Mon
Mar 8 2010 1:29pm
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.

20 comments
Teresa Jusino
1. TeresaJusino
Heh. Well, so far BBC America has been airing Doctor Who, like, A DAY after it airs in the UK. So, I don't think stealing will be necessary anymore! :)
Ben Frey
2. BenPatient
I love your last paragraph...

Thanks for being honest.

Sorry, but I have a $30/month satellite package that comes with HD Net and SyFy, but no BBC-A, and the one with BBC-A would cost me another 40 dollars a month. Seriously. And yet, that and Speed are the only channels I don't have that I want. BBC.com needs to rethink their stance on international streaming.

Fill it with ads, and I'd still watch it. Put it on BBC-A AND switch the Doctor at the same time, and you're going to see viewership collapse.

I don't watch much SyFy, but I did when Dr. Who was on.
Jason Henninger
3. jasonhenninger
Well, in that case, I can be an upright citizen again. Phew!
Cassie Ammerman
4. leanoir
Blink was the first episode I watched as well, and it totally hooked me. I'm a little leery of Matt Smith, but not for any of the reasons above--my main reason is that he looks so YOUNG. Maybe he'll be able to put the weight of all the Doctor's centuries in his eyes. If not, then I don't know if he'll be able to hook me.

I'm considering canceling my cable soon, and the only thing holding me back right now is this show. I currently get BBC-A, and I don't want to lose it before this season!
a-j
5. a-j
I was very alarmed when Christopher Eccleston was cast, convinced that this was a huge mistake and I now deeply wish he'd stayed on for more seasons, so while I reckon young Smith is too young I'm optimistic he'll win me round soon enough. I've been watching the series since the '70s and have never really disliked a doctor, the character is possibly actor proof. Anyway, roll on Easter.
Karen Bovenmyer
6. maxmelig
I fell in love the same way you did. I've been avoiding watching "The Long Goodbye" Specials because I likewise don't poke my bruises.

You're giving me hope: if you can survive with your humor intact, looking forward to Dr. Not-Tennant, I will too.

Thanks for rekindling my hope, and reminding me that Moffat's "Blink" and "The Girl in the Fireplace" were the first episodes of any show that made me say "Damn, who wrote THAT!" I put my faith in you, Mr. Moffat. I know you won't let me down.
Alex Brown
7. AlexBrown
I came to Doctor Who through Torchwood: my best friend sent me a YouTube clip of James Marsters and John Barrowman making out and I was sunk...watched the entire series in a weekend then went back and watched Doctor Who with Torchwood interspersed just as it would've aired on BBC. I've seen some of the old Doctor Who (mostly the Douglas Adams penned ones and as much Tom Baker as I could track down through Netflix Watch Instantly), but I love the new series. "Blink" is the one everyone loves, but my fave is, and will probably always be, the "Family of Blood" two-parter. That one intensely creeps me the hell out and is the one I always go back to when i need a little Tennant in my life (which is practically weekly now).

All that being said, I'm not worried about Matt Smith. People raised a stink about Tennant taking over for Eccleston so suddenly and he was fab. I don't see how Smith looks like a shoe (he does, to me, look like a teenage boy who hasn't yet finished growing into his features), but Tennant isn't exactly the handsomest man ever to walk the face of the earth. Sexy? Yes. Would I willingly spend the rest of my life licking chocolate off his chest while he shouts "Allons-y!"? Hell yes. But drop dead gorgeous? Not exactly, and I'd argue that that's a good part of his charm.

I also concur that Moffat will be amazing as a show leader. Coupling was one of the funniest Britcoms ever (Jack Davenport was one of the only reasons I sat through Swingtown) so he'll be fine. I'm much more concerned about Davies and Torchwood on Fox. Very, very, very concerned.
a-j
8. plasticsanta
"Blink" kept me up all night the first time I saw it, waiting for the West Coast replay to come on BBC-A so I could watch it again. Awesome, just awesome Doctor Who at it's best.
(And this from someone who started watching when Rowmana I was still in the future and who has gone allllllllllll the way back to the original Doctor and Susan)

Regeneration anxiety will always be with us (since the Doctor will always be with us). I miss the companions, who alas are REALLY gone when they're gone. Really, really, really miss Rose, who got me back into Doctor Who.

ps
Brit Mandelo
9. BritMandelo
I'm trying to keep an open heart to this Smith man. After all, I was bummed when Nine changed, but I feel head over heels for David as Ten. That manic energy and the depth of pain underneath it really lured me in. Overall I'm definitely excited, though there's still that little bit of me holding out until I see for real how much I like Eleven.

(Now if we could just get even more John Simm...)
Joanne Center
10. thegloop
So 2 weeks ago I started watching Doctor Who for the first time. Found out they are all on Netflix on Demand and have been watching pretty much whenever I'm home. It is like some light went on in my head and I'm completely hooked. Like crazy, obsessively hooked. 30 episodes in 2 weeks hooked. I also really really enjoyed "Blink" and liked the Human Nature/ Family of Blood story arc immensely. As somebody who is watching for the first time, it is really interesting jumping in without having preconceived notions of what to expect. I guess the real question is with casting a younger Doctor and younger companion is if they are skewing the show to a younger demographic.
a-j
11. ceruleanshipper
though I also think that Hugh Laurie would have made a fantastic Doctor.

One day, as Dr. House is finally finishing putting all of his books onto his bookshelves in his new apartment, a watch falls out of a box and breaks open...

"WIL-son! We're going to Alpha Centauri!"
Ashe Armstrong
12. AsheSaoirse
I'm dying for the new series to start. Matt won me over enough to give him those few episodes and that's important. The world just isn't as fun without the Doctor.
a-j
13. LAJG
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing a new Doctor. Don't get me wrong, I liked David Tennant, although some of his mannerisms were starting to get to me (he's always sorry ... so sorry). I understand why people are upset to see him leave, especially if you've never really watched the show before. The first Doctor you meet is generally "your" Doctor. (Mine is Peter Davison).

I've watched Doctor Who for a long time, so a new regeneration is exciting for me. I was kind of hoping for someone older. Bill Nighy would have been amazing, and Patterson Joseph, who's name had also been mentioned, would have been intriguing. That being said, I am looking forward to seeing what Matt Smith does with the role.
Mike Conley
14. NomadUK
BenPatient@2:BBC.com needs to rethink their stance on international streaming.

Oh, don't worry. The BBC is rethinking lots of things. Auntie is preparing to cut her budget, axe radio stations, reduce foreign imports, and cut back her Web-based services, as they are all costing her too much money and upsetting Rupert Murdoch.

You want BBC programming? How about ponying up the same £140/year licence fee those of us here in the UK pay (and that's just for freeview; doesn't include satellite or cable) so that people like you can help yourself to the programming for nothing? That $40/month for BBC-A should just about cover it.

P.S. I completely approve of Jason's list of all-time great episodes of anything. Every one of those is brilliant. Sounds like a good topic for a thread....
Jason Henninger
15. jasonhenninger
@14
Were the BBC to make itself available in the US in full (including archives) I'd pay the fee.

ps that would make a fun discussion. I think I'll put that together. Thanks!
Gary Schaper
16. Garyfury
NomadUK@14: If the BBC gave me the option of paying a license fee (as the Johnny Foreigner that I am) and getting unfettered access to all their online content, I think I'd actually do it.

I don't feel too badly about BBC content that I might obtain through means that are either legal and gratis, or else somewhat greyer. The amount that they, though their licensees, have made off my purchases in my lifetime would, I suspect, appall any responsible adult.

LAJG@13: Someday, someone is going to write a Doctor Who script in which the Doctor (at an appropriate moment) will say I'm not sorry at all, and it will be brilliant.

As far as Matt Smith goes? Bring him on. Tennant has been magnificent, but Doctors come and go, and there's something great about every one.
Mike Conley
17. NomadUK
@15 & 16: Were the BBC to make itself available in the US in full I'd pay the fee.

If the BBC gave me the option of paying a license fee I think I'd actually do it.

Well, as I said, you may not have to worry about that BBC-A monthly fee, or any of the rest of it, as who knows what will be left of the BBC's online content after the pile of filth that owns Fox and Sky brings the entire thing crashing down around us, with the probable help of the Conservatives after the next election.

Want to help save the BBC (and probably Western civilisation whilst you're at it)? Stop helping Murdoch make money.
a-j
18. a-j
NomadUK@17
Amen to that.
a-j
19. Mystoria
Regarding this Doctor being so young, um isn't that how it's supposed to happen? A law of regeneration or something? I thought it was explicitly stated sometime (possibly in the 70's, when I watched it as a kid) that each new regeneration appeared younger than the last, or at least younger than when he died. The first doctor was a white haired old man. I don't think that he started that way (like aging backwards or something), just that he was better at living longer before needing to regenerate.

I grew up on Pertwee and Baker (with a few hazy memories of the short, grumpy b&w one with a dark pageboy haircut before that), never really took to Donaldson, turned off with McCoy (who broke the "younger every regeneration" rule). Eccleston brought me back and I was surprised to find that I liked it and also that it worked so well with such a different doctor. I was really disappointed when he left, but Tennant's doctor (who reminds me a lot of Baker's who use to be my "real" doctor) became my new fave. But having survived changes that were good or bad I'm crossing my fingers but not holding my breath for this new one.

Anyone else remember something about each regeneration being younger?
Paul Andinach
20. anobium
It makes sense that the Doctor would regenerate younger, but there's no hard rule -- and a good thing too, or by now we'd be at the stage where the Doctor needed an on-set tutor to make up for the school he was missing (if not at the stage where union rules required that he be played by twins).

In six regenerations seen in the old series, the Doctor actually got older as often as he got younger. As you noted, white-haired old William Hartnell became dark-haired younger Patrick Troughton, but then grey-haired Jon Pertwee was older than Troughton (although not as old as Hartnell). Tom Baker was younger than Pertwee, and Peter Davison was younger than Tom Baker -- to the point that people were saying the same kinds of things about him as they're saying about Matt Smith now, and he was followed by older Colin Baker and still older Sylvester McCoy (who, mark you, was still younger than Troughton, let alone Pertwee or Hartnell).

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