This article contains spoilers for Doctor Who series 5 and 6. Then again, if you haven’t seen it already it’s your own bloody fault, and you should be ashamed!
Two years ago today the Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith, the youngest actor to take the role, made his full debut in the first episode of the fifth series of Doctor Who, The Eleventh Hour.
In the action packed episode, the newly regenerated Doctor crash landed the smoking TARDIS into the garden of adorable little girl, Amelia Pond. Amelia used the powers invested in her as a Scot to fry all manner of foods for The Doctor, who was having post-regenerative cravings, a new sensation for him. Upstairs in her bedroom, Amelia had been hearing voices from a crack in her wall. The Doctor opened the crack using his sonic screwdriver, and the voice was revealed to be the Atraxi – some sort of prison warden race who were after an escaped convict called Prisoner Zero. Upon hearing the cloister bell, an alarm system in the TARDIS that signifies that very bad stuff is going down, he rushed back and dematerialised, after promising to the tot that he’d be back in five minutes.
Several minutes later for The Doctor, though crucially twelve years and several psychiatrists for Amelia (now Amy), he returned, and immediately realised there was an extra room hidden behind a perception filter in her house, and that Prisoner Zero was hiding inside it. The Atraxi weren’t far behind and placed the Earth in a kind of planetary force field and promised to destroy it. Rory, Amy’s boyfriend, and a nurse at the local hospital, had been taking photographs on his camera-phone of coma patients that had been talking while unconscious. The Doctor borrowed this phone and popped off to do some clever stuff with computers in Margaret Meldrew from One Foot in the Grave’s house.
After luring Prisoner Zero to the hospital, The Doctor faced off with the shape-shifting alien. The clever computer stuff was actually a virus that was spreading like wildfire, changing every clock on the planet to zero – a message to Earth’s captors aboves. The Doctor then uploaded all the photographs of the coma patients, prisoner zero’s shape shifting disguises, to every social networking site around, including Bebo. Using these clues the Atraxi followed the trail and apprehended Prisoner Zero, before flying away.
Then the Doctor, after stopping to get changed, called the Atraxi (a great big eye thing) back and berated them for daring to destroy the planet he’s so fond of. He told them it is defended and then they flew off again, scared. The Doctor then checked out his new TARDIS, which had repaired itself and given itself a brand new look (and provided toy companies a way to make loads more money), and gave it a test flight. Two minutes later for the Doctor, and two years later for Amy, the Doctor returned and without struggle convinced Amy to come and travel through time and space with him. She accepted, and as they disappeared into the vortex we found out that she was getting married…
I must say that The Eleventh Hour is one of my favourite episodes of Matt Smith’s tenure. It was funny, clever, nicely paced, looked great (the grading was superb), full of jeopardy, and as barmily plotted as ever. It’s probably the best post-regeneration story there has been in Doctor Who’s 49 year history, beating The Christmas Invasion (10th Doctor), and Robot (4th), the closest competition, hands down. But how has Smith’s Eleventh Doctor fared since then?
For me Smith’s two series have been a largely smooth ride, but with some bumpy bits too. I’ll start with the lows because I don’t like ending on a downer. This will be an unpopular opinion… but occasionally, I find the current Doctor to be a little patronising, a bit too kiddy and bit too immature for my liking. I completely get that it’s a kids show, even if some people will argue that it is ‘for families’, but I do find this particular trait a little grating. Often kids shows can be more grown up than grown up shows – look at Press Gang, for instance. Then again, as the Fourth Doctor once said ‘what’s the point of being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes?’ Childishness is of course a quality that embodies a number of Doctors; the recorder wielding Troughton in The Three Doctors for example, or the gurning Eccleston in The End of the World. Some Doctors could pull it off, like Troughton, others couldn’t, like Eccleston. Smith for me is actually in both camps. Sometimes he gets it right, like in the early part of The Eleventh Hour with the fish fingers and custard, and sometimes he gets it wrong, like the revealing of the designer bedrooms in The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe, and all that stuff with the baby (Stormageddon) in Closing Time, both of which I thought were ever so cringe worthy.
Anyway, that’s the controversial bit out of the way. Now for the stuff I do like.
The high points for me were in The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone the weeping angel two-parter, The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang two part series five finale, series six openers The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon and in Tom MacRae’s The Girl Who Waited. I’ve singled out these episodes as they are moments when Smith is at his best and most versatile. In these episodes he’s funny (making the angels say “comfy chairs” was a classic), he’s dark (“No. She’s not real.”), he’s arrogant (“Who takes the pandorica, takes the universe, but bad news everyone, ‘cause guess who?”) and he’s surprising (“a mysterious summons. You think I’m just going to go?”). Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor is at his absolute best when he challenges the audience, and shows you glimpses of the Doctor that you’re not used to seeing. He’s capable of making you laugh, making you cry, and shocking the time head off you.
If you’re a Doctor Who fan you’ll notice that six of the seven episodes listed there also star Alex Kingston as Doctor River Song, and are written by Steven Moffat (lets ignore the fact that he wrote one of the episodes that I criticised… everyone has an off day). Smith thrives with excellent writing and top notch acting talent to bounce off. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are very good, but Kingston is a cut above.
To summarise then, for Tellybrain, Matt Smith is an outstanding Doctor when funny, dark, arrogant, and surprising, when he’s written for by Steven Moffat and Tom MacRae (honourable mentions to Neil Gaiman, and Richard Curtis too), and when he’s opposite Alex Kingston… but he should perhaps leave off with the interior design and the babysitting!
Oh bugger, I ended on a downer… erm… okay… why not watch the clips below that I believe show off Matt Smith at his very best.
The Eleventh Doctor being:
For more information about the episodes mentioned you could visit the BBC programme pages:
The Eleventh Hour
The End of the World
The Christmas Invasion
The Time of Angels
Flesh and Stone
The Pandorica Opens
The Big Bang
The Impossible Astronaut
Day of the Moon
The Girl Who Waited
The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe