On December 25th 2013, Matt Smith concludes his tenure as the Doctor. Since he emerged after the regeneration in 2010, viewers have had the privilege of watching a very different performance from the hugely popular predecessor.
It was considered a gamble at the time. There were concerns that the actor was too young. That he was relatively untried in such demanding roles. That the guy before him cast too big a shadow.
By the end of The Eleventh Hour I was firmly in favour of Smith’s Doctor. We can talk about many different factors behind him doing so well. We can talk about co-stars, directors, writers and other brilliant support that enabled him to do what he did from 2010-2013. The bottom line remains, however, that the guy in the title role has to deliver. It is he that determines the fate of the show, and so it is his performances that are critical to the show going from strength to strength or not. Smith proved from the start that he could handle the job.
The brilliant set-up for Smith to emerge through the hologram images of the (then) ten actors that had played him before and say rather simply that he was the Doctor, was one of those occasions that left me cheering to the rafters.
His first season remains the best first season of any Doctor. Even Tom Baker took a while to settle down. Smith got the hang of it straightaway, whether it was the mystery of who Amy Pond was, what the Silence was all about, what was the crack through time and space. These things defined Smith’s Doctor early on.
Even in the episodes that didn’t really work for me, like the very next one The Beast Below, Smith put in a confident performance. I recall the anger he had raging at the choice between killing the people or killing the whale – this was very different to the last guy. His idea of adventure was very different as well.
Moffat reckons Smith captures the fact that this man is an old time-traveller. He certainly doesn’t act his age in the sense of being a young man. He can shift from the vibrant, twirling adventurer to a very still portrayal of a man who has seen a lot.
His take on humour was outstanding too. The Lodger was a brilliant platform for his abilities at physical as well as verbal humour. He was far more alien as well. Any characterisation of the Doctor that highlights him being an alien is always a winner in my book. I particularly enjoyed the habit he had of looking to explain things only to state that how he was explaining them was not to be accepted.
The angst that Smith brought to the role, particularly in this last season – just those long looks that scream of what could have been have been excellent. I’ve loved him being manic. I insist that the Rebel Flesh/Almost People double is one of the best two-part stories of the new era, precisely because of the chance to Doctor enjoying himself with his Ganger.
What makes this Doctor stand out from his predecessors is his engagement with children. Like never before this Doctor interacts with children and can really get on with them, whilst retaining the element of mystery.
I felt there was something about the trilogy regarding Smith’s tenure. This allowed the first season to establish the mysteries with a bang and the second season to be look to unearth answers, only deepening the questions leading to a third season that has started new mysteries whilst resolving others. It is fitting he should end at the same season of the year as he started.
Whether it was his speech in The Pandorica Opens, the fun he obviously has in the Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon double bill or his brilliant turn in Nightmare in Silver, he has been brilliant. Not only that, he leaves whilst at the peak of his powers in the role.
It is not a pity that he won’t be as fondly regarded as his predecessor. His brilliance will be recognised in the fullness of time. He doesn’t need the pining after that Tennant received, because he’s a different Doctor. He is the Doctor we certainly needed at this time, whether we truly appreciate it or not. He leaves the role in good hands, and Capaldi has a great base on which to develop his own Doctor.
In the meantime, thank you Matt Smith for being a superb Doctor. It is a body of work of which to be proud.
C. L. J. Dryden