Who Marathon: Matt Smith
Matt Smith had many things similar to Peter Davison when he took over the role of the Doctor. He was taking over from a Doctor that was perceived as the best ever (Tom Baker in classic era, and David Tennant in modern). Matt Smith was also the youngest actor to be cast as the Doctor (Smith was 26, Davison was 29). For both, I remember reading things that said that some people thought the show should have just been upright canceled at that point, since there’s no way anyone could conceive of the show carrying on with anyone else. But if there’s one thing Doctor Who is good at, it’s reinventing itself. So that’s what we did. Clean break from the Tennant era happens here. The only things leftover were the blue police box and the Doctor himself, albeit in the 26 year old body of Matt Smith now.
Like most actors in Doctor Who, Matt was a total unknown to me when he was announced. That isn’t a surprise, I’ve been watching Doctor Who since 1983, and nearly everyone is. Like most, I was a but puzzled at the casting of a 26 year old on the role, but it was Moffat coming in as show runner, and I really liked his stuff, so I was prepared to roll with it. Not that my concerns with show choices really matter worth a darn (wait till I write about Whittaker), but I wasn’t sure what to think. However, that turned out to be a total non issue, he was amazing.
Unlike some of his predecessors (or successors), he was a total home run right from the start. Every Doctor on their first story is either out of it, off their rocker a bit, or is just something new you need to get used to. Not Smith. Unlike most, his first story had him more “together” than most. The usual post regeneration amnesia or disorientation isn’t here so much. He was functional, even if we had no idea who he was. There’s a plot point towards the end where we see a prior Doctor montage of clips, at which point Matt Smith walks through the video projection as the 11th Doctor – fully formed. He says “I am the Doctor”. At that point it was locked in – it was one of the best moments. Prior to that he was wearing Tennant’s old clothes nearly the whole episode. He didn’t get his own outfit until about 15 mins left, so it was “BAM! – 11’s here” type of thing. At that moment, he WAS the Doctor. As I mentioned before, with others it takes a few stories before they’re solidified with me. Only comparable moment I can think of was Colin Baker’s “I am the Doctor whether you like it or not” moment at the end of his first – and even he didn’t solidify until the next story for me. Matt Smith’s initial story “The Eleventh Hour” is by far the best “first story” for any of the Doctors – period. It’s spectacular. Only failing of it is that it had Olivia Coleman in it, and she was totally wasted, but never mind that….
As I’ve mentioned before, Matt Smith is my daughter’s favorite Doctor. She was 5 when his first episodes aired, and 8 when he finished (give or take), so it was a very impressionable period for her. It was with those eyes that I watched this era. While Peter Capaldi is my favorite modern Doctor, I do really enjoy Matt Smith’s take on it. He does seem to handle the alien-ness of the character better than most. Capaldi’s performance is kind of based on the Scottishness of his, but Smith is more widely adaptable. Given his real life age, he seems like someone who could be the boyfriend of his companions, but is not. Smith pulls off VERY well the concept that The Doctor is really quite old, but is shoehorned in the body of a really young man. It’s an interesting dichotomy. Plus Matt’s general acting skills sere him well, as he can turn on a dime with his performance. In the Season 7 finale, he goes from total goofiness to the depths of sadness “like that”, and you buy it. He’s a great actor, and he handles the demands of this character very VERY well. Given I was never an 8 year old girl, I can’t quantify what that felt like to my daughter, but he does seem to be someone who would appeal to a younger viewer, based solely on her age. If my daughter was 8 in 1963, I somehow doubt William Hartnell would have been so favorably remembered by her.
Edit: After I posted this, I showed the article to my daughter, and she wrote back with this. She’s of course 100% correct..
Oh yeah his energy and general humor was great, but so was the capacity to drop it and get all serious without it feeling super out of place for the character.
While Russell T Davies is considered a master of promotion for Doctor Who, the Steven Moffat era was no slouch there either. There were multiple stories in Matt’s era where people would get worked up by hearing JUST the title. Social media was in full force at this point already, so immediate and over the top reactions to things (Hello IL) are the norm. A couple of examples are the stories “Amy’s Choice” and “The Name of the Doctor“. The first one was shown to have Amy being VERY pregnant, and a title named “Amy’s Choice” made people think it was about abortion – what is THAT doing in Doctor Who? Name of the Doctor for very obvious reasons people got bent out of shape about – you can’t reveal his real name! That goes against everything the show has set up! To a lesser extent it happened with things like “Let’s Kill Hitler” (what?) and “The Doctor’s Wife” (again – what are you doing with canon Moffat)? It doesn’t always work in a negative way too. “The Bells of Saint John” I remember hearing that title, and going “what is that about?” Turns out it was about the phone ringing (bells) in the Tardis door, which has the “St. John Ambulance” symbol on the Tardis door – and then you go “Oh yeah”. Moffat’s era was full of this kind of stuff. Series 6 & 7 were very tightly wound plot wise, the sixth in particular. Wasn’t quite a season long story (hello Babylon 5), but it was so connected it was hard to know what was fully going on without seeing all the other episodes.
Coming back to my daughter, there’s two Matt Smith era Doctor Who stories I need to tell. The first is about the episode “The Pandorica Opens“. If you remember that one, it’s the one where the episode ends with the Doctor being locked in a giant box (The Pandorica), and the universe is shown to be dying. When that happened on first viewing, my then 5 year old daughter BURST OUT IN TEARS! She was full on sobbing, tears coming down. Why? She thought the show was over, that there was no more Doctor Who! “Daddy, the locked him in a box, they can’t have him anymore – there won’t be any more”. My wife and I felt positively AWFUL about it. We talked down (if memory serves) by showing her the trailer for the next episode which quite clearly showed the Doctor out of the box. That was a major shock to us.
The other one was the 50th Anniversary Special. I took her with me on 25 Nov 2013 to the movie theatres to see it there, despite having seen it at home already – it was not the simulcast, just a repeat showing, but it was still way fun. Got to take my daughter with me. She dressed up a little. Wasn’t full on cosplay, but she wore my fez, carried the sonic screwdriver with her, and interacted with some others at the viewing who were in cosplay. I have pictures of that, but due to the privacy nature of posting one’s kid, I’m keeping them off this article. But I can very much assure you she was adorable. Will always remember that. :)
Matt’s era went very heavy on secondary “scenes”. there were quite a lot of specially filmed shorts either for online distribution or on physical media releases. There were also a ton of episode prequels here (one story had three of them). My single favorite individual line from Matt’s entire era comes from one of those. The “Space & Time” shorts have two Amy’s at the same time – at one point they flirt with each other. The following line by the Doctor of “Uhhhh – this is how it all ends. Pond flirting with herself” gets me every time.
Speaking of that, there were a few pretty good “randy” jokes during this area. Not like a lot of ’em, but a few I noticed. In the short above, when presented with two copies of his wife, Rory made a gesture that made everyone think he was thinking of having sex with both Amy’s at the same time, which got him slapped. There was a bit elsewhere where the Doctor was getting Rory to fix something on the Tardis. Rory dropped the tool, and when the Doctor asked why, Amy said “because it was my skirt, my husband, and your glass floor” – at which point the Doctor looks, and gets all disgusted with Rory. There was a bit at the end of Asylum of the Daleks where Amy & Rory are left at home, but have “recovered” from their marital rough spot. Amy gives Rory a big time “I want you look“, goes into the house, and Rory’s reaction was super funny. Then there was the episode where Amy flat out jumped the Doctor in her bedroom, which was an odd thing, actually. Steven Moffat has later said that it was probably a mistake to do that. There was a short with Clara where she sees a picture of Amy and says “Dear god, that woman is all legs”, so they definitely used Karen Gillan’s looks in the show. For me – this shot here with the Daleks is peak Amy in terms of flat out looks. Heck, in Matt’s first episode there was a bit about the Doctor changing his clothes, and Amy not wanting to turn around to watch him. Then there was River Song, who was positively randy like ALL THE TIME, but that would take a long time to process. :)
Matt’s Doctor also was big into changing his basic look. Bowtie was there, the general look was the same, but he changed things up a bit with different hats, different coats, and totally different looks. I’ll have some pictures of that below.
As I’ve done in the other sections, here’s a few words about the companions Matt’s Eleventh Doctor traveled with. But before I get to that, here’s some numbers on his series.
- Number of series: 3 (plus a handful of specials)
- Number of stories: 39
- Number of episodes: 44
- Number of companions: 3
His era is mostly solid in terms of broadcast regularity, but not fully. His third series was split in two. There were 5 episodes in 2012, then the other 7 in 2013. This made for a disjointed viewing feature, and honestly at the time I felt it was a cheap cost savings measure by the BBC. Make one series stretch out over two. This kind of scheduling shenanigans would become far more irritating when we get to Peter Capaldi’s era.
His companion list is a bit more straightforward than David Tennant’s was. He has three main companions (Amy Pond, Rory Williams, & Clara Oswald). There are some others which some consider companions, but I do not. Those are River Song & Craig Owens. Craig is easier to dismiss, as he was in two stores, never traveled with the Doctor, and was someone the Doctor spent time with. River on the other hard is harder to quantify. But I don’t count her because she never was an established companion – either being invited on – she was just a big guest star. Heck the character declined when directly asked to travel with the Doctor by the Doctor. So I’m going with the main three here….
- Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) – Karen Gillan who is now mostly known for Nebula in the Marvel MCU movies, got her big break here with Doctor Who. I wasn’t sure what to think with her either, because when we first saw the character, she was young – a child. Then due to time travel shenanigans, she was Karen Gillan. The younger version of Amy popped up a few times during the run, that version was played by Caitlin Blackwood, the real life cousin of Karen Gillan. Amy was very much “Scottish” – a thing that came up in plot points in a few episodes. She of course looked nice. That’s not required of course, but it doesn’t hurt. Amy was very much a headstrong character. Eager to jump into danger – far most than most companions. To me, this was best represented in Asylum of the Daleks, where she is super eager to jump into a Dalek beam which is sending them to the planet – even using 11’s “Geronimo”. She has a distinct character arc. In Series 5, it was mostly her and the Doctor exploring with the odd references to Rory here and there, he wasn’t a regular. They got married at the end of Series 5. Series 6 had them traveling together with the Doctor as a couple. Series 7 showed their life together away from the Doctor (mostly). Was a nice progression. The character’s full name is “Amelia Jessica Pond”. If I’m not mistaken the only time we ever saw Jessica on screen was her second episode, “The Beast Below“. She had a cameo in Matt Smith’s final episode, but she was a manifestation of his mind, her character wasn’t exactly there.
- Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) – Rory was right there from the start of Matt’s era. He was in The Eleventh Hour, and stayed there until he left the show with Karen Gillan a couple of series later. At first, I thought he was going to be another Mickey or Adric – a secondary male character who was used mostly for comedy, but not too much seriously. In the beginning, he was mostly not there or dead (they did “Kenny” him a bunch). But once they got married at the end of the first series, he stuck around regularly. Became a proper companion. Still used for comedic effect sometimes, but wasn’t a part time character anymore like he was in the first series. His big thing though was when he was turned into “Rory the Roman” – he was a Roman Centurion who was an Auton (plastic man, hello Pertwee era), who stayed by and guarded Amy for 2,000 years when she was locked in the Pandorica. It’s hard to talk about Rory without talking about Amy – not something you can do the other way around, though. So in that regard he’s still a secondary character, but I did enjoy him far more after Series 5.
- Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) – Clara is a VERY strange character in the Smith era. She spans the regeneration (witnessed the change from 11 to 12), but they had settled on a single character for Capaldi which I will write about when I get there. During Matt Smith’s era, she turned up early about 5 episodes in a surprise before we were supposed to see her (as Oswin Oswald). She then died. She turned up again in the Christmas special as another character (Clara Oswin Oswald), who also died. Then the following episode (Bells of St John), she turned up a third time, at which point “Who are you” became the Doctor’s main query with her. She didn’t stabilize as a proper character I think until the 50th Anniversary Special, and then going forwards into Capaldi’s era. But for Matt Smith’s era, she was “The Impossible Girl”, one who was scattered through the Doctor’s timeline. This is shown in “The Name of the Doctor” when we see Clara interacting briefly with nearly all the classic (and some modern) series Doctors. It’s great fun. A lot of fans don’t like Clara, and I never understood that. Jenna is cute, the character works for me. Perhaps it’s because in her time (more in Capaldi’s era), she was more into doing her own thing? Not sure. For Series 7 she was billed as “Jenna-Louise Coleman”, but from the 50th anniversary special onwards it was just “Jenna Coleman”. She too was in the MCU like Karen Gillan, but Jenna’s character was very minor, appearing in just a single scene in “Capt America: The First Avenger“.
Matt is another on the list of Doctors I’ve never met in person. That’s all I have to say about that.
His tenure expanded the popularity of the show world wide. It went way beyond the BBC, there were theatre screenings world wide, he and his co-stars would go on tours around the world to promote the show. I recall seeing far more promotional things during this era than anything else.
To date (Sep 2023), Matt has not returned to Doctor Who since he left the role. Granted, it hasn’t been that long, and there haven’t been a ton of opportunities, but still. He hasn’t returned. As I write this, there’s the 60th anniversary stories to air in about 8 weeks, so he could come back, as there are a lot of unknown surprises, but we’ll find out. Would love to see him back, as he’s 41 now, so he’s not too far removed from what he looked like when he took the role. I know my daughter would like to see that.
Matt has not joined the world of Big Finish audios. That doesn’t mean the 11th Doctor hasn’t – they have Jacob Dudman doing the voice of the 11th there. It’s not the one with the most appearances, but 11 has been included over at Big Finish. I wonder why he hasn’t wanted to do that.
Matt has certainly made an attempt to get into Hollywood movies. I mean he’s been in several high profile movies. I saw him in Terminator Genisys. A move that’s well maligned, but I enjoyed. He was also in the VERY disliked Morbius. He was also supposed to be in Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker, but his character got optimized out of the script before it was filmed – it’s never been formally stated who he was going to be there. He was Prince Phillip in the very well received series “The Crown”, as well as being a star in the Game of Thrones sequel series “House of the Dragon”. So he has had other roles besides Doctor Who, but nothing that would break him in the way that Karen Gillan had with the MCU. Amusingly he was in the Billie Piper series “The Secret Diaries of a Call Girl”, where his character there slept with Billie Piper’s, which made for an amusing scene to a Doctor Who fan. :)
I enjoyed the feel of the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who. It was light, it was serious, it was a bit of everything. We got into convoluted plots big time in his era, and that’s something I really REALLY enjoy. I tend to like those far more than the simple straightforward stuff.
… next up – a big fan of the show, Mr Capaldi.
… and because we can’t end without the fez…