Matt Smith is the best Doctor ever. Why postpone the inevitable plaudits? In three or four years’ time, Smith’s passing into the great Timelord cemetery in the sky will be greeted with the same national mourning and grief that greeted the demise of David Tennant’s Doctor.
All the paranoia and worry over Smith’s acting and his young age was dispelled within about five minutes. In fact for many of us, it never existed at all; just an ephemeral phantom brought into existence by gossip-magazine trained chimps who believe that witlessly talking about something is a superior experience to the experience itself.
The absurdity of the age concern was shown through the casting of 10-year-old Caitlin Blackwood as the young Amelia (Amy) Pond. The befuddled Doctor dropped in on her ramshackle residence when his Tardis crashed in her garden. After soothing her concerns about the cracks in her bedroom wall, he departed promising that he’d be back in five minutes. The orphaned Amelia, who lived with an unseen ogrish aunt, raced to her bedroom and packed her little suitcase as though she was being evacuated in the Blitz, and went and sat in the garden on her suitcase waiting for the Doctor’s return. Blackwood captured the undying optimism possessed by children as yet unblemished by the cynical adult world.
When the Doctor came back 12 years later, all that innocence had evaporated and he was confronted by a confused, irascible young woman now Amy Pond. Karen Gillan was just as impressive as her co-stars, moving from comical anger over the Doctor’s broken promise to teenage embarrassment over her relationship with the hapless Rory – the superbly morose Arthur Darvill. But she had depth, too. She wildly blamed the Doctor for spending much of her adolescence in the care of psychiatrists, yet it was the moment she moved from the threshold of childhood when the Doctor ‘abandoned’ her that hurt far more than the fussing of a few men in white coats. And what’s even better is that her attire has antagonised the Daily Mail – a triumph in any free society.
Even though Steven Moffat relied upon his favourite theme of childhood nightmares – this time an alien came through the cracks in Amelia’s wall – the plot was loose enough to act pretty much exclusively as an introduction to Matt Smith. The new Doctor is clumsy like Stan Laurel, ignorant of basic human customs – brusquely engaging strangers in conversation, commandeering fire engines to reach his destination – but he also has something of a detective about him. His habit of spying something out of the corner of his eye that reveals a clue or revelation was effective and beautifully slowed the pace of this manic episode on more than one occasion.
Moffat also exhibited an aptitude for second-guessing the frustrations of the viewer and then confounding them. As the Doctor and Amy hunted down the alien Prisoner Zero – essentially a snake with big teeth that can assumed human form – they did so under a Sword of Damocles from the alien’s former captors who threatened to destroy the Earth if Prisoner Zero wasn’t recaptured sharpish. This device has been used tiresomely in recent series of Doctor Who as a catalyst for melodrama, but here it was just an excuse to let the Doctor discharge his frenetic energy and was largely forgotten for big chunks.
And in the confrontation with Prisoner Zero a jubilant Doctor shouted. “Whooo da man?” There was a pause of about two seconds, just long enough for us to think that was possibly the worst line of dialogue uttered in Doctor Who since the rambling of Soldeed in Horns of Nimon, just long enough for us to wish we could wrench David Tennant back from Hollywood or wherever. But after that two seconds had elapsed we were amused to see the Doctor agreeing with us, “I’m never saying that again!”
The only disappointment is that in the series preview, almost all the stories seem to be set on boring old Earth, and without a Jon Pertwee-style conceit this appears to show a lack of imagination – or more likely budget – but as any doubts about this regeneration of Doctor Who were dispelled in this brilliant opening episode we really should know better.