Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Eleventh Doctor: An Introduction

The Eleventh Doctor:
Matt Smith (Born 1982)

**Author's Note: I had planned to review the Doctor Who catalog on this site, but given the sheer number of stories I opted to spin-off those reviews to a separate site: Gallifrey Exile. As such, readers will find reviews may hop from one site to another. Reviews are collected at a link at the end of this essay. Also, this essay was updated on January 2021.

Ah, to be young and naïve.

At the time I wrote this essay, I had great hopes for the newest Doctor. I wrote: 

"I am looking forward to Matt Smith's tenure as The Doctor even though I've never seen him act or heard his voice. Colin Baker had an excellent point about regeneration. You don't want Your Doctor to go, he said, but you're also excited because you wonder what The Next Doctor will be like (pun intended). 

The change from Hartnell to Troughton brought a different Doctor, as did the change to Pertwee, Tom Baker, Davison, Colin Baker, McCoy, McGann, Eccleston and Tennant. Each made it his own, and I hope Smith will do the same.

Tom Baker also made an interesting point. The Doctor, he said, is actor-proof. You could take an established character and make him your own. Each of the Doctors has done so, so why is Smith any different? It will depend on the scripts and the willingness of the public to accept one in the role.

For my part, I'm hoping for great things, and wishing Matt Smith well".

Now, looking back a good ten years since his debut story, I can see so many things that should have told me this was going to be the beginnings of a disaster. 

One thing I had not counted on was the emotional impact that having Tenth Doctor David Tennant regenerate to Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith would have on NuWho fans. I saw wails of tears from many fans at the transformation. This counters Colin Baker's view that fans usually are generally excited to see what the Next Doctor would do and be like.

Instead, I saw a fandom that could not tolerate change, that was dreading rather than looking forward to another actor in the role. Things only got worse when Smith would eventually regenerate to Capaldi. The regeneration was transformed from a somewhat routine but non-dramatic moment into this epic change requiring explosions and long, dramatic monologues. 

How could fans be so simple? I'd seen many regenerations, and only once did I actually cry. That was the regeneration from Third to Fourth, and it had nothing to do with my unwillingness to see Pertwee become Tom Baker. It had to do with Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen's actual acting. 

Another problem that I did not foresee was in how diminished the character would become. There's eccentric and then there's stupid. Smith's Doctor not only passed that line but smashed it beyond anything imaginable. In a future post, I was pretty positive about Smith but did warn that "he the risk of going too far in the comedic take", and I found that such fears would come to pass. The Eleventh Doctor became stupider and stupider. His fixations with fezes and bow ties, as well as his growing inability to function with a hint of sense, made him an object of ridicule. In short, a joke.

The Doctor could be eccentric, but Smith's version eventually came across as a near-total nitwit. 

Add to that how other characters eclipsed him. At times, The Doctor became a guest star on his own program, the dominant figures being the bossy Amy Pond and the Legendary Legend of Legendness Herself, River Song. First, we see with Amy just how stupid The Eleventh Doctor became. After centuries of dealing with humans, why did this Doctor think that Amy's husband Rory Williams was "Rory Pond", insisting that men took on their wives' names? Some men do, but fandom's insistence on calling the "The Ponds" when Rory was never a Pond was eye-rolling.

In Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, Rory's father made it a point to say "I AM NOT A POND!" to an either oblivious or downright imbecilic Doctor. Smith's Doctor went from frantic to dysfunctional. 

Worse, there was River Song. Granted, I had missed her debut story but soon River not only started appearing more and more prominent in other stories but went from a guest character to the almost de facto star. She was built up as this great figure with her catchphrases "Hello, Sweetie" and "Spoilers!", who not only knew how to pilot the TARDIS better but ridiculed the Doctor for "leaving the parking brake on". It was beyond cringe-inducing.

River Song eventually not only became the child of Amy and her husband "Mr. Pond" but managed to regenerate herself because she was conceived by the power of the Holy TARDIS. I don't know what the motivation was to diminish the lead character to celebrate a minor, obnoxious insignificant one, but it was a terrible mistake. This would not stop with Amy or her daughter, but with Clara Oswald, another obnoxious Companion know-it-all who somehow became this most important of figures.

She told the First Doctor which TARDIS to take, despite the TARDIS saying she select him in The Doctor's Wife, a title later reserved for River Song.  A total mess.

Finally, I saw a group of absolutely dreadful stories: the aforementioned DOAS, A Town Called Mercy, Closing Time, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

I left the Matt Smith Era so bitterly disillusioned, and grew disenchanted with Smith's portrayal. 

Oh, but little did I know...

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