A Retrospective on the Eleventh Doctor

This past holiday season has been quite a tearjerker for Doctor Who fans, with the 50th anniversary episode in November and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor on Christmas Day.  I only started watching Doctor Who this spring, as the second half of the seventh season was airing. I loved the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, but in a way Eleven is “my Doctor,” especially given to the roles of Amy and Rory as my favorite companions and River as my favorite character.

Amy Pond staring at the Eleventh DoctorWith Eleven, we get some of Moffat’s wonkiest “are you fucking kidding me??” plotlines, but we also get quite a lot of brilliantly done stuff. The way Matt Smith plays the Doctor is as quirky as Tennant, perhaps even quirkier, but with an added layer of darkness and a new kind of acknowledgement of sexuality both with River and elsewhere. A lot of why I like him, though, comes from how he plays off of Amy Pond.

From my first introduction to a companion with Rose Tyler, what I really wanted was someone to foil the Doctor a bit, someone who would act as much more than a romantic lead. I don’t dislike Rose, but nor do I particularly identify with her. I liked Martha Jones as a smarter, more skeptical character, but her crush on the Doctor didn’t quite fit for me and weakened her as a character. Donna was certainly my favorite of Ten’s companions, but in some ways her function was quite simple. Amy Pond in her wedding dress looking down at the Doctor's finger mashed over her lips to quiet her.In Amy Pond, on the other hand, we get a bit of the skepticism, a bit of the smarts, a bit of the Doctor’s own quirkiness reflected back at him, and a very developed character. I much prefer her love story with Rory to the various companions with crushes on the Doctor himself, and Eleven and Amy’s relationship is the kind of deep, playful and yet mature friendship that you rarely see on television (Moffat and Gattis’s Sherlock and Doctor Watson excepted).

Through Amy, we get a real sense of Eleven’s character, and then through River we see even more–both vulnerability and possibility. River’s episodes are some of my favorites in the new series, and I particularly like the whole Pandorica arc. I get the sense that Moffat was kind of careening on the edge of ridiculousness with the whole crack in the wall/Silence/River kills the Doctor idea, but in my opinion it just barely holds on. The Eleventh Doctor kisses River Song's cheek as her wrist is trapped by a Weeping Angel.I’ve always loved plots that carry on in the background so that we get a sudden nod two seasons later. There was something infinitely satisfying in the sudden mention in the Christmas special of the entity that blew up the TARDIS, and the crack in the wall coming back to wrap up the whole thing, although at the same time it seems completely ridiculous.

Admittedly, the seventh season (especially the second half) was something of a disappointment. I liked Clara a lot in the Dalek Asylum episode and in The Snowmen, but I felt that her character didn’t really work as the season went on. She’s likeable, but the Doctor’s intensity of feeling for her is sort of hard to understand, perhaps because we don’t experience all of their story firsthand. We just don’t have enough time to get to know them as Doctor and Companion, and so the moments of declaration of her brilliance and awesomeness rang a bit hollow, especially in the two specials. Amy and the Doctor touch each other's cheeks with a backdrop of childish drawings.Thus I was happy to see just a moment of Amy at the very end of Eleven’s story, wrapping things up nicely. I was also cheered when the Gallifreyan intervention wasn’t as drastic as it could have been–the retconning was a bit heavy-handed, but not so much as to destroy the arc as it has been so mysteriously presented through Eleven’s episodes.

So a fond farewell from me to Matt Smith, who will be sorely missed as the Doctor. Raggedy man, good night.

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