Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Doctor Who Is Changing: The Time of Matt Smith

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Hello and welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, the blog that reminds you that the word "regeneration" can also read "Re Gene Rat Ion" which really doesn't mean anything and is kind of silly now that I think about it so forget I mentioned it.

I'm Dave-El and today, we begin a special two-part blog post about Doctor Who. I could make this entire blog about the Doctor if I had a half a mind to but no one ever said I had that much mind and there are other topics that I want to stumble around like bad jokes based on news headlines, comic books and absurdist posts involving corn.

But today and tomorrow, I am turning this blog's attention to Doctor Who as we face a most momentous occasion in the life any dedicated Whovian: the regeneration of the Doctor.

If the various actors portraying the Doctor were of a similar age and appearance and all were committed to portraying the character in an established way, the transition from actor to actor would be less gut wrenching. We would kind of know what we're going to get. But if the Doctor really did transition to a similar if not same archetype time and again, I doubt we would have the vibrant ongoing series of Doctor Who we have today. Instead, actors who portray the Doctor are given latitude to explore the limits of the part and to even invest a bit of themselves into the role. The upshot is that the viewer becomes invested in that Doctor. For good or ill, that person IS the Doctor. And when that actor makes the decision that it's time to move on, the prospect can be quite daunting for most Whovians. Oh, the show continues, the Doctor lives on. But as the 10th Doctor told Wilfred Mott in The End of Time Part One, it feels like dying as another man saunters off.

When David Tennant announced in 2008 that he was leaving Doctor Who, fans were shocked. Tennant was (and still remains) a beloved Doctor. And it wasn't just for his skills as an actor bringing the Doctor to life but also for the obvious love and joy David Tennant had for playing the role. His was the story of a young boy watching Peter Davison in Doctor Who growing up to be an actor and getting the dream part of a life time. When the 10th Doctor, unable to resist regeneration, plaintively says, "I don't want to go!", there were millions of fans screaming back at the TV, "We don't want you to go!"

Then we got Matt Smith.



OK, that's new. 

There were all sorts of reasons to be worried about the choice of Matt Smith as the Doctor.

  • My God, how young IS this guy? He is out of high school, right?
  • What's the deal with that "Flock of Seagulls" haircut?
  • He's not a life long Doctor Who fan? Does he even know what he's getting into?

Steven Moffat himself may have had similar concerns; he made it clear that he wanted an older actor to play the part of the Doctor. Then Matt Smith auditions and the search is over, right then and there. As the Rolling Stones sang, "You can't always get what you want but...you get what you need." Matt Smith, as the youngest actor ever to be cast as the Doctor, was most certainly NOT what Moffat wanted. But in Matt Smith's Doctor--all gonzo and free wheeling and eccentric--was exactly what he needed.

From Matt's very first post regeneration scene where he assess that he has the right number of body parts and no, he is NOT a girl, this Doctor began to charm his way into our lives.

From The Eleventh Hour, we knew Matt was a keeper. Even as he's working out the kinks of a body that is "still cooking", his first and foremost concern is the crack in the wall that's worrying Amelia Pond. The Doctor hasn't even had a chance to look in a mirror to see what his new face looks like and he's going straight to work coming to the aid of someone who needs help. How very much like the Doctor and yet, uniquely Matt Smith.




Tom Baker's 4th Doctor said, "What's the point of being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes?" Matt Smith's 11th Doctor embraced that credo fully. His Doctor would display bursts of childlike energy and curiosity and yet, one could feel the enormity of the centuries that churned behind those deceptively young eyes. Matt's Doctor embodied the wisdom of a weary traveler who has seen too much and the wonder of an explorer enchanted by all the things he has yet to see.  Of all the catch phrases that are associated with the 11th Doctor--"Geronimo!", "Bow ties are cool!"--the one I found most revealing was this: "OK, that's new." Whether that new thing is good or bad, the discovery of the new continues to spark the Doctor's journey.

Tonight marks the end of a particular interesting era in Doctor Who history as Matt Smith dons the bow tie one last time and embarks on his final adventure as the Doctor. During Matt's time as the Doctor, the show has witnessed a phenomenal growth in popularity. Doctor Who appears on the cover of American magazines like TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly. It gets named checked in Time magazine and enters the Guinness Book of World Records. If you mention Doctor Who, you're just as likely to get a "Oh yeah, I've heard of that" as opposed to the formerly more common, "Doctor What?" A lot owes to the efforts of Steven Moffat and his production staff as well as the marketing efforts of the BBC and BBC America to promote the show, to get the word out and stoke the fires of enthusiasm and curiosity.





But the old adage applies here as well as to most things: "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." A lot of clever people got millions of eyes to give Doctor Who a first look. But it was Matt Smith who was key to bringing them back for a second look and more.

But other old adages come to mind: "Nothing lasts forever." "All good things must end." As I noted in this space this past Saturday, the goal of any performer is to leave your audience asking for more. And Matt Smith leaves the stage with an audience of millions screaming, "We don't want you to go!"

Then we get Peter Capaldi.

As the 11th Doctor himself would say: "OK, that's new."

Matt Smith, whatever the future may bring, your time as the Doctor will be regarded fondly and will never be forgotten.


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Tomorrow:

Part 2 of our Doctor Who post as we review The Time of the Doctor.

Until then, be good to one another. 



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