Some spoilers for The Time of the Doctor follow, so if you haven’t seen it yet, maybe come back later. But…
…oh, I’m so sad to see him go.
Matt Smith is my Doctor. He’s not my first Doctor – he was my eighth, in real time, and the eleventh that I’d ever seen on screen. But he’s definitely the one that means the most to me. I’ve written about why before.
And now, my Doctor is gone…
I enjoyed The Time of the Doctor, as premiered on the BBC tonight, a good deal. I liked the plotting loops that turned around the nudity and holographic clothes, and all of the jokes that were squeezed out of that. I was delighted when Smith pulled off his wig to reveal… that the Doctor had been wearing a wig. I thought the iPlayer gag was a corker.
And most of all, I liked that this episode gave Matt Smith plenty of opportunity to do what he does best, and acknowledged the elements of Who that are particular to him, to his era, to the eleventh incarnation. The things that defined My Doctor.
But these things are also the things that I like best about Doctor Who at all.
Remember Blink, or The Girl in the Fireplace, Silence in the Library or The Doctor Dances? In each of these, Steven Moffat stepped up to the challenge of making children hide behind the sofa by taking something that was scary like a nightmare is scary. Something rooted in childhood fears – movement in the corner of your eye, a noise under the bed, danger in the shadows. These were, before the Matt Smith era at least, my favourite episodes. They took hold in the reserves of half-remembered, melancholy that carried me adrift into darkness on the nights when a six year old me just couldn’t sleep.
Smith was the Raggedy Man Doctor, the saviour of children, celebrated in crayon drawings. In this episode it was even suggested that, perhaps, Amelia Pond was the most important person in this eleventh life, the first face that Eleven saw, and the one who set the agenda for this Bogeyman buster. This Doctor was a hero to children – and, throw what you want at me, but this show has never worked better then when playing to the child I’ve got inside.
Talking of which, this Eleventh incarnation was the ideal of the old man-young man Doctor. In his young, floppy-fringed form was the soul of an old man… with the spirits of a young man. Tonight’s story had the Doctor’s body slow down and wither while his zest still zinged brightly inside, a crystal-perfect representation of this notion (and then it also worked as an amusing riff on the whole debate about young and old Doctors and what the audience expect from the show’s lead these days, and there wasn’t a better episode, what with the impending arrival of Peter Capaldi, to play about with this).
But I was relieved and even moved that in the closing minutes, the Doctor’s body was young again, and Smith got to see out his time on the show in Eleven’s “pure form.” Nothing in the episode touched me as much as when the bait-and-switch edit to a “young Doctor” and not a “new Doctor” gave us more time, and him a chance to say goodbye. And while he did have some business with Clara, he had more important business, I think, with Amy Pond, if only inside his own mind…
Smith’s Doctor was a Christmas Cracker with poetry inside, though he could always be trusted to say something funny about that poetry, as if it was all just a joke. He would be deathly, sad-eyed serious and then spin on his heels, pop his hands in the air and come back with a surprise. So often a silly, brilliant surprise. Smith was a master at blending this mixture of the sweet and the sad, the funny and the bruised.
Before all was said and done tonight, the bow tie just had to come off. Not even for a second was that going to carry over. Seeing him remove the tie was powerful too, because it was a real sign-off, a preparation for his own passing.
I don’t know what Steven Moffat and company will give to Peter Capaldi or what he’ll do with it once he’s got it, but he won’t be Matt Smith, and he won’t do what Smith did. I hope Moffat finds a whole new seam to mine and reinvents the show and finds new reasons for us to love it. I hope there’s a whole new Doctor Who as well as a new Doctor, not just an echo of what we’ve just been through. This show’s “fairytale” phase has been a resounding success, but I don’t know how they’d be able to move it on and develop it.
And I’m really sorry we’ll be getting a whole lot less Matt Smith on our TVs now. Thankfully, we’ll still be seeing him in other, interesting projects. And I’ll still be writing about them here.
So, I tried to write a tribute. I don’t know how well I did. But I do know that the image at the top of this page does it brilliantly. Here’s a bigger version, and another to go with it. They say it all, really.