Rise of the Eleventh
Guest contributor Karim Zidan looks at how Matt Smith grew to become such a loved Doctor.
With Matt Smith’s swan song just hours away, emotions are high as Whovians begin to reminisce over the 11th Doctor and his place amongst the storied history of the show. The past 50 years of Doctor Who have offered us an array of perspectives on the enigmatic character known simply as the Doctor. The many faces of the Time Lord bring together a wide array of characteristics that have become integral parts of the time-traveling alien. From self-important, mysterious and suave to sophisticated, regretful and self-pitying, the Doctor has shed many personas alongside his varying faces, but few have been able to encompass as many as Matt Smith has been able to accomplish in the latest regeneration.
I must admit, when I first saw Matt on my television screen, I was not particularly impressed. This is not by any means his fault as I will also admit a fair bit of bias in my judgment, as Tenant’s groundbreaking run on the show had just ended and was simply not prepared to accept a new Doctor quite so soon. It took a while but eventually he won me over, as I am sure he did the vast majority of fans as well.
Smith’s run began in spectacular fashion with his first two stories The Eleventh Hour and The Beast Below, which in retrospect, rank amongst the best episodes of his entire run. While he was yet to fully grow into his character, Matt displayed the right attributes and was a surprisingly quick success on screen. Whether it be his entirely alien semblance or his boyish charm, Matt Smith was an instant hit with the Whoniverse.
It was an organic and apparently seamless transition. Smith was not the only new factor on the show at the time, as Steven Moffat would take over the show as head honcho and add his own flavor to the show’s production. The magnificent storytelling in the early stages was the result of a perfect storm and that was apparent to viewers watching at home. In fact, many will admit to have taken warmly to Smith following the memorable scene, where he devours fish fingers and custard with the young Amy Pond.
As an avid fan of the Classic Who series, it was clear to me (and the majority of the hardcore fanbase) that Matt Smith, at least during the earlier part of his run, was emulating the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. This was certainly an asset to his character, as Troughton’s Doctor was one of the lesser-explored characters in future regenerations. Yes, one can argue that it was Troughton who sparked the modern conception of Doctor Who, but it was his defining characteristic that seemed to have been lost in history until Smith brought it back to life with remarkable artistry.
To further elaborate on this, Smith not only embodied the spirit of a modern version of the ‘cosmic hobo’ from 1966, he looked and dressed the part as well. From a bow tie and suspenders, to his awkward plodding movements, he paid full tribute to one of the most beloved interpretations of the Doctor. While the majority of the new generation of fans were not likely to be aware of Troughton’s Doctor, to those who did, it was undoubtedly an endearing trait that worked in Smith’s favour. It was also, by no means, a lazy attempt to find a formula that was already successful. Quite the contrary, Smith not only embodied Torughton’s Doctor, he developed it over time and made it his own.
The Matt Smith era was blessed with a variety of companions that had a certain affinity between them. The majority of the Doctor’s time was spent with Amy and Rory, who provided the necessary tools to create heartfelt stories, as well as hilarious moments that allow fans to build an attachment. Much of the Doctor’s brilliance comes from his interactions with these two companions, and how he handles situations such as letting them settle down and eventually, watching them fall to the Angels. Moffat and his team of writers took advantage of Amy and Rory, using them to indirectly (sometimes directly) explore a side of Doctor rarely seen in previous reincarnations. Episodes such as The Girl Who Waited, Amy’s Choice and The Big Bang brought up internal conflict within the Doctor, and Smith fully immersed himself in playing to those traits.
When discussing the characters that complemented the Eleventh Doctor, it would be criminal for us not to mention Whovian darling Dr. River Song. A rouge time traveller herself, River Song represented one of the few characters to ever be presumed as a sort of equal to the Doctor. While she was not an enigmatic hero, the flirtatious mystique hanging around here surely added to that perception, particularly in her earliest encounters with the Doctor. Soon, River Song would become a beloved character that added a certain quality to the show, mainly through her interactions with Smith’s Doctor.
The two would develop a heart-warming and sometimes hilarious relationship that could only be described as dysfunctional madness. She seems to invoke reactions from the Doctor that we as fans were simply not accustomed to. To add to their fabulous chemistry, was Moffat’s ingenious idea to have both of them meet at opposite ends of their respective timelines. While this may have been confusing (downright baffling at some points), it made way for a magnificent piece of storytelling that won’t be repeated in the near future. River managed to bring out a much deeper, more complex character out of Smith’s Doctor; characteristics that would have been near impossible to create organically without the perfect component. If we can argue that Rose Tyler captured the human side of the Doctor, then River Song rejuvenated his alien side.
Throughout his three seasons, Smith was matched against the Daleks, Cybermen, the Weeping Angels, and debuting evil the Silence in a several impressive stories. His era also witnessed the revival of classic villains the Silurians and the Ice Warriors in a series of excellent episodes. The show was clearly adding to its swelling budget and Smith was the man to lead the series to previously unseen heights.
While many of the Doctors before him have had mostly static characters, Matt Smith has been given the opportunity to show how dynamic he truly is. While he may be the youngest Doctor to ever take on the role, he has managed to play the part both with youthful, whimsical eccentricity and dark, enigmatic maturity, which can only be rivaled by David Tennant’s interpretation before him. Yet, while the character may have been born out the later stages of Tennant’s Doctor, it was arguably Smith who developed the persona and made it his own.
Matt Smith may have begun as a modern interpretation of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor in the 1960’s, yet he has managed to polish and refine the character, while adding the necessary developments to make him endearing in a modern era. To say Smith was successful would be a gross understatement considering the circumstances. Not only have his seasons been the highest rated in the USA – an achievement which dubbed Matt “America’s Doctor”, he has readied the stage for the Doctors to come ahead by securing a new generation of Whovians around the world.
“I am and always will be the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams.” (The Doctor – The Almost People)