Dec 27 2013

The Doctor Is Out: The End of Matt Smith’s Era

Published by at 10:00 am under Editorials,Television

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As a critic, it occasionally gets easy to ‘overthink’ a property.

We critics tend to look for deeper meaning(s) in what we watch – some glorious cinematography, an artsy script, mesmerizing performances, etc.  In our quest to find something definitive to say about a film, book, or TV show, we sometimes end up missing the forest for the trees as the saying goes. Such may be the case with Matt Smith’s brief tenure as the iconic Doctor Who, but rest assured that won’t stop a whole host of us from sounding off on the topic … especially now that the seemingly indefatigable young man has turned in his sonic screwdriver for greener pastures.

And, yes, I do mean it when I “brief.”

Why, it seemed like just yesterday the internet was all aflutter with the good, the bad, and the ugly comments involving what was heralded even by the BBC as the ‘youngest’ incarnation of the good Doctor yet. Despite what any elder statesman will tell you, twenty-seven years of age isn’t exactly a spring chicken; but it is a far cry from the actual hundreds of years of wisdom, guile, and experience trapped within any timelord’s amazingly fertile imagination. Playing Who for four years (three seasons) is a smidge less than David Tennant (five years, four seasons).  It would seem that long gone are the days when an actor named Baker (still my favorite) stayed the course for seven years.

For the naysayers, I didn’t intend that as a slight. Rather, I prefer longevity.  I do admire Smith for having the gumption to do as much as he did for the franchise. For a whole new generation of fans, he became the face of the program, flying around the world to appear at Comic-Cons as well as complete some filming in the United States as the iconic time traveler. Lord knows that Tennant was a tough act to follow, and Smith brought to the property the right amount of adrenaline required to lift the program to previously unimagined heights.

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His Who soared in ways all of his own.

True, some of the credit is owed to his equally youthful companions.  Amelia Pond (a winsome Karen Gillam) was every fanboy’s ginger delight, though her bumbling husband Rory (Arthur Darvill) was made the brunt of too much physical comedy (for the kids, I suppose).  Spunky yet clunky Clara (Jenna Coleman) plays her ‘girl-next-door’ wholesome looks to stellar heights.

Still, it was Smith’s Who that perhaps brought out the child in all of them, much like he did with the viewing audience.  Methinks the show will inevitably grow richer from his participation than his detractors would have you believe.

As I think back on these last three seasons, though, I’m saddened to realize that – outside of Smith’s first season with the TARDIS – I don’t have all that many strong memories of his adventures. That could be because, in my opinion, his first episodes relied fairly heavily on his and showrunner Stephen Moffat’s attempts to distinguish their run from Tennant’s work, which was pretty inspired. While I might remember more of the stories from Tennant’s days, I find myself remembering more ideas and concepts from Smith’s – i.e. Doctor Who in the old west (couldn’t tell you much about the story), dinosaurs on a spaceship (still couldn’t tell you much about the story), and vampires in Venice (alas, was there a story there?). What tales I do recall remain first season yarns — the Weeping Angels still bring chills, and River Song seemed like a breath of fresh, romantic air for the Gallifreyian (sp?) who fixated on his young companions for far too long.

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Need I add Vincent Van Gogh?

And the Pandorica?

Resetting the universe?!?!

Of course, the real measure of the man remains to be evaluated with the passage of time. That’s always the case – you’ll never measure lasting, enduring ‘greatness’ in the moment but rather with the backdrop of added history – and it always will be.

For my two cents, “The Day of the Doctor” – November’s 50th anniversary installment of Who – was vastly superior to this past week’s “The Time of the Doctor,” and I can’t help but repeat what I wrote in a talkback elsewhere just last night: “it seems as if the BBC really wanted the franchise’s highwater mark to be that episode as opposed to Smith’s final appearance.”

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After all, “Time” felt a little too fairy tale for its own good.

Much of Smith’s Who has embrace that fairy-tale undercurrent. Here’s a raggedy man.  Here are his raggedy friends.  Together, they live in a box that travels wherever and whenever they need it to go. Instead of relying on the established science-behind-it-all (albeit an awful lot of TV-show-science or technobabble), how else can one explain the seemingly ‘magical’ conceit Moffat threw in to resolve the established canon of no timelord living past twelve regenerations? If anything, this last resurrection was treated like chump change: Clara pleads with the timelords who logically shouldn’t be able to hear her anyway and – voila! – here’s another nine lives for you, Doc!

Perhaps some of the unanswered questions will be explored further when the show returns in the spring, but I prefer my narratives make sense in the here and the now.

“Time” ended with just the right sentiments. I’ll certainly give it that much. The raggedy man really became a bit more raggedy with age, but – in return for his good deeds in saving a town called Christmas – he was given a few more fleeting moments of youth in which we see our hero enchanted with elements of his own past. Even Amy Pond returns to bid him adieu … and then he grew old again with the face of Peter Capaldi.

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So adieu, Matt.

I’ll miss you, though I still can’t remember too many of your stories these last two seasons. I do recall the moments of magic, the minutes of mirth, and the flights of fancy. You made your mark, and now Elvis has left the building. As a fan of all things sci-fi, I’ll wish you well, as do we all … until the 55th anniversary rolls around and we’ll hopefully see you back in a fez with the inevitable time-twisting treachery up the writers’ sleeves.





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