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Number Eleven January 5, 2009

Posted by Erin Ptah in Personal.

After much sending the fandom into a tizzy of speculation, the next Doctor has been revealed. Thoughts (and spoilers, of course) follow.

But first, a bit of history.

As with most of my sci-fi interests, I got into Doctor Who through my dad. Tom Baker is unequivocally “his Doctor”: the one hanging on the wall of his office, the one he’s dressed up for on Halloween. So Four is pretty much in my DNA.

On the other hand, the first Old Who serial I watched with close attention was Timelash (featuring H. G. Wells, which tied in nicely with this cameo). Which leads to the admittedly odd state of affairs that I seem to have imprinted on Colin Baker. Six often ranks low in the general fandom perception; I just don’t see it.

All of this is on top of a general awareness of the other Doctors. I haven’t seen every Companion in action, but I do have every Doctor factoring into my broad sense of what traits are consistent from actor to actor – in short, what is “Doctorish.”

I hadn’t checked out any publicity when New Who began. I didn’t know what to expect when the family sat down to watch first episode. And when Christopher Eccleston popped onto the screen, clearly in the title role, my knee-jerk reaction was:

Where is his hair?

It only took one episode for Nine to grow on me. The pilot did a great job of establishing his character, of putting in drama and hinting at RTD’s Grand Backstory without sacrificing the humor, snark, and old-fashioned adventure. Nine was still missing the long coat and handfuls of fluffy hair, but he managed to be Doctorish, in Eccleston’s version thereof, without them.

I knew he was going to regenerate at the end of the series; I didn’t know the actor. So when David Tennant’s face tested his teeth and then grinned at Rose, I was thinking:

But he’s so young!

And skinny!

Ten has grown on me too. (The long coat helped.) His manic energy, his cleverness, his tendency to go off on historical or technical rants: this is Doctorish, and I’m all over it.

With Ten, though, I still have a few reservations. It’s hard to tell how much of this is the acting and how much has to do with the scripts. After 42, Dad tried to put his reservations into words: “In the old shows, there was more coming up with clever plans, and less of this getting-possessed-by-a-sun-writhing-around-on-the-floor business.”

If you remember that scene, you’ll know exactly what quality we’re talking about. Ten is too darn subby.

This was hinted at with Nine, back in Dalek, when he spent a scene chained up and shirtless. Maybe if his run had lasted longer, he would have ended up in these situations more often. They happen with Ten an awful lot – see also the arc with the Master, in which he spends some time chained up and eating from a dog bowl. It’s fangirl-bait, and it makes great hooks for fic (a lot of which, I freely admit, I will eat up with a spoon), but at the same time it’s . . . well, un-Doctorish.

The Doctor should be competent.

I’m a huge fan of competence. This is why Integra is so fantastic; why T’Pol in the early seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise was awesome on legs and why T’Pol in the later seasons verged on cringe-inducing; why it’s such a joy to watch Jon Stewart take a political interviewee’s argument to pieces. And this is why, when the Doctor starts flailing around on the floor, it isn’t just out-of-character; it’s actively grating.

But I’m losing the thread here. What I wanted to talk about was the next Doctor.

This time around, I was watching the online fandom during the change. I saw the cast speculations; I saw the reaction. At least one of the candidates looked very ordinary, without that bit of eccentricity (Six’s curls; Four’s wide eyes and wild grin) that is another hallmark of being Doctorish as far as I’m concerned. But then, Eccleston was ordinary, and he didn’t even augment it with unusual clothes (Three’s ruffles, Seven’s question marks). He just made it work.

Another one was black, which set off a bit of a firestorm as people realized they were uncomfortable with this, then tried to come up with non-racist explanations for why it made them uncomfortable. I suspect a lot of people were just twitchy for the same reason I got twitchy at Nine’s short hair and Ten’s skinniness: a mild case of Noooo They Be Changin My Doktah. Once the guy made the role his own, the discomfort would have disappeared.

(“Not exactly white, here,” Martha said uneasily, as she stepped out into Shakespeare’s England. “So? I’m not even human. Just walk around like you own the place,” advised the Doctor. “It’s what I do.” There’s that competence thing again. The Doctor just needs to be an actor who can pull that off, no matter the race. Or, for that matter, the gender.)

But they’ve finally settled on a guy. Matt Smith – or, as IMDb lists him, “Matt Smith (XI).” He has plenty of hair (about the same length as Two’s, though fluffier), and he’s a little bit offbeat-looking (check out that jaw!), and he’s white, and he’s British, and he’s not too skinny. Fits in with all the conventions so far.

And he’s young.

(“He’s how old again?” asked Dad, passing by. “Twenty-six,” said I. “And you’re how old?” “Twenty-one.” “Just checking.”)

So I worry. I worry that his age will undercut his ability to seem confident and in-control. I worry that the writers will continue the trend of putting him in subby situations, because he will look cute when he pouts. (The impending change in writing staff is promising on this count, though.) I worry that it will be hard for a 26-year-old to carry off those moments when you look at the Doctor and suddenly remember that he’s nearly a thousand years old. Because that, too, is one of those essential Doctorish traits.

But then, I haven’t seen him trying to be Doctorish yet. Haven’t seen him do anything, for that matter, except a couple of thirty-second web clips where he talks about how excited he is to do the role. (And who wouldn’t be?)

Smith’s debut on the show is in 2010. Maybe it will turn out that (if you’ll excuse the technical language) he sucks at it. But I’m withholding judgment until I’ve actually seen the Eleventh Doctor in action.

…even if this publicity still does make him look like a vampire. Pale skin, black clothes, dark alley, moonlight? I can promise you one thing: if Eleven turns into a Goth, Matt Smith will be Dead To Me from there on out.



1. X - January 5, 2009

…The 11th Doctor will sparkle in the sunlight.

(Sorry, first thing that came to mind when you said “goth” in reference to that picture.)

The Doctor has a sense of “authority” to him. One thing I like about Tennant is that while his Doctor did seem to get in over his head at times, he was fairly authoritative in his explanations.

Not sure how this one will pull it off. I could see him go for a duality: 10 had “fool/deadly serious,” so 11 could be “shy and awkward/deadly serious.” It’d work, too: the Doctor as one who stands in the background, watching other people flit about, and stepping in only when he realizes they’re in over their heads. A less outgoing and interventionist Doctor than 10.

Personally, I would’ve loved to have seen Catherine Tate as the 11th Doctor. Season finale showed she could more than pull it off AND there’d be a good solid plot reason for it.

2. X - January 5, 2009

Oh, another good thing: this frees up David Tennant to take on other roles.

Such as The Riddler in the next Batman movie. And he reeeeally needs to be Riddler.

3. katycat - January 6, 2009

Having recently finished up Five (the angstfest, OMG) and started on Six up through Mark of the Rani (fake-killed several times on Varos, then tied to a stretcher for several scenes while the Master and the Rani look on) – I’m not sure I’m convinced the subbiness and the in-over-his-head-a-lot are entirely *new* things! Ten’s had his share of clever plans, too, though they tend to involve a bit more patience than in the old days, and most of the ones that come to mind are from the Martha era (Blink, Human Nature, the sparkly Tinkerbell Jesus thing …)

I also think fandom tends to play up the Doctor’s subbiness far beyond canon, especially Doctor/Master fandom.

I was *really* hoping for an older, less pretty-boy Doctor, but I’m sure this one’ll be all right once we get used to him.

(…..noooooo the Doctor can’t be younger than me! Not allowed!!!)

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