Why Matt Smith's Doctor "Deserved Better"

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Matt Smith has been one of the most engaging actors ever to play that ageless time traveler on Doctor Who — but if he'd been given better, weightier material to work with, he might have been the best Doctor of all, argues a new article in The Atlantic.


It's hard to argue with any of the cogent analysis in Ted B. Kissell's essay, which points to the problems with Matt Smith's stories that we've all noticed over the years. Smith's Doctor is a swaggering bully who loves to make shouty speeches about his own greatness. He withholds information from his own companions for no good reason. He cheats death (and any other sort of consequences) on a regular basis, thanks to handy reset-buttons and magic-wandery.

A couple of choice quotes:

The entirety of Season Six is when Moffat's fascination for plot twists and open-ended mysteries (in our house, we describe this unfortunate tendency as "plotty-wotty") took over the show, and the whole product suffered....

There are just never any consequences for any main characters in Moffat'sDoctor Who. Every apparent sacrifice, tragic loss, or moral compromise is invalidated by some kind of reset button, with no physical or psychological cost. The "loss" of the Ponds was so nonsensical that it doesn't even count. They got to live full lives together in the past, but the Doctor could never go back and see them again? It's insulting. Why not have the two of them make a meaningful sacrifice and actually, you know, die? Whose feelings is Moffat trying to spare here?

The main point that Kissell drives at is that Smith would have been a better lead actor if he'd had to play real consequences, instead of having a pocket full of Get-Out-of-Jail-Free cards. I don't have much to add here — except that maybe we should have more villains who have goals of their own, unrelated to the Doctor. The best villains have their own desires and objectives, and the hero just happens to get in their way.

Anyway, the whole essay is depressing, but worth reading. [The Atlantic]



Charlie Jane Anders

Just want to add that there have been a lot of things I've loved about the Smith era. As you'll know from my ranking of Who stories, "The Doctor's Wife" and "Vincent and the Doctor" are both in my all-time top 10. I also love "The God Complex," which I'm realizing deserved a higher ranking than I gave it, and several other stories.

Things I loved in the Matt Smith era: the dialogue and humor. At the "quotable dialogue" level, the show has never been better written than it was during the past few seasons. It's been funnier and just zanier. Also, even though a lot of what happened with River Song did not sit well with me, the fact that an older woman was consistently portrayed as sexy was a major plus. The courtship, wedding and marriage of the Ponds was also something Doctor Who had never done before, and it was mostly really well executed. The sense that things happen in between the stories, and we don't need to see the connective tissue between each adventure, is also something I've appreciated. And I admire the ambition of telling a three-plus-year meta-story about the Doctor's mythos, even if the execution has left me a bit puzzled at times.

In general the Matt Smith era has had a really nice "family" feeling to it, especially with the Ponds but even after their departure with Vastra, Strax and Jenny among others. I've always found a lot to like in the Smith era. Even as it's sometimes seemed as though the show has kept digging deeper into a bit of a narrative hole that Russell T. Davies started digging, back in 2005.