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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Thoughts on Doctor Who Series 7 Mid-Series Finale: The Angels Take Manhattan

by Amy Yen

Best. Companion send-off. Ever.

I read that on Twitter after I watched the mid-series finale of Doctor Who, “The Angels Take Manhattan,” the much anticipated (and dreaded) goodbye for Mr. and Mrs. Pond, & I can’t disagree. It wasn’t a perfect story, but it was a perfect ending for them. Even if the Doctor can’t see it right now.

I have to say, I’m so relieved Moffat did these characters justice. It’s been, let’s just say, not my favorite series, & the main reason is that, for a series that has been leading up to their inevitable departure, I’ve felt like the first four episodes were the least effective use of the Ponds yet. Not one of those stories even came close to featuring them as well as something like “The Girl Who Waited,” or “Amy’s Choice.” Luckily, when it came down to it, Moffat went back to the one thing that was always consistent about Amy & Rory: they will always, always choose each other.

The two choices that were made in this episode — Rory & Amy choosing to jump off the building in blind hope that the paradox would erase Rory’s fate of a life without Amy, and Amy choosing to let the Angel zap her back in time in blind hope that it would save her from a life without Rory — were consistent with every other choice we’ve seen them make. Amy choosing the frozen TARDIS timeline when she realized she would lose Rory in the Leadworth timeline. Rory choosing to stay by the Pandorica to guard Amy. Amy choosing to let her older self die so her younger self could grow old with Rory. In the end, when the Angel took Rory and Amy had to choose between trying to be with him or staying with the Doctor, it never was a choice at all.

The Doctor does not take it so well. It’s interesting, the Doctor hates endings & he’s desperately afraid of losing Amy. That’s why he dropped her & Rory off after “The God Complex.” He’s “saving” them, so says Amy. But he can’t give them up any more than they can give him up, so he keeps coming back (as if to keep making up for not showing up the first time). Here, he is selfish. He tells Amy he doesn’t know if the Angel will send her back to the same time as Rory, when he does full well that it does. That’s why Billy Shipton winds up in the same time as Ten & Martha. He begs Amy not to do this, not to leave him, asks her to “come along, Pond” when he knows it would mean she wouldn’t see Rory again. It’s all very human of him.

What the Doctor can’t see in his grief, in this moment, is this is really the best possible outcome for Amy & Rory. Maybe they didn’t quite go out on their own terms, but they went out together & they lived. And considering how often each of them has died (especially Rory, who, hilariously, died again this episode…one more for the road, yes?), this is a borderline miraculous ending.

More random thoughts on ‘The Angels Take Manhattan”:

  • “To save you, I could do anything.” Don’t doubt it. He’s got two thousand years to back it up. Rory Williams truly is among the most romantic figures in recent pop culture. And to Amy, for Amy, he’s every bit the hero the Doctor is.
  • It’s fitting this episode read like a book, considering Amy Pond’s story has always had a little bit of fairy tale to it.
  • The Weeping Angels really hold up. They’re still every bit as terrifying as they were in “Blink,” & I like that we see them in their original flavor here. I always thought the zapping-people-back-in-time thing was way more interesting than what they did in “Time of Angels.”
  • So. The Statue of Liberty is a Weeping Angel huh? Of course she is.
  • Look, I really liked this episode, so I’m going to choose to ignore a bunch of plot holes here, like why the hell the Doctor wouldn’t take the TARDIS to go to the hotel instead of stealing a car, or where the hell the Angel went after it zapped Amy at the end, since neither the Doctor or River were looking at it, or since when could the Doctor just heal injuries with regeneration energy?
  • “Just you wait when my husband gets home.” While I don’t know that River was really essential to this story, it’s appropriate she’s here, since it is her parents & all. Plus, it made for a whole lot of awesome flirting between her & the Doctor. Especially loved the Doctor checking his breath & straightening his bow tie before seeing her. Aw.
  • Speaking of River, it’s nice that she was pardoned for that murder she didn’t actually commit (which I’m still kind of appalled by, so hopefully this is the last we’ll hear of it). Yet another convenient side effect of the continuing Doctor-erased-from-everything sub-plot. And there’s that pesky Question again. Hidden in plain sight.
  • I thought for a while, when Amy & Rory were on the ledge about to jump, the Doctor would end up saving them in the TARDIS, like he’s done with River a few times. But I like that the Doctor was so powerless in this episode, that he couldn’t save them & they had to save themselves. This story isn’t about the Doctor.
  • So lovely to see little Amelia Pond again. A lovely touch to end where it began. Amelia, unlike Amy, will never grow old.
  • I’m so not a fan of these split seasons. These series are not long enough to split…there’s barely any momentum & it’s over again. Now we have to wait all the way until Christmas to meet Oswin or Clara or whoever she is.
  • I can’t go without saying, Matt Smith & Arthur Darvill & especially Karen Gillan were all terrific this episode. “Raggedy man, goodbye.” Argh! Just heartbreaking.
  • Did you notice the newspaper Amy is reading in the park at the beginning of the episode? The headline reads “Detroit Lions Win Super Bowl.” And if that wasn’t an indication they were in some bizarre, Fringe-like alternate timeline, I don’t know what is.