This year of Doctor Who has just been brilliant. Upon rewatching the season, I’m pretty confident in stating that this has been the best year since the reboot, and that Matt Smith (should he decide to stick around for a bit) is going to become the new icon of what the Doctor is (this title is still currently held by Tom Baker). Because I think everyone should be taken along on this ride, I’m not going to talk about anything past the first 15 minutes of the first episode.
Over the years I’ve found myself drawn to writers / actors that can use tempo as emotion, because there is a kind of power in it that nothing else delivers. The canonical example of this is MASH. Alan Alda would be chattering about at break neck speed about all manner of frivolity. You would get into the rhythm and speed and be carried along for the ride. And then, reality would hit, and he’d stop in an unexpected way in mid stride. This created an emotional lurch, like when you’re on a boat and it comes to a stop on the docks. Not many can pull this off in a natural way. Aaron Sorkin is the current American king of this, as embodied in Sports Night. And now with Steven Moffat in charge, and Matt Smith in the drivers seat, we get this in Doctor Who.
The keystone moment of all of this is the fish custard scene that opens up the season. Having just crash landed in 9 year old Amelia Pond’s garden shed, he asks little Amelia to give him an Apple, as he’s having a craving (“I think I’m having a craving. That’s new, I’ve never had cravings before.”). The moment he takes a bite he spits it out, and we end up with a brilliant montage through much of what’s in Amelia’s refrigerator, each with a slapstick like ending. He finally settles on fish sticks and custard. And then we get this:
Young Amy: I’m not scared!
The Doctor: Course you’re not, you’re not scared of anything! Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of a box, man eats fish custard! And look at you… just sitting there. So you know what I think?
Young Amy: What?
The Doctor: … Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.
Timed and delivered perfectly. And that sets the stage for the whole season.
So if you haven’t started watching Doctor Who yet, now is the time to start. And do yourself a favor and make sure not to watch the “Next Time” bits at the end of the episodes. They are now giving away far too much of the plot and ruining many of the surprises over the first half of each episode. We stopped watching those half way through the season, and that was a great choice.
We’re nearing the end of Doctor Who for this year, after the year of Dr Who hiatus. I had become such a David Tennant fan during his reign as the Doctor that I had severe trepidations on what a new Doctor would bring. While I knew we were getting Moffat as a show running, Matt Smith just didn’t look the part to me. After 11 episodes, I have to say, I’m enjoying this year of Doctor Who possibly more than any other since the return to TV.
Matt Smith is just awesome. He’s a more alien doctor, like Tom Baker was. He’s very clearly not human. He’s also not quite as invincible as the Doctor has been in recent years. There are things that actually scare him, and that fear is felt by the audience. That real sense of fear means real tension, and the belief that things might not always turn out right in the end.
This season also finally embraces the rich history that is Dr Who. We never got a reference to past incarnations of the doctor until this year’s season premier. We are finally getting glimpses of past doctors (I think we’ve seen William Hartnell’s picture 3 times this year), which puts Dr Who back in the context of the much larger history of the series, instead of shooing it off like Russel Davies did. Getting the Silurians back this year was definitely part of that.
I eagerly await the season finale, which Moffat himself will pen. Given everything great we’ve gotten so far, I can’t wait to see how we’re going to wrap this up this year.
Yes, there are 25 more where that came from.