Fans like us rejoiced at today's news that British actor David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor Who, would reprise his role in the ITV series Broadchurch for Fox's American remake. Then we read a little further: "but this time he'll use an American accent." But why are we worried when there are already so many Brits hiding in plain sight on our TV screens?
The decision to have Tennant reprise his role made a lot of people unhappy — or at the very least nervous. Margaret Lyons at Vulture wrote that the American accent "seems kind of sacrilegious," while a fan tweeted: "david tennant and american accent. gosh i'm worried. but thrilled at the same time." Radio Times even posted a clip of Tennant using an American accent in a failed pilot. Responses to that clip were, well, not enthusiastic.
But we really should cut Tennant, and his American accent, some slack. Getting angry about the fact that he's doing an American accent is, well, hypocritical. We let it slide when Baltimore denizens on The Wire like Detective James McNulty (Dominic West) and Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) actually hail from the U.K. We're somehow okay with Damien Lewis losing his posh British dialect to play corn-fed terrorist Nicholas Brody. Was it shocking to learn that Stringer Bell was born in Hackney, London? Sure, but it didn't stop people from believing the character was real.
The difference, however, and why Tennant suffers in this analogy is that most of the Brits-going-American that we love tricked us in the first place. Though Tennant isn't very famous over here (yet), the people who do know him know him as an iconically British character: The Doctor on Doctor Who. It's the same reason why Emma Watson's American accent is still somewhat discordant, despite her turns in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Bling Ring. Hermoine, we think, does not sound like that.
But for fans of the brilliant British version of Broadchurch there's a bigger reason to be worried about the American remake: if they're going to start tinkering with Tennant's accent, who knows what else they'll muck around with in the spirit of making it more palatable to an American network audience? The idea has always been a little bit suspect. In the British version, Broadchurch follows two detectives, one of which is played by Tennant, trying to figure out who killed a young boy in a close-knit town. The show is less of a whodunnit than a meditation on what any one person really knows about his or her own family and community. Tennant is a brilliant Detective Inspector Alec Hardy, who has arrived in town with his own demons. And one of the best things bout Tennant's performance is his accent. Tennant, from Scotland, used a thick Scottish brogue which, at times nearly unintelligible, helps build the mystery of his character. If they tear out the guts of the show to turn it into a run-of-the-mill crime procedural, what's really the point of making it a remake at all?