The Smith Era
“I’ll be a story in your head. But that’s okay, we’re all stories in the end.
Just make it a good one, eh? Because it was, you know. It was the best.
A daft old man, who stole a magic box and ran away.”
Of all the modern Doctors perhaps the Eleventh Doctor represents the greatest gear-change between two adjoining series and iterations. A new show runner and production team, new lead and companion, not to mention new TARDIS inside and out, The Eleventh Hour ushers in a deliberate reinvention of the programme. Most Doctors take perhaps a full season to ‘find’ their character; the Matt Smith Era finds its Time Lord within its first episode.
Much of this of course is due to the resetting of the Doctor and who he is. Having played his hand as an angry survivor, then a lonely god, this new Doctor is first and foremost a figure of legend; literally, in some cases, a living story. He is the raggedy Man, brought into being by The Girl Who Waited, then is apparently deconstructed and brought back to reality by the same girl’s memories, his return in The Big Bang a more convincing turn than Last of the Time Lords‘ stab at a faith-based resurrection (mobile technology notwithstanding). This season does, however, insist on being a story told on its own terms – that of, for want of a better term, a ‘fairy story’. Following Amy Pond of course is another companion who also in her way ‘tell’s the Doctor’s story to life through her own selfless and self-denying actions. More than ever, the Eleventh Doctor is a ‘reactive’ hero in essence – an independent hero who nonetheless relies on the versions told to him by companions and strangers alike (viz the doomed Lorna Bucket) – he even coordinates his adventures for a period to his sometime wife’s diary. No other version of Doctor Who has asked so much of its viewers to buy into on a narrative scale.
If you can buy into that, then what follows should be easier still, because Smith’s first season also ramps up Doctor Who following a blueprint set down in Steven Moffat’s previous stories: temporal chicanery, eerie (rather than warlike) monsters, formidable enemies (often with strong female proponents) claiming powers to equal those of the now absent Time Lords, and the Doctor fighting for the certainty of his very existence, defending the entire universe and all of time itself simply by being. Such audacious concepts set the stakes infinitesimally higher than the series’ first years of random, almost anonymous adventures in a broad and unknowable universe. The Doctor is now famous, and his fame has created his greatest challenge: he can never know peace – ironically only coming close to this when trapping himself in a rather nebulous stalemate during the Siege of Trenzalore. In fact, for its own inconsistencies, The Time of the Doctor never abandons the central theme of the Doctor as the hero of a thousand stories – perhaps more potently in this story, evoking variations on the ‘Drifter’ or ‘Gunslinger’ characters of Western stories. Once again, in returning to a heroic ‘legend’ context the final acts and regeneration of the Eleventh Doctor can only be seen as the culmination of an era that, inconsistencies and fumbles aside, stays true to its storytelling roots. For its triumphs and failings it can’t be said that the Smith Era is not thematically strong.
Do you believe in fairy stories, immortal heroes and the inevitable triumph of good over evil? If you can, then here you have one hell of a show – surprising, shocking, suspenseful and utterly charming. Whatever will come next?