Matt Smith: My Doctor – Part 4: Series 7
Guest contributors K-Ci Williams and Luke Gwalchmai continue their Matt Smith retrospective.
The Time of the Doctor is almost upon us, so we shall press on by taking a look back at Series 7. Following a divisive second series and opinion-dividing Christmas special (more on those in the next article), Matt Smith returned for his third series, which saw his Doctor lose his best friends, and make new ones (Clara, Clara, and Clara). Let’s take a look at one key aspect we enjoyed from each story…
Asylum of the Daleks
This is a great series opener, with a whole lot of Daleks on show. The episode has arguably the kindest and certainly the best looking Dalek of them all: Oswin Oswald! Throughout the episode she saves the Doctor, Amy and Rory on multiple occasions. The scene where she is revealed as a Dalek is heart breaking. The Doctor looks absolutely devastated in this scene; and the disgust in his voice when he says “but you are a Dalek!” shows just how much he hates them. I think he found a new way that the Daleks make him sick in this episode alone. It’s a very powerful scene with both actors showcasing their talent tremendously.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
Following from the dark tones of last series, the second instalment of the Pond-farewell series featured David Bradley as Solomon the trader, a man who the Doctor sends to his death. The Doctor is the Time Lord who makes people better, but when aggravated, he will strike. This was alluded to in A Good Man Goes to War, but here you get a more mature sense of the lengths he will go to in order to secure the safety of those he loves. Apart from the very ambitious title which doesn’t translate well in terms its significance to the plot (Dinosaurs are not the main focus), the episode makes to portray the Doctor, and Matt Smith paints his Doctor with a slightly darker brush. It becomes increasingly clear that the Doctor is becoming more and more prone to violence.
A Town Called Mercy
The Eleventh Doctor’s darker side comes creeping to the surface again in this episode. This comes to fruition as he chases Kahler-Jex over the line and aims a gun at his face from point blank range. The Doctor is almost unrecognisable here, Kahler-Jex has got inside his head, and made him angry; the last person to do that was Solomon in the previous episode, and look what happened to him. It appears that the only reason he didn’t kill Jex himself or allow the Gunslinger to kill him was because of Amy; otherwise he would have killed Jex like he did Solomon. It’s a truly harrowing scene as we see what the Doctor is capable of if he travels alone for too long without a companion.
The Power of Three
Two sides of the Doctor are portrayed here: the impatient Doctor who has to mow the lawns to pass time, and the sentimental Doctor who doesn’t want to lose his best friends. It’s creatively performed by Smith, and his sentiment feels genuine, probably because this story was one of the last for the Ponds in filming order. “You were the first. The first face this face saw. And you were seared onto my hearts, Amelia Pond. You always will be. I’m running to you, and Rory, before you fade from me.” This was delivered with a reminiscent tone, remembering the last few years of the Ponds with the Doctor, before their departure in the next episode…
The Angels Take Manhattan
This is one of my (K-Ci) favourite episodes of this show, definitely in my Top 5 stories. It’s the first story that made me cry. I was losing my companions, just like the Doctor. I find it very easy to write about Angels because it was full of emotion. Matt’s acting was superb, but the award really goes to Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill – the real ‘angels’ of the piece. All were on their best form; determined to give the Ponds a proper send-off. Angels is the only episode that has made me feel one particular thing: empathy. Watching the Doctor cry over his loss; the panning down to the Ponds’ grave; Murray Gold; everything, it made me feel like I was the Doctor in that moment, and like a lot of fans, I was feeling his emotions in Matt’s performance and I was empathetic. I know change is necessary, but this episode evoked raw sentiment, and I can’t imagine what I will be like at Christmas.
The Bells of Saint John
This is an episode where the Doctor is just as befuddled as we are, asking the same question; who is Clara Oswald? He has withdrawn to a place of peace to try to solve the mystery of how he has seen the same woman three times, and twice she has died. He becomes very protective of her after he saves her from being uploaded, and that is carried on throughout the series. The Doctor also shows us just how brilliantly clever he is by hacking the Spoonhead disguised as him that uploaded Clara and using it to save her and everyone trapped in the cloud.
The Rings of Akhaten
Matt Smith’s tenure has been rife with magnificent speeches, and one of my (K-Ci) favourites comes from this episode. Apparently, this is a divisive episode among fans, but I absolutely love it; I think it’s a gem. The speech is one of my favourite moments of Smith’s entire tenure; full of loss and heartbreak, but also plentiful in hope and love. I feel that Smith outdoes himself here. His tears feel genuine in his performance, and it was the highlight of the episode. When I come to think of it, I’d love for Smith to go out in a blaze of glory in his final story, accompanied by a speech like this one, but even more sentimental and even more challenging to play. But if the Akhaten speech is any indication to what’s possible, Smith’s last performance will be a genuinely moving piece.
Throughout Series 7 the Doctor encounters people that he can relate to, to a certain extent. There is Kahler-Jex, Alec Palmer and in Cold War, Skaldak. He can relate to Skaldak because he is convinced that he is the last of his kind, just like the Doctor. Knowing that he thinks he’s all alone, the Doctor surmises that he has nothing left to lose, so is even more dangerous because he doesn’t care about his own safety; his anger is taking over him, and his desire for vengeance is high. The Doctor can relate to this because when he is all alone, he lets his anger get the better of him, so he understands how Skaldak is feeling.
“I am the Doctor and I am afraid”
Watching my Doctor say this and having Matt Smith perform so well sends shivers down my spine. The significance of those words coming from the Doctor’s mouth is frightening. Throughout the series, we’ve seen his patience tested, and his comical side. But here, we see his comedy wedged to the side as real apparent fear takes over. The mysterious and eerie atmosphere created by the production team complements this moment, and Smith certainly proves that in such a demanding role, he can deliver a range of emotions upon the directions of the script. However, the plot is overshadowed by the ending: I enjoyed the whole time travel story (although I would’ve liked an actual ghost) but the last minute love story seemed too contrived for me.
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
In this episode, there is a key moment in the Doctor and Clara’s relationship, until she forgets! When the Doctor realises that Clara is about to die again, he looks absolutely devastated, he wanted to keep her safe, so he could work out who or what she is. And later the Doctor fully confronts Clara over the other versions of her he has met. He seems to have lost patience here, he is stumped as to who she is, and so he just comes out and confronts her. He is so relieved when she has no clue what he is on about, and in a split second, snaps back from being angry and frustrated, to the normal Doctor again. The Doctor really shows here that he has an unstable personality. And it’s great acting from Matt Smith.
The Crimson Horror
A fairly Doctor and Clara-light episode here, but when the Doctor does rock up in this episode, he has a really touching moment with Ada, when he reveals to her that he is alive and well. He really shows his sensitive and caring side towards Ada, and becomes protective over her, he wants to see her okay, and protect her from her, to put it bluntly, absolutely crazy mother! This is the kind side of the Doctor that’s lovely to see, it shows him helping people, which what he really wants to do.
Nightmare in Silver
This was a highlight of Series 7 for me (K-Ci). Neil Gaiman’s latest script laid the way to test Matt further; it was also a great translation from script to screen. As the Doctor and the Cyber-Planner, Smith was able to break new ground three series into his tenure. On first viewing I enjoyed the episode whole-heartedly, but rediscovering Matt’s talent that has come forth is something different entirely: I would name the story one of the best of the series. It’s impossible to actually list relevant quotes for this story because the majority of it has Smith as the Cyber-Planner, a portrayal you must watch fully to be amazed by the sheer level of dissimilarity observable between the Doctor and the Cyber-Planner.
The Name of the Doctor
“The Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave. It is discovered.”
A groundbreaking finale: full of emotion, comedy and a cliffhanger! It almost saddens me that Matt is leaving because his performance in this story begs that he stay for at least another series, alas, he’s decided to leave on a high. He conveys the peculiarity of the Doctor when he says “the little Daleks” with such a Doctor-ish tone; it sets a light tone for the dramatic downturn into darkness that follows in the eerie episode. “And it was Trenzalore? It was definitely Trenzalore?” Tears run down the Doctor’s face. It’s awfully commanding, and if you watch the show religiously then you know why he’s sentimental. Matt’s performance when he’s writhing on the floor with his timeline being corrupted is certainly a commendable showcase of the range of skills he has used to play the Doctor. Finally, we have Matt and Alex Kingston in a tear jerking and supposed goodbye to River. It’s beautifully played, and you definitely gain the sense that he can go on playing the Doctor forever. And that cliffhanger…
This is too difficult to decide so instead we’ll go with our ‘favourite’ moment, which was the speech to the Old God. We feel that it encompasses the story of the Doctor; at its core it’s just a heartwarming moment.
Next time we take a look at the Christmas Specials and the 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor, as well as the Eleventh Doctor’s appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures. Let us know in the comments which of the Series 7 stories you thought saw Matt perform at his best.