I became a fan of the revived Doctor Who series the moment it started, with Chris Eccleston’s surly depiction. When he chose to leave the series for fear of being typecast, I wasn’t sure that he had an idea of just how well the series would’ve turned out. Tennant’s first season in the role carried the same and feel as the last—if it were a tune I’d be discussing timbre—and he didn’t really settle into his own until the second season, with Agyeman.
After four years in the role, Tennant and Russell T. Davies’ team of writers had nowhere to go but formulaic: Tennant’s Doc—Doc10—had a habit of offering a way out for his enemies. Whether it was the the Daleks in Manhattan, the Family Of Blood or The Master himself, or Miss Foster, the stranded Pyrovilians, or Davros, not matter who Tennant-Doc was facing, you could expect The Offer. The Offer is a fixture in his role the way The Epiphany is to Hugh Laurie’s Doctor House. The problem is he offered the outs in such a way that they could never have appealed to the base personalities of his opponents, so much that they were mere traps, ways to assure Doc10 that his decision to mete out his brand of punishment was the right decision.
There are many things I can glaze over in evaluating his role—his madcap and slapstick antics, and his penchant for inspiring people to kill themselves over him—but predictability is not one. As such, Midnight remains my favorite episode of Doc10’s adventures: a situation where is was completely helpless and without the ability to offer anyone a second chance.
A few months later, the youngest man to ever play the role of The Doctor graced our screens and, coupled with the excellent writing of Steven Moffat, took the role to places I could never have seen Tennant would go.
Smith—Doc11—is perfect for the kind of writing Steven Moffat is good at. We’re no strangers to his storytelling, what with Eccleston’s WW2 double episode, and Tennant’s Blink and Library two-parter. Moffat engages the viewer in what Joshua Treviño calls an “intimate” kind of horror, as opposed to what he calls RTD‘s “Transformers-style” plot devices. I felt that tension even in the first episode, in the scene with the open door in the hallway, or when Amy was being stalked by Prisoner Zero. Doc11 does well in this medium because his execution is psychological and directed inward, whereas Doc10’s character projected outward. Smith has his flaws: he seems to lack a passion where needed. He can be stern, but he doesn’t do anger convincingly, nor can he voice objection without seeming comical.
Taking the good with the bad, I’m convinced that Smith and Moffat form an amazing artistic team. They need and deserve each other, and only good things lie ahead.
So, with just the two-part season finale left, I was amazed when I read the blurb for part two of the finale:
The Doctor is gone, the TARDIS has been destroyed, and the universe is collapsing. The only hope for all reality is a little girl who still believes in stars.
Every season there is one episode each that is light on either the companion, or the Doctor. Blink was light on both, Midnight was light on Donna and Turn Left was light on the Doc. This season, The Lodger had very little of Amy. I think it’s a a great twist to have the doctor mostly absent for the finale, because, as much as it is a twist, it emphasizes the greatest difference between Doc11 and Doc10.
Doc11 hasn’t left a trail of sacrificial lambs who threw themselves in the way of whatever it is threatening him. (One exception is Rory.) He is the antithesis of Doc10’s parasitic streak, whose survival depended on the heroic sacrifices of those who’ve grown to admire him. Doc11 is not afraid to allow those who threaten him to self-destruct. While Doc10 was a “no second chances kind of guy” as established in The Christmas Invasion, Doc11 is a no-chances-at-all kind of guy.
So what does this season finale hold for us? With a teaser blurb like that, I’m convinced the Pandorica is a prison built to imprison the Doctor. When it opens, it will be empty and waiting for him. I’ve learned enough from watching Doctor Who to not speculate too deeply. Moffat is an amazing writer who can take a viewer in unpredictable directions. I hope this will be the case throughout all of Smith’s tenure.