by Shannon Lush
As the leaves wither and die on the trees and the kids prepare their costumes, I contemplated a Halloween-themed blog this week. Then I decided, since many have cause to question my reasoning, to detail, finally, the 10 reasons I hate the Eleventh Doctor, instead.
Why, you ask? Because in my days as co-host of 'The Whostorian' podcast, and frequent contributor to the various associated media, from Facebook fan page to the Twitter account, I've indulged in spirited debates with fellow Whovians and those called 'Nuvians', fans who have been minted in the years from 2005 to the present, who are barely aware the very series they have come to know and love in it's present form has a near-50 year history already, regarding the current merits, or distinct lack thereof, of 'Doctor Who' And it seems to my mind, as a fan since 1989, that the bar has been set quite low lately.
I'm all for change; the series itself depends upon it, through the nature of regeneration. Without a periodic shuffling of the creative deck, 'Doctor Who' would have died when William Hartnell either grew too ill to soldier on as the First Doctor, or else his cantankerous ways would have led to the BBC firing him and/or cancelling the series by the mid-1960's. In the decades since, Whovians have both enjoyed the brilliance of Tom Baker and the aborted violent excesses of Colin Baker; the highest highs and the lowest lows, as it were. Yet throughout it all, fans could rely upon one thing; that despite its status as the lowest-budget science fiction television series possibly in the history of the genre, the stories would lift it higher. Sure, the monsters are made of tinfoil and every alien planet is just a rock quarry in Wales...but damn, the acting was great, and the stories really resonated, brimming with the finest messages dressed in science fiction trappings that the BBC could present, until now.
Why do I hate Matt Smith's Doctor 'so' much? Why after 20-plus years of devoted fandom, after mapping as many corners of the Whoniverse as is humanly possible for a fan to do, often on incomes that rarely supported the purchases, do I feel that finally, I have reached the point where I find the series I love so dearly nearly unwatchable? There's a myriad number of reasons, but for the purposes of this blog, and in order to silence those critics who feel I'm being unjustifiably harsh in my viewpoint, I present to you the top 10 reasons I've come to feel this way.
10. The Clothes Make The Man: Sure, 'Doctor Who' has often dressed its main character in ludicrous clothing (6th Doctor). The clothing has been eccentric versions of casual clothing, often from different time periods in Earth's past (1st, 2nd, 8th), present (4th, 7th, 9th, 10th), or even very bad ideas (the 5th Doctor wears basically a cricketing outfit, which was pointed out by British fans to be akin to putting Captain Kirk in a hockey sweater). In the 'classic series', the majority of the Doctors (or at least the ones who didn't have to deal with John Nathan-Turner as producer) sorta dictated what their Doctors would wear (Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, and Sylvester McCoy all either influenced the clothing, or outright wore whatever they damn well wanted), and by the Davison era the stuff really began to get all cartoony. The modern series strives to reflect maturity, in order to appeal to modern sensibilities; after all, had Christopher Eccleston shown up in 'Rose' wearing what Colin Baker wore in 'The Twin Dilemma', the only dilemma would have been how quickly the BBC could cancel the series amid the howls of laughter from the public. After all, this isn't the gaudy 1980's, this is a post 9/11 planet with a generation now raised on reality TV and social media; appearances matter now more than ever, and even mild critical analysis can be damning in the long run. And what does the Eleventh Doctor look like? The Nutty Professor, that's what. Complete with a 1960's Walt Disney-film console room.
Eccleston captured what was intended to be the 'mood' of modern 'Doctor Who' with the simple-yet-effective black coat and dark jumper, dark pants, and dark shoes. It was a departure and took some getting used to, but, somehow, it worked and it worked well. Audiences could well believe this was a Doctor who had lived through the death of his homeworld. 'Nuvians' were not turned off the series because the main character dressed in a manner that evoked sympathy (black is a universal mourning color, after all), in a manner not dissimilar to millions of regular, everyday humans.
David Tennant, given free rein to explore the character far more than Eccleston did (or, more accurately, than he 'chose' to do), was able to 'brighten' the Doctor significantly, though still anchoring him in reality with variations of a simple trenchcoat and hipster-styled clothing. Not too dissimilar to the clothing options of thousands of others throughout the world. So far, so good, right?
Now, we come to Smith. Let's first examine the blow-tie. Despite his assertion that 'bow ties are cool', the fact is, no, they aren't, nor have they 'ever' been. Bow ties were and are the province of nerds, and always have been. Granted, many Doctors have taken to wearing clothing from Earth's past that has long since gone out of fashion, and have managed to pull it off. But in those cases, the Doctors themselves have won the day by wearing unusual clothing and 'still' managing to be the coolest people in the room. Smith wearing a bow-tie not only places him on the same level as every science nerd in the world, it detracts from each and every scene in which he is meant to convey serious, dramatic, universe-altering messages...because you just can't take your eyes off the ridiculous bow-tie.
Can it get worse? Yep, it sure can. Because nothing screams 'badass' like a tweed jacket. If bowties are for science nerds, tweed jackets are for the pipe-smoking professors of little Midwestern colleges that correct the nerd's science exams. But at least he doesn't wear suspenders, right? Wait...sigh!
While previous Doctors have made fashion fatalities before, Smith's outfit is simply the height of hilarity. He doesn't have the excuses of this being the 1980's...of JN-T dictating what he is to wear...this is 'supposed' to be the 'same' person to whom the Time War happened, after all, this is 'supposed' to be the same person who looked thousands of Daleks in the face and sacrificed his own PEOPLE to stop their evil. And he's wearing suspenders, a bow tie, and a tweed jacket...?
9. The Doctor Can't Act. This is, you know, kind of a big deal. Think about this little fact: when 'Doctor Who' re-debuted, in 2005? Yeah, Matt Smith was just BEGINNING his career in acting, after injuries ended his sporting career. Look at the history of previous Doctors for an excellent example of how, in acting, experience usually counts for a heck of a lot. Sure, there are excellent child actors, and sure acting is a vocation in which one can shine without benefit of years and decades of experience. But to play the central role of The Doctor, there's a very good reason that William Hartnell was cast in the series, and it's because he made 65 films BEFORE he ever harrumphed his way through the TARDIS doors. Why is Tom Baker the longest-serving Doctor but Sylvestor McCoy is embarrassingly incapable of delivering even the tiniest speech without it sounding fan-film bad? Because Baker had been acting in theater, films, and TV for over 10 years BEFORE he became The Doctor, while McCoy was stuffing ferrets down his trousers to entertain children in light entertainment plays. Jon Pertwee was a household name in acting circles before he was The Doctor, and was such a showman he could do comedy, drama, spooky, you name it, all at the same time and often in the same episode! David Tennant is such a superior actor, he could play the shark in 'Jaws'.
So, what happens when you give an actor in his mid-20's the role of a lifetime and he doesn't have the acting chops to pull it off? You get a Doctor completely incapable of emoting. In scenes in which he is required to play anything other than all bouncy-Attention-Deficit, he fails miserably. When he is required to convey sadness, he looks down to his shoes like a scolded child. When he is required to convey contemplative, he purses his lips. Defiant? He juts out his chin. Compare this to the tour de force performances of Eccleston in 'Dalek' and the why-didn't-he-get-a-freakin'-Emmy 'Human Nature' turn of David Tennant (or, really, 75% of Tennant's entire career AS the Doctor), and you'll see, the fact is the writers are hampered with an actor who simply isn't that 'good', and the actor is consequently saddled with trying to portray a centuries-old Timelord in a bow tie who can do little more than frown after waving his sonic screwdriver and checking it's readings, and bounding about the console room set like a demented child shrugging off Ritalin. Sorry. But the truth hurts.
8. Every Episode Uses 'Time Itself' As The Antagonist. Remember when 'Father's Day' dramatically illustrated the effects of time gone wrong? Wasn't that a great episode, full of excellently-conveyed moments that really brought home to the viewers 'hey, time itself can really be screwy, kids, good thing we got the Doc here to fix it'? Remember how new and novel the concept of Time Itself was within the new series? Remember how the vast majority of episodes of the Eccleston/Tennant eras were essentially self-contained stories with little nods to some of the over-arching storyline threads spread throughout a season, such as the whole 'Bad Wolf' thing? When it was all in the background and didn't get in the way of telling the ACTUAL stories? Now, how about trying to sit down and recounting how time itself was all screwed up week in and week out for the last three YEARS of the show? Can you even 'do' that? The Doctor and company have been to the end of the universe, re-written time, died and come back to life, hit the cosmic 're-set' switch just HOW many times now? When did a show about time travel become a show about TIME, period? There was a time not too long ago when the TARDIS was used as what it was intended; a vehicle to spirit our heroes to their destination of the week. Now, the TARDIS and all of time and space have been messed with 'so' much in the last few years, it's like trying to re-trace the footsteps of those kids in 'Family Circus'. I'm all 'for' visually depicting the power of time, and of the scope of history to bring the Doctor to the distant past and the far-flung future. But, hell, didn't we wreck the entire universe and put it all back together again LAST week?
7. Historical Characters Are Basically 'Bill And Ted' Versions. Remember the excellent episode 'The Unquiet Dead', which featured an aged Charles Dickens encountering the Doctor? Weren't those great moments, revealing the private pain and the genius of this real-life person from history? That cute little moment when the Doctor says he's a fan? That pensive and dramatic moment when the Doctor tells Rose that despite their adventures together, Dickens will die in the following year? Dickens, a real person who really lived, was handled with sensitivity and pathos. Now...put Hitler in the closet. Yep, that's right, take the most evil and ruthless man in history, the man who ordered the deaths of countless millions and plunged the world into the bloodiest conflict it has ever had the misfortune of enduring...and shove him in the damn closet.
'Unquiet Dead' established a pattern in which historical people would be treated properly, as befitting their importance to the realms of history. Sure, you can 'have' your fun, you can 'have' the Doctor joke that the 'ladies call you Chuck', but at the end of the day, IF you are going to go the route of peppering your stories about a time traveller with real-life people who made their mark on science, literature, and the world at large just in general...is there really ANY need to make them appear buffoonish? Do we REALLY need the man who, once again, sacrificed his own PEOPLE to stop the Daleks...getting felt up by Egyptian Queens? Is there 'any' good reason that the Doctor, who once refused to alter history and save Adric, his companion, despite the pleading and the tears of his other companions to do so...to hide under the beds of medieval kings? What purpose does this clownish behaviour serve a story other than to elicit a cheap laugh? We are also supposed to believe that the same man who kidnapped Barbara and Ian because he was afraid they MIGHT breathe a WORD of his existence to the authorities of their time, a man who worked for the most secretive Intelligence Taskforce in the world, a man who forced Mickey to wipe out 'every' trace of his existence from the internet and intelligence agencies worldwide....lets Winston Churchill speed-dial him? Makes NO attempt to disguise his obvious alienness (or even his bow-tie) when he bounds out of the TARDIS in what, over time, seems like 'every' major world event in history? I don't know about you, but it was bad enough that Indiana Jones came face-to-face with Hitler. The very same man who pressured Davros to tell him if he had it in him to unleash a virus that would wipe out all life, is the very same man who blundered into Adolf friggin' Hitler's office and had no recourse whatsoever but to shove him in a closet...I mean, really?
6. Companions Used To, You Know..NOT Comment On EVERYTHING. In a hilarious moment from the charity episode 'Time Crash', the 5th Doctor chides the 10th that he is basically just commenting on 'everything that happens right in front of him'. It's a playful dig at the writers and producer of the modern series, and thankfully self-deprecating, indicating they were aware of the tendencies on their part and were, hopefully, going to correct it. While it's been an issue with the modern series as a whole, it's really been ramped up lately with the Rory and Amy characters (and allow me to say it, because I just do not 'care' anymore...boy, am I ever glad they are gone!). Constant, inane chatter from the companions that does nothing other than to serve the teen-beat viewers watching with yet another arch and self-aware TV series. A Dalek invasion force? Well, sure, companions in the past would, you know, cower in fear and shut their damn mouths and just help the Doctor defeat them somehow. Now? We get running commentary on the state of the companion's relationship, what the frowny face on the Doctor 'really' means, and some inappropriate comedy witticisms involving button-pushing. Emo, angst-ridden dialog has replaced the real thing. And all it's done is turn dramatic moments into cartoony jokes, ruined the suspense and surprise of many a plot and monster, and just made it impossible to enjoy an episode of 'Doctor Who' without feeling trapped on an elevator with a teen girl next to you loudly making plans to hit up the mall on her iPhone.
I'm not just imploring you, readers...I'm BEGGING you, go back and watch 'Genesis Of The Daleks'. 6 episodes of creeping, dripping evil all about war, slavery, revolution, hate, bile, and terror...and not ONCE does Sarah Jane Smith metaphorically poke the Doctor in the ribs, wink to the camera, and start talking about stuff that has NOTHING to do with getting the hell OFF the planet full of Daleks. When did 'Doctor Who' become 'Stream-Of-Conscious-Companions-Hour'?
5. Hey, Cybermen Have Feelings Too, You Know. Boy, is it possible to NOT explore the inner emotions of millions of robotic death machines who want nothing more than to extinguish the life force of every being they encounter in the cosmos? Valuable screen time has been devoted to depicting the motivations of just about every alien baddy that the Doctor has dedicated his life to defeating, and you know what? Apparently, they aren't so bad when you get to know them. Yeah, this is the 21st century, and yeah, science-fiction is meant to be utilized as a medium in which one can impart universal messages of peace and love and acceptance. But hey, the friggin' Daleks DESTROYED THE DOCTOR'S PLANET. He's ALLOWED to get a little pissy with them. Less 'oh those poor innocent people became Cybermen, let's kneel at the fallen shells and glimpse the life they could have still had were it not for the conversion' and more 'those evil soulless Cybermen need to be blown up eleventy billion times and I'm not going to stop until they are', please. If viewers are given the chance to explore the tragic elements behind EVERY monster race, then they become less horrific and more sympathetic. And if they become more sympathetic, then the Doctor wiping them off the face of the Universe every damn time he encounters them just makes him come off as an uncaring dorkwad, doesn't it? Sometimes, a Dalek is just a Dalek. Enough with the 'Behind The Music' monster moments, let's get back to what the core of the series IS: the hero (the Doctor) stopping evil baddies (the monsters) from killing/converting/exterminating everything that the hero (the Doctor) has ever cared about. While we are far from the black and white era now with 'Doctor Who', it sure could use more black-and-white motivations. Lest the next time we see the Daleks, they are all singing 'Koombaya, my Lord, koombaya'. And don't even get me started on the power of 'love' somehow defeating a Cyberman conversion process. That may fly in 'Care Bears', but millions of dead husks of planets that once thrived on 'love' and now are among the ranks of Cybermen ought to attest to the fallacy of THAT notion.
4. Sure, He's A Timelord. But He's Just Like You And Me. 'I'm not human, Sara, I'm a Timelord. You don't understand the implications'. That's a quote from the 4th Doctor when Sarah Jane tells him to lighten up, that he should be happy to be returning to Earth. 'The Earth isn't my home', he tells her, accurately. In other words: the Doctor may walk like a man, the Doctor may talk like a man, but he ain't a man. He's an alien from an impossibly-old world that all but worshiped and certainly served the power of time travel....and dressed like pimps doing so, too. But somewhere along the way, and this 'didn't' start with the Smith years but it sure has taken root here as well, the writers and producers just gave up on even trying to write him for what he IS...an ancient alien, and not the kind you see on the History Channel, either. The Doctor sings, cries, hugs, cries, kisses, cries, laughs, cries, jokes, cries, and did I mention cries...JUST like any normal human adventurer would. If you turned on a random episode mid-way through and had no prior knowledge of it, you'd swear the Doctor was as human as his companions were. Tom Baker played the Doctor with what he called 'Olympian detachment' for 7 damn years, because he (and the writers and producers) were terrified that they couldn't buck the trend of 'humanizing' the Doctor that had sorta begun in the Pertwee era. Colin Baker's Doctor was as far from 'human' as it was possible to get and still stay on the air...and even then, they got screwed up for 18 months as it was. Point is, when your Doctor wears bow ties, laughs at the same things your human companion does, is good for a hug and some face time, and the only concession made to his 'alien-ness' is a penchant for fish fingers and custard (which makes him more of a pregnant human with odd cravings than a Timelord), then the drift away from 'not human' is in full force. The series is littered with character-defining moments that perfectly convey that the Doctor ISN'T human. Maybe a good way to start getting him back to that is have him actually tell his chatty and nosey companions to shut the hell up and NO he's not in the mood for hugs and tears just right now. An occasional spontaneous outburst, having the Doctor screw up his face and petulantly say stuff like 'nobody human has anything to say to me today' just doesn't cover it...especially when not long afterward, he's kicking a soccer ball. A little more effort in putting the 'Timelord' back into 'The Doctor', please.
3. When In Doubt, Put EVERYONE In The Tub. Picture a trip in the TARDIS like it's a weekly bath night. You want to meet the Silurians? Ok, put the rubbery ducky in there. Wait, you want to add the Daleks? Ok, that thimble from the sewing kit in the closet will represent them. What, now you want the Weeping Angels to come along, too? Ok, that little ceramic statue on the shelf will suffice. Wow, this bathtub is now full to bursting with lots of different objects, cluttering the entire tub and ruining happy fun bath time. And all because you weren't satisfied to 'just' play with the rubbery ducky.
That's the problem with Stephen Moffatt's outlook as producer. Why give the audience ONE Dalek (which seemed to work just fine in 'Dalek', but I digress)...when we can give them ALL the Daleks! And not just Daleks, but big-ass Daleks with flamethrowers and spikes and weird light bulb thingies and oooh hey, all the colors of the rainbow, and even more rubber skirts and did we mention these puppies are like 20 feet tall? Yeah, man, that's how you do it. Moffatt seems to be approaching the series the same way a 9 year old boy does to playtime in the backyard, when G.I. Joe goes toe-to-toe with Optimus Prime, presided over by Stone Cold Steve Austin. And maybe a Super Soaker. Wait, Optimus Prime WITH a Super Soaker. Yeaaaaaah!
Sometimes, less is more. Not 'every' baddy need be armed to the teeth with Universe-Shattering-Weapons 'every' time they are encountered, nor do they need to be completely re-designed from the ground-up in order to illustrate, loudly and with extreme prejudice, that you are watching a STEVEN MOFFAT PRODUCTION OF DOCTOR WHO WRITTEN BY STEVEN MOFFATT PRODUCED BY STEVEN MOFFAT CHARACTER RE-DESIGNS SUGGESTED BY STEVEN MOFFATT. Yeah, OK, we 'get' it, dude, you are running the show now. But do the Daleks 'have' to look like Power Rangers?
The Doctor never encounters a 'couple' of Daleks...he addresses ALL OF THEM. The Doctor never meets a 'few' Angels...he needs to fight off an INVASION OF THEM. Yes, the series is basically a hero fights bad monsters using nothing but his wits (and overusing the hell out of a sonic screwdriver)...but sheesh, I'm starting to get tired just WATCHING that many Daleks on a TV screen at once! Moderation is the key. Because if the Doctor constantly beats entire invasions of millions of monsters...then he's not the Doctor anymore, he's friggin' Alexander The Great. Better not state that too loudly, though, otherwise next season the Doctor will be seen wiggling out of one of Alexander's war elephants' butts.
2. The Question That Should Never Be Answered Is A Freakin' Joke. Not much to say here to this one, really. Only that it's a sad and pathetic day in the annals of 'Doctor Who' when the producer feels the need to pen a season-spanning storyline out of what was previously regarded as a barely-tolerable in-joke. Yeah, the show is called 'Doctor Who'. Yeah, the main character calls himself 'The Doctor' and despite a few jokey exchanges over time, has never appended a name after the honorific title other than the obviously-fake 'Jon Smith'. And yeah, that means he essentially is 'Doctor...Who?' It's been that way for achingly close on 50 years now, and it looks to continue to be that way for some time to come. But to turn it into, variously, a long-running 'gag' AND as the final destination point of a season's worth of stories? That takes the cake, it truly does. Sometimes, you can really see that the true blueprint for Steven Moffatt's version of 'Doctor Who' was 'The Curse Of Fatal Death'.
..though, to be fair? Rowan Atkinson would make a better Doctor than Matt Smith, hands-down, and that special was proof of that.
1. THIS Incarnation Of The Doctor Will Usher In The 50th. The previous nine entries are testament to how I feel about Matt Smith's era and Steven Moffatt's producer ship of 'Doctor Who'. And yet, for all the hundreds and hundreds of dollars I've spent collecting various Whoniverse items, for the pages and pages I've written in stories, reviews, news items, as well as editing them in the pages of 'The Whostorian' magazine and the hours of work it took to produce usable material as co-host of the podcast...THIS adolescent cartoon is what will be the platform that 'Doctor Who' celebrates its grand 50th Anniversary? An event I've personally waited upon for well over 20 years of my life...and it will be brought to me by the same producer who gave me bow ties, Power Ranger Daleks, and 'Dinosaurs On A Spaceship'. Really? Now, if THAT isn't a collective kick in Rassilon's Tomb, I don't know what is!