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

The Triumph of Doctor Smith

Doctor Who - The Time of Angels

His confidence in himself, although sometimes shaken (he doesn’t brag as much as the Tenth Doctor), manifests in many ways. His confrontation with Rosanna is almost flirtatious. He teases her with a predatory, sexual dance equal to her own, only to pull the rug from her by promising to tear her world apart. This aspect of the new Doctor is truly scary – and he knows it. There is an occasional sense of a truly dangerous and threatening Doctor just waiting to emerge in moments such as the one in which he ‘nicely’ asks Ambrose to leave her cache of weapons behind (The Hungry Earth). His intentions towards Amy also seem very dark. When he takes her aboard the TARDIS, he lies about his intentions (peeking secretively at the scanner display of the crack in the universe). Even after Rory’s double-death, he remains deceptive to Amy – when, as we later learn, he only needs to bump heads with her to explain the truth.

It is strange, but sometimes we like the Doctor to be scarier than the monsters he fights and it is tempting to think his nicer qualities are a front for what the Daleks call The Oncoming Storm. But it’s also very obvious that his experiences touch him – not just the thrill of them, but also the pain of them. When he has no choice but to abandon Octavian to the absent mercy of a Weeping Angel, he displays heartbroken tenderness (sensitively performed by Smith).

His deepest feelings are also exposed by an enigmatic but pained smile when Alaya asks him what he is willing to sacrifice for his cause. She thinks she has the upper hand because she is willing to die, but we already know him capable of sacrificing not only worlds, but worlds full of people very, very dear to him. It is only by a colossal act of will that he is able to keep his passions in check. This may add to our deepest concerns about the darkness he carries within him, but this is a man who is also capable of error, and the Dream Lord plays upon such vulnerabilities.

This Doctor also overlooks stuff and gets things wrong in a way that the Seventh Doctor never would (until the moment of his death): by allowing himself to become preoccupied he loses Elliot to the Silurians; whilst sitting on Rosanna’s throne, he fails to realise that he’s sitting on the key to her power; he is also guilty of a misplaced faith in own abilities: ‘Nobody dies today.’ Well, Alaya does. Rory does. There are far better stories this season, but the Silurian two-parter allows Smith to display the Doctor’s complex moral centre, and he plays it not as stoutly as Jon Pertwee did (in a similar story) but in a manner far more relaxed and intimate – a lot like Patrick Troughton might have.


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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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