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.

Thoughts on Doctor Who Series 6 Spring Finale A Good Man Goes to War

by Amy Yen

“He’s not a warrior.”
“Then why is he called ‘The Doctor’?”

River Song says it best in the end. Is this what The Doctor thought he would become? Feared? Stories about him whispered between soldiers? It’s not like he doesn’t know it’s happening. He says as much in “The Pandorica Opens,” stands on a rock at Stonehenge & says to his enemies above him, “Remember every black day I ever stopped you!” And finally, thankfully, somebody says aloud what we’ve all been thinking.

Is this The Doctor? Because the Doctor I remember doesn’t ever use his sonic screwdriver as a weapon, pointing it tip-first at flesh-Amy. He wouldn’t let Jack Harkness use his gun on Futurekind trying to kill them, so he definitely wouldn’t insight a gun battle between the cleric soldiers & the Headless Monks. He wouldn’t pantomime guns as Danny-Boy destroys the Demon’s Run communications array. He wouldn’t force the colonel in this episode to give the order to “run away,” just to humiliate him.

I don’t know who that is, but that is not the Doctor.

“Look, I’m angry, that’s new. I’m really not sure what’s going to happen now.” It isn’t new, not really. Remember what Ten did to the Family of Blood? I don’t know when exactly it happened, because it wasn’t simply when Eleven took over (remember he still pointed his screwdriver up to malfunction the Silurians’ weapons & even his disdain for all his enemies’ “silly little guns” in the aforementioned “Pandorica Opens” speech), but at some point, the Doctor became less empathetic, more okay with violence, okay with being feared, maybe a little too in love with being the Oncoming Storm, the last time lord. And because it’s mostly fun to watch him show off, we mostly just went with it, but I for one am relieved that it appears this was at least partially intentional, or at least that Moffatt & the producers are aware of the discrepancy, the change in this very, very established character.

River Song calls him out, in his darkest hour. And then she tells him her secret. Brings the spark back into his eyes. Makes him know, instantly, what to do next. Gives him hope.

Hopefully, it will also signal a return to the Doctor we know & love. Because it’s not like I didn’t like this episode or the first half of this unfortunately split series. But the Doctor’s empathy & kindness & mercy is what makes him a different kind of hero, & it’d be sad to lose what makes him special.

More random thoughts on “A Good Man Goes to War“:

  • So River Song is Amy & Rory’s daughter after all. Even though this was probably the most popular guess of any of the theories out there, it still gave me chills to actually hear it. Although, how does this “change everything” with the Doctor & River’s relationship? If anything, you would think it improves it, now that he knows. Then why did she spend so much time last year apologizing for when the Doctor finally finds out who she is?
  • Don’t forget, we still don’t know who it is she killed to get sent to prison. “A very good man.” Maybe one that went to war?
  • “The only water in the forest is the river.” I always thought that Amy’s last name being Pond & River’s name being River had to be significant somehow. Nice to see this pay off.
  • A lot of callbacks in this episode to previous one-off characters, much like the beginning of “The Pandorica Opens.” Of course these callbacks weren’t really that cool, since they involved sub-par episodes like “Victory of the Daleks,” “Cold Blood” & “Curse of the Black Spot.” It was kind of fun to see Dorium, the black marketer that River Song tricked into giving her a vortex manipulator last series.
  • Lorna Bucket turned out to be kind of a disappointing one-off character. Not because of anything she did, just because I kept waiting for her to turn out to be someone important, someone maybe that we already met (maybe a younger River Song). Too bad the Doctor remembered their encounter in the Gamma Forest, or else I’d think we’d see that adventure yet. As it is, I guess she’s just there for the Doctor to be sad over & to give Amy the clue that eventually reveals River’s identity.
  • The Headless Monks are not scarier than either the Silence or the Weeping Angels in concept, but in execution, they are creepy as hell.
  • Rory was kind of really awesome in this episode. Yes, having him be in the Centurion outfit is kind of random & silly, but it’s also still kind of cool. His showdown with the Cybermen was a nice moment, as was his meeting with River (although the best part is her reaction to seeing him, especially on the second watch-through when you know what she knows…this is her father).
  • The bit at the beginning, with Amy telling her daughter that her father is coming…”He looks young but he’s lived for hundreds of years”…was that really necessary? Just for that little moment before she says The Last Centurion when you think, WTF? Seriously? They’re really going to go there with it being the Doctor’s kid? Really? I just thought, OMG give it a rest already. The more they try to put tension in the Amy/Rory/Doctor “triangle,” the more irritating I find it. Just let them be! I promise you, you will find that all three characters can stand on their own now. Really.
  • Autumn 2011. Ugh!

Thoughts on Doctor Who Series 5 Finale The Big Bang

by Amy Yen

Spoiler Alert: This review includes spoilers for the US/Canada airing of “The Pandorica Opens” & “The Big Bang,” the 2-part finale of Doctor Who series 5. These episodes will (presumably) air on BBC America on July 10 & July 17.

“Big and little, at the same time. Brand new and ancient. And the Bluest. Blue. Ever.” This Doctor likes to talk, doesn’t he? He likes to works things out, out loud, to himself, to his companions, to us. He likes to muse, he likes to wax nostalgic & he likes to tells bedtime stories to little girls with red hair. He likes the fairy tale — the girl who waited for the raggedy doctor, the boy who waited for the girl, the daft old man who stole a magic box.

It’s poetic that the Doctor chooses to skip the rest of the tour down memory lane (“I hate repeats,” he says) & limits his attempts to save his memory to Amy & Amy alone. It’s like he wants to pretend his past started that night, with that body, when he met little Amelia Pond. It’s a little meta, with Matt Smith finishing off his first series, firmly solidified as The Doctor, with as brilliant a performance as we’ve come to expect of him, & best of all, Steven Moffat topping off what has at times been an unevenly written series with the type of finale that, in the RTD era, we would have expected to get blown out of proportion. But Moffat shows terrific restraint & produces a finale that is large enough in scale to be a real threat (the universe is literally collapsing) but at the same time still feels tight & focused on the characters that matter to us. The Doctor & his companions & really, no one else. There’s no huge fleets of enemies — just a lone Dalek, awesomely dealt with by River Song — & a mess that the Doctor must figure out how to clean up.

Better still, with the exploding TARDIS mystery & the cracks in space & time, Moffat’s major arc this season feels wonderfully personal to both the Doctor & Amy. It’s very neat that the mystery is not over, that there will be some carry-through to series 6. The actual resolution of the problem, the Doctor creating Big Bang 2 to bring back the universe, but being trapped behind the crack & erased by history in the process, and needing Amy to remember him to bring him back, seemed to come about too easily, but I found that I didn’t really care. I didn’t even mind how easily & quickly the Doctor escaped the cliffhanger from the end of “The Pandorica Opens,” when he is trapped by all his enemies in the inescapable box. To be honest, I watch Doctor Who for the Doctor, to see him have adventures & save the world. Nobody wants to see him taken out of the game for too long. I actually thought the time travel aspects of the episode were all really fun & clever. I particularly liked seeing the logistics play out of him going to see Rory to tell him how to get past-him out of the Pandorica (with the cue from Rory involving the ridiculous fez & mop & the Doctor realizing he’s missing his sonic screwdriver now because he gave it to Rory 2000 years ago & thus going back to give the instruction to put it in Amy’s pocket so it’d be there in the future).

I was also hugely relieved that the story resolved with Rory alive & human & back on the TARDIS again, although it conflicts with reports that he wouldn’t be returning with Amy in the next series. Right now I’m choosing to believe the reports were wrong, because Rory is awesome. I loved the idea of the Roman centurion guarding the Pandorica for 2000 years to protect Amy. “Why do you have to be so…human?” the Doctor wonders, because, at that moment, he’s not, & the Doctor loves him for it. Rory is a hero; he is Mickey Smith, much sooner than Mickey Smith became Mickey Smith. In the end, maybe he realizes, he can have the girl and the adventure too. Because in the end, Rory also loves the Doctor.

There’s also River Song in this story, although she turns out to be much less pivotal than originally thought. The most interesting part of her remains what she will be. “You always dance at weddings, don’t you,” she teases. The Doctor remains largely baffled by her, but he’s getting better at hiding it. He hands her back her vortex manipulator with the casualness you’d never see him show with Captain Jack. He trusts her. But even she, in a roundabout way, is warning him that he maybe shouldn’t yet.

Anyway, going back to Amy, because that’s what this entire series was really about. The Doctor asks her if it was worth it. “Shut up, of course it was,” she tells him. He tells her he lied. He didn’t take her along with him because he was lonely (although that can’t be a complete lie). He chose her because her life was all wrong. Her house was too big, there are holes in her story. “Amy Pond. All alone. The girl who didn’t make sense. How could I resist?”

Amy’s story is one of the most interesting companion stories we’ve seen because the Doctor has been entwined in her entire life. He’s been actually responsible for very real emotional issues with her character. “Twelve years & four therapists,” she tells him when he first finds her again. It’s a much more grown-up, serious backstory than we’re used to for a companion. But Amy is tenacious. She doesn’t forget & when she figures it out, she interrupts her own wedding. “I remember you and you are late for my wedding!” she shouts at the Doctor who she’s always waiting for. She is messed up & complex & brilliant. How could the Doctor resist?

Additional notes on “The Pandorica Opens” & “The Big Bang”:

  • I have found Murray Gold’s score inconsistent & at times distracting throughout the series, which is odd because I used to find him very solid in the Tennant years (“Martha’s Theme” remains one of my favorite scored pieces from a TV series). But I thought the music was used very well in “Big Bang” & especially loved the Eleventh Doctor’s Theme at the very end when Amy & Rory rejoined him on the TARDIS & they left for their next adventure.
  • “I found you. I found you with words, just like you knew I would.” Did he, I wonder? It seemed very much like, in Amelia’s bedroom, that the Doctor was resigned to the fact that he couldn’t make Amy remember. But then, she’s right, why tell her the story? And he did show up in his tux.
  • Looking back on it, I wish there were one or two more plants where the Doctor tried to talk to Amy during his rewind. We don’t see her on the TARDIS (amusingly on the way to Space Florida) or dropping off the card during “The Lodger,” so it’s just the scene during “Flesh & Stone” that was our clue.
  • “Something old. Something new. Something borrowed. Something blue.” I especially loved all the references to the blue blue of the TARDIS. When they re-painted the TARDIS back in “The Eleventh Hour,” I found it to be almost too blue, like it looked like a toy. But it all went with the fairy tale atmosphere of the entire season. “The Bluest. Blue. Ever.” Sometimes I feel like Moffat likes to write exactly the way I like to think.