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

Elton Townend-Jones is a journalist, playwright, actor, theatre producer and philosopher. He does ‘80s zeitgeist at www.25yearstoolate.blogspot.com.


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