My last word on Matt Smith’s Doctor. Well, until my next word. In some ways, this piece – from DWM #469 – was me limbering up for the ‘Mad Man in a Box’ Matt interview mash-up that appeared in the following issue. Delving into my own archive of Smith quotes.
I’ve loved reviewing the Eleventh Doctor for DWM. I hope I got better at it over the years. Certainly the pieces have become less convoluted, and not so propped up by additional stuff that, at the time, I felt added value. But you can be the judge. It’s all here.
And if you have the stomach for more of me, every Friday morning I post TV reviews onto Off the Telly.
December 2008 was, it’s fair to say, an odd time for Matt Smith. Although the world was yet to know it, he’d just been told he was to become the 11th actor to play the Doctor on TV. Between now and then, he had commitments to fulfil. One of them was a day of press interviews for the BBC2 crime drama Moses Jones, due to air the following February.
Matt had been cast in the supporting role of DS Dan Twentyman, and found himself reporting to London’s rather stark Hospital Club on Endell Street to hop between various ’roundtable’ groups of journalists and make pleasant, promotional chat.
Also along, Moses Jones‘ leading man, Shaun Parkes. Not only was he known for Casanova and, indeed, a 2006 appearance in Doctor Who, but, according to someone in the know from one of the TV listings magazines, Parkes had just been offered the role of… The Doctor.
How Matt must have inwardly shrieked as his co-star politely fended off repeated enquiries about this exciting new gig. How he must have howled inside when he himself was asked the journeyman question: What’s next for you? He didn’t say. He spoke, instead, of Christmas plans with his girlfriend in Barbados, and how good it would be if Moses Jones would go again. Maybe his first white lie uttered in the name of the Doctor.
October 2009, and another press day. This time it was at the BBC in Cardiff, and Matt was very much the main event. When asked what he was going to bring us as the next Doctor he said: “It’s difficult. While I’m doing it, I can’t analyse it. At the moment I just try to make the right choices and play the truth every day, via my soul and my body and my history and all that sort of stuff.” And then he thought a little more before saying something that, fittingly, would echo the last lines he’d come to utter in the role. “He’s in me now. My version of the character is now the Doctor to me. It’s just thrilling.”
Although he seemed an unconscionably young Doctor at that (just 26 when he landed the job) the character Matt found was nonetheless the pottiest and at times most professorial version of the Time Lord: a mix of Frank Spencer and, well let’s not shy away from it, William Hartnell. Much has been written about the strange oxymoron wherein this young man, born in the gap between seasons 19 and 20 for God’s sake, has been better than anyone else at embodying a character who’s 900-plus years old. But that’s not the only paradox.
His incarnation has been the one who was both properly grumpy and properly silly. Each extreme meant he fitted well with children, and throughout his run was effectively paired with a stream of youngsters: Amelia Pond, Elliott in The Hungry Earth, the young Kazran in A Christmas Carol, George in Night Terrors, Lily and Cyril in The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe and – we still shudder at their names – Artie and Angie in Nightmare in Silver. He was also au fait with the fripperies of 21st century life, such as Wi-Fi or temping at a call centre, but utterly alien too, and in a brand new fashion. Sure, Tom Baker’s Doctor walked in eternity, but Matt’s was more a tourist, cooing as he observed such weird customs as air kissing or, indeed, wearing clothes. And finding smashing souvenirs like fezzes or a lovely pair of reading glasses. His was also the most bashful, but still a slick operator. Like David Tennant’s version, he ended his run with a wife in the wings and the memory of half-a-dozen kisses played out across his lips.
Matt’s Doctor could be anything. Grouchy, groovy, fusty and epic. With his flaying limbs or his imperious stare, you never knew quite what you were going to get. On the odd occasion, even cowardly, cruel and unkind.
September 2013 was, it’s fair to say, an odd time for Matt Smith. A week away from wrapping forever on Doctor Who, here he was in one last press junket for the show. A bit of a tough ask, to talk with vaguely familiar faces about this heart-breaking juncture in his career. “You’ve got to go sometime, and, God, would people really want me to stick around?” he said, modestly. “I don’t know. But I think it’s the right time for the show. It re-galvanises it, it renews people’s interest.”
For this reviewer – who’s had a lovely time yapping at Matt Smith’s heels through the pages of DWM – the level of fascination has never dropped. That’s been due to that huge array of contrasts in Matt’s performance. And it’s meant his portrayal has encapsulated the biggest and very best contradiction of them all. He has been the most modern of the Doctors, but also the most like the ones we had when we were growing up.