I’m pleased to say that Matt Smith’s triumphant debut as the eleventh incarnation of Doctor Who over the Easter weekend – after a seemingly endless wait since the announcement of his replacing David Tennant some 16 months ago – firmly drew me back into Whovian mode. Watching “The Eleventh Hour” had the same air as Daniel Craig’s debut as James Bond in Casino Royalefor years ago: any sense of (knee-jerk) suspicion that you had about the casting – in Smith’s case, mostly anchored on his comparative youth to his predecessors – pretty much drains away in the opening moments of their tenure in a hugely iconic role.
Smith really was great: all manic, twitchy energy, sly wit and some nice confrontational rhetoric in the climax against the CG beastie. Given that this was the immediate aftermath of the regeneration seen last Christmas, it’s only to be expected that Smith’s Doctor would be channeling some of the whirling dervish personality of David Tennant’s Doctor – he was, after all, “still cooking” – but I’m hoping that will disappear swiftly and he’ll establish his own distinct persona. Nice tweedy costume, too – suitably British and eccentric (and procured, I noticed, in the exact same manner as Jon Pertwee’s Doctor).
I especially liked Smith’s chemistry with his new flame-haired companion, Amy (Karen Gillan), which was effectively underscored with the fact that, thanks to the Doctor’s lackadaisical time-keeping, she’d actually been mentally-scarred by her childhood encounter with the time-traveller, her entire adolescence tainted by her endless yearning for the mysterious stranger who offered her adventure and then stood her up (and twice, no less – the cad!). That said, the way she lustily eyed him up as he changed clothes in the hospital showed that she wasn’t that perturbed. Loved the Tardis’ new interior, nicely retro (the old-fashioned typewriter on the main console) with the gangways offering up the tantalising possibility of wider exploration of the ship’s interior.
One element that certainly lured me back to the Whovian fold was that the show was now being controlled by writer Steven Moffat. Like many others, I had huge admiration for Russell T Davies for actually managing to resurrect the show and steering it to ever-greater heights of popular appreciation over five years, but, as a writer, he had his considerable shortcomings, with many of his episodes marked by great ideas and moments sullied by dodgy humour, flabby plots and unfocused/overdone finales. Moffat, on the other hand, was a routine source of Whovian Gold. Like Davies, he’s a fan through and through, but thrives with that brand of genuinely-creepy storytelling that’s a hallmark of classic Who.
While I adored Christopher Eccleston’s all-too-short turn as the Doctor (particularly the fact that he played it like he was running away from some severepersonal demons), I could never quite get on board with Tennant’s incarnation. Yes, treasonous, I know, given the man’s vast popularity. However, the mixture of wackiness and heavy earnestness was a little too much for me (oh, and the whole wearing a suit with Converse trainers bit was a irritatingly-pointed nod to the Hiperati, in my opinion). Mind you, a big part of the reason why I stayed away during the Tennant years was because my SF attention was firmly gripped by the new version of Battlestar Galactica, which was offering its space operatics with an often startling level of depth and sophistication. (Well, until that awful ending…)
I was beginning to think that my appreciation of Who was on a terminal wane, but I have to say to say that this changing of the guard was truly reinvigorating. It was a fine start to the new era and the trailer for the rest of the season looked fab – Spitfires in space!! – giving no hint of the budget-cuts affecting the quality of the shows look. Just one niggle, really: the new remix of the theme tune really sucked. How can you screw up such a great tune…? That aside, I am back amongst the faithful…! Hurrah!