This is a post in the Tor.com Twelve Doctors of Christmas series. Click the link to peruse the entire series.
Hi! We’re the editors of Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It (Mad Norwegian Press, 2010). Our book celebrates the entire classic series as well as the Russell T. Davies era of the new series. Since Chicks came out just before Matt Smith’s debut as the Eleventh Doctor, Tor.com asked us to weigh in with our reactions to the Fifth Series.
Tara O’Shea: When Doctor Who returned in 2005, what captivated me was the series’ palpable sense of wonder. The Doctor may not always have been right, or kind; but the genuine joy he took in his adventures was addictive. The Doctor anchored himself to Rose’s sense of wonder and could see the universe through her eyes.
By 2010, I was ready for change. The sense of wonder had all but drained away for me, and the Doctor’s companions were there not so much as adventuring partners as they were there to rein him in when he went off the rails. The Doctor was beginning to embrace genocide as an option on the table, and he needed someone to stop him if he needed stopping. That was not, in all honestly, my Doctor.
But like the weather, Doctor Who is about change. Long before Matt Smith was cast, I was already gleefully anticipating the coming reign of “Our Scottish Overlord,” Steven Moffat. Partly because I’d always enjoyed Steven Moffat’s work, particularly Press Gang and Jekyll. Also because Steve has kids. Steve gets it.
It was the fish custard that sealed the deal for me. Matt Smith’s manic smile as he crunched fish fingers dipped in egg custard and told little Amelia Pond that he was there to take away her worries about the scary crack in her wall won me over. For the next twelve episodes, I believed that this gangly young-old man in a cool bow tie was the same man who had kidnapped Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton in 1963, and saved the universe repeatedly since then.
More than that, he was my Doctor. He marched into people’s lives and changed them for the better. Whether it was Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth X, or Craig Owens who was in love with his best friend and in need of a flatshare, the Doctor was there to help them, save them, and show them how to be the best people they could be. And if you were lucky, you might also get to see him wear a fez or do a ridiculous drunken giraffe dance as he did it.
The Doctor as played by Matt Smith could be old, and wise, and kind. He could be silly, and awkward, and a bit clueless about girls. He could be the last of his kind, and that weirdo building a machine out of bicycle tires in your spare room. He could be all of these things, and it fit. Like the TARDIS, he was bigger on the inside, and he quickly shot to the top of my list of actors I have loved in the role since first discovering Doctor Who at fifteen, watching PBS far too late on a weekend night.
Team TARDIS week after week reminded me not just of what was good Doctor Who or good television, but was best about humanity: our compassion and endless curiosity, our faults and strengths, and what we could be if we had to. The sense of wonder at the strangeness and vastness of the universe was back. And not just for jaded 30-something fangirls, but for all the world’s eight year olds who hide behind the sofa while the Doctor and his friends battle the monsters of our nightmares.
Steve Moffat and the 2010 production team gave me a madman with a box I could cheer on, and weep for, and wait for in joyful anticipation for the next new adventure.
Lynne M. Thomas: I became a Doctor Who fan during the late 1990s, that terrible time when the show wasn’t being broadcast. I’d only seen regenerations on video (including the McGann film) before the new series. I honestly didn’t know how I would handle it in real time. Thankfully, my first live regeneration went fairly well. I was sad to see the Ninth Doctor go, but I was also really excited to see David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor (I was already a big fan of his work before he took over the role). I connected emotionally with his Doctor in a way I hadn’t with previous Doctors. I loved his exuberance and enthusiasm. And he was pretty. Oh, so pretty.
Let’s just say that I didn’t do quite so well when my Doctor regenerated. I watched “The End of Time Part 2” weeping and clutching my Tenth Doctor action figure. My show changed again; not only lead actors, but production teams. This wasn’t inherently a problem. As much as I adored Russell T. Davies’s era, I was also a big fan of Steven Moffat’s work on Doctor Who and other series of his own devising (especially Coupling). I had faith that the series would be just as good. I joked with other panicky fans that we needed an “In Moff We Trust” t-shirt.
But this Matt Smith guy made me a bit nervous. I didn’t know much about him. And he seemed, well, awfully young to be the Doctor (and I say this despite adoring Peter Davison’s era). I didn’t know if he could handle the role with the combination of madness and gravitas required. I thought that David Tennant excelled at this. Those were big trainers to fill.
Thus, I expected it would take me a while for me to connect with Matt Smith.
I could not have been more wrong. From the moment Matt emerged from the smoking TARDIS and walked straight into a tree, he was the Doctor. His physical performance easily stood out from his recent predecessors: Eccleston was a tiger, and Tennant was, well, Tigger. Smith reminded me of an uncoordinated housecat who pretends that he meant to do that after falling off a piece of furniture. His rather silly, but mostly kind, façade echoed two of my other favorite Doctors, the Second and the Fifth: hiding powerful intellect and powers of observation so that enemies underestimate him and friends trust him implicitly. Stealing clothes from yet another hospital and threatening an intergalactic enemy were handled with equal aplomb. Smith’s initial performance balanced gravitas and madness. He was the Doctor through and through.
What really took me by surprise, though, was watching my daughter find her Doctor.
Caitlin, who was seven just like Amelia when “The Eleventh Hour” aired, is a second-generation Who viewer; we watch the show as a family. She enjoyed the show, but not as much as say, The Wizards of Waverly Place on Disney Channel. Then she saw a little girl save the universe with her raggedy Doctor friend. Now, it’s her show. She openly squees and cheers for the Doctor and Amy as if she was at a Justin Bieber concert.
If Matt Smith’s Doctor turns up looking for a new assistant, she is so outta here. I couldn’t be more proud.
Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea curated and released Chicks Dig Time Lords in early 2009, an essay collection from female viewpoints including Elizabeth Bear, Carole E. Barrowman, Lisa Bowerman, Mary Robinette Kowal, Catherynne M. Valente, and many more regarding the Doctor and his (then 10) incarnations.