Matt Smith has, I think, become my favourite Doctor.
I wasn’t sure at first, when he was first announced. He seemed a bit too young, and something of an unknown quantity – sci-fi fans, ironically, can be somewhat conservative when it comes to their franchises. However, I was won over by the line “fish fingers and custard”.
See, this announced the arrival of the 11th Doctor, a shibboleth between him and his best friend, and his entry into the ‘dark fairytale’ of the Steven Moffat years. This is a Doctor who’s an archetype of the show’s role in pop culture – children are scared and need someone to deal with the monsters under the bed, and along comes a Doctor to play that role. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the 11th Doctor has a rapport with children. After all, this is a character who’s only just been reborn.
See, the 9th and 10th Doctors were part of a giant plot arc – the Time War, how the Time Lords became corrupt, what this meant for the Doctor. It was a good story, but one that demanded resolution – the 10th Doctor was going down a dark path – so when David Tennant left and Matt Smith arrived, it signalled a new direction.
And so this is a different Doctor – younger, less hubristic and more bumbling. Heck, more nerdy – he gets excited about bowties and ridiculous hats. And, when threatening an army of monsters, he drops the mic. That would never happen to 10. He’s a hero for everyone who’s a little clumsy, child-like and socially inept, because while those traits could leave him as a sitcom caricature, he’s also the smartest guy in the room and, when he gets quiet, incredibly dangerous. That contrast between the eccentric boffin and the destroyer of worlds keeps things interesting. It also means he can do some pretty nasty things and get away with it.
But that’s why I like him. He may be a bit manipulative at times, he may keep secrets, but he’s still fundamentally loveable. Check out the moment when he tells a bedtime story to a little girl, just before he goes to his death – he’s torn between dying with regrets and celebrating all that he’s seen. It’s a wonderful moment, and Smith pulls off the tension of being an old man in a young man’s body. You look at him and you can believe he was once William Hartnell. And that’s why he’s a great Doctor.
Happy birthday Matt.