David Tennant (and a dog) achieved what every award show host dreams of

Quite the double act: Bark Ruffalo and Tennant
Quite the double act: Bark Ruffalo and Tennant - Joe Maher/BAFTA

David Tennant is best known for playing a Time Lord in a Tardis but at the Baftas (BBC One) he excelled as canine-lover in a kilt.

With disastrous recent Bafta hostings by Richard E Grant and Joanna Lumley doubtless at the back of his mind, the presenter of the 2024 British Academy Film Awards had the wonderful idea of distracting the audience with the ultimate special effect – an adorable pooch named Bark Ruffalo.

It was a flawless performance – nuanced and wry, starry yet also down to earth. Tennant didn’t do badly, either. Smartly, he was careful not to draw too much attention to himself. After the obligatory pre-recorded opening skit – he’d agreed to dogs-sit Bark for his owner, Michael Sheen, and needed to hand off the job to another celebrity – he finally emerged, delivered the pooch to Sheen and then did an impressive job of just cracking on with it.

Host David Tennant on stage during the EE BAFTA Film Awards
Tennant did a good job at just getting on with the task at hand - Kate Green/BAFTA

He wasn’t mind-blowingly hilarious. The many Hollywood celebs who had no idea who he was or why he was wearing a black-on-black kilt and sporran will have departed in the same state of blissful unawareness. However, he passed the ultimate award show test of never once making you cringe on his behalf.

Tennant even negotiated the dreaded opening monologue without dropping too many clangers. Yes, he had to get past that atrocious joke right at the end about Ken from Barbie actually being left-wing director Ken Loach (hence the film’s social message).

Otherwise, though, there were few stumbles. This was more than good enough, especially compared to comedian Jo Koy’s disaster at the Golden Globes, where he started with a zinger at the expense of Taylor Swift and then went downhill.

The Baftas have always been the slightly sensible – “dull” is another word – middle child of awards ceremonies. They don’t have the Golden Globes’ chaos while also lacking the Oscars’ thermonuclear glitz. As television, this Tennant edition was very much in that supremely okay-ish tradition.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Saltburn-themed performance of Murder On The Dancefloor was fine. But the backing dancers were a bit weird and stilted: it probably won’t set TikTok alight.

Meanwhile, a cameo by Nick Mohammed’s Mr Swallow comedy character will have had all the Tinsel Town A-listers glancing around in confusion. Who was this odd man and why was he delivering one-liners on rollerskates?

Another odd choice was having Hannah Waddingham sing along to the in-memoriam section, taking the focus away from those who had died. Twitter was, for its part, outraged by the omission of TV star Matthew Perry from the roll-call of movie industry figures who had passed away.

No award show is complete without some performative weepiness. Alas, during recent Baftas, those have often been tears of boredom from viewers at home. Happily, during the 2024 broadcast, the crying took place on stage. Samantha Morton was understandably overwrought as, accepting her Bafta Fellowship award, she traced her journey from a childhood in care and dedicated the gong to “every child in care, or who has been in care and who didn’t survive”.

Samantha Morton accepts the Fellowship Award at the 2024 Baftas
Samantha Morton accepts the Fellowship Award at the 2024 Baftas - Getty

Emma Stone grew similarly emotional after winning Best Actress for Poor Things when she thanked her mother. And you could feel the chills in the room when Michael J Fox, who has Parkinson’s, arrived to announce Oppenheimer had won Best Film. He received a standing ovation from the audience.

One person who won’t be crying all the way to the after-party is David Tennant. He achieved what every award show host dreams of doing. He came, he saw, delivered some dog-based jokes, and left with kilt unruffled and reputation intact.