mon 18/11/2019

Doctor Who, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Doctor Who, BBC One

Doctor Who, BBC One

Nice tweeds. Shame about the lack of darkness as Matt Smith becomes the 11th Doctor

Matt Smith and Karen Gillan: the new young Doctor and his assistant Amy Pond save the world

Of course I’ve not been anticipating the appearance of the new Doctor with quite the counting-the-days excitement of many children, teenagers and anoraked adults across the land. But to invert the Jesuit motto, "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man," my seven-year-old self has recently resurfaced, resulting in at least a frisson of excitement. After all, there’s also a new Tardis, a new assistant, some new bug-eyed monsters, and hopefully one or two scripts as scary as "Blink" or as inexplicably moving as "Human Nature/The Family of Blood". So what’s not to get excited about?

As for the new Doctor, the photos look promising. The tweed jacket is a clever touch: if you are going to have an actor play the Doctor who looks younger than the youngest-looking policeman you’ve ever set eyes on, then he needs to be artifically aged a bit. Let's not forget, our favourite Time Lord is meant to be 907 years old. Apparently an upsurge in sales of Harris tweed jackets has already saved the ailing Hebridean textile manufacturers, thanks to pics of Matt Smith all tweeded up. I’m not so keen on the bow tie, but I won’t hold that against him: the poor guy’s got enough on his plate already, replacing the public’s choice of “best Doctor ever”.

David Tennant was likeable enough, but best Doctor ever? Where were the gravitas, the authority, the mercurial changes of mood? There needs to be a sense that the Doctor’s mind is as vast in relation to the size of his skull as the Tardis is to its modest exterior. Tennant was amusingly cheeky with the aliens, and had a few moments of real pathos, but in more recent episodes he seemed to spend most of his time running about with his teeth bared, as if he was trying to look as much like his cartoon self as possible. No, Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker were the best Doctors ever - trust me, children.

But let’s get back to this new fellow. He appeared in the opening scene of "The Eleventh Hour" (written by new executive producer and head writer, Steven Moffat) hanging out of the open doors of the Tardis, sonic screwdriver clenched between his teeth, as his anachronistic time machine span wildly out of control high above sparkling night-time London. Eventually he crash-landed in a sleepy English village or, to be precise, in the garden of young Amy Pond. His first words to the 10-year-old Amy (as well as to every Doctor Who fan in the land) were, “Can I have an apple?” And then for the next 10 minutes or so we were more or less in broad comedy mode as he tried various foods, spat them out, and eventually settled on fish fingers and custard. It’s a manically brave performance from Matt Smith which could easily have backfired with a lesser actor. Its cleverness lies in the fact that while the new Doctor is getting used to his new self, so are we the viewers.

Is this the first time we’ve seen the Doctor sit down to a meal, Who fans? I certainly don’t recall seeing Tom Baker digging into spam fritters, or Jon Pertwee enjoying a nice lasagne. But anyway, having eaten and inspected an ominous crack in her wall, he told Amy he’d be back in five minutes. Twelve years later he rolled up again and had to persuade the somewhat miffed adult Amy (played by the excellent Karen Gillan) to help him save the world in 20 minutes. I could continue with a blow-by-blow plot synopsis but let’s just say there were some moments of genuine creepiness, a needle-toothed blue eel-like creature, some rather silly giant eyeballs, Victor Meldrew’s Mrs, a cameo from Patrick Moore, a barking man (not barking mad, just barking), and the world got saved with… oh, maybe two seconds to spare. So, business as usual.

But apart from saving the world, how did young Matt do? Well, he absolutely flew with the deft, daft dialogue that Moffat gifted him in this rollercoaster ride of an opening episode. However, on the slightly down side, there’s no doubt that in some ways he’s just a continuation of the David Tennant model. We old school fans just have to accept that these days the Doctor has to compete with the likes of Harry Potter and a whole flock of darkly handsome vampires, so there’s no way the producers are going to risk going back to the gruff and grumpy template of old.

Having said that, Smith isn’t exactly the traditionally handsome leading man. There’s something decidedly alien about his physiognomy that’s far subtler than anything the special effects department could have come up with. For a moment it crossed my mind that he could be the hyper fun-loving brother of David Bowie’s thin white alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth. As Moffat himself put it, he’s “a proper bonkers doctor”. Let’s just hope that bonkers doesn’t turn out to simply mean wacky. It would be great to get at least a glimpse of the darker Doctor that so many of us grew up with, and were thrillingly just a little bit wary of.

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