This is a post in the Tor.com Twelve Doctors of Christmas series. Click the link to peruse the entire series.
I had the same reaction most of us had, I’m sure, when meeting the Eleventh: “My God, I have shoes older than this one.” He seemed so young, so…immature that I came perilously close to dismissing him as a fitting Doctor…
…until he ate fish custard and I was instantly sold on the genius of Matt Smith.
Think back to all the gravitas that surrounded the departure of the Tenth Doctor, particularly given how extended his multi-episode exit was. All that drama, all that angst, all that Weltschmerz…it was almost too traumatic for me to process and embrace, and I’m 48 years old. Imagine witnessing (suffering) that grim a storyline as a kid and tell me the Doctor didn’t have to work really hard to win back an audience of children this time around. So what was the Eleventh’s very first act?
He ate blecchy food and made funny faces and thus told kids everywhere “I’m one of you.”
The Eleventh Doctor is every bit as canny and wise as his previous incarnations, but unlike them, he’s unafraid to be geeky. Pinning celery to your lapel, however cute, is an affectation; willingly wearing a fez throughout half an episode is an arms-wide acknowledgement that you embrace your comical image. I have no doubt that Matt Smith would surrender to slipping on a banana peel or getting hit in the face with a cream pie without a second thought if the story called for it. I mean, just look at him dance. It’s like watching a monkey jam a fork into a wall outlet. How is that not endearing to kids?
“Yes, but…” I know, I know. Kids aren’t the only Who audience, and if the Eleventh Doctor played solely to them, you and I would sulk through very empty Saturday nights indeed. And that’s where Smith shines with a grace so subtle as to go almost unnoticed, because grown-ups feel for him, too. He’s the youngest actor ever to play the Doctor, but in certain ways, he comes across as the oldest because he’s so far removed from the mating game. He’s bizarrely sexless (a brave choice for a leading actor, by the by). He’s the only being in the universe who declines a chance to shag Amy. Even his interactions with River Song are more about the puzzle surrounding their relationship than a matter of romantic chemistry. The Eleventh Doctor reads very much as a man who’s loved so deeply and lost so tragically that, at least for now, thank you, he chooses to stand steadfastly above and apart from love…and what adult can’t remember a heartache and identify with that feeling? Whereas his predecessor wore his emotions on his sleeve, the Eleventh Doctor, when you cut past his glib delivery, seems to be actively concealing hidden depths from those around him, masking himself behind all that garrulous blathering. I’m convinced that’s not an actor’s inability to exude dignity or dimension; it’s a masterful performance by someone who truly understands the Doctor and can layer his performance accordingly.
So young, so seemingly immature…it took an excruciatingly long “This isn’t David Tennant!” five minutes or so, but I came to embrace Matt Smith in a way that makes me wonder if he isn’t my favorite Doctor.
Oh. One other thing. One little bit I’ve noticed about the Eleventh Doctor that I find uniquely endearing even though it speaks almost exclusively to me, a lifelong comics fanatic: he dresses exactly like Jimmy Olsen. Exactly. The tie, the tweed jacket, the pattered shirt…I’d swear this Doctor raided Jack Larson’s wardrobe from the old Adventures of Superman set. The Doctor is an alien who flies through time and space battling galactic conquest and enjoying world-shattering exploits while wearing a bowtie. He’s like Superman dressed in Jimmy’s clothes. And that’s cool.
Wow. Maybe he is my favorite.
Mark Waid’s comics career is long, varied, and littered with a host of amazing runs on established properties like Fantastic Four, 52, The Flash, as well as with original material such as Empire and current series Incorruptible. Along with his already incredible workload, he is the editor-in-chief of Boom Studios!