King of the West End

David Tennant's rise from fringe theatre – via Doctor Who – is irresistible as thousands join a stampede to see him play Hamlet

The queue snaking around the Novello Theatre in the West End of London yesterday was dramatic proof that David Tennant has achieved a regeneration to make his Doctor Who alter ego proud. Within three hours of going on sale, all 6,000 tickets to see the actor play Hamlet had sold out in a stampede that crashed websites and jammed hotlines. The clamour to see Tennant as the Dane in a rapturously-received Royal Shakespeare Company production alongside Patrick Stewart cemented the 37-year-old Scot's status as one of Britain's most popular – and bankable – actors. By the end of the day, December's opening night tickets for the London run were being resold for £1,200 a pair on the internet.

Hundreds of fans had queued outside the theatre, with die-hards camping out overnight.

The spectacle was evidence that Tennant has succeeded where some predecessors as the Time Lord had failed, escaping the fate of only finding success as Doctor Who. An RSC spokesman said yesterday: "David has encouraged a new generation of theatregoers."

Tennant has enjoyed rave reviews for his parka-clad Hamlet, with The Independent's critic describing the performance as "extremely captivating".

But the frenzy also served to underline the fact that Tennant, who supposedly decided at the age of three that he wanted to play the role of Doctor Who, is at a crossroads. Amid speculation that Hollywood is beckoning after he expressed his eagerness to appear in more big-screen productions, negotiations for a new series of Doctor Who scheduled to be broadcast in 2010 are also under way.

Tennant is only confirmed to appear in four Doctor Who specials next year . The BBC is reportedly prepared to offer him a deal worth £1.3m for his fifth series – £100,000 per episode.

Helen O'Hara, of Empire magazine, said: "David is facing a dilemma. He could do anything he wants after the success of his Doctor Who. But any actor who takes that role faces the danger of being typecast. That is why taking time out for Hamlet will do him a lot of good."

The cross-over appeal of Tennant and the Doctor Who franchise was underlined with the announcement that the inclusion of a performance of music from the show in this year's BBC Proms had helped draw unprecedented audiences. An average of 90 per cent of the seats were sold.

Ironically, one potential solution for Tennant's ambition to do more films has been floated in the shape of a Doctor Who movie. Steven Moffat, due to replace Russell T Davies as the sci-fi's head writer, said last month that he would support a feature-length version starring Tennant, "so long as it's great and fantastic".

BBC Film flatly denied it was seeking funding for a movie or that it had struck a deal with Tennant to star in the next series as long as the corporation committed to a big-screen version.

All of which will be greeted with insouciance by Tennant, who has said it is "too easy to become defined by your press cuttings" and shrugs off fascination with his private life. He has been linked with Kylie Minogue and Georgia Moffett, the daughter of a former Doctor Who, Peter Davison.

Born David McDonald (he took his professional name from Neil Tennant, the Pet Shop Boys' singer, after finding another actor of the same name was already listed with Equity), the current Doctor Who was raised in Renfrewshire with his brother and sister in what he insists was a less than puritanical existence despite his father's status as a moderator of the Church of Scotland.

Tennant, a Labour supporter, has an extensive thespian pedigree. His first role was in Brecht's The Resistable Rise Of Arturo Ui with a socialist theatre company. After frequent comic roles with the RSC, he appeared in a string of BBC dramas, culminating in the title role in Casanova.

The risk remains that Tennant's Doctor will define his career. But it is a fate with which he may be comfortable. He once wrote: "I was a Doctor Who junkie. Every Saturday evening at 5.35 I could not be disturbed. I was worshipping at the shrine."

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