Back during Halloween, during my cosplay attempts, I spent a little time looking into the Fifth Doctor’s dialogue, to come up with things to say to people that would be Fifth Doctor-y. It didn’t really work well, as I didn’t really get into character, especially when I was wearing the costume at work. I did memorize all of his dialogue from “Time Crash,” but there was very little opportunity to use it. I did say, “I’m the Doctor. Who are you?” to a girl in a Tenth Doctor costume, but either she didn’t hear me or she didn’t get the reference.
I found, though, that even more important than dialogue, mannerisms are what make the Doctor. In cosplay, most people will see you from afar and will not talk to you, so you have to try to look like the character, not just sound like him. As I write (and read) fanfics, I find this is even more important: most fanfic authors write dialogue for the Doctor, but never describe what he is doing at the moment. Perhaps it’s ok to let the reader picture for himself what’s going on, but in my opinion, if you can paint the picture, you should.
Mannerisms gives you a better insight into the personality of a character. Compare Arthur Darvill’s Rory to his Paul Coates in Broadchurch: Both are hesitant, uncertain characters, but they move differently. Mr. Darvill plays them both keeping his arms close to his body, as if he’s constantly twiddling his fingers, but Paul leans forward more, trying to be the wise, helpful reverend, while Rory stands straighter with his head back and shifts from foot to foot, like a nervous young man. These mannerisms are essential to visually communicating what the character is doing and feeling.
This is even more important for an iconic character, especially the Doctor. Since the character must distinguish himself from the other people on the screen, as an alien and a hero, as well as from his other incarnations, he dresses, speaks, and responds in unique ways, and he also moves differently. Take a look at the “all twelve doctors” scene from “The Day of the Doctor,” displayed above. You know each incarnation because of his costume, but their stances are just as important. One holds the lapels of his coat. Two leans forward a bit and steeples his fingers. Six stands straight with his hands clasped low. Three is also straight, with his hands on his hips. Ten stands a bit casually, with his hands in his trouser pockets. Even the how far apart each Doctor’s legs are communicate to you who they are.
Thinking about it this way, I found that to look more like the Fifth Doctor, I had to stand tall (well, as tall as I could – I’m 5’1″) with my head back, trying to look down my nose a bit (again, hard to do when you’re 5’1″). I kept my hands in my trouser pockets, which kept the coat swept back. If I talked with someone, I kept the left hand in the pocket while gesturing with the right hand. I also practiced the frowny face (mentioned in “Time Crash”), but that’s not a natural expression for me and I did it only a couple of times.
I’ve been observing the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors for the same kind of thing. Eleven’s a bit easier, because he’s all about motion. He’s a bit bowlegged and his torso sits back on hips. He also tends to hold his head forward and down, with the chin out, so he’s usually hunched forward. Then there’s the arms: with the elbows always up, he gestures with the entire arm and hand while he speaks, pointing and waving. He also taps his temples with his index and middle fingers when he’s trying to think. On top of that, he’s always moving around, spinning on his heels or dashing back and forth. I’ve heard that Matt Smith is rather clumsy, and I wonder if they had problems with him smacking the other actors accidentally.
Comparatively, Ten is more subdued, but he has his own set of iconic movements. A few of them are so unnoticeable that I thought maybe they were David Tennant movements rather than Ten movements, but I haven’t seen them in his other characters, so I have to assume that he invented the movements for Ten. The Tenth Doctor is very energetic and expends that energy by moving around, pacing when he has the space, sometimes even circling people he’s talking to. This movement is accentuated by his long legs and the flaring overcoat. He often has his hands jammed into his trouser pockets, which holds the waist of the overcoat down, making the hem flare even more dramatically.
And then there are the gestures and expressions. He runs his hand through his hair. When exasperated, he puts both hands on the top of the sides of his head, elbows up like antlers. He rubs his hand down his face, over his nose, mouth, and jaw. He likes to press the tip of his tongue to roof of his mouth, especially when looking at something in wonder or when thinking. And sometimes, during a slight pause in what he’s saying, very subtly, he’ll sniff, wrinkling his nose a bit. Mr. Tennant also takes advantage of his very pliant face to create outlandish expressions and some of the most brilliant smiles ever.
The writers do a great job giving the Doctors different voices, but it’s the actors who have to create the entire characters, and they do so by blending the words with their bodies, and these are the things that we, as cosplayers and fanfic writers, need to study to truly portray the characters for what they are. I think we rely too much on dialogue and the assumption that whoever is looking at us will know what we’re trying to say. I have to admit that it’s very difficult to emulate someone else’s personality, but learning to do so is part of the fun.