past their 13th episode. He leaves one in alternate dimension, breaks the heart of another, and erases himself from the memory of third.
Ten is almost callously toxic to the women he meets and travels with. Those first few runs are always magical and amazing, but by mid-season he always seems like he's trying to find a way to get out of the relationship. Compared to the much healthier way Eleven interacts with the Pond family Ten can just be mean. And also...
He is Very Pompous This isn't easy to catch on initial viewings. Doesn't Nine refer to humanity as "stupid apes" and isn't one of Eleven's most annoying traits the way he goes on about how clever he is? Yep, but it's not what Ten says, but what he does.
In almost every situation it almost never occurs to him that anyone else has anything worthwhile to contribute to the solution. He hands out tasks all the time, but he rarely solicits advice from his companions. Even when he does get helpful advice he's most likely to react with the sort of excitement I show my five-year-old upon presenting me with the same picture of a house and tree she's painted a hundred times before. Not since Six has any Doctor ever been so impossibly full of themselves. Which is ironic because...
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He Never Has a Plan Seriously, name an example of a great plan in a Tenth Doctor episode. There isn't one. There's never a moment like you get with Eleven where you realize that he's been playing a misdirection game the whole time. Matt Smith's Doctor was a Machiavellian trickster, whereas Eccleston's Doctor approached situations like a soldier assessing the situation on the ground and reacting accordingly.
Ten, though, most of the time his solution to a problem is to pretend to be drunk or clumsy or silly, push a lot of buttons, and run away from the boom. He shares an M.O. with Bugs Bunny. His innate gift for quick thinking usually saves the day, but it's never planned that way. He's not a chessmaster. He's more like an idiot savant that has no idea what he's doing.
The Curse of The Time Lords Blah Blah Blah People call Eleven emo, but by the Sash of Rassilon Ten just never let up with the existential angst. It was always "The curse of the Time Lords" this and "I'm alone in the universe" that (Ironically, he is the only modern Doctor to actually gets to meet other Time Lords outside of "Day of the Doctor"). In short, he was an Anne Rice vampire.
It just never seemed like he enjoyed being able to travel all of space and time doing whatever he pleased very much. There was always something burdensome to him in doing it and it makes me wonder if he wouldn't have been happier stuck on Earth like Three working with UNIT or something. As Eleven said of his Tardis control room, it was his grunge phase and the whining gets really old after a while.
He Refused to Change If I was going to compare the Tenth Doctor to any other figure in pop culture it would be Morpheus from Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Ancient and eternal? Check. Angsty? Check. Powerful? Check. Bad with girlfriends? Double check. Most of all, unwilling to accept change in himself to meet the changing world? Write that man a big old novelty check.
Not only does Ten waste an entire regeneration cycle just to stay as himself at one point, he actively resists his own regeneration so long that the resulting energy blows up the Tardis. Even his last words, the famous "I don't want to go", are in a way a renunciation of everything The Doctor stands for.
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Nine went out with a compliment, chagrin, and regret at not having done more with his best friend. Eleven mused on the nature of a person's evolution, and welcomed his passing. Even the War Doctor recognized that his life and purpose were wearing a bit thin, and went into regeneration smiling and ready.
Ten alone of the modern Doctors had to be dragged kicking and screaming into his new form, and all because over the course of his life he never changed, never learned anything, and never really grew.
In the end I still like the Tenth Doctor a lot. Three of my top ten episodes are Ten's, but looking back on it now I'm not sure he deserves to so high in everyone's ranking.