Posts Tagged ‘matt smith’
We’ve come to the end of the first half of Doctor Who season six, which makes it a good time to pause and reflect on the state of the Whovian nation.
As someone who has loved and admired Steven Moffat’s work ever since the early days of the superb The Press Gang, this should be a no-brainer question and a short blog post declaring everything is just brilliant and wonderful. Should be … But I’m afraid it isn’t. There’s something nagging away at me, something making me uneasy about the future of the show we love so much.
(And this was before today’s Private Eye story suggesting there was trouble in the production team and that there might not even be a 2012 season, rumours subsequently squashed by a BBC announcement confirming 14 more episodes have been commissioned.)
This is the battle of demon’s run, the Doctor’s darkest hour, he’ll rise higher than ever before, and then fall so much further.
It’s hard not to agree that the Doctor has truly risen higher than he ever has before right now, at least as far as Doctor Who fans are concerned: we have the writer/producer we admire more than any other, who is at the top of his game and producing the most fabulous scripts, season arcs and characters. Matt Smith has made a genuinely brilliant Doctor; the threesome combination of the Tardis crew has given us something authentically different and new after too many years of the tired Doctor/female companion formula – even before we add the fantastic recurring character of River Song who we just yearn to join full-time. The production team also seem to have managed to get over the funding squeeze that compromised key moments in season 5 with below-par CGI, because season 6 has all looked fabulous (well, save for one Flesh Jen monster CGI too far…) – even before the impressive jaunt to America that added to the sense of sheer scale and substance.
But I can’t shake the feeling that this almighty high does indeed potentially come before the biggest fall and darkest hour, and that there are signs and portents that should worry all Who fans at least a little.
Some of these are external matters: the tabloids loved reporting that viewing figures for the early episodes were sharply down, and while this was not entirely accurate (the iPlayer/view on demand figures pretty much reversed that situation so it’s more a sign of an error in the scheduling of the show at 6pm or so on warm, sunny May and June evenings that’s a mistake of the network programmers rather than the show itself) it did lead the papers to gripe about how it’s no longer a family show, that it’s too dark, too scary, too bloody complicated for children now.
Actually the children are fine by all accounts, and follow it perfectly – as least as much as they need to. It’s the adults who are feeling lost, puzzled, worried or horrified. But that’s still a problem for the show, because this is the BBC’s family tent-pole offering, and if the adults are scratching their heads and shrugging before going off to do something else – or deciding it’s not suitable for the little’uns – then it’s undermining a major element of the show’s success and profile, both of which are vital to keeping the show mainstream and properly funded.
When Russell T Davies took on the task of regenerating the show in 2005, he was commendably open about how this was the most commercial, market-tested, focus-grouped project he’d ever done. Every last bit of it had to be hand-crafted to make sure it hit the market properly, delivered the whole-family audience, spun off the merchandising and won the awards. It had to, if this wasn’t to be a one-season flop. Artistic integrity be blowed: to make any expensive TV show, first you have to make the show a proven success to earn your right to experiment. It might sound cynical, but it’s survival in the modern broadcast arena and RTD knew it better than anyone. I’m sure a little piece of him died everytime he had to subjugate his artistic inclinations in favour of ensuring the commercial success, but he pulled it off: he took a revival that no one gave much of a chance of really working and delivered to the BBC’s their biggest international blockbuster property.
As a result, Steven Moffat doesn’t have the same pressures: the show is a hit right now and he doesn’t have to permanently look over his shoulder fearing cancellation. That security has given the show an undoubted confidence and swagger; and in any case, Moffat is not the kind of person to ever allow anything to override his artistic integrity. He will do the show his way no matter what, believing it’s the best for the show: focus groups and market testing be damned.
It’s admirable, and arguably is giving us a better, higher calibre show than we’ve ever seen before as least as far as hard-core fans are concerned. But it’s also markedly different from the show that was reborn under RTD that we grew to know and love in its own right. Davies might have had his problems as head writer (and not really seeming to grasp what a science fiction story really was, and continually relying on cheap deus ex machina get-outs were definitely among them) but every episode was suffused with a sense of love of the show and with a huge feeling of fun that made it accessible and enjoyable by everyone of any age or level of interest.
You don’t get that with Moffat’s seasons. I have no doubt that he loves the show every bit as much as RTD or you and I do, but he never allows that passion to override his story judgement – or to show through in the episodes themselves. Instead they’re far more coolly cerebral, intricate and complex, always eschewing the obvious even when it might end up frustrating the viewer. He is not writing for the casual fan who may dip in and out, miss a week or read a paper at the same time: this is a show for people who watch. And rewatch. And sit and think and talk about it for a week afterwards. And even if you do all that, it’s still likely to have scrambled your brain and leave you with a headache (as the end of “Day of the Moon” did for me, I confessed at the time.)
It’s asking a lot of viewers to submit themselves to this mental overload; casual fans will depart, and even die hard fans have been struggling to sustain the level of absolute concentration the show now demands. Instead of the fun, easy, family viewing under RTD, the show just got worryingly difficult, fan-ish and closed-up by comparison.
For those fans who push through and keep watching, it’s worth every minute. It comes together like the most wonderful puzzle box, and not only can you appreciate how perfectly it all comes together but you can also see how all the clues were left in plain sight all along and it only seemed complicated but actually you really did understand it all along after all, giving a lovely frisson of feeling like you’ve cracked it and are worthy of being one of the Whovian nation – and that your brain isn’t as broken as you thought after all.
But then we hit another snag: where does the show go from here? After being raised to such eye-popping heights, what’s next?
It’s hard to imagine the show going back to the nice, fun “adventure of the week” format. Indeed it tried that with “The Curse of the Black Spot” and how poor that episode felt, even though in previous RTD seasons that would have been a perfectly fine albeit average episode (no offence intended to RTD.) Not every episode can be a Silents/Flesh/Gaiman/Demons Run blockbuster every single week, but these episodes have raised the bar so high in season 6 that a merely ordinary episode is now a deep disappointment. You pity anyone who is tasked to take over from Moffat, because no one can reach the sort of heights he’s been delivering this season – and anything less is doing to be the Doctor’s darkest hour and his furthest fall (and potentially at worst, his latest cancellation.)
This problem is echoed in a development in the Doctor’s character in the show itself: he’s become so big, so epic, so unbeatable that the loveable old eccentric “mad man in a box” has never seemed so far away. These days he can wipe out entire Cyber battle fleets as a rhetorical flourish in a pre-credits teaser, or reboot the universe, or send aliens running away in fright just by reading them his CV. This started back in RTD/David Tennant’s era with “The Christmas Invasion”, was echoed in “The Eleventh Hour” at the start of the Moffat/Matt Smith era, but has now becoming a recurring problem with both “The Pandorica Opens” and “A Good Man Goes to War” both essentially focusing on it.
Quite simply, there is no one left who is more powerful than the Doctor. He is a God. Even the Daleks – who were revamped so successfully in season 1 as the ultimate nemesis of the Time Lords and the only race able to defeat them in the Time War – are now so “reliably beatable” that Moffat himself has concluded that they have no credibility left and have to be rested from the show. But if not the Daleks – who can threaten the Doctor anymore? It’s rather like the ‘scope creep’ that infected the character of Superman, in which a character who could initially simply jump high and run fast suddenly became invincible and as a result lost both empathy with the readership and also potential plots. How could Superman bear to spend his time dealing with muggings with all his powers?
So to it is with the Doctor. He’s now so powerful that nothing really seems to threaten him anymore. Some lovely dialogue in “A Good Man Goes To War” stressed how he is now more myth than regular person: how “Doctor” is becoming a galaxy-wide synonym for “great man of learning” or “warrior” depending on your point of view (apparently an idea Moffat had in 1995 according to some links on the Internet pointing to ‘proof’, but we’ll take these with a pinch of salt for now – you can fake anything on the Internet. Even Moon landings, I hear.) Did you spot the sublime way that Rory is made to see that this is happening to him, too: as he consoled Commander Strax, he realised he was talking to a warrior who had become a nurse, while he himself was a nurse who was now a centurion warrior? An uncomfortable realisation for both.
The stakes have been raised too high too many times: the show has seemingly killed off the Doctor, Amy and/or Rory too often, just so that we feel something bad really did/could happen, but it’s backfired and now they’ve all died and restored in too many ways that so we just roll our eyes, say “oh, not again” and wait for the plot to unravel and restore everyone to life.
Moffat seems acutely aware of this “Godhood” problem with the Doctor now, and it’s why the trope has been returned to in “A Good Man Goes To War” with dialogue specifically riffing on this (which in turn is an echo of dialogue that RTD’s Davros used on Tennant’s Doctor in “Journey’s End”.) I suspect Moffat’s overall intentions for the current convoluted plot arc are to do something about this “all-powerful” Doctor and restore him back to something like his old original self, the eccentric traveller.
The trouble is that the genie is out of the box, and we can’t go home again: would we be remotely satisfied with a show of a group of friends amiably poking around investigating a deserted city or scrapping with some cavemen?
Steven Moffat’s a sharp guy with far greater writing and creative skills than I possess – maybe he’s figured all this out and has an answer for us, and that’s what we’re heading to. We should certainly hope so, for the sake of the future survival of the show hinges upon it. Far more than the side questions of identity of River Song or whether the Doctor will retrieve Rory and Amy’s baby, this is the most important and pressing question facing the Whovian Nation this morning as we head into the summer recess.
Since we don’t have iPads to write about this side of the Atlantic, I’ll have to make do with the other obligatory blog post topic of the day: the arrival of the Eleventh Doctor.
“You’re Scottish. Fry something.”
“I’m still cooking.”
“I’m the Doctor. I’m worse than anybody’s aunt.”
“Twenty minutes to save the world. And all I’ve got is a Post Office. And it’s closed.”
“I’m the Doctor. Basically: run.”
Some great quotes and lines in this one.
Overall a LOT to take in, especially if you’re microanalysing the new guy for the first half hour as I was. I finally realised that Doctor XI was a complete success near the end, around when he assembles his new outfit, because at that point I realised I’d totally forgotten to even study his performance for the second half of the episode. There was no need: Matt Smith just *was* the Doctor.
I’m more surprised by how much I love the new companion, something that I hadn’t even thought about beforehand. Karen Gillan was terrific; and what a complex and deep backstory this episode gave her character in the process. That scene with Amelia with her little packed suitcase sitting in the garden was just heartbreaking.
On one level this was very much the crash-bang season opener that Russell T Davies made his own, and that Steven Moffat (until now the “impact player” able to do one smash hit story a season) hasn’t had to do. Moffat pulled it off extremely well, on the surface very much in the style of RTD and indeed I wonder how much they intended the show to feel like a seamless transition from the Tennant/RTD era, with Smith even sounding like Tennant at times. The final showdown especially was very similar to Tennant’s début against the Sycorax – although these aliens were far more savvy, taking the hint and running for the hills rather than Tennant’s first adversaries’ attempt to double cross and fight.
Some great ideas that will have children’s imaginations in overdrive this week: the crack in the wall, the “out of the corner of your eye” alien, the multiform giving rise to some truly chilling images (the barking man; those teeth on the woman and children); the Doctor’s-eye view of the village green. It gave this real intelligence and depth, just a shame it got buried somewhat under the co-opting of Men in Black and Independence Day plots for its more prominent themes.
The only downsides? Well, some of the CGI was shaky, frankly. The new title sequence was also a little low rent (some nasty clichéd lightning forks). The incidental music in the episode continued to be too strident at times, and felt rather out of place, like an RTD holdover in a new Who world.
And then there’s the new theme tune. When I first heard it, I almost choked and certainly hated it immediately. Since then, I’ve heard it a few times more and I’m bizarrely already doing a complete 180 and finding I’m really loving it. I guess it’s like Marmite.
Or fish fingers and custard.
So the Doctor is dead, long live the Doctor. A million fanboys and girls will be inflicting their review of David Tennant’s last outing in the title role of Doctor Who onto the Internet – and I see no reason why I shouldn’t throw out my own two cents’ worth into the mix as well, having been a fan since the days of Jon Pertwee.
I’m not making this a gushing fountain of fan praise, nor am I going to go all out to pick faults and be scathing and cynical just for the sake of it. Hopefully this will be reasonably well balanced somewhere between the two, but you’ll have your own views all the same – feel free to comment. And if you’ve had Doctor/Tennant overkill over the Christmas and New Year period, then look away now.
Oh – and this contains spoilers, so enter at your own peril.
The End of Time – Part One
Russell T Davies (henceforth referred to in this blog post as RTD – it’s quicker to type) has always been better at set-ups to the big set-piece two-parters than the actual climax/pay-off. So it was deeply disturbing just how badly the set-up in Part One was done.
Let’s be honest: it was a mess. A storytelling car crash. Even the harshest critics of RTD over the years generally concede he can tell a story like few other TV writers, but in Part One his craft seem to desert him, leaving the episode as a choppy, incoherent, confusing mess. Even worse, the episode managed to commit the seemingly impossible twin failings of being too busy and packed … and yet not having nearly enough plot to fill out an hour’s running time. I wouldn’t have thought that combination was possible, but there it was.
Some examples: in the behind-the-scenes Confidential programme, RTD stated that he had known all along how he would bring back the Master. And from the sound of it, it would have made for an excellent, exciting 40 minute episode. Unfortunately they didn’t have 40 minutes – and RTD couldn’t bear to throw away the story he’d outlined in his head. So he crammed it into a confusing, wasteful 5 minutes instead, rather than “killing his darlings” (as writers are always advised to do) and reimagine a simpler, more fitting plot device that fitted this episode instead of one that would never be made.
Similarly, the characters of Joshua Naismith and his daughter were the weakest, most anonymous we’ve ever seen from RTD. They served no purpose in Part One, and so we held on to the hope that there would be a reason for them revealed in Part Two – but no, they never even got a single line of dialogue. A pointless distraction, much as the alien cactii Vinvocci duo proved to be: they were really only there to provide the Doctor with a spaceship to pilot at the critical moment and to throw in a bit of light comedy relief. Similarly Wilf’s (Bernard Cribbens’) army of pensioners was also purely around to enable the (admittedly ever-delightful) June Whitfield a comedy moment groping Tennant’s bottom.
If you took away all of these poorly developed, confusing distractions from the plot you ended up with a streamlined story that really only needed 20 minutes to tell. For all its cramming in of material, then, the episode actually felt sluggish and overpadded. But that’s not to say that this core 20 minutes didn’t have yet some fine stuff lurking within.
The pure gold single scene has to be the one between Tennant and Cribbens, sitting in a greasy spoon, with Catherine Tate outside seen through the window having a comedy turn with a traffic warden. It’s a wonderful moment, Tate’s mouthy Donna contrasting with some achingly beautiful acting in the foreground. Cribbens has always been used as a mainly comedic actor, and to see him come in and deliver a powerhouse performance of such power, drama and sadness is genuinely astounding. And Tennant of course raises his game too and matches him – and then some. When Wilf’s “She’s just marking time” gets the response “Aren’t we all?” from the Doctor, it’s one of the most affecting moments in the series. If your heart doesn’t break just a little as they continue to watch Donna without, then there’s no hope for you.
The rest of the episode depends heavily on your reaction to John Simm’s psychotic emo-Master. If you hated it, then the episode was going to be a complete failure for you; if you loved it, then Simm alone almost made up for the myriad failings in the rest of the episode.
Fortunately, I’m in the latter category: I thought he was tremendous, even saddled with a few too many “laughing manically” shots in the edit. He was compulsively watchable, operating on multiple levels, the character light years better than the thin, obvious satire of politicians in general and Tony Blair in particular that it had been in Simm’s first outing in the role in 2007. When Simm and Tennant finally got a face-to-face scene in the wastelands, it was electric and worth waiting for – it was what the episode was really all about when the rest of it was stripped away.
I even loved the final moments, as everyone in the world was turned into Master-clones. (For fan boys who dismiss this as a mere retread of The Matrix Reloaded‘s Burly Brawl – puhleese, if you’re that cynical and dismissive, you need help. Seriously.) Yes, sorry, I got a childish delight of seeing Simm in various attires (including drag) pulling out all the stops to make up dozens of different characters for one CGI’d scene. I hope he got extra pay for all the extra performances he pulled off in this one. The only downside to the Master’s return was his sudden new superpowers, which felt unnecessary and just plain wrong; you hoped that there would be a big plot pay-off for the powers in Part Two, but in fact they ended up downplayed and almost forgotten about, another shiny new toy that RTD didn’t have time to develop and play with properly.
The overall rating for this episode was perhaps two-and-a-half or charitably three stars if you really stretched it, but those stars come almost entirely from one café scene and a whole lot of Simm, who towered above the wreckage of the rest of the episode. It certainly was no triumphant send-off for the tenth Doctor and gave rise to considerable nerves that RTD was about to blow his final swan song outing after six years at the helm.
The End of Time – Part Two
And so, the final curtain …
Fortunately, a considerably better episode than Part One: it had a storyline, for one thing. And that story was delivered in a coherent fashion: it (mostly) didn’t pull out any sudden plot devices to explain everything away, and it didn’t blow the Big Moment. Which is not to say that it was perfect, by any means.
There was, for example, a bizarre plot device revolving around an Elizabeth Duke diamond thrown by Timothy Dalton at a hologram that ends up as a meteorite on Earth. Neat trick considering the story has established that the Time Lords couldn’t send anything into the ‘real’ world. Not only was it nonsensical, it also wasn’t needed for plot reasons except to unnecessarily eat up a couple of minutes of running time.
I suspect grown-up fans will also hate the flight of the Vinvocci spacecraft as a ridiculous piece of cartoon escapades for the kids (complete with a speed-whoosh sound effect straight from Loony Tunes that set my teeth on edge); Wilf climbing into a laser canon that was so clearly out of Star Wars that you expected the Doctor to admonish him with a “Don’t get cocky, kid!” But you know what, this is a kid’s show, and they deserve some thrills in this too, and it was perfectly fine fun and spectacle even if the CGI work probably left incoming producer Steven Moffat with about ten quid in the bank account for the entire fifth season.
More effective was the early stand-off scene between the Doctor (tied Hannibal Lector-like to a trolley) and the Master, and the funny escape scene as Tennant is literally rolled around the scenery still strapped down, his “Worst. Rescue. EVAHH!” line the best comedy line of the day.
It was also nice to see Catherine Tate’s cameo neatly resolved, with her impending “brainstorm” tripping a safety switch the Doctor had left her with that not only protected her from the Master but also put her to sleep for the remainder of the episode, so that it didn’t detract from/alter the devastatingly brilliant and heartbreaking climax for Donna from the end of season 4.
The episode’s high water point was the final tense and well-written scene with the Doctor, Master and Time Lords facing off. The Time Lord’s easy dismissal of all the Master’s schemes to that point could be accurately described as the ultimate deus ex machina, but in fact it worked since the Time Lords really had been invested in advance with godlike powers. And then it came to the Reservoir Dogs-esque showdown, where it looked horribly as though the tenth Doctor’s final action was going to be to have to shoot someone (The Master? The Time Lord President?) with Wilf’s incongruous old army revolver – or even shoot himself, it seemed at one terrible moment. But all of those options would have been completely out of character for RTD and sure enough it was instead a good old traditional temporary alliance between Doctor and Master that saved the day, and quite right too.
In this episode we learnt much of the backstory to RTD’s Doctor Who era: how insane the Time Lords had finally gone in the last days of the Time War, and why the Master is as evil as he is. Yet it’s nice that not all was revealed – some mysteries were preserved. RTD kept one last little secret to himself with the identity of The Woman (Claire Bloom): fan speculation has suggested that this might have been the Doctor’s mother, or perhaps a future ‘cured’ Donna, or – my own personal theory – that it was former companion Romana. Whatever, it’s nice to have a detail to discuss and theorise; and it’s not just an untidy loose end RTD forgot to deal with, as the Doctor is even asked “Who was that woman?” near the end and he still pointedly refuses to reply.
The cleverest writing in the episode was that it then dispatched the threat of the Master and the Time Lords mid-episode, long before the moment for Tennant’s departure and regeneration scenes. The bad guys were beaten and seen off and had nothing to do with it in the end, and it came down to a quiet, simple moment where the Doctor knowingly and calmly sacrificed himself for his companion, as indeed the Doctor has done in the past.
Initially the Doctor had been able to believe that he had dodged the bullet and avoided fate – and we briefly wondered whether Tennant’s departure hadn’t been some sort of giant hoax. But then the sound of someone tapping gently four times on a glass door echoed as powerfully and as chillingly as the tolling of the Kloister Bell that had proclaimed the end for Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor thirty years ago. It was a wonderfully effective moment as the realisation hit home to the Doctor, Wilf, and to us: and the Doctor was given a moment to rage against the injustice, wishing he could walk away and yet knowing that he could never leave WIlf – the companion he’s uniquely and deeply touchingly started to think of as a father figure – to die in his place. It was time, and an oddly low key red light in a glass booth did the deed without any CGI histrionics.
Unfortunately, at this point, RTD staged an indulgence of Lord of the Rings: Return of the Kings-esque proportion, with its extended multiple endings over the course of almost 20 minutes. Individually these scenes are quite lovely – the look between Tennant and Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith for example, who alone knows what is about to happen, is worth the air time alone. Tennant’s haunted dead man walking is compelling. There’s a lovely nod to the late Howard Attfield, the actor who played Donna’s father but who died before season 4 and who was replaced in plot terms at the last minute by Bernard Cribbens. And there’s a nice bit of plot development for two old companions that underlines the fact that while RTD and Tennant are moving on, and likely as not we’ll never see these companions again, that life for them continues somewhere out there all the same.
It’s good that the entire storyline wasn’t twisted to allow the companions to return in a more integral way, but the problem with this 15 minute indulgence (called the “Doctor’s Reward”, more accurately one final bouquet to the viewers) is partly that we’ve had this moment already at the climax of season 4, Journey’s End; and mostly that it disconnects the wonderful showdown/sacrifice scene from the actual regeneration. By the time that the Doctor finally falls into the TARDIS you’ve almost forgotten that he’s dying, and why. It interrupts the flow of the drama and emotion, and that’s a big problem.
But for all that, and for all the overblown, painfully manipulative yet hugely effective music score welling up, it’s Tennant’s final line as the Doctor that is an undoubted triumph: a simple, yet multi-layered “I don’t want to go” that surely brings a little tear to the eye. (Although the real choker is actually from the behind-the-scenes footage of Tennant attempting and failing to do a farewell speech to the production team after his last scenes. Definitely not a dry eye in the house there.)
At last the moment comes, and the regeneration is bigger and more spectacular than we’ve ever seen before (and shows how far the series’ FX expertise has developed since last we saw a full Doctor regeneration back in 2005.) The production team in one final “clearing of the decks” moment takes the opportunity to blow up the TARDIS itself, and Moffat is handed a genuinely clean slate for 2010 as Matt Smith takes centre stage.
Smith’s first moments – well, more like 30 seconds – are slightly disappointing: too like Tennant, with a reference to ginger hair a callback to Tennant’s first moments in the role. Smith acts as every bit as manic and energised as Tennant at his most hyper, when really it would have been nice to have had something … Different. But time enough for that in the Spring when the new team and the new Doctor get their feet properly under the TARDIS console and start to set their own course. One thing is for sure though: the RTD/Tennant era had gone as far as it could go, and it really is time for a change. The series needs a new direction, new blood, and that’s what it will get in a few months time. It’s the true strength of the series, that it can reboot and find new energy when it needs it most – the regeneration of the programme and the title role is the show’s strongest trump card, which consistently raises it above all other science fiction rivals.
At least we now know Tennant got a decent if by no means perfect send-off. If you’re in the spirit of the moment and being generous, you might give this a four star rating – largely thanks to Tennant’s excellent performance throughout, and for the wonderful support performances of Cribbens, Simm and Dalton.
And what the hell – for all that Russell T Davies, David Tennant, Julie Gardner, Phil Collinson and the rest of the production team have done in restoring this venerable show to far greater heights than it ever enjoyed in its original heyday, a little final touch of generosity is the least we can offer to say thank you as they head off to pastures new.
And the 11th Doctor is indeed Matt Smith. Which means I can breath a huge sigh of relief that I didn’t come across as a complete idiot with my post yesterday suggesting that he would be named in the role today.
Okay, I hedged my bets a little. I found it hard to believe that they would go for someone so unknown, now that Doctor Who is no kids’ show any more but possibly the BBC’s biggest drama series in its arsenal. That suggests they would put the show in safe hands, not a 26-year-old of almost no name recognition value.
With so may apparently knowledgeable people going on for so long about the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Nesbitt or Paterson Joseph, I confess that I thought my gut instinct was sure to be well off the mark. So many people can’t be so completely wrong, after all. Right? So I thought. And for what it’s worth, I still think Richard Coyle would make a brilliant Doctor and he would have been my choice even though I never thought it particularly likely. Perhaps he’s a little too Tennant-y for the immediate succession, which is a shame.
When I started writing that blog post yesterday, I had only just found out who Matt Smith was (or rather, finally linked the name to the actor I remember as Danny in Party Animals.) And my immediate reaction was: “Yes, he’s got the Doctor X-Factor”, in just the way that Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker and David Tennant did – whereas Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison and Christopher Eccleston had to work at it but pulled it off wonderfully; and Colin Baker and Sylvestor McCoy never managed it, at least for me.
Having written that post yesterday, I’ve spent the last 24 hours hoping it would indeed be Matt Smith, but never really thinking it would be the name announced when the moment came (and didn’t the Confidential programme build up the suspense and tease wonderfully with the little clues in the first 25 minutes?!) If not Smith then I hoped it would be someone even more interesting, exciting and surprising: in other words, anyone other than the much-touted lead candidates, who just lacked that something extra that makes a great actor a great Doctor.
If all this sounds slightly smug back-patting on my part for having come up with the name – I don’t mean it to, it’s really just relief at not looking stupid. And I only came up with the name because the clues were out there, not because I had inside info or was being particularly bright. The biggest clues were:
- The betting: who the hell would suddenly start putting money on Matt Smith, unless the news was leaking? He wasn’t remotely connected to the role until 36 hours beforehand and to come out of nowhere to suddenly be the bookies’ favourite suggested that something was afoot.
- The sudden timing of the announcement, 15 months before the start of the next series. Why so early? One blog suggestion linked it to the Barack Obama factor, suggesting a black Doctor, but that never rang true for me and almost suggested the reverse. More practically, it strongly suggested to me that the story was about to break come what may and the BBC were scrambling to get their story in first, which supported the leak-triggering-betting side
- Peter Davison’s comments about it being no one that people were talking about.
I’m happy I read the tea leaves right, but you can see that there’s no deep insight required on my part. Although I will add – with just one little smug grin – that that makes me two for two on Doctors now. (Okay, okay, I confess – I didn’t see Christopher Eccleston coming. Not at all.)
And what about now, post-announcement? Having seen the announcement (and isn’t it great that Doctor Who can be such staggeringly nation-stopping news once again after all these years?) – what do I actually reckon to Matt Smith as the Doctor?
Actually – I’m terrified. For him, for the series, for the fans. This is one big gig and he’s very young and it could all go horribly wrong. I wasn’t kidding when I said in my post yesterday that it would require Steven Moffat to “throw caution to the wind and go for the utterly unreasonable choice” – it’s a staggering brave decision. It’s amazing that the BBC have backed it. I wonder if there are a few BBC senior executives bricking it tonight in the wake of the announcement?
I’m not secure and calm in the knowledge that Smith will be superb, at least not in the same way that I genuinely was from the minute David Tennant was announced in the role. This will be a scarier ride for all of us, myself included – I might very well hate the 11th Doctor. But at least it will be a wild, radical, nerve-shredding ride as we find out together, and for a show like Doctor Who you can ask for nothing more.
I have great confidence in Steven Moffat as a writer and a producer. If you haven’t checked out Jekyll yet, then do so. Also his first hit, the kids show Press Gang, and his sit com Coupling, to gauge just how good he is, and of course his Doctor Who episodes if you haven’t seen those – Blink is about the best 40 minutes of television you’ll ever see. Oh, and while you’re at it – get your hands on Party Animals to see why Matt Smith really does have the Doctor X-Factor. I’m guessing the BBC might just repeat that show now, given the interest this latest casting news will generate!
So in Moffat I trust. He’ll be a great show runner for Who, and if he says that Matt Smith is the best person to play the Doctor then I’m willing to go along with him and believe in his judgement. It’s fascinating to hear that Matt Smith was seen in the first hour of weeks of casting sessions; that they felt that it couldn’t be that easy, went on for weeks seeing people, only to finally come back to one of the very first people they saw. That’s saying something.
And of course it’s still some 15 months away till the 11th Doctor – we still have four new David Tennant specials to go. It’ll be bitter sweet to see his time as Tardis resident tick away, but at least we’ll be able to savour him while we have him.
And after that – it’s into the frightening unknown. Which is how Doctor Who should always be.