When people talk about “the Doctor Who family”, in most cases they mean it in a figurative way, to reflect the feeling of bonding and kinship which exists amongst the cast and crew which comes as part of spending long hours together, making televisual magic and bringing that sci-fi icon to life. In a few rare instances, however, this takes on something of a far more literal interpretation.
Take, for example, Georgia Tennant, who is probably best known at the moment for having played something of an exaggerated version of herself in pandemicomedy series Staged, which has just ended its third season on BBC One, along with being one of the show’s producers. However, it seems that her heritage was always going to play a part in the path she was going to take. For starters, her mother is Sandra Dickinson, who brought the character of Trillian to life in 1981’s BBC television adaptation of Douglas Adams’ novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Adams was a script editor on Doctor Who in the late 1970s, as well as writing several stories, and Dickinson featured in 1996 BBC Radio 2 Doctor Who tale ‘The Ghosts Of N-Space’. However, Georgia Tennant’s personal links to the series go far deeper than that. Her father, Peter Moffett, played the Fifth Doctor, under his more familiar stage name of Peter Davison. Tennant herself appeared in the 2008 Doctor Who episode ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’, where she met her future husband, the Tenth (and now also Fourteenth) Doctor, and artist formerly known as David McDonald (before taking his professional name from one of the Pet Shop Boys).
So, in the best wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey tradition of the programme, Georgia Tennant is the Doctor’s actual daughter in real life, as well as ‘daughter’ on screen, along with wife off camera too. Oh, and the Doctor is simultaneously their own son-in-law and father-in-law. And as if to make things even more complicated, Georgia Tennant’s boarding school chum and best friend in childhood was Lucy Baker, the daughter of Davison’s successor Colin Baker. Ah, poor, poor Georgia, she clearly never stood a chance, as her fate was always going to be inextricably intertwined with Doctor Who.
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For the second chapter in Big Finish’s big 60th anniversary celebration of the sci-fi classic, Tennant reprises her role as Jenny, who is technically the Doctor’s ‘daughter’, as she was created from a sample of the Time Lord’s DNA. ‘The Artist At The End Of Time’ has Jenny cross paths with her ‘dad’ as they both visit an art gallery at the very end of creation itself. The Doctor is still stuck in a degeneration crisis, and after settling temporarily on their fifth incarnation, seeks a brief stability which is afforded by being at the far end of time. The Doctor and Jenny stumble upon the mystery of an anonymous artist whose works end up somehow bringing on the destruction of the worlds whose beauty he seeks to immortalise.
A whole decade has already been and gone since the show’s last major anniversary, with the then-showrunner Steven Moffat giving us a mysterious new character, the Curator, who was brought to life by the ever-wonderful Tom Baker. While never actually said out loud, the suggestion was that the Curator is in fact a version of the Doctor from their own personal future, at a point where they have retired from all the universe saving malarkey, and revisited a favourite old visage or two. Although limited to just this single television appearance thus far, the Curator has returned for Big Finish since then, even going as far as changing into a further take on a familiar face, played by Colin Baker.
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Baker The Second’s Curator pops up here in a story penned by James Goss, which takes a look at the seemingly eternal struggle between art and commerce. In an age where pretty much everything is seemingly becoming commoditised and commercialised, where Tracey Emin’s unmade bed fetched more than £2.5 million at auction, Goss’ script dares to ask the question as to whether art can simply exist for art’s sake, or if there has to be a price tag attached to everything. It also raises the issue of whether the price – not just in the purely financial way, but in other senses as well – can sometimes be far too high, as pure base greed and acquisitiveness starts to take hold, out of a need to have exclusivity over things.
For a series which has outlived most of its contemporaries – not to mention many people’s expectations – it does seem a rather apposite moment for Doctor Who to have ‘The Artist At The End Of Time’ turning up just now, during its diamond jubilee year. The story looks at the idea of a legacy, and what will live on after, especially in the case of in creative circles, where a particular body of work can last for several lifetimes, or even beyond. Doctor Who’s legacy is very much at the fore during 2023, as it looks to its past, as well as off to the future, so the notion of celebrating something culturally iconic and treasured is nicely mirrored by the theme of this story.
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Although the two have performed together before, hearing Davison and Tennant playing father and daughter here is an unexpectedly moving experience. As ‘The Artist At The End Of Time’ has a focus on legacies, having the Doctor and their daughter together – reflected by that real-life relationship between the pair – does add an extra depth and dimension to proceedings. Also, a nice little cheat is in having a ‘multi-Doctor’ story by bending the rules, without actually giving it to us, by the inclusion of the Curator. Baker brings a wistful melancholy to his performance, and bearing in mind he has just turned 80, there is an extra poignancy to his character’s wish to leave something lasting behind.
‘The Artist At The End Of Time’ is not just the high point so far of Doctor Who: Once And Future, it can also sit proudly and deservedly alongside the finest episodes in the series’ 60 year history. This really is such a profound and touching celebration not just of the programme, but also those lead actors who have played such a significant part in its success, while at the same time giving them something different to do and stretching them in new and interesting ways. While I may not know much about art, I know what I like, and this is most definitely high on that list.
Doctor Who: Once And Future – ‘The Artist At The End Of Time’ is out now from Big Finish.