Dear Santa: The Doctors Revisited (Matt Smith)


You can tell that we've reached the present day quite early on, not least because Matt Smith suddenly shows up to have opinions on the show, having not been interviewed about any of his predecessors. But the real giveaway is the choices of episodes in the first segment, when introducing the character of the Eleventh Doctor. Every previous episode displayed a strong bias towards the earliest episodes for a Doctor. Whereas this pulls almost entirely from Season 7B, unabashedly positioning this as the present day of Doctor Who.

Yes, we eventually look back a few years and do the Ponds, which is somewhat historicized, but there's no added insight to be had. These are the same talking points from Doctor Who Confidential and endless publicity interviews, dutifully trotted out again. Their context is only altered by the preceding ten episodes of this, which serve to make all of this look like the telos of Doctor Who itself.

With the historical perspective that a year allows us, this is not quite true. The focus on how Matt Smith, while the youngest actor ever to play the part, makes the Doctor seem old is a common talking point, and indeed was brought up in relation to the Capaldi casting, by this time long since announced. More interesting is the segment on Clara, which came at a point where she was widely viewed as a frightfully generic companion. There's not a lot, but it's acutely clear that Coleman in particular sees more depth in the character, and has ideas for what to do with her. The argument that Deep Breath doesn't constitute a soft reboot of Clara but rather the moment when everybody started seeing what was always there has some solid support here.

Elsewhere, we can also see how this is quietly setting up the immediate future. There's not much that directly tees up The Day of the Doctor, but the features on Madame Kovarian, the Silence, and the Weeping Angels quietly serve as a primer for Time of the Doctor. And, of course, there's the fact that when this aired, Smith was a lame duck Doctor. His successor had been announced, and indeed, was either a week off from his debut or had debuted yesterday (depending on whether you watched this in the US or the UK - this was the only one to debut first in the UK).

And so there's an odd dualism here. On the one hand, this does what one always suspected it would: presents the Moffat era as the ultimate in Doctor Who. Of course it does. The point of all of these sorts of specials is promotion of the show, and has been since Confidential. But on the other, it leads the show right up to the brink of a known transition. There's a triumph as we reach the present, but also, and in some ways more importantly, a sort of "right, on to the next half-century" attitude. Which is a good place to be after fifty years.


Carey 5 years, 12 months ago

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Carey 5 years, 12 months ago

This... presents the Moffat era as the ultimate in Doctor Who

This may be a UK perspective more than a U.S. one, considering the lack of availability for watching previous eras in the former compared to the later, but hasn't the present era always been seen as the ultimate version of the show. At least until the next comes along. There's an argument to be made that the Hinchcliffe era deformed that view after its transmission, butch someone who was there at the time, the talk in the playground was very nostalgic for the Pertwee era, and wondering when the Brigadier would return.

Maybe the better way of summing up fifty years of Doctor Who would be that, with very few exceptions, the present day is seen as the ultimate version of Doctor Who while simultaneously being dismissed as not being as good as a mythical past.

Oddly, for me the Capaldi era (so far) is the first that I've watched while missing the previous encumbunt to the role since the show returned in 2005. Which makes me six or seven again, although now I only go to playgrounds with my son

(Sorry about the deletion and reposting, but I've discovered iPad's have a serious issue with Blogger, and it posted while I was trying to edit)

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encyclops 5 years, 12 months ago

The argument that Deep Breath doesn't constitute a soft reboot of Clara but rather the moment when everybody started seeing what was always there has some solid support here.

Or, to make the case for the other side: the moment when the production team finally succeeded at portraying the Clara they'd always hoped to. :)

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Ozy Jones 5 years, 12 months ago

I commented in the Eccleston revisited thread that viewing Doctor Who as an historical document may be my default watching experience, but it was still hard to reconcile the Matt Smith era in that light when the Series 7 DVD box set hadn't even been released!

Series 7B, for me, holds up much better when looking back without all the portent hanging over each episode as it aired. Even Clara seems much more a rounded character, although this could be the shadow being cast backwards by Series 8. Which partly underlines my preference for watching Doctor Who historically.

It's like that old childhood chestnut of writing up Doctor Who episode lists (with columns for companion names and recurring villains); at the end of each season/series the obsessed fan can place the latest episodes into context when viewed as part of the whole.

I enjoyed all of the revisited specials, some more than others it must be said, the omissions on the McGann entry still annoy, even this one. Viewing the Eleventh Doctor's era as part of the vast history that is Doctor Who.

I can't wait for the Capaldi era box set to be released, then I'll be able to watch it in peace and know where it fits in. I know... I'll make a list!

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ComMaxil 5 years, 12 months ago

I think there's a lot in this comment. Each version of the show has always seemed to be the definitive one at the time of its production. As a child of the Eighties I remember (vaguely) the run-up to Peter Davison taking over the part and it being represented like this would bring the show into the eighties. Something like Earthshock seemed cutting edge and new (I was 5 and it was certainly the most exciting thing I had ever seen on TV!), and certainly up to the 20th Anniversary this feeling seems to have remained current (I agree the later period of the eighties is problematic for my argument here).Even when the New Adventures were being published in the early nineties i recall a sense of this being the definitive version of Doctor Who, freed from the constraints of budget and appealing to a family audience. When the show came back that feeling seemed to be even stronger, look here we are, finally delivering the real thing, dispelling years of jokes about wobbly sets and Daleks not being able to climb stairs, it seemed to be saying.

Perhaps it’s just the case that in order to make a success of working on a long-running series like Doctor Who a production team needs to believe that they are delivering the best version ever of the thing they are making. I suppose it makes me think a bit of Soap Operas, imagine you are given creative control over something like EastEnders or Coronation Street, whatever you do has been done numerous times before, yet somehow you need to believe you are there to do something completely new and original.

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dm 5 years, 12 months ago

My narrative of the Matt Smith era goes like this:

2010: Not quite 'business as usual' but enough to keep people happy. A fairly strong season, but in borrowing the Davies formula it has many of the weaknesses of the last series with to have a not-quite-great actor playing the companion (series 3)- the weaker episodes (vampires, Silurian two parter, victory) have only the lead actor to fall back on. Sadly, two of those weaker episodes are hugely antithetical to some of my more deeply held political beliefs.

2011- This is New! Bold! It doesn't make a lick of sense and doesn't quite have the confident swagger necessary to pull it off, but give it another season and we'll see if they can execute this formula more successfully. It's a little like the American Cult Show we feared the TV Movie would spawn but I'm sure it'll never go too far down that road to be outright offensive.

2012- What?! What happened to delivering on the promise of 2011?! Moffatt responds to his critics (every time a production team on Who does this it is A Bad Thing) and delivers the first year in Who history in which I don't like a single episode. Cynically constructed, unambitious (narrative acceleration here just boils down to 'going nowhere fast'), half a series of my favourite show reduced to a marketing exercise.

2013- A slight improvement on last year but still tedious and unambitious for the most part. A few highlights in the season proper (Crimson and Name) but still the same marketing gimmicks and hollow storytelling. I'm not sure I like this show any more. The end of the year gives us three specials that, in different ways, reignite the spark of hope and somehow leave me ever so slightly optimistic.

Sadly, in my eyes, the Matt Smith era is a series of false starts. The central performance is mostly excellent until it tips into self parody to make up for some of the more shallow exercises in 'television writing'. There's a lot to treasure in these four years, but it's such a mess it's hard to remember it fondly.

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Daru 5 years, 12 months ago

What's interesting for me now either thinking about or re-watching the Smith era, is that after having seen and been so captured by series 8, Capaldi and all of the work done in that series, Smith's Doctor feels so far away now even though I did love him then.

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Anthony Strand 5 years, 12 months ago

How did you like series 8?

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dm 5 years, 12 months ago

Loved it almost uniformly. Confident, bold storytelling, a reinvestment in genuine drama and at least one all-time Classic to boot. It's no surprise that when I recently asked my two ultra fan brothers, both of whom have been very critical and suspicious of Moffatt in the past, for their top ten doctor who stories EVER, both included Listen. I could understand someone putting it at number one, really, much more so than the overrated Blink. It's 45 or so minutes exploring what Doctor Who is actually about. It's the best thing Moffatt's ever written and I LOVE Press Gang.

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