Matt Smith: My Doctor – Part 1: The Eleventh Hour
Guest contributors K-Ci Williams and Luke Gwalchmai begin a Matt Smith retrospective looking at his time on the show.
For fifty years we’ve seen the Time Lord known as the Doctor travel through time and space, with an undisclosed number of faces. Seriously, nobody knows anymore – does John Hurt count as an incarnation of the Doctor regardless of his ‘Warrior’ title? Must we count David Tennant’s spawn as a result of hand growth? Believe you me; I’m just as confused by every theory under Gallifrey’s two suns, but Matt Smith will always be the Eleventh Doctor to me – and most importantly, My Doctor.
The matter of ‘Who is the Best Doctor’ is a concept I do not take lightly. When asked to rank all incarnations of the Doctor from best to worst, I have refused on countless occasions to submit my vote. This is because I do not have a favourite Doctor. Matt Smith was the Doctor who I first met, and he was sealed onto my heart as ‘My’ Doctor, but all of the other Doctors before him are just as equally commendable for their portrayal of a great man. Now, each of the people who have chosen ‘their’ Doctor would have a good reason for doing so. The justification for Smith being mine is that the first time I watched the show religiously was when I sat down to view The Eleventh Hour (2010). It was the beginning of an era, a golden era; an era that ends on Christmas Day in less than a week.
With all of the chaos surrounding the momentous 50th Anniversary, the demise of the Time Lord I’ve grown to love is a lot closer than I have anticipated. It is in an act of nostalgic fondness and a great deal of sentiment that I present the first in a series of articles focusing on the three series in which Matt Smith portrayed the Doctor; his incumbent role in The Day of the Doctor, culminating in a sincere farewell following the events of the Christmas Special, The Time of the Doctor. Perhaps the greatest focal point to commence this series would be Matt’s first episode, The Eleventh Hour. The cherry on top of the Moffat-baked cake is Matt’s performance, which stands the test of time as the single most charismatic debut of any Doctor I have ever seen.
Legs! I’ve still got legs. Good. Arms. Hands. Ooh! Fingers. Lots of fingers. Ears, yes. Eyes, two. Nose. And I’ve had worse. Chin. Blimey. Hair. I’m a girl. No. No. I’m not a girl. And still not ginger. Something else. Something important. I’m…crashing! GERONIMO
While this is actually from The End of Time, it is the first dialogue Steven Moffat presents for Matt to play from. It’s all a bit over-the-place in this scene. He’s crashing, and he’s mad and you get the feeling that he is the Doctor. It would be such a challenge to follow in the “sand-shoes” of David Tennant, such a challenge worthy of Smith. When you read the dialogue aloud plainly, you sense the generic Moffat behind it – you know, that fluttery stuff with lots of short sentences that comes together oh so beautifully only when performed by Matt Smith himself. There’s a moment in this scene where his voice catches, and he sort of ‘cracks’ a high note in his performance, and it’s a moment that I absolutely love. It almost certainly foreshadows what becomes the Eleventh Doctor’s quirks and vocal modulation throughout his tenure. But now to the episode.
Why does no-one ever listen to me? Do I just have a face that nobody listens to?
Let’s look at Matt Smith’s appearance. Youthful, and oh that chin! Obviously fans were sceptical about the casting of yet another younger man in the role, but Smith most definitely wins over the viewership. To answer the Doctor’s question: Yes, he absolutely has a face that nobody listens to. But this is more so how people respond to the Doctor, in the way that people do the complete opposite of what he says out of curiosity in the story’s apparent danger. The Eleventh Hour not only introduces Matt Smith’s Doctor, but also Amy Pond as his companion, and this duo works so well that you can’t help but surrender to Smith’s portrayal. Just off the top of my head, another moment I can’t neglect is the creation of Fish Fingers and Custard, of which I have never ever eaten. In short, the story pans out with the still-recovering-from-regeneration Doctor having to save the Earth from the intergalactic Police, the Atraxi. In terms of Smith’s appearance, it’s the actual progression of the plot that establishes his appearance through a new costume.
What? What? WHAT?
As Amy indicates that she is in fact an older Amelia, the Doctor remarks by asking ‘what’ three times, reminiscent of David Tennant’s tradition of exclaiming the same thing at the end of every series. It not only makes us remember that he has indeed just regenerated from Tennant, but that he is everything that came before – the Time Lord who committed genocide and killed his own people, and the grumpy man from 1963 who travelled with his granddaughter Susan and her two teachers. I’ve not always been as accustomed to the ‘Classic’ Doctors as they are now called, but because Smith’s portrayal weaves so much of previous incarnations into it, I can’t help but watch a Classic story at a moment’s opportunity.
No TARDIS. No screwdriver. 17 minutes.
The spirit of the Doctor is largely conveyed through the dialogue, but the full performance is due to Matt Smith. In the plot, the way that the Doctor defeats Prisoner Zero and stops the Atraxi is creative to say the least. Come on, he drives a blimmin’ fire engine in the process – probably less of Smith’s input and more of Moffat’s ‘grand’ ideas I suspect. Nevertheless, Smith proves that he can play a light and ‘playful’ Doctor in its essence. I cast your mind back to his delivery of the line “who da man?” which still clicks my funny bone out of place every now and then. What Matt does in his debut story is suspend the audience’s disbelief and makes them believe that he most certainly is the Doctor, and he will prevail in saving the world.
Hello. I’m the Doctor. Basically, run.
Okay, so of course this is my absolute favourite scene of the episode. In a few short minutes, Steven Moffat offers a promising future for writing talents invested in the show, but even more so Matt Smith pledges to never fall short of the previous ten actors who had played the iconic Time Lord. The whole dialogue exchange between the Atraxi and the Doctor summarises the premise of the show; the madman in a blue box who protects. Smith asks what happened to those who tried to overrun humanity, and the Atraxi hologram beams shots of all of them, all of the Doctors – Hartnell to Tennant – before he himself steps through it and delivers the above line, with a light sense of sovereignty, as well as the tweed and the bowtie. He allows the audience a trip into the future to see that his Doctor will be serious at times, but also very youthful. Every fan of Matt Smith remembers this moment. Of course they do. It’s the ultimate realisation for us that finally, Matt Smith is the Doctor.
In conclusion, who could have asked for a better debut story than The Eleventh Hour? It really does feel like it was only yesterday when I first watched it, when I first fell in love with this strange, mysterious being called the Doctor. It’s odd to discuss something I thought would never come, at least not this soon, but alas, we are going to have to farewell Matt from the role at Christmas. But at least this might make it easier to say goodbye. In the words of the Fourth Doctor, “It’s the end… but the moment has been prepared for.” With that I bow out ‘til the second part of this series, until then… GERONIMO.
Come back tomorrow for part two looking at Matt Smith in the rest of Series 5.