Jonesing becomes Smithing?

I am seriously jonesing for Doctor Who to return. Once upon a time I thought Doctor Who was just a dopey show about a guy with a long scarf running around with cheap effects and Theremin sounds. Doctor Who fans made no sense to me either. All that fervor. And for what? Funny hair and saltshaker monsters?

But then, after decades of dismissing the show, I saw Blink. And from the moment The Doctor says “Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff” I was a transformed into a rabid fan. Blink remains my favorite episode, ranking with Hush from season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “The Chimes of Big Ben” from The Prisoner and The Twilight Zone’s “A Stop at Willoughby” as my all-time favorite episodes of any show in the history of ever, times infinity, so there.

I went back to the beginning of the Ninth Doctor (and would have enjoyed several more seasons of him, thank you very much). I fell in love with Rose falling in love with The Doctor. Yes, yes, there’s a bit of an age difference. But hey, it was only 850 or so years further apart than Bogart and Bacall. Billie Piper plays the character transitioning from a starry-eyed sidekick to the capable and brave protagonist. And David Tennant (more than Christopher Eccleston) shows a love for her grown from admiration, but very guarded. The love between them is more obvious in her, but you know he feels it too. And then, end of season two. Take my heart out with the sonic screwdriver, let a Cyberman stomp on it and burn it in dying sun. I enjoyed Martha, though less than Rose, and I like Donna more and more as I re-watch. I have DVDs of every episode of the Eccleston and Tennant years, and I’ve been gradually learning all about the amazingly rich past leading up to them.

When Tennant announced that he and his splendid hair care products were going to vamoose, I felt bitter and horribly betrayed, as any rational person would. First, he leaves Rose, and now me? Hmph! The bastard. But of course my mind turned to his replacement. Rumors of this or that actor came and went. Bill Nighy was the one I hoped for, though I also think that Hugh Laurie would have made a fantastic Doctor. Joanna Lumley, could have been cool, too. But I’m not casting the show.

What we got, as everyone now knows, is Matt Smith, best known for…um…someday playing The Doctor. Before that, we got a year long, torturously spread out goodbye to Tennant, much of which felt like walking away from someone you broke up with only to turn back and see if they’re looking—they’re looking, but for just a brief moment—then walking away a little more…look back…oh, the pain! And so on.

The writers, I think, used the story to speak for the audience, at the end of the Tenth Doctor’s run, making our dislike of Tennant’s departure manifest in the Doctor’s reticence to regenerate. We didn’t want him to go either! But he did, and we got Matt Smith. (As for the other big change—Davies to Moffat—I’m not in the least concerned about the switch in showrunners. Moffat kicks ass, far as I’m concerned. For more on him, see Theresa Jusino’s excellent posts.)

We’ve had a good long while to get used to a new Doctor before seeing it happen. Assumptions for and against Smith sprouted up all over. Facebook groups range from “We Love Matt Smith” to “Matt Smith Looks Like a Shoe.”

Long time fans of the show have been through the regeneration ordeal many times. For me, I already knew I liked the Tenth before I saw the Ninth regenerate. So this is the first uncertain renewal for me. I must say, though, that the very few minutes I have seen of Smith (regeneration and two trailers) I have enjoyed. And I like that he’s distinct from his predecessors. A new Doctor isn’t a clone. So put me in the hopeful camp.

The more vocal detractors—and let’s remember that unless one works for the BBC and sees the dailies none of us can do much more than speculate about him—seem to be fixated on a few of the following points. He’s skinny (to which I say, so is Tennant). He’s young (so was Peter Davison). He’s obscure (speaking as an American, I barely knew who Tennant or Eccleston were beforehand, so I don’t care). He’s funny looking (as opposed to the long line of beefcakes who played the Doctor before?).

But I think the biggest problem people have comes down to this: He’s not David Tennant. And that is an indisputable fact. Shall we demand Matt Smith’s mother and father apologize for this terrible mishap? Or should we give the guy a chance to, I don’t know, be himself?

I’m not overly taken with bowties or shouting Geronimo, but I like the glimpse of manic energy. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about The Doctor is the perspective that problematic=fun. Clearly the Smith and Moffat team has retained that. Also, while it’s completely bonkers to say this, Matt Smith played a character who slept with a call girl Billie Piper played, so in a very, very screwy way, there’s a lil’ some-some for the Doctor and Rose. Anyhow, I like to see it that way.

So, there’s now less than a month to go before the show returns to the BBC and I steal the motherfucker, I mean, before those who live in the UK and pay their license can view it legally and of course I’ll wait even longer to view it equally legally in the USA. Right. Until then I’ll keep myself alive with audio and books, and any other Who-junk I can slam.


When Jason Henninger isn’t reading, writing, juggling, cooking or raising evil genii, he works for Living Buddhism magazine in Santa Monica, CA.

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