Friday, 22 November 2013

Doctor Who at 50: The Eleventh Doctor (2010-13)

Matt Smith (1982-  ) played the Eleventh Doctor in 44 episodes airing over three seasons and several specials. He also appeared in two episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures and voiced the Doctor in a series of computer games. He was 26 when he was cast in the role, making him the youngest actor to play the Doctor to date. During Smith's tenure the show achieved a major breakthrough in popularity in the United States.

The Eleventh Doctor (2010-13)

When David Tennant announced he was leaving Doctor Who in 2010, there were doubts about how someone could fill his shoes. Tennant had expanded upon and consolidated the success of Christopher Eccleston's season, winning significant critical and popular acclaim for his performance and elevating the show onto another level of success.

There was also a significant change behind the scenes: Russell T. Davies, who had masterminded the show's return in 2005, had departed and handed the reigns to incoming showrunner Steven Moffat, who had written several of the show's most popular episodes since its return. One of Moffat's first jobs was to cast the new Doctor and settled on Matt Smith.

Matt Smith was only 26 when he was cast, three years younger than Peter Davison had been when he started in the role. There was widespread scepticism over the decision, some believing that Smith was too young. However, others pointed to Smith's experience in television and on stage. He had played a lead role in BBC dramas based on Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart novels (appearing opposite Doctor Who star Billie Piper) for which he had received good reviews.

With a new Doctor also came a new companion, Amy Pond (played Karen Gillan), and a new 'reboot' of the series. Thanks to the presence of mysterious cracks in space and time, the events of the Eccleston/Tennant era seem to have been forgotten about (Pond has never heard of the Daleks, despite their very public two attacks on Earth in the previous seasons) or even erased, allowing Moffat to move forwards without getting tripped up in cumbersome continuity. It is notable that, with the exception of Rose in the 50th Anniversary Special, no contemporary Earth-based recurring characters from the Eccleston/Tennant era reappeared in the Smith one (not counting Sarah-Jane Smith in her own series).

Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). Appearing regularly across three seasons, they are the longest-running companions since the show's return in 2005.
Whilst each of Davies's seasons had revolved a recurring 'arc' element, Moffat took this to new extremes, with a much more involved storyline for each season and a more complicated over-arcing storyline taking in all of Smith's run. These arcs involved time travel, paradoxes and crossing timelines (something previously forbidden, but done much more readily during Smith's tenure). Whilst some applauded Moffat for using the show's time travel premise much more inventively than in the past, others criticised the storylines for being extremely confusing and also rather implausible. There was also criticism that characters Moffat had used once highly effectively - such as River Song and the Weeping Angels - had become watered down through over-use through multiple episodes. Attempts to freshen up the Daleks, by having them 'win' one episode and return in force rather than the scattered individuals encountered in the Davies era, were also generally unsuccessful, with criticisms of both the design of the new Daleks (forcing a backpedal to the previous design) and again their over-use removing their sense of menace.

A lot of these criticisms were resolved during Smith's final season when Amy Pond departed the show and a new companion, Clara Oswald (played by Jenna Louise Coleman) was introduced, along with a recurring band of the Doctor's allies based in Victorian London, the 'Paternoster Gang'. These elements re-focused the storyline on the Doctor's identity, a key theme in the run-up to the show's 50th anniversary in 2013.

However, the Matt Smith era did face one significant hurdle: the BBC's budget crisis. Due to the global economic crisis of 2008, the BBC faced significant budget cuts. Starting in 2010, these cuts were applied to Doctor Who. Initially these cuts forced a reduction in budget-per-episode, but by 2012 they had grown serious enough to start affecting the number-of-episodes per season. Rather than filming cut-down seasons, Moffat elected to extend the seventh season (of the 'new series') over two years instead, including a number of special episodes to appear afterwards to celebrate the 50th anniversary. The result is that in the last two years of Smith's run only (all of 2012 and 2013) only 16 episodes were made, compared to 27 in the previous two years. Fans were highly critical of this due to the fact that the show was still making the BBC immense amounts of money in overseas sales and merchandise. However, due to the way the BBC was structured, this money could not go back into Doctor Who by itself, but into the BBC's overall budget. How the budget will affect episodes going forwards remains to be seen.

Clara Oswald (Jenna Louise Coleman), Strax (Dan Starkey), the Doctor (Matt Smith), Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart) confront the Great Intelligence (Richard E. Grant) in The Name of the Doctor).

Also during the Matt Smith era, Doctor Who made significant inroads into SF fandom in the United States. Doctor Who had been a cult hit in the States since the late 1970s, when Tom Baker episodes were shown on various PBS stations, but the revived series had aired on SyFy and been quite badly treated. With the move to BBC America halfway through Tennant's run, the show suddenly got a lot more attention. Smith was the first Doctor to really embrace the American experience, visiting San Diego Comic-Con and having episodes filmed in the United States.

In 2013 Smith announced he was leaving the role of the Doctor. Despite a flurry of rumours that the next Doctor would be a woman, it was eventually announced that Peter Capaldi would be taking over the role, becoming the oldest actor to play the role since William Hartnell in 1963. He is due to take over from Matt Smith in the 2013 Christmas special, the 800th episode of the series.

Season 31/Series 5: 3/4/10-26/6/10 (13 episodes)
5.1: The Eleventh Hour ****
5.2: The Beast Below ***
5.3: Victory of the Daleks ***
5.4/5.5: The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone ***½
5.6: The Vampires of Venice ***
5.7: Amy's Choice ***
5.8/5.9: The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood (2 episodes) ***½
5.10: Vincent and the Doctor ****
5.11: The Lodger ***½
5.12/5.13: The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang ***

Season 32/Series 6: 25/12/10, 23/4/11-4/6/11, 27/8/11-1/10/11 (14 episodes)
6.X: A Christmas Carol (1 60-minute episode) ***
6.1/6.2: The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon **½
6.3: The Curse of the Black Spot **½
6.4: The Doctor's Wife *****
6.5/6.6: The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People **½
6.7: A Good Man Goes to War ***
6.8: Let's Kill Hitler **
6.9: Night Terrors ***
6.10: The Girl Who Waited ****
6.11: The God Complex ***
6.12: Closing Time ***
6.13: The Wedding of River Song **½

Season 33/Series 7: 25/12/11, 1/9/12-29/9/12, 25/12/12, 30/3/13-18/5/13, 23/11/13, 25/12/13 (17 episodes)
7.X: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (1 60-minute episode) ***
7.1: Asylum of the Daleks ***½
7.2: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship ***
7.3: A Town Called Mercy ****
7.4: The Power of Three **½
7.5: The Angels Take Manhattan **½
7.6: The Snowmen ****
7.7: The Bells of Saint John ***
7.8: The Rings of Akhaten **
7.9: Cold War ****½
7.10: Hide ****
7.11: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS ***
7.12: The Crimson Horror ****
7.13: Nightmare in Silver ***
7.14: The Name of the Doctor ***½
7.15: The Day of the Doctor (1 90-minute episode)
7.16: 2013 Christmas Special (1 60-minute episode)

(7.15 and 7.16 are formally their own self-contained episodes, not part of Season 33/7 or the upcoming 34/8, but for simplicity's sake I have included them as part of that season)

The Eleventh Doctor will regenerate into his twelfth incarnation in the 2013 Christmas Special, under circumstances yet to be revealed.

The Eleventh Doctor's Companions and Allies
Amy Pond (Karen Gillan): Seasons 31-33 (5.1-7.5)
Rory Williams (Peter Darvill): Seasons 31-33 (5.1, 5.6-5.9, 5.12-7.5)
Clara Oswald (Jenna Louise Coleman): Season 33-  (7.1, 7.6-  )
Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh): Season 32- (6.7, 7.6, 7.12, 7.14)
Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart): Season 32- (6.7, 7.6, 7.12, 7.14)
Strax (Dan Starkey): Season 32-  (6.7, 7.6, 7.12, 7.14)


Paul Weimer said...

Following your ratings of these episodes for various Doctors (great work on that by the way), I've got a pretty good handle on your DW tastes, I think.

Anonymous said...

I loved how complicated Matt Smith's first two years were, with the on-going storylines. Those 2 years were much closer to original concept with multi-part stories and cliffhangers at the end of every episode until the conclusion. Something that had been missing with the 2 prior Doctors. Smith is the Doctor that got me watching Who again for the first time since the 70s. I love him. I'm sad to see him go.

Anonymous said...

No red for "The Doctor's Wife?"