Opinion

Matt Smith: The Eleventh Doctor

Fan backlash was predictably immediate.  He was clearly far too young.  We’d just had a young Doctor with David Tennant!  What happened to the Steven Moffat who favoured older actors in the role?

Things would only continue in this vein.  The first costume shots were revealed.  Oh my God!  Is that tweed? A bow tie? Meanwhile I mulled over the pictures.  Not what I’d expected, for sure, but I got an almost Patrick Troughton vibe from the pictures.  Ok, this could work I thought, but still, it wasn’t quite clicking yet.

The regeneration and subsequent trailer continued the theme: he spat on the console for goodness sake!  He’s holding a gun in the trailer!  The Doctor never holds a gun! (Errr…you did just watch The End of Time didn’t you?  Never mind).  Still I remained intrigued and excited.  A new Doctor is always an exciting time in the show.  What was he going to bring to the role?  Would he be able to escape the long shadow clearly being cast by his predecessor?

And then came the Eleventh Hour.  I make no bones that this remains my favourite series opener, and one of my all time favourite episodes of Doctor Who.  Matt Smith, of course, quickly won me over.  As he threw plates of food around and walked into trees, the silliness of a post-regeneration Doctor was in full effect.  However, then it changed in an instant.  

“Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.”  

That was the moment Matt Smith definitively won me over.  And in those 5 minutes since he’d climbed out of the TARDIS he nicely captured a lot of what he would bring to the Doctor.  Funny, geeky, but able to turn it all around in an instant, and with a quiet voice bring all the wisdom and experience of the Doctor to bear.

The final episode of series 5 would go on to capture another aspect of Matt’s Doctor that Steven Moffat referenced.  Trapped by the cracks in time, and falling back through his own timeline, the Doctor would find himself back at events of the Eleventh Hour.  And as he tucked little Amelia into bed, and told her the story of the ancient, new, borrowed and blue box, Matt’s performance expertly captured the age of the Doctor for me.  Even while the character was scheming and laying the groundwork for cheating his fate, the scene was still played as an old man, feeling the many centuries of his life.  The old man in a young body.  Its a scene that really sticks with me for that reason.  An old man, facing the end of his life (or so we thought, clever boy).

However its not just his performance as the Doctor that I think so enamoured me to the Eleventh Doctor, but Matt himself.  Following on from self-confessed fan David Tennant, Matt was initially not fan of the show.  He’d seen it certainly, but his interests had lain elsewhere until he got the part.  But then the stories began to surface.  Steven Moffat telling the story of Matt phoning him late at night, having just watched Tomb of the Cybermen, and desperate to share his new-found love of the story.  The fact that an appreciation of Patrick Troughton so clearly informed the character of the Eleventh Doctor.  From those initially stumbling and obviously awkward interviews on the likes of the One Show and Jonathan Ross, where we heard of Matt getting caught out in customs at an airport thanks to the Sonic he had in his pocket.  That glorious moment at the Proms where the little boy said that yes, he COULD see the invisible wire.  Why?  Because The Doctor had told him it was there.

Over the last four years, we’ve seen Matt grow, not only as an actor, not only as a leading man, drawn into the publicity surrounding the show and how he handles it, but also as a fan of that show, and that is what I love about Matt, and the Eleventh Doctor.

Christmas Day will bring the same mixed emotions a regeneration always brings.  There’s no denying the excitement that Peter Capaldi is bringing to the show.  I cheered when he walked on stage at the live reveal, and I cheered when he glared at us in the Day of the Doctor.  However, for me, there’s no denying that I’m going to miss that mad man in a box.  Like many of us, I’ve been watching the show a long time now.  Like many of us, I revel in the change that defines Doctor Who.  I can’t wait for the first costume shots of the new Doctor, the first trailer and his first episode.  I’ll rewatch the regeneration and whatever snippets we get of Capaldi at the end of the episode a hundred times.  This is Peter Capaldi we’re talking about.  A bloody fine actor, and a long-time fan of the show.  But Christmas Day is also the Fall of the Eleventh.  Its Matt’s last hurrah as the Doctor, and dammit, I don’t want him to go.

 Roll on the 60th anniversary, when bow ties will be cool again, and the fez is dusted off.  But in the meantime, roll on Christmas Day.  Bring on the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Silence and the Weeping Angels.  Bring on that one last Geronimo and adjusting of the bow tie.  Because we all know, there is one thing you never, ever put in a trap.

The Doctors – by Eddie McGuigan

 

If you’re a newbie, and haven’t watched anything before David Tennant or Christopher Eccleston, watching William Hartnell could be a bit of a culture shock, especially his earlier stories. His Doctor is not the nicest of men. He’s selfish, mean spirited and more than a little insular. There’s a murderous bent to him too. Underlying in that though is the urge to do what’s right.

It’s his companion – his hostage – Ian Chesterton who’s the hero and Ian’s friend Barbara who teaches the Doctor morality. One thing that happens with Hartnell, and something that is missing for many years after this, is the growth in the Doctor’s personality. From that darker character to a hero, his development is pretty startling. Perhaps it’s his revelation of what his wanderings are doing to his granddaughter, Susan, or perhaps it’s the sense of what’s right coming from Barbara and Ian, but by Dalek Invasion of Earth, the Doctor has changed, and the darker undercurrents are all but gone. On the Daleks, here, he says “yes they dare, and we must dare to try and stop them!” – a far cry from his original meeting with them. Perhaps he feels some kind of responsibility. Make no mistake that William Hartnell loved the Doctor, and he loved the development. Sick of being a hard man and a grouch, he loved being a hero to children. For the Doctor himself, by the time he had a new team in Vicki and Steven, he was an adventurer, and a crusader.

This was only underlined by the arrival of Patrick Troughton. Troughton made Doctor Who immortal. Without his effortless reworking of the character – whilst essentially keeping him the same – there would have been no new Who. Troughton of all the classic Doctors probably influences the new series more than ever, with his whimsical humour tinged with a steely darkness, and the sense of wonderment about where he was going and what he was doing.

In many ways, Jon Pertwee is an oddity in the format and character. He’s the least “Doctory” Doctor. He’s part of the establishment – and whilst balking against it takes time to enjoy fine wine and canoodling with MPs in Gentlemen’s Clubs – and works with the military, a right wing authoritative figure with left wing morals. But Jon is what Doctor Who needed, and his no nonsense, unsubtle performance gave the series a gravitas and seriousness it had been lacking.

Tom Baker picked up Troughton’s mantle and ran with it, being a bombastic bear of a man crashing through conventions with a crazy grin, he was as much the Doctor off screen as on. If Hartnell gave the Doctor life, Troughton gave him immortality and Pertwee gravitas, Baker made him an icon, and his image would resonate for ever after his on-his-heels origins.

Peter Davison allowed the Doctor to be vulnerable, and approachable. One minute he’s travelling the universe with a Time Lady and robot dog, unassailable, the next he’s bickering with petulant children, not all of whom he can protect. Davison allowed the Doctor to be human, in a Time Lordy way.

Colin Baker is the most complex Doctor, at least to this date, and, despite Colin citing Hartnell as his influence, owes more to Pertwee than any other. Assured to the point of arrogant, detached to the point of conceit, he none the less clashes, like his outfit, with uncomfortable juxtapositions of immense emotion and furious morality.

With Sylvester we get to explore (eventually) the darker side, hinted at, particularly, with the second Doctor, as the Seventh lays traps for his deadliest enemies and shows tough love to his companion, herself, perhaps a misfire, but none the less an attempt at bringing real life into Doctor Who. McCoy’s Doctor was one of council estates and single mums, as much as the Ninth Doctor’s was, and as much as the third Doctor’s was one of passed-their-best industries and government interference. Again, Doctor Who reflected society.

Paul McGann didn’t get much of a go at the role, to be fair, but in his two television appearances to date, the one thing he is is romantic. He gives the Doctor wimsy and romance, a glint in his eye, an innocent that he didn’t want corrupted. Eccleston is a survivor, an old soldier. He’s as important to returning the Doctor to tv as Hartnell was for bringing him there in the first place.

The intensity and complexity of Christopher Eccleson can’t be understated. We get to see the Doctor cry. He has a same sex kiss. He hesitates to kill, preferring to inspire others, and is so, so delighted when everybody lives.

David Tennant is a step back towards traditional Doctors. He’s more mad hair and crazy grins, whilst remaining true to the new ethos of geek chique and cool Britannia, a cocky cockney with a motor mouth who, much like the Seventh and Eighth, found himself taking darker and darker paths. It’s not as subtle or layered a performance as Eccleston, but it is very, very Doctor.

Matt Smith finds that old man in a young body thing and runs with it. He channels Pat Troughton and, as his tenure has gone on, he’s become more and more the traditional Doctor, and is now back in his frock coat, waistcoat and bow tie, the iconic Doctor silhouette, whilst maintaining the coolness of Tennant with funky boots and too-short trousers.

So, when people ask me who my favourite Doctor is, I scratch my head and I think all that. How do you choose?

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