Best of 11: Top Five Episodes of the Matt Smith Era of Doctor Who

mattsmithdoctorwho

by Amy Yen

I’m not sure if I am a very common Whovian. My impression is, most people have “their” Doctor & that’s it. And granted, I have only been with the series since New Who launched in 2005. But I remember feeling–even as David Tennant’s farewell tour grew outlandishly long & I was ready to just see the new guy already–that surely, Ten was the Doctor when I feel in love with Doctor Who, so Tennant would be “my” Doctor forever.

But now, as Matt Smith’s tenure draws to an end, I’m really not that sure. I have many, many, many problems with the show during his time on it (mostly dealing with showrunner Steven Moffat & his approach to mythology, character development & writing women—this isn’t the time to go into all that, but do check out this article in The Atlantic that details the problem with Moffat’s plot-over-heart writing style quite well), but Matt Smith was never one of them. In fact, he was what kept it great. I enjoy Smith’s Doctor so much, I’m willing to slog through any tired companion-slash-mystery Moffat surrounds him with in order to watch him. If you were to press me on it today & I had to make a choice, I think I would say Smith was “my” Doctor.

Now this has to do with more than just Smith over Tennant…I was never much of a Rose fan & the “specialness” of Rose was never all that interesting to me, which really colors my enjoyment of Tennant’s era since the shadow of Rose falls over almost his entire run. On the flip side, I found Amy & Rory endlessly interesting companions & a lot of what I appreciate about Eleven’s run deals with the bizarre little family unit they formed with the Doctor & River and all of the various relationships between all of them.

Additionally, while there were just as many frustratingly pointless “fun romp” type episodes as ever (pirates in space? dinosaurs in space?), Eleven’s era did feature some of the most jaw-droppingly wonderful stories in New Who. So, with Matt Smith about to hang up his bow tie, I thought I’d reminisce about my favorites. Caveat: I am going to try to pick stories with my favorite Matt Smith moments, not just overall great episodes. This significantly downgrades certain episodes, like The Girl Who Waited, which is, as I said before, one of my very favorite New Who stories, but which is ultimately more about Amy & Rory than it is about the Doctor. This list is really all about saying goodbye one last time to Eleven, Matt Smith, his bow tie & his fez, before Peter Capaldi makes his presence known.

Honorable Mentions: A Christmas Carol, The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, The God Complex, The Angels Take Manhattan, The Girl Who Waited

5) The Day of the Doctor (50th Anniversary special)
I thought it was probably fitting that in a special within the Matt Smith era, even one anticipated so much for the return of David Tennant, that Eleven should get perhaps the more clever moments. Not that Ten or even John Hurt’s War Doctor were just on the sidelines–their banter, especially between Ten and Eleven, was the highlight of the episode–but it’s still Matt Smith’s show right now and he makes the most of it. It was also the most personal of stories, one that did a particularly good job of explaining the Doctor’s continuously youthful-trending regenerations, which also serves to highlight one of Matt Smith’s more interesting strengths: the ability to play both so young and so old at the exact same time.

4) The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone (5.4-5)
Eleven’s first meeting with River Song has its problems–Moffat’s most famous monsters, the Weeping Angels, are much less interesting in this incarnation; Moffat also reuses a plot device from his Library 2-parter in having the Angels speak to the Doctor through poor Dead Bob–but Eleven’s early interactions with River are delightful & his moment in the forest with Amy (later revealed to be a future version of the Doctor rewinding & trying to save himself from being erased from time) was devastating on a number of levels. The first episode ends on the Doctor’s famous “One Thing You Don’t Put in a Trap” speech that was featured heavily in the series 5 trailer. And if there’s one thing Matt Smith can do, it’s perform a Moffat speech.

3) The Eleventh Hour (5.1)
The Doctor says he’s not done cooking in The Eleventh Hour, but the truth is Matt Smith is so convincingly The Doctor almost immediately, it’s remarkable. In fact, it’s so much fun watching the Eleventh Doctor find himself (& watching Matt Smith find his Doctor), you almost miss the rather terrible thing that the Doctor does in this episode–that is, completely mess with a little girl’s childhood (it’s not the last time he will do this). Moffat includes a pretty fantastic tribute to the ten Doctors before this one at the climax of the monster-of-the-week portion of this episode, and Matt Smith doesn’t look at all out of place stepping out from behind David Tennant’s rather sizable shadow.

2) The Doctor’s Wife (6.4)
The Doctor goes through such a range of emotions in this episode, from devastating hope that there might be another time lord still alive to righteous anger when he finds out the truth to unbridled joy at realizing what Idris really is. But the best is the moment he realizes he’s about to lose the TARDIS & Amy & Rory along with it. “I…really don’t know what to do,” he says. But then, even in the middle of his panic, he takes a second to bask. “That’s a new feeling.” That moment is so very Doctor Who. The other moment I love is at the end, when Amy & Rory are safely in their new room & the Doctor can dare to say aloud the question he’s dying to ask. “Are you there?” And yes, the TARDIS is always there & the music swells & the Doctor dances around the console & it will always be him & her, long after everyone else is gone.

1) The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang (5.12-13)
The best thing about Matt Smith in this story is that he gets to do it all. He is clearly having a blast with Moffat’s timey-wimey-est plot since Blink. He takes another tiny step forward with River. He gets to make his greatest, most bad-ass Moffat speech ever (“Remember every black day I ever stopped you!”). And he gets the quiet moment, so clever without us even realizing, telling a bedtime story to little Amelia Pond. “You’ll dream about that box. It’ll never leave you. Big and little at the same time. Brand new and ancient. And the bluest. Blue. Ever.” Matt Smith is great through all of it. He’s mesmerizing & he makes you believe. At the end of his first series, he’s The Doctor so completely, it’s hard to remember he was ever anyone else.

Of course, I’m sure in a few years, we’ll be saying the same thing about Peter Capaldi. Matt Smith’s final Doctor Who, The Time of the Doctor, airs Christmas Day, Wednesday, December 25 at 9pm ET on BBC America.

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