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Published on June 22nd, 2010 | by Elton Townend Jones

The Triumph of Doctor Smith

Doctor Who - Matt Smith and Karen Gillan star in The Eleventh Hour

Before this season began, it was feared that sticking the Doctor in a bow tie and tweeds seemed too deliberate. It is now apparent that Smith needed such an outfit from which to elicit his performance. He does look so blissfully Doctor-ish, and maybe we all felt a bit nervous and self-conscious about that. Christopher Eccleston’s leather jacket and boots deliciously pared down all the costumes that had gone before, and Tennant, to some extent, followed suit, but Smith is a very young man. To put him in something young and funky would have diluted the actor’s interpretative tension in his young/old persona, especially now the Time War angst has passed. The real catchphrase of this season – ‘bow ties are cool’ – tells us so much about this Doctor. Look back at his first episode and, boy, does that suit look wrong.

Possibly the Doctor’s most iconic scene this year is the one in Victory of the Daleks where the Doctor holds the Daleks at bay with a Jammy Dodger. He looks so right, so perfectly precise – as much a part of the programme’s design as the Daleks themselves – and Smith’s incredible features make him the best-looking Doctor ever. I said this elsewhere, pointing out that Smith was not a pretty boy, but that he was the most fascinatingly alien-looking Doctor thus far. Yet as the weeks have gone by and his eyes have twinkled at lovers, painters, galactic wonders and thoughts unspoken, I have begun to find him oddly beautiful. I find myself wanting to look at him – and isn’t that what attractive is about? And his hair! That, my friends, is real Doctor hair; casting him one minute as mad professor, the next as disaffected teddy-goth and the next as some dark, deliberate monster.

Smith is unarguably great in the role, but the writing of the Doctor is equally great. The best writers for the Doctor this season have been Steven Moffat (of course) and Gareth Roberts (with his best script for BBC Wales so far), but all of this year’s scripts have brought some wonderful texture to the character.

When we first meet the new Doctor, he seems suddenly very alien and odd again. The way he looks at people, perceiving young Amelia as a new life form, eating fish custard and so on, is reminiscent of the Sixth Doctor, who operated on equally subjective extremes of mood and contrast.

It was easy to assume that this was all down to the regeneration, but these extremes are still intact in The Lodger when, for example, he sips Rosé and spits it back into his glass (and in just about any other scene in that episode). But such reactions aren’t quite as alien as they at first seem. Looked at from another angle, these are the actions and reactions of a being at peace with itself, unconstrained by societal bounds, open to possibilities and honest with the world.

This newfound openness (the Tenth Doctor equivalent seemed very artificial) sees him display an endless sense of thrilled glee in new situations – including the dangerous ones. But, in common with previous Doctors, he is heroic and bold in his dealings with his enemies. Be they Atraxi, Patient Zero, the Daleks or Rosanna, this Doctor steps right into the lion’s den and will even place his head between the beast’s jaws in order to sell his determination to protect those around him. Capable of great anger, he castigates the humans of Starship UK, the Daleks and River Song alike.


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About the Author


Elton Townend-Jones is a journalist, playwright, actor, theatre producer and philosopher. He does ‘80s zeitgeist at

8 Responses to The Triumph of Doctor Smith

  1. avatar bobbygaga says:

    I’m getting a little bit tired of all the Karen Gillan bashing that’s been going on lately. Isn’t it a teeny wee bit harsh to claim that she is holding Matt Smith back? Give the lass a break, she’s playing the character of Amy (complete with all her very human frailties and foibles) exactly the way the Grand Moff wants it.

  2. avatar Carn says:

    Yeah I was agreeing with a lot of it until the bit about Karen Gillan. Personally I think she’s fantastic and by far my most favorite of the modern era companions (and not just cos she’s the hottest), I just generally find her a lot more interesting than the previous few and I’ve never felt Smith was ‘constrained’ by her. In fact I love watching the two of them together whether having fun or during more serious moments. I want the both of them to remain in the show as long as each one wants to. This has been easily my most favorite series of Doctor Who in a long time.

  3. avatar DalyJohmpson says:

    I definitely agree with this article on most points, including those about Karen Gillan, to an extent.

    I do think it’s a bit harsh to say she’s holding Matt Smith back as the Doctor, mainly because I think his skill as an actor speaks for itself, and I feel it would be an insult to him and his talent to say he couldn’t get past such an obstacle, if there was such an obstacle.

    First off, I do like Karen Gillan, but at the minute, it is just ‘like’. I think she has the potential to be great, but I agree that she doesn’t seem to have the experience yet to play the part to a standard to match Smith.

    I don’t personally see this as being due to her, ‘playing the character of Amy’, because I think Amy as a character is a fantastic match for the Doctor, and an absolutely fabulous companion. I just feel the portrayal, at present, isn’t up to scratch.

    It’s something I have noticed more as the series has progressed. Throughout the series, Matt Smith has developed his character and ‘become’ the Doctor, making Gillan’s over-acting and random hyper-emphasis of her lines and gestures more obvious; I don’t think this is down to Gillan being a ‘bad actor’, I just feel it’s lack of experience, there are times when it has been very obvious, (to me at least), she’s playing a part, almost as though she isn’t yet comfortable in Amy’s skin.

    I’m painfully aware that this sounds like more Gillan bashing, but I really don’t mean it in that way. I just think that thoughout the series, it has been blatantly obvious, even to the doubters, that Matt Smith has the experience and talent to pull off his character, but to me, it is this fact which has made Gillan’s comparative inexperience more pronounced.

    As I say, to end on a positive note, Gillan seems to have potential, and will hopefully begin to feel comfortable in the shoes of her character, and become more natural in the role, possibly to end up being considered as one of the best companions ever.

  4. avatar Netgeezer says:

    What a detailed resume of what Matt Smith has done for us this season. Great article.

    Each episode has been a joy, The Lodger in particular gave us an even deeper impression of just how much depth Smith brings to the role.

    I am sorry to say that his companion, the pretty faced Gillan hasn’t likewise enamoured me with her performances. She just seems so pout a lot accompanied by maybe a frown or two…

    Oh well. It’s still the best thing on TV by far!

  5. avatar dexter says:

    as a loooongtime american fan, i consider myself pretty pro-tennant (is it possible to “have” two doctors?); nevertheless, big ups for this piece, and i’m stoked about digging into matt smith’s 1st season. once again, kasterborous proves itself the place to be for thoughtful fandom.

  6. avatar Patooty says:

    Agree with most of this, especially the bit about KG. It may seem kind to “give her a break” and talk about potential and time to get some experience under her belt and all that, but isn’t that what commercials, guest roles on TV, and small parts in theater is supposed to do for an actor? You don’t just give the second most important role on British television to someone who may “potentially” be a good actress and expect the fans to say “aw, bless…we’ll give her a couple of years to learn her craft.”

    KG aside, it would have been hard for Meryl Streep to do much with Amy’s character as she was written. It seems we were supposed to wait until the final episode to find out exactly why she was so cranky, bitchy, snarky, cold and immature, and frankly, that episode did nothing to redeem her character. It explained very little about Amy, while treating us to the sight of her trying yet again to jump the Doctor – this time in front of witnesses, including her brand new husband – and then abandon the parents she FINALLY GOT BACK without so much as a backward glance to run off with him in the TARDIS. At least Rory is going with her!

    But as for Matt, I agree that he turned out to be much better than I had initially feared, despite his age. While he doesn’t entirely pull off the Wise Man of the Ages exactly, he does manage a world weary look now and then that just about makes up for it. And he nails the humor beautifully. Frankly, he and Rory are the only reasons I will tune in for Christmas.

  7. avatar farsighted99 says:

    Matt Smith shines so bright as the Doctor that anyone would find it difficult to match him. Alex Kingsley manages to pull it off brilliantly. When she and Karen are together, Alex takes some of the slack off Karen.

    Karen is good, but not great. She’s had a few excellent scenes, but honestly, little Amelia was more likeable as a character than Amy was. I just hope in the future that Moffat tones her down a few notches, and stops her grumpy look, yelling, and saying “Shut UP!” and give her a little more of a personality. She may not be the greatest actress, but her character could be given a little more depth.

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