Tag Archives: Matt Smith

Why ‘Doctor Who’ Endures (At Least for Me)

Fifty years after a pair of school teachers followed their strange pupil into a blue box in a junkyard, the Doctor is still traveling through time and space, making (and leaving behind) friends and having timey-wimey adventures.

In light of this weekend’s anniversary special you might be moved to wonder why this mad cap sci fi show is still on the air, why its fans are so rabid for more and why it’s still relevant after all these years.

There are a lot of reasons you could point to for the show’s longevity. The mere fact that the concept of regeneration allows the Doctor to be replaced over and over again as actors age and contracts expire, has allowed the to survive where others would fail trying to replace a lead. There’s a nostalgia element to it too, parents introducing kids to something they loved, makings something old new again. There’s also the fact that it’s an institution now, a tradition that just keeps passing down the generations.

But I’d argue that the magic of Doctor Who is summed up in something the 11th Doctor says in “The Eleventh Hour,” the first time Matt Smith takes on the role. Speaking to his new companion he asks: “All of time and space. Everything that ever happened or ever will – where do you want to start?”

Well, where do you want to start? The answer is, of course, anywhere. Just anywhere. When watching Doctor Who the audience can follow the man from Gallifrey wherever in this vast – and seemingly rule-less – fictional universe that the writers want to take us. And so every story becomes not just another entry in the long history of a time-traveling alien, but also an opportunity to indulge in some childlike wonder and curiosity. You can’t help but ask yourself, what will they think of next?

The first episode of the show I ever saw was actually the series one outing, “The Unquiet Dead,” in which the 9th Doctor and Rose head back to Victorian Cardiff and meet Charles Dickens, and also a bunch of incorporeal aliens who want to use corpses as their new homes.

I distinctly remember saying aloud to my father (who needed no convincing of the show’s worth), “So it’s history and sci fi? Cool!”

And it was cool, gosh darn it.

“The Unquiet Dead” is no poster child for acting or special effects. The ghost/alien/corpse monsters weren’t actually all that scary. But the combination of setting and story was so novel. And it was fun.

Doctor Who isn’t magical because it’s so well plotted or deep or smart or exciting. It often is (and sometimes isn’t) those things, but they’re beside the point.

The part of Doctor Who that I love, that keeps me coming back for more, despite setbacks and frustrations, is that incredible sense of wonder that it brings to every episode. In no other show that I’ve watched has there been this unending possibility to surprise and amaze. In a fictional universe as wide as the universe itself there are no limits on what could happen, who you could meet or where you could go.

Sure, recent adventures in convoluted plotting (see “The Wedding of River Song”) have abused this idea of limitless possibility. Even when anything can happen, it helps when what happens makes some kind of sense.

That’s why some of the Doctor’s best outings, both classic and new, thrive on complexity of concept but simplicity of execution. Take “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” from the 1st Doctor’s tenure. The title says it all: the Doctor’s nemeses invade Earth in the future. Or of course, “Blink,” where the high-concept Weeping Angels – arguably the most terrifying monsters in the Whoverse – are deployed in pursuit of a single girl. When they next appear in “Flesh and Stone,” the whole thing is so convoluted the angels aren’t as scary anymore.

Ultimately, the sense of curiosity still pervades even in stories that leave you scratching your head. And if one world or alien or idea doesn’t really click (I’m looking at you, strange absorbing alien from “Love and Monsters”) there’s so much more out there to discover, that the show never has to revisit a failed concept again.

So I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s anniversary special not just because of the throwbacks (believe me, I can’t wait for 10 and 11 to say their respective catchphrases at the same time, something like “Allon-imo!”), but also for everything new that could be stuffed in there. I mean seriously, what is the deal with John Hurt? Well, we’ll all find out tomorrow. But there’s always more to see and know.

And that’s enough to keep the show going for years and years to come.

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Matt Smith to Exit Doctor Who: Top 11 Episodes of the 11th Doctor

This evening the BBC reported that Matt Smith will officially be leaving Doctor Who after the 2013 Christmas Special. While sad for diehard 11 fans out there (like me!) it’s not entirely unexpected. Smith has had the title role since the fifth series premiered in 2010, with three companions (four if you count River) and a lot of declarations about how cool things are. David Tennant was around for approximately the same amount of time and companions.

It’s too soon to speculate about the 12th Doctor (younger or older? what’s John Hurt got to do with it anyway? will he FINALLY be ginger?) so instead let’s celebrate Smith’s glorious, bow-tie-wearing tenure in the TARDIS. (Spoilers for all of Matt Smith’s seasons, including the most recent episodes)

11. “The Snowmen” 

In a much different Christmas Special than normal, we get to see how 11 dealt with losing companions, something that 10 went through too many times. Always a moody guy, 11 sets up an official pouting station in Victorian England to deal with the loss of Amy and Rory to the Weeping Angels. Of course, he’s roused by a fresh face and a fresh mystery, the second iteration of Clara and the return of the Great Intelligence. As far as plot goes, it’s not my favorite episode and it’s certainly the least Christmas-y Christmas special, but Clara gave Smith’s Doctor new life and new purpose, and helped him and the show bounce back without the Ponds.

10. “Let’s Kill Hitler”

Season 6 may have had its ups and downs but after the big reveal in “A Good Man Goes to War” everything was brought back down to Earth in this episode. It closed the book on River Song’s origin story, and on one of the biggest time travel paradoxes/cliches we’ve got (if we’ve got time travel why don’t we just go kill Hitler before he killed everyone else?). Best moment of the episode was when, weak and potentially dying, the Doctor appears leaning against the TARDIS in a white tie tuxedo and a top hat and says, oh so casually, “Doctor Who?”. How is that not cool?

9. “Asylum of the Daleks”

This episode would be higher on the list if Amy and Rory’s “divorce” sub-plot didn’t feel so contrived and useless, given that they’re back together and happy as clams in the next episode. But other than the Ponds, there’s great stuff happening here between the Doctor and the first iteration of his future companion, Clara, known here as Oswin Oswald. After spending the episode thinking she’s a human shipwrecked on the dangerous planet, only to find out she’s actually a mind trapped in the skeleton of a Dalek, the Doctor gets to question his own view of the world in the final scene with her. Are Daleks really all evil? The result is pretty sad, of course, when we learn they’re not, as Oswin kills herself to save the Doctor and the Ponds. The most heartbreaking moment of the episode, though, is when the Doctor realizes what Oswin is. “It’s a dream, Oswin. You dreamed it for yourself because the truth was too terrible,” he tells her, talking about her fantasy, souffles and all. It’s chilling.

8. “Cold War”

Certainly one of the best episodes of season 7 and indeed, one of the better episodes of Moffat’s tenure, “Cold War” takes the Doctor and his brand new companion to the not-too-distant-past, a Soviet submarine in 1983. It comes as close to a “bottle episode” as Doctor Who possibly can, forcing all the action into a confined space that ends up being scarier than a lot of the fantastical planets the series has traveled to. It’s another instance where the power of words over weapons is emphasized, a lot like the season 5 two-parter “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood,” which is a big part of 11’s strategy. The supporting players are great, and the Ice Warrior is a interesting villain that doesn’t end up being as cartoonish as others. Plus there are many opportunities for Smith to turn around and utter an ominous phrase right into the camera. “He’s got nothing left to lose.” It could be so cheesy but somehow it’s not.

7. “The Beast Below”

Where Tennant was sappy, Smith was angry. Instead of the endless refrain of “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” that plagued the end of Tennant’s time in the TARDIS, Smith’s Doctor seemed genuinely angered by most of the injustices and horrors he sees in the universe. “The Beast Below” was his first real outing, and immediately showed how different this man was from 10. When faced with the choice to kill the star whale or everyone on the ship, he doesn’t apologize to the people or the animal. He gets really, really mad. “Nobody human has anything to say to me today!” Ouch. This is only the tip of the angry Doctor iceberg.

6. “A Christmas Carol”

As beloved as the Ponds were, 11 often shined when he was separated from the couple, like in his first Christmas Special, when the Doctor must teach a curmudgeon how to love to save a space ship crashing towards a distant planet (it totally makes sense). Smith is also brilliant with kids, which was evidenced in all his interactions with the young Amelia Pond, and he and the young Kazran have too much fun fishing and running from sharks that swim in the air. A lot like “The Girl in the Fireplace” episode that Moffat wrote while Tennant was still in the TARDIS, the Doctor pops in and out of someone’s life over the year’s, becoming a huge influence while not actually spending that much time doing it. And of course, he married Marilyn Monroe.

5. “The Time of the Angels” and “Flesh and Stone”

A two-parter that sees 11 go against the Weeping Angels for the first time, the monsters that 10 battled in season 3’s brilliant “Blink.” Also the first appearance of River Song in 11’s time, and whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your feelings toward the character. The episodes have some genuinely scary moments (how creepy was it when Amy counted backwards to her death?) and some pretty epic moments as well. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you there’s one thing you never put in a trap? If you’re smart, if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there is one thing you never, ever put in a trap.” “And what would that be, sir?” Oh Angel Bob, you’re really quite thick.

4. “Nightmare in Silver”

Neil Gaiman is really good at writing for the weird and fast-paced 11th Doctor. In his second outing as a writer for the show, he puts 11 in his element in a multitude of ways: there are children for him to frighten, confuse, and save, he’s in a setting that seems okay on the surface but has a deep ominous feeling underneath, the setting is also full of lots of literal stuff to climb on and build with and blow up, he’s separate from his companion, and he’s interacting with mainly one character, and there’s a great deal of wit being traded back and forth. All of this made for an episode that could hardly have been acted by anyone except Matt Smith, especially when the cyber “Mr. Clever” is in his mind and Smith trades back and forth acting each. Quite an exercise.

3. “The Lodger”

One of the best parts of Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor was how alien he was. Tennant and Eccleston never seemed out of place in London but Smith was a guy you could believe wasn’t from this planet. That was never on display better than in this season 5 episode, where, stranded without his companion or his TARDIS, he answers an ad to be a regular roommate. Bonus: Before picking up acting Smith was on his way to being a professional soccer player, until an injury forced him out of the sport, which leads to his excellent scene where he shows up Craig on the field. Good thing Stephen Moffat found a way to incorporate Smith’s skills into the show. 12 probably won’t be as good an athlete.

2. “The Doctor’s Wife”

Did I mention that Neil Gaiman is really good at writing for the 11th Doctor? Because he’s really, really good. In a similar set up to “Nightmare in Silver,” the Doctor is separate from his companions, in an ominous world with lots of stuff, and interacting mainly with one character. The brilliant bit is that character is Miss Sexy herself, the TARDIS shuttled into a human body. There are a million wonderful moments in the episode, from Amy and Rory’s terror filled run through the halls of the TARDIS to the small clue about the season’s arc (“the only water in the forest is the river), but the greatness is in all of the Doctor’s interactions with the personification of his trusty spaceship. It’s not just awesome for the Doctor and the fans, it’s pretty hilarious. “Did you wish, really hard?” Amy asks. No but maybe some fan did.

1. “The Eleventh Hour”

Where it all began. Later in his run Smith’s Doctor would have to contend with the long and complicated story arcs that Moffat was implementing, and suffered because of it, especially in season 6. But at his very opening moments when the audience was forced to meet the 11th Doctor without the help of a known companion, Smith was at his absolute best. Everything that came to define his era was started in this brilliant season opener, still my favorite episode of the entire series. His mile-a-minute speaking pace, the girl who waited, the bow tie, the green sonic, the new TARDIS, “Geronimo” and of course, “Bow ties are cool.” What moment was better than when, after calling the Atraxi back to Earth to scold them for threatening to blow up the planet, he says, as images of the past ten men to hold the title scroll by, “Hello, I’m the Doctor. Basically, run.” It will be hard to top an introduction like that for the next guy.

New Doctor Who Series 7 Trailer

Don’t blink or you’ll miss all of the images and clips packed into the second official trailer for Doctor Who’s seventh series. We’ve got daleks and daleks galore, also weeping angels, dinosaurs, very British robots, on the villain side, and the Ponds, River Song, and of course the Doctor himself as our heroes.

The title of the first episode of the series “Asylum of the Daleks” and Steven Moffat’s comic con revelation that there would be “more daleks than you’ve ever seen in one place” had me quite worried about this first half of series 7 (the 2012 half will have five episodes and a Christmas special, and then it will return in 2013 with the 50th anniversary celebration). I love Who but the daleks are not my favorite of the villains, and I feel that the rebooted show works much better when it uses new monsters, as opposed to rehashing the dated ones. The trailer has alleviated my fears somewhat. I liked what the show did last series in the penultimate episode, “Closing Time,” where revamped cybermen terrorized a department store. In that instance the cybermen stayed relatively hidden for most of the episode, and refrained from incessant repetitions of their “Delete Delete!” catchphrase. Hopefully something similar will be done here with the daleks, who you’ll notice are no longer in the technicolor they transformed into in series 5.

The show is continuing its streak of location shooting and its move to incorporate more of the US. Look out for a wild west themed episode and an episode shot in New York City (you can catch a glimpse of the Brits in Times Square in the trailer).

Also look out for the official exit of the Ponds, two of the most beloved companions of recent years. Moffat has confirmed their last episode will be this fall’s episode 5, although he’s keeping mum about the reason for their exit. Next year the Doctor will return with a new companion, played by British newcomer Jenna-Louise Coleman. Details about this new character are also being kept top secret, although we should probably expect a large and complex backstory, knowing Moffat.

The start date is still not official, although at comic con the BBC said the series would be starting “this summer” and the new trailer has now pushed that back to “this fall.” Check out the trailer below and make your own judgments about the long-awaited season!