Retrospective: The 11th Doctor
John Hussey concludes his retrospective series with Matt Smith.
- Find the First Doctor Retrospective here
- Find the Second Doctor Retrospective here
- Find the Third Doctor Retrospective here
- Find the Fourth Doctor Retrospective here
- Find the Fifth Doctor Retrospective here
- Find the Sixth Doctor Retrospective here
- Find the Seventh Doctor Retrospective here
- Find the Eighth Doctor Retrospective here
- Find the Ninth Doctor Retrospective here
- Find the Tenth Doctor Retrospective here
The Origins of the Eleventh Doctor
David Tennant decided to leave the role feeling that his time was up. It was more a case of him being brave and making the hard decision to leave, believing that if he didn’t then he may never go. David joked saying that the crew would eventually be wheeling him around in a bath chair if he didn’t leave. He made the announcement unexpectedly during his award for Outstanding Drama Performance at the 2008 National Television Awards, giving his fans one year to prepare for his departure from the show.
Matt Smith was next to take centre stage as the mad Time Lord. He was fairly unknown by the general public and was thought of as an unwise choice by some to begin with. This line of thought quickly changed of course as soon as he arrived onscreen. Pre-Who Matt had appeared in a variety of shows, mainly as a co-star rather than a leading role, in shows such as The Ruby and the Smoke, The Shadow in the North, The Secret Diary of a Call Girl and Party Animals. Upon hearing that David Tennant was leaving, he decided to give it a go and did his best to bring forward a new kind of enthusiasm and approach to the character that instantly made Steven Moffat and co realise that they had found their new Doctor.
The early debates about his casting were mainly claims that he was too young and too unknown to even have a go at replacing Tennant, who was very popular in the public eyes. Nevertheless Matt excelled at his role as the Eleventh Doctor and really did give it his all by portraying the character true to himself and bringing forth constant enthusiasm for the part and embracing it.
Sadly all good things come to an end and on 1st June 2013 it was announced that Matt would be leaving the role after three successful series, along with three Christmas specials. Matt ended his tenure with a further two specials, firstly the 50th anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ and then his final episode ‘The Time of the Doctor’ at Christmas. Like Tennant, Smith left the role feeling it was time to step down. Matt joked afterwards about whether or not he had made the right decision. At the end of the day he felt he had done his part and believed he would be leaving on a high. While the fans will still miss him, Matt simply didn’t want to overstay his welcome. He certainly left behind a legacy and gave it his all throughout his four years on the show.
Era and Stories
The Eleventh Doctor’s era took the show into an entirely different direction. It incorporated various themes for the structure of each of the series. Series Five incorporated fairy tale elements, with Series Six adopting an American-style season structure, while Series Seven incorporated movie-themed ideas into each of the episodes. Steven Moffat, the new showrunner and Russell T Davies’ replacement, decided upon using this experimental idea to keep the show fresh by trying out new directions each year.
One of the most obvious changes within the Eleventh Doctor’s era was the step away from being set on Earth. While some stories were Earth based, very rarely was it set within modern times and had a tendency to be set in the past. The idea of following the stories of the companions and their families was mostly dropped as well. Amy Pond’s parents were seen briefly in ‘The Big Bang’ when they were brought back into existence after being erased from time by the Time Cracks. Rory Williams’ dad was finally seen in Series Seven during ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ and ‘The Power of Three’. As for Clara Oswald, her family members were mainly seen through flashbacks (most notably in ‘The Rings of Akhaten’) and weren’t actually seen in proper person by the Eleventh Doctor until his final story ‘The Time of the Doctor’.
The companions received many storylines but they revolved around the life of the Eleventh Doctor and were somehow involved in or were concerned with him. Unlike the Davies era, the Doctor was more centre stage within the storytelling, namely with the ‘Silence will fall’ story-arc. His era brought in new depth by challenging him with his deepest darkest secrets, i.e. his name. The entire structure of the era was riddled with mystery and messages all leading to its end and the circumstances of the Eleventh Doctor’s death. Each hint was revealed in drips and slowly unveiled Steven Moffat’s master plan piece by piece.
The Silence were eventually revealed to be trying to prevent the Doctor from reaching Trenzalore due to it meaning he could bring back the Time Lords which would cause a second Time War. They went back in time and tried on two occasions to assassinate him, first by blowing up his TARDIS and secondly kidnapping River Song and training her to become the perfect assassin. Each of these attempts only progressed the Eleventh Doctor’s character and his resources for manipulation on the highest standards. He escaped his fate by both manipulating the minds of Amy Pond and River Song. The first was telling Amy a story that would remind her of him, thus allowing her to bring him back into reality and the second was making River fall in love with him and that prevented her from assassinating him. He also used manipulation to fool the universe into believing he was dead and brought about the end of the Silence’s attempts to stop him reaching Trenzalore.
The era also brought about revealing secrets about the Time Lord that were previously unknown. It was discovered at the end of ‘The Name of the Doctor’ that he held a secret incarnation. This was explored in greater details in the 50th anniversary special, ‘The Day of the Doctor’. He was known as the ‘War Doctor’ who discarded himself from the rest of the Doctors by becoming a warrior, walking away from the promise they all swore by in using the name ‘Doctor’. It was during the events where the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor bumped into the War Doctor that the Doctor finally decided to change history. The result of the last day of the Time War was rewritten and Gallifrey was instead saved rather than be destroyed by the Moment. This change in events that we thought happened has now allowed the Eleventh Doctor to journey onto his new quest of finding Gallifrey and in the end causes his downfall.
U.N.I.T. was once again reintroduced, this time becoming a more major part within the narrative again like with the Third Doctor’s era. U.N.I.T. returned in Series Seven during the events of ‘The Power of Three’ where the Eleventh Doctor worked alongside them. This story also introduced Kate Stewart, the daughter of the late Brigadier. She and U.N.I.T. returned alongside the Time Lord in ‘The Day of the Doctor’.
The Eleventh Doctor’s era continued the idea of the Time Lord meeting historical figures from the past as established in the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s era. These included:
- Winston Churchill – ‘Victory of the Daleks’, ‘The Pandorica Opens’ and ‘The Wedding of River Song’
- Vincent van Gogh – ‘Vincent and the Doctor’
- President Nixon – ‘The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon’
- Adolf Hitler – ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’
- Queen Nefertiti – ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’
- Henry VIII – ‘The Power of Three’
- Queen Elizabeth I – ‘The Day of the Doctor’
The stories presented in this era were quite dark in tone, whilst maintaining a balance of fun with the Eleventh Doctor’s different personality traits. The storylines became quite deep and serious and in some ways more complicated in nature. The story-arcs became centre of the narrative, especially within Series Six. They were more engaging then the ones placed within Davies era (i.e. they were more full on by design and were there to progress as each series went on instead of being individual arcs for each series). Another popular theme was having a finale set around the idea of time going wrong as depicted in ‘The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang’ and ‘The Wedding of River Song’.
‘The Name of the Doctor’ took the different approach with a more straightforward plot that pulled together many of the story-arcs’ meanings and revelations and began to unravel what was really going on. It depicted Trenzalore, the one place the Doctor shouldn’t go at a point after the events of his supposed prophecy. We for the first time were given a proper look into the idea of the Doctor dying (second if you count the build up to his apparent death in Series Six) with the inclusion of a real grave. The interesting part was that his grave was inside his own dead TARDIS and his body was reduced to a time-stream of his life and adventures.
The story-arcs all lead to the events of ‘The Time of the Doctor’ and the end result resulted in Steven Moffat finding a solution to the Time Lords’ regeneration limitations and gave the Doctor a new set of lives to play with, basically placing the foundations of the next 50 years into play.
Character Traits, Personality and Catchphrases
The Eleventh Doctor had a whole new take on how he saw himself and behaved. He became very childlike, a trait that has followed all of the Doctors, but perhaps even more so than before. This way of behaviour very much defined him and, a bit like with the Second Doctor, it was hard for his companions and the people around him to take him seriously sometimes. It made him quite strange and a lot more alien than his last incarnation who took on more of a human side. That part of him was very much over and he drifted back into being an outsider when it came to human behaviour.
He very much became a mad man with a box, which he frequently defined himself as. Over time though his childlike nature became less and less dominate and gradually more serious as a character. He certainly went through many stages of character development throughout his long life.
His beginning saw him immediately on the go. As soon as his incarnation kicked in at the end of ‘The End of Time’ he was quickly examining his body with a burst of energy and excitement before realising his TARDIS was in fact crashing. Upon crash landing in Amy Pond’s garden in ‘The Eleventh Hour’ a very childlike Eleventh Doctor went through the phase of getting into the swing of things by trying out a variety of different foods, all of which got chucked in a comical manner until he picked the one he wanted. He ended up settling for fish fingers and custard.
Throughout the rest of the adventure he gradually got into the full swing of things and, for the first time since the Fourth Doctor, he had a calm transition with no major post-regeneration problems and he just flowed into his new body with speed and determination.
The serious side of the Eleventh Doctor always made him unpredictable. He was a fun, caring Doctor but also very dark and manipulative. He manipulated Amy Pond in ‘The Big Bang’ in order to make sure she would remember him after his apparent erasing from the universe and thus bring him back. He then manipulated the entire universe, as well as his companions and the Silence, in ‘The Wedding of River Song’ by making out he had died at his fixed death in time whilst he was really still alive, slipping back into the shadows after his name became too big. Throughout the first half of Series Seven he went about deleting himself from history, even causing his greatest enemy the Daleks to forget about him. The Eleventh Doctor was also big on using his name to bring fear to his enemies which he did on multiple occasions, usually with a huge speech of confidence or anger. His temper was also something that brought fear, sometimes even to his companions who worried about him for becoming angry.
His soft caring side remained throughout all of his life. He had a massive fondness for Amy and Rory Williams who he travelled with for a huge amount of his life. They became almost like a family to him. This was when his childlike self was at its peak and they almost had to control him like step-parents (which in fact they were after his marriage to their daughter Melody Pond). After their heartbreaking departure in ‘The Angels in Manhattan’ however it caused the Eleventh Doctor to become depressed. He ended up skulking around Victorian London with the vow of never helping the universe ever again after becoming fed up of losing everything. This was a step up from the Tenth Doctor’s peak of depression after losing Donna Noble in ‘Journey’s End’. Clara Oswald however made everything better for him and gave him meaning again.
The Eleventh Doctor was certainly a curious Doctor which led him into all kinds of trouble. His curiosity over the Time Cracks nearly got him killed by the Weeping Angels and at one point resulted in Rory being temporarily erased from time. His curiosity for Clara on the other hand led him to become confused and sometimes frustrated by her impossibility, even at one point snapping at Clara for answers in ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’. He soon realised of course that she didn’t know anything and became relieved, giving her a huge hug as a result. This brought about a change in his behaviour towards Clara and instead of treating her like a ghost he began treating her as a friend. The Eleventh Doctor truly cared for Clara and did everything he could to protect her throughout their adventures together (most notably saving her from his time-stream in ‘The Name of the Doctor’ and attempting to send her back home in ‘The Time of the Doctor’).
Love was a massive part of the Eleventh Doctor’s life. It was one of those things that was totally alien to him and made him in many ways embarrassed. Nonetheless when he wanted he could be quite the charmer and flirter. He played with many women’s hearts throughout his time but most notably to his wife River Song who he cared about a lot. It broke his heart having to say goodbye to her in ‘The Name of the Doctor’. As River stated to Amy, he doesn’t like endings and this played a huge part in his life.
The Eleventh Doctor certainly went through plenty of costumes throughout his tenure. He wore two different sets of tweed jackets in Series Five and Six before adopting his purple cashmere coat in ‘The Bells of Saint John’. He also wore a Victorian styled coat in ‘The Snowmen’ and ‘The Time of the Doctor’. The elements of his clothing that remained all the way through was his bowtie (if changed slightly over his tenure), his shirt, trouser braces, black trousers and boots.
His common traits were acting childish and constantly waving his arms about when he talked, something he was called out on by the War Doctor. He loved eating fish fingers and custard. He persistently claimed that bowties and other things ‘were cool’, near enough becoming his catchphrase, along with his constant love of hats most notably the fez with his line of ‘I wear a fez now, fezzes are cool’. He’s also worn Stetsons, an astronaut helmet and a bowler’s hat. The Eleventh Doctor’s catchphrase was ‘Geronimo’.
Continues on page 2 with the companions of Smith’s era…