4 Reasons Why the Smith Era is the Greatest
Guest contributor Anthony Retondo shares his reasoning.
Today marks the end of an era — a wonderful adventure that started in 2010 and revolved around mystery, love, action, drama and fun. There have been ups and downs, but to my mind the era of Matt Smith has been the greatest ever for the show. Allow me to explain why I think that is…
Doctor Who is a show about time travel. It’s about a bow-tie wearing alien who travels the galaxy, hopping from one random stop to the next. So why is it that it took me so long to realize that Steven Moffat’s writing was so appropriate? Matt Smith’s era on the show is the one that I feel makes the most sense tonally. Some viewers get confused at the non-linear style of storytelling present in Series 5, 6 and 7. I applaud it.
In a show about jumping to spontaneous sections of time and space it makes sense that certain sequences would happen out of order for the Doctor and his companions. Sometimes the beginning is actually the end. We see the ramifications of an event before the actual event itself. It’s so obvious, yet so brilliant at the same time, and it bends a viewer’s mind. It’s this one major reason why I believe Doctor Who is unlike any other science fiction program. The storytelling is exceptionally unique.
River Song is the greatest example of unique storytelling in Matt’s era. Regardless of whether or not her ultimate identity was satisfying, her story is told in a way unlike anything we’d seen before. The first time the Doctor met her she died. It was her last time. Now, the two are moving in opposite directions, experiencing moments that may have greater impact to one, but not as much to another because of the way they meet. It’s mad, and it is brilliant. It just doesn’t make sense for the Doctor not to experience life events out of order. His TARDIS takes him where it wants, and as it teaches him, sometimes the linear pathway is not always the right one.
Telling someone who isn’t a fan why you’re excited for tonight’s Christmas special is difficult. Yes, all eyes will be on Matt and his departure, but “The Time of the Doctor” is also tasked with the challenge of answering many lingering questions throughout the series. In some cases, those answers are actually questions — questions to answers we already know — the Silence hate the Doctor. Why? We’ve seen the effect, and now it is time for the cause. It’s backwards storytelling, and it’s insane. It’s why I believe Matt’s era on the show is the one that has made the most sense, because in some crazy, warped way, it is the most realistic given the narrative.
The Exploration of the Doctor
No, Moffat never threw everything but the kitchen sink at the screen, but his ideas were ambitious. The central theme of Smith’s era on the show has revolved around the Doctor himself, and ignoring the obvious lead up “The Day of the Doctor” it worked for other reasons.
Many of the characters themselves were told from a story point based on the Doctor and how he affects their lives. At times, it made certain characters feel like a backdrop, but somehow the Eleventh Doctor still retained his western themes — Being the hero who stands in the background and swoops in when needed.
But on many occasions the story did revolve around him, much to Moffat’s insistence on the contrary. The Smith era explored the inner-workings of the Doctor. What is his goal? What does the name he chose mean? Why did he start and why is he running? Series 7 especially was a character study of the Doctor, and it worked wonderfully. While still remaining a mystery, fans got to learn a lot about the Doctor’s character (And as it turns out, he is still as mysterious as ever) The previous eras of the show took a brilliant look at the dark side of the Doctor and his past with the Time war, but Moffat’s era has thus far decided to take a look at the man himself. It’s kept a steady tone throughout Smith’s era, and it has been intriguing from the beginning. Even the title of the show itself has worked its way into the narrative in a way that doesn’t feel gimmicky.
That’s clearly the ultimate goal of Moffat: to focus on the Doctor himself. The companions matter, but in the end the Smith era tried to cement the thought that it’s the Doctor himself who we’ll still be traveling with til the final episode, and it’s him who the show is about.
There are some fans that criticize Steven Moffat’s era on the show for having one-dimensional characters. I never understood this notion. The Ponds, to me, were the prime example for negating that claim.
Amy Pond, for instance, is a character that underwent a massive arc throughout the series. Someone would be lying if they say they see no change with her character from the “The Eleventh Hour” up until “The Angels Take Manhattan.” Her character grows and changes during her time with the Doctor, like a real human being would. It’s not the deepest arc in fictional work, but it does show depth. The Ponds time during Smith’s era is absolutely one of the highlights and Amy’s story is one of my personal favorites.
She begins as an innocent little girl, who admittedly has an unconventional life. Her parents seem negligent and she is forced to live with her one aunt who she doesn’t speak too fondly of. Immediately, her spunky attitude as an older woman makes sense. She’s had to fend for herself most of her life. It makes her defensive, independent — Someone who never likes to show vulnerability.
But the Doctor is the one person who reveals her vulnerability. He had an incredibly huge impact on her life because he appeared to her at a time when she was most open to the fantastic: childhood. As she grows up, that fondness for him carries over. The Doctor is someone who has lived for 900 years and travels space and time. His intelligence is off the charts and he’s a lunatic. What person wouldn’t see him as a superhero?
So then her character begins to go through what I think is a wonderfully written arc. Throughout the course of series 5, she learns that it’s OK to lower her guard once and a while. She starts to see in episodes like “Amy’s Choice” and “Cold Blood” what really matters to her. Not this childhood fantasy that she’s been clinging to, but this other person who truly cares about her: Rory. Amy begins to grow up, and drop the brash, feisty attitude. She sees the wonderful gift that life has offered to her, and she seizes the opportunity by marrying Rory.
But at that point, it’s still clear that she harbors a strong appreciation for the Doctor. She sees him as a superhero that can do no wrong. Throughout series 6, the Doctor constantly shows her how flawed he is and gets her to confirm what she’s known deep down all along: That he’s just a madman in a box. Finally, the two are on equal levels. The Doctor is no longer elevated above her. He is her friend.
And then her story comes full circle quite beautifully in “The Angels Take Manhattan.” As the angel takes her husband away, Amy is able to, without any hesitation, take the chance at being with him, even if it means losing the Doctor forever. She’s grown up. The fantasy is no longer as appealing as a normal life, and there is some side to her that has outgrown the Doctor.
What’s so tragic about the ending of the Pond era is the way the Doctor and Amy completely switch roles. Amy is able to go after Rory without any hesitation, while the Doctor is the one who clings to her. He’s not able to accept it, and she is. To me, this means she’s grown up significantly since her first episode, and has developed as a human being would. I love the way she changes over time. It’s not to say her character is dumb and needed guidance. On the contrary, she learns to heal the damage that’s been done to her and she gains belonging, like any human being does.
Rory, unfortunately, is not as complicated. He’ll always be the everyman, but this once-third wheel still learns a bit. Amy and the Doctor teach him how to be courageous. He starts off as the tin dog of the group, clueless at times and not even able to fend for the woman he loves.
His arc isn’t nearly as dramatic, but he grows up to be a hero, more so than even the Doctor at times. He proves himself to be worthy of the TARDIS seat. Just as Amy learns to let go of fantasy and realize what she has, Rory is able to gain self-confidence and keep up with someone as adventurous as her. It’s not the deepest love story, but it’s this chemistry between these three that flourished during Smith’s era.
The Man Himself
But when it comes down to it — ignoring the plots, the character arcs and the writing — there is one quintessential reason that the Smith era worked: Smith himself.
For a while, I didn’t get Smith’s Doctor. I loved him. I knew he was my favorite, but I never knew what it was that defined him. And here, at the end, I realize.
He is the enclosed Doctor. His performance expresses so much of his Doctor’s personality while also making it apparent that something is being concealed. In fact, Smith’s entire era has revolved around secrets, and that is what his Doctor is: secretive. He’s a Doctor who doesn’t like to wear his emotions on his sleeve at all times. He can be zany, childish and charming, but it almost feels like a shield.
I feel that Tennant’s performance of the Doctor never left much to the imagination. We knew he was regretful, we knew he loathed what he had become. But Eleven hid it. It was always apparent that there was something inside of him that was slowly tearing him apart.
In “The Day of the Doctor” we found out one of those secrets was. He was running from his past. He wanted to forget everything and go back to being the madman in the box. And so, there was a deep complexity within Eleven. Smith, however, took this approach and amplified it, giving a spectacular performance. One minute he acts like a child discovering something for the first time. The next, he quietly mourns with a blank stare. It was always apparent that the fun, carefree side of him was what he wanted to be. And then he relinquishes his shield when he speaks to the parasitic star on Akhaten, when he tells Amy he really is just a madman in a box, when he cries at the thought of going to Trenzalore.
It’s all in the subtlety. Smith loved to animate the Doctor, using his hands a lot, but he also knew how to convey the true Doctor — a somewhat tired old man with a lot of regret buried deep within. His eyes were never lit with anger the way Tennant’s did. It was never apparent what exactly his Doctor was feeling. He brought a much needed complexity to the role, and because of his subtle acting, he seemed like had genuinely lived for over 900 years. His performance conveyed so much more without words.
Moments like his speech to Amelia in the end of “The Big Bang” made this apparent. Here Smith portrays an old man who was tired of the constant running. He quietly reflects and regrets, no tear in his eye, as if the Doctor has become too tired to feel emotion at times. But his companions prevent that. His companions remind him of who he was, and what he set out to be in the first place. This is a theme that is brought to brilliant closure in “The Day of the Doctor.” Smith is a Doctor who I genuinely believe could have caused mass genocide had Clara not been there. Because his Doctor feels so old, so alien and it’s all because of Matt Smith’s subtle yet effective acting.
But every one of these elements combined wonderfully to create what I think has been Doctor Who’s finest hour. I shall look back on these three series quite fondly, remembering the wacky antics of the Eleventh Doctor, the story of the Ponds and how they changed, the mystery, the intrigue and the adventure. Only time will tell whether this era comes to a satisfying close, but we don’t have long to wait…