A Madman with a Box
Matt Smith, 2010-13
In 2010, Doctor Who underwent one of the greatest reinventions in its long history, with almost the entire cast and the bulk of the core creative team changing. Steven Moffat built on the foundation laid down by Russell T. Davies, but simultaneously wiped the slate clean and imposed his own unique vision on the series. From the outset, with brand new opening titles and an idiosyncratic, up-tempo arrangement of the theme music, the series boldly declared that it had changed. Into this stepped a new Doctor, starting his life afresh with a wholly new set of supporting characters. Even his TARDIS regenerated along with him.
Following the massively popular David Tennant was the most difficult task for any Doctor since Peter Davison took over from Tom Baker in 1981. Yet even Davison had fame on his side to ease the transition. Of all the names bandied about by speculative fans and columnists, no one predicted Matt Smith. While he had already garnered critical praise for his screen work, Smith was a relative unknown in 2010. I don't think anyone expected the new lead of the BBC's premier fantasy series to be a 26-year-old footballer, let alone that he would so successfully come to inhabit the part and make it his own.
Again paralleling Davison's time in the role, Smith was criticised initially for being too young. At twenty-six when he began filming, Smith is the youngest of the Doctors by several years, still only in his early thirties now that he has left the role. And yet, he embodies the great age of the Doctor like no one else. Given his youth, Smith has further to go to convince viewers of his character's age, and so he puts his all into it. And yet, he is simultaneously so fresh and childlike. He brings many ages to his performance, but never his own. He is both the old man in the young man's body, and the enthusiastic child dressing up as an adult.
While he put his own stamp on the part, Smith nonetheless embraced his predecessors' performances. Being a child of the Wilderness Years, he had not grown up with Doctor Who, and instead threw himself into research. Like all right-minded individuals, he became particularly enamoured of Patrick Troughton's performance, and much of this shows through in his own. A very physical actor, Smith has a sort of graceful clumsiness that allows him to capture the Troughton-like quality of appearing more foolish and less capable than he really is.
Smith's costume also carries hints of Troughton's. Moffat came up with several suggestions for the Doctor's new look, most of which were self-consciously modern and cool, and nothing like what the Doctor would wear. Smith instead suggested a tweed jacket, adding braces and a bowtie. Moffat disliked the look, thinking it to be old-fashioned and a fancy dress version of the Doctor's costume. Smith, on the other hand, was immediately comfortable, realising that his Doctor was, unlike his predecessor, not cool at all. While the braces and bowtie, not to mention the succession of ridiculous hats, recalls the second Doctor's outfit, there is also both a hint of both the professor and the student about it, a touch of Henry Jones Jr. Such was its success, that 2010 saw a sudden increase in sales of both Harris tweeds and bowties, as young men took up the new fashion.
Later variations in the costume are more obviously dressy, with the eleventh Doctor clearly having an everyday look and a smarter look for special occasions. His little seen green peacoat added a touch of flare in the latter half of the sixth season, while his white tie ensemble only came out for the most important events, such as weddings or his own imminent death. For the final half of season seven, the Doctor reverted to a Victorian look, with both an everyday pseudo-Victorian version that combines the classic and modern, and a plusher winter variation for the 19th century itself (his Christmas outfit, in fact). The purplish frock coat, combined with the braces and bowtie, give this ensemble hints of both the second and third Doctors. More obviously, though, is that the gradual return to old-fashioned outfits belies a series becoming evermore comfortable with its own past, an approach that would reach its culmination in the fiftieth anniversary year celebrations.
The face of William Hartnell was seen no fewer than four times in Smith's first season, as the series began to explore its own background once more. As we learned about the Doctor's latest life, we learned more about his past selves. There have been brief insights into the Doctor's past over the years, but suddenly we got a stream of information, adding to and rewriting the Time Lord's past. As well as the astonishing revelation of a hidden incarnation, we learned of his old friends and influences like the Corsair, saw his infant cot (why was he carrying it around with him?), and even saw him, in his first body, about to leave Gallifrey with Susan.
Most surprising, though, was The Doctor's Wife, an episode that amounts to an origin story for the TARDIS. It's easy to imagine the eleventh Doctor calling the TARDIS “the most beautiful thing [he's] ever seen,” but a little harder to imagine it coming from the first Doctor. Still, it fits with how we've seen the Doctor act towards the TARDIS through his lives. Over the years, the time-and-space machine has developed from a mere machine, albeit a remarkable one, to a living entity, to mathematics embodied, to a true character in her own right. It was only a matter of time before the Doctor came face to face with his longest, truest, most faithful companion. Having the soul of the Ship in the body of Suranne Jones helps articulate it, but we've always known that the Doctor loved his Ship, and his Ship loved her thief. It's a love story between a bloke and his car, told across time and space.
The latest phase of Doctor Who has proved to be one of its most controversial, hitting new heights of worldwide popularity while also attracting great criticism. Showrunner Steven Moffat has built on the foundations set by Russell T. Davies and sculpted a version of Doctor Who unique to his own sensibilities. The series has undoubtedly become more complex, with ongoing storylines playing out over the four years of Matt Smith's tenure. Numerous mysteries are raised and explored throughout the series, with their ultimate explanations deferred. Whether this approach is successful depends on the individual viewer. Certainly, it is an approach that has divided fans.
Moffat's Doctor Who is one of fairytale logic, in which lives are stories to be written and rewritten. This is a version of the universe in which people can be erased from history, and then wished back into existence. In which a man who lives on a cloud can be accessed by climbing an invisible staricase, and a mysterious caretaker can drop round for Christmas with a world in a box. Time travel works like magic, and consequences occur before events; but it's a magic without defined rules, and often events seem to just happen, with little explanation. There's a clear sense that both the Doctor's past and future are catching up with him, converging at his present. Indeed, every major event in the eleventh Doctor's life is a result of his final battle. The events on Trenzalore rebound back down his timeline, with the “endless, bitter war” of the Kovarian chapter leading to the destruction of the TARDIS, itself causing the cracks in time that release Prisoner Zero into the world to become the first foe the eleventh Doctor faces.
Doctor Who has changed vastly over the fifty years of its history. Once a long-running serial, it developed into a series of enclosed serials, and then returned from cancellation as a series of one and two episode adventures. By the end of its fiftieth year it was comprised of short runs of singular episode stories, linked together in a narrative spanning years, both more and less serialised than it has ever been. The series had, by now, developed from one in which the Doctor was a peripheral character, to one in which he was the star, and now to one in which he was the centre of the universe. There had been stories which revolved around the Doctor before, but in the eleventh Doctor's run, very few episodes involve the Doctor simply dropping in somewhere and finding a problem. He is summoned, pursued and targeted.
There has been a great deal of hyperbole over Doctor Who's diminishing ratings. Overnight ratings for television have been dropping across the board, not only for Doctor Who as more and more viewers turn to catch-up and time-shifted services. How many of these views are from unique viewers is unknown, though, but what is clear is that the way in which we watch television is changing. The series, then, has changed with it, embracing the possibilities of the medium with a plethora of mini-episodes that range from throwaway extras to essential chapters in the story. Even the arena of video games, a format that Doctor Who has never quite managed to succeed in, has finally opened up, with Smith voicing the Doctor for online Adventure Games and Nintendo console games. Even the jerky animation of the sprites works in its favour – Smith actually does walk like that.
It's clear that the Doctor's different incarnations age at different rates, yet this holding onto youth says something particular about this Doctor. We might suspect that the Doctor is deliberately making himself younger with each passing regeneration. While this makes sense from a practical point of view, it's not always the case, and it has become clear that Time Lords have some control over their regenerations (even if the Doctor isn't terribly good at this). The Day and The Time of the Doctor reveals the truth of the matter. The revelation that the eleventh Doctor is actually the Doctor's final regeneration makes a lot of things clear. (If anyone is still unclear on how this works, Matt Smith's Doctor is officially the eleventh Doctor, but his twelfth incarnation (including the Warrior) and his thirteenth life (including the two lives used by the tenth Doctor).
In his final life, approaching his inevitable death, the Doctor is both weighed down by his years but terrified of dying. As River Song will attest, “He doesn't like endings.” Add to that his deep shame at his actions during his Warrior incarnation, the last time he became a physically old man, and the Doctor has an overwhelming desire to remain young, manifesting in his appearance in this incarnation. Although he's not immune to the effects of ageing, he puts it off for as long as possible, affecting as youthful a persona as he can manage.
In many ways, this Doctor is very youthful, at least compared to his other selves. He speaks in a relaxed, comfortable manner, that frequently drifts into childish babble, especially when he's over-excited. Often this replaces what would otherwise be a technobabble explanation. While the constant slew of “timey-wimey” and “humany-wumany” becomes tiresome, the Doctor clearly prefers it to long spiels about the nature of the Space-Time Vortex. Everything is cool for this Doctor; bowties are cool, fezzes are cool, 1960s astronaut gear is cool. However, only a tragically uncool person would say such things. Unlike his effortlessly charismatic previous self, the eleventh Doctor is hopelessly uncool. When he says something's cool, he sounds like your old grand-uncle who was hip back in the sixties.
In some ways, it's easy to the eleventh Doctor as the tenth redone, the posterboy Doctor revamped for an extra run. There are certainly similarities: Tennant and Smith are both, attractive, slim white men, playing the Doctor with excitement and enthusiasm. Yet there are far more differences than similarities. While the tenth Doctor is hugely confident with women, the eleventh is a hit with the ladies but seems clueless with how to deal with this (something that changes somewhat as he gets older, when he becomes surprisingly blokeish, and seemingly every woman in the galaxy fancies him). Tennant affected a Mockney drawl, while Smith uses his naturally RP accent (described by Mark Gatiss as “not quite not posh.”) Tennant swaggered around the place, hands in pockets, while Smith holds himself in a state of almost permanent tension. His mannerisms are eccentric, and are those of an old man. While the Time War hung over the tenth Doctor, the eleventh has finally started to comes to terms with it, finally moving on to new concerns. He may not quite be “the man who forgets,” but he has at least put his long-seated guilt over the events of the War to one side. His final stand against Rassilon seems to have allowed him some closure at last. Now he just refers to it as “a bad day; bad stuff happened,” and is able to admit his actions to his companions. He is also, finally, over Rose – she is barely mentioned during the eleventh Doctor's entire run. Perhaps most notably, while the tenth Doctor was defined by his arrogance, the eleventh is characterised by a deep self-loathing.
This is not to say that he is free of arrogance. Indeed, his overconfidence in his abilities often leads him into hot water. The Doctor is well aware of how brilliant he is, and we call on his wealth of knowledge and experience to browbeat his enemies. Smith makes more speeches as the Doctor than his predecessor, but isn't so naturally suited to them. Indeed, even when the eleventh Doctor is rattling off about how awesome he is to Daleks hoards or a living planet, he seems out of his depth and desperate. There's the sense that he doesn't quite believe in what he's saying. It's in his quieter moments that we see how he's been beating himself up. When he rewinds through Amy's life, when the TARDIS shows him only the faces of the friends he's lost, or when Brian Williams confronts him about his lifestyle. This is a man who is at war with who he is and what he has done, weighed down by guilt. Indeed, he identifies the Dream Lord as a facet of his own self, simply stating that “There's only one person in the universe who hates me as much as you do.”
For a man with centuries of experience, the eleventh Doctor can be hopelessly naïve. He has an affinity with children (Matt Smith having an incredible way with his young fans and co-stars alike), but will allow this to go too far, letting the kids get themselves into terrible danger. He chooses to intervene on the Starship UK when he sees a young girl crying, but forgets all about Elliott when he's too involved in the Silurian affair in Wales, letting him run off straight into danger. He's often too childish; he gets on famously with Kazran Sardick as a young boy, but fails to understand how his attitudes will change as he grows up. He thanks Madge Arwell for helping him by presenting her and her children first with a house full of absurd gadgetry and playthings, before gifting them with the most horrendously dangerous Christmas present ever. He takes Artie and Angie to an amusement park on another planet, missing the intended period by years and leaves them to become assimilated by the Cybermen.
This Doctor is a magpie, unable to settle down for more than a minute before he has to take off again. Earlier Doctors might be easily bored, but the eleventh simply cannot sit still. A comfortable life in a quiet village is anathema to him. Even staying with Amy and Rory, his two best friends, is too much of a challenge. He simply cannot be still for that long. When he stays with Craig, affecting an ordinary human life, he is unable to simply lie low. He takes over the poor man's life, taking over his job and his football match, as incapable of not being brilliant as he is of simply sitting and waiting for the task at hand.
The eleventh Doctor arrives with a bang, crash-landing in the garden of one Amelia Pond. The Eleventh Hour is perhaps the single most successful introductory episode for a Doctor since the very first, An Unearthly Child, with Smith establishing, beyond all doubt, that he is the Doctor before its runtime is up. The Doctor falls into Amelia's world and changes her life forever. She'll remain one of the most significant people in this life, right to its end.
It's quite right that the Doctor's first encounter in this life should be with a child. His is a child's life, never quite growing up, even as he grows old. Sitting there with his new tastebuds, eating fish fingers with custard, he bonds with the confident little Scots lass living in an idyllic English village. This isn't a Doctor who you'd see hobnobbing with the toffs like his third self – he can't even drink wine! No, this is a Doctor who is most at home with children, protecting them from the monsters. He is as excitable and reckless as a child, but this a dangerous trait in one with so much power. Still clad in his predecessor's ripped clothes, the Raggedy Doctor crashes into Amelia's life. He immediately bonds with her, and tries to figure out the problem with the crack in her wall. Of course, at this time, he's still regenerating, as is the TARDIS, and he has to take it for a spin to help them both adjust. He shoots off, completely losing tack of the situation and returning twelve years too late. Even once he's sorted out Prisoner Zero – in record time, using local technology and his hitherto unseen Sherlock-style visual recall – he still goes missing for two years. Simply slowing down and sorting the time travel out properly doesn't even occur to him. It's all quick-quick-quick, steal clothes from a hospital (again) and get back on the road. Amelia – Amy – on the other hand, has to wait. And wait she does.
The Doctor's presence, and following absence, makes a huge impact on Amy's life. She never really gets over the Time Lord's sudden appearance, an event which derails her childhood. Of course, Amy has a similar effect on the Doctor. They imprint upon one another and are inextricably linked from that moment on. And in Amy's case, her life was already distorted. The presence of the cracks in time, and their propensity to swallow up individuals and erase them from history, has left her with an impossible life. Amy is a mystery – and a mystery is what gets this Doctor going more than anything else. Simple people in simple lives aren't enough for him; he needs his impossible girls. Amy, Clara, River – all of them have timelines that don't make sense, popping in and out of his life with gay abandon. The fact that his head is so easily turned by an attractive woman doesn't hurt, either.
Understandably, Amy becomes immediately infatuated with the Doctor. A very sexual young woman, Amy is attracted to her raggedy Doctor once he reappears in her life. This only becomes stronger once they've had a few adventures together, and their desperate escape from the Weeping Angels is what tips the balance. When the Doctor returns her to her home in Leadworth, she decides to stop sitting on her feelings. Not only does she reveal that she is engaged to be married, moments later she pounces on the Doctor. The Doctor is totally unprepared for this, and, in spite of his definite eye for the ladies, he never seems to see Amy as anything other than a very close friend. Aside from the fact that this Doctor is clearly more taken with the older women (River, Tasha Lem, Rosanna Calvierri), from his perspective, Amy was “a little girl five minutes ago.”
Inside though, Amy remains a little girl. Having an imaginary friend who turns up in real life stalls her emotional development. The Doctor has to wean Amy off him in order to let her grow up. To begin with, he sets about fixing her engagement, reminding her that she loves Rory by giving them a special date in Venice. Of course, this turns into another hair-raising adventure, but since this inducts Rory into the Doctor and Amy's lifestyle, it has the desired effect. Living the adventures together puts enormous strain on Amy and Rory's relationship, but strengthens it, above all by allowing ordinary old Rory to show that he can be as much a hero and adventurer as the Doctor.
Poor, put upon, plain old Rory Williams is the greatest hero of the series. While Amy is desperate for a more exciting life, Rory just wants to settle down and be with her. But once the Doctor's back, he doesn't have that option. If he wants Amy, he has to go with her, and take up a life of adventure, a life he really doesn't want. He has to become a little more like the Doctor. Considering how unsuited he is to such a lifestyle, he acquits himself admirably, and this is before he starts dying all over the place.
A central problem with Moffat's Doctor Who is that he will not allow anyone of importance to die. Every major character has been killed, but always in some timey-wimey fashion that allows them to reappear. River meets the Doctor out of sequence, so that his first meeting with her marks her death, and even after he catches up with her, she comes back as a ghost. Aspects of Clara appear twice, dying both times, before her real self arrives in the Doctor's life. Amy is killed and revived by the Pandorica. In the final event, Amy, Rory and the Doctor are allowed to die of old age, living long, rich lives off-screen. Rory is the poster boy for this, though, dying in fantasy worlds and alternative timelines and real life, always coming back somehow. Yet, this takes nothing away from the sacrifices he makes. Not only does he die protecting Amy from the Silurians, but he is erased from history by the cracks in time. Through an extraordinarily improbable sequence of events, he is recreated as an Auton version of a Roman legionary, and then proceeds to wait two thousand years, guarding Amy within the Pandorica. No character in the history of this long series has ever made a sacrifice like that, and the fact that history is later reordered and rebooted doesn't negate its significance. Rory may only remember snatches of his long, long life as a Roman, but he still made that choice.
Time can be rewritten: One of the trickier aspects to deal with in the eleventh Doctor era is the continual rewriting of history. We've been aware that time can be rewritten since the ninth Doctor era, but until now the Doctor has usually trodden carefully. During this lifespan, however, it seems that reality is up for grab, with both the Doctor and River tweaking the historical process whenever it suits them. While they are careful not to alter their personal timelines or their relationship to each other, the rest of the universe is fair game. The cracks in time erase individuals and events from history willy-nilly, even such major events as the 2009 Dalek invasion of Earth and the Cyber-assault on London in 1851. This wipes the slate clean for the whole “do aliens exist?” problem after the tenth Doctor's era, but causes its own problems. With the Doctor changing his own history in The Day of the Doctor, preventing his own death, and thus never creating the scar that the Intelligence utilises, and perhaps even meeting young Amelia early and altering her lifeline, it's hard to tell just how much of what we've seen actually happened.
The events surrounding the Pandorica are emblematic of this Doctor's lifetime. His TARDIS is destroyed by agents of the Silence, acting to prevent the Doctor's own future actions. Considering that it then results in the destruction of the entire universe, this has to be regarded as one of the biggest tactical blunders in the history of everything. (If this happens every time a TARDIS is destroyed, it's surprising the universe is still here at all.) An alliance of alien civilisations is created to prevent this catastrophe, and for once, the Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and others are on the side of order as they work to prevent the destruction of reality. Unfortunately, they are not privy to all the pertinent information, and lock the Doctor away just when he is needed to stop the disaster.
The tales of the Pandorica, and its nameless prisoner, are already legends from the Doctor's point of view. It's his own curiosity at the contents of the prison that sees him fall into the trap. The Doctor's long, wonderful, monstrous life has led to his gaining a truly gigantic reputation. In some cases he is a hero, in others a villain. He is a demon that falls from the sky, a bogeyman for Daleks and Zygons to scare their hatchlings with. He isn't averse to using this reputation when he needs some clout; he proudly boasts that he isn't afraid of monsters, they're afraid of him. But this infamy has it's own downside. Not only does the Doctor fall into a trap by being caught up in his own legend, his infamy leads to whole armies being created to fight him, and fight for him. When River points out the carnage that has resulted in his siege on Demon's Run, he insists that “This wasn't me!” But as River points out, it was. We are made privy to the most outrageous facet of the Doctor's legend: that the word “doctor” actually comes from him. However, we also learn that, on some worlds, it has ceased to mean “healer” or “wise man,” and has come to mean “warrior.” Poor Lorna Bucket, a girl who met him once and he can now not even remember, dies fighting for his reputation.
While the Doctor is shocked at the turn of events, it isn't a surprise to him. He knows how far he has come in his travels and battles throughout time. Madame Kovarian, filled with bitterness against a man she considers an architect of war, sneers that “good men have so many rules.” She is baiting him; she and the Doctor both know that “good men don't need rules.” The Doctor, at the end of the day, is a dangerous man. Amy laughs this off, but she still sees him through the eyes of a hero-worshipping child. River, for all her love for the Doctor, knows his true nature. Rory sees another side of it: that he makes people a danger to themselves, as they are so desperate to prove themselves to him. And the Doctor knows it too.
This Doctor is horribly manipulative, as much as, if not more so, than he was in his seventh life. Once he has been remembered back into existence, the Doctor shoots off with Amy and Rory, his little gang now established. The two of them become fully a part of this lifestyle, but he still remains dishonest with them. He surreptitiously monitors Amy's mysterious there/not-there pregnancy, suspecting that she has been replaced by a ganger but never letting her or Rory in on the fact. He and Rory storm to her rescue, but could he have done more by actually letting them in on the secret? Other examples abound, and though the Doctor's manipulations are often for the best. His callous manipulation of Kazran Sardick's life, altering his very past, saves hundreds of lives. He cleverly pushes Amy and Rory into reconciling when their marriage is in trouble. He does what he does for noble reasons, but not honest ones.
The Doctor is capable of some truly monstrous acts. Some times, he does terrible things, but we can sympathise. I confess, I like it when the Doctor is a bit of a bastard. He has a dark side, and he isn't perfect, and sometimes that shows. He joyfully mocks “Colonel Runaway” for his hubris. He throws Solomon to the wolves by leaving him in a doomed ship. Some people thought this was out of character, but it strikes me as perfectly in character. The Doctor fights the monsters; if you've gone to far, and you're a monster, you will get no mercy. Solomon, a mass murderer, a vicious thug, a greed-driven criminal and, it is just barely hinted, potentially a rapist, is beneath the Doctor's mercy, and he pays for it. Immediately after this, he shows that side again, as he comes up against the Kahler-Jex, a man who performed horrific experiments on innocents in his world's war effort. Amy defends him, stepping in to stop the Doctor from leaving him to his inevitable murder. There are times when the Doctor goes too far. This is why he needs human beings around him, to stop him from becoming one of the monsters himself. Yet, at the same time, we can understand his stance when he decries the deaths that have resulted from his mercy. Had Kahler-Jex looked like Davros, would Amy have been so keen to help him? The monsters have a different view of the Doctor. The Daleks refer to him as the Predator, the Great Intelligence loathes him as the Beast and the Storm. He is a terrifying opponent for those who earn his wrath.
The Days of the Doctor: Even assuming he's telling the truth about his age, the Doctor's lifespan is confused and contradictory. The original series first suggested an age of 450 for the Doctor in The Tomb of the Cybermen, which the second Doctor had to work out. Aside from occasional boasts of “several thousand years” from the third Doctor, the Doctor's age increased in fits and starts throughout, from approximately 750 in the fourth Doctor's time, to 900 in the sixth's. The last firm age we are given on screen is 953, by the newly born seventh Doctor in Time and the Rani. The eighth Doctor may have lasted many centuries, going by the various long adventures on audio and in prose. Yet, once the new series started, he was back to 900 or so, with all the ages given by the ninth and tenth Doctors roughly concurring. The tenth Doctor is 906 when he dies, the eleventh has reached 907 by Flesh and Stone. His younger self is 909 in Utah, but his older self is 1103. By A Town Called Mercy, the Doctor is claiming to be 1200 years old. The Day of the Doctor agrees, with the tenth Doctor giving his age as 904, and the War Doctor saying that the eleventh is roughly four hundred years older than him, making him around 800.
Given that he spends his time zipping through time and space, it's likely the Doctor doesn't know his exact age. Perhaps he only counts it when he is not time-travelling. He may only age when he is within time. There is some evidence for this: Amy and Rory say they are much older than the world think they are in The Angels Take Manhattan, but they still look like two people in their twenties. All the zipping through time may have added to their personal experience of time, but they have not aged in accordance with this. Equally, the Doctor ages very little for his three hundred years between his birth and his arrival on Trenzalore, but ages visibly during the first three hundred years there. Given that he has no access to the TARDIS during this time, it is likely that he ages quicker when he is on a world, not travelling through time. Once he gets the TARDIS back, he spends further centuries on Trenzalore without travelling in it, ageing by an unknown amount.
The discrepancy between the old and new series' ages could potentially be explained by assuming that the War Doctor, no longer considering himself to be the Doctor, began counting his age over. The age he gives could then refer to the age of that incarnation, which the Doctor continues to add to once he regenerates into number nine. This makes sense in light of the great deal of ageing undergone by the Doctor in the course of the War. To make an estimate of the Doctor's overall age, then, we need two more bits of information: the time he spends in his eighth body, and the time he spends on Trenzalore after sending Clara away for the second time. Between these two incidences, though, he would seem to experience approximately 1500 years of life.
Amy and Rory become the Doctor's most reliable companions. The series, and the Doctor, have moved on from the days when a companion's exit meant goodbye for ever. The Doctor is no longer quite so afraid of losing his friends to the ravages of time, but is clearly still unable to let them live out a life in front of him. He stretches his time with the Ponds out over as many years as he can. After their honeymoon trip, the Doctor leaves Amy and Rory back on Earth for some travel time alone, before they are reunited by the machinations of his own future self. This is a particularly complicated case, since for once the Doctor's companion's are more aware of what's going on than he is. Once he has gotten to the bottom of Amy's pregnancy and her replacement by a Ganger, he vows to find her, wherever she is. He succeeds, but fails to do the same for her daughter, whose timeline rapidly catches up with that of her parents and her future partner. After this, he proceeds to travel with the Ponds again, and finally, the cracks are starting to show (not those cracks, metaphorical cracks).
The Doctor's lifestyle starts to prove too much for the married couple. The unforeseeable events on Apalapucia lead to Amy's duplication, and for Rory and the Doctor put in the horrible position of having to choose between saving the younger Amy or leaving her there so that her older self might still exist. Understandably, Rory rebukes the Doctor for this, seeing that it was his recklessness that caused this situation in the first place. Had he looked into events on the planet at the time he visited, the entire situation might have been avoided. As it is, he lies to both his friends about what he can do to resolve the paradox, and makes the decision to leave the older Amy behind – negating her very existence. It's these kinds of choices that the Doctor must make continually, and the strain on his friends is almost too much. Eventually, the events of The God Complex lead the Doctor to manipulate Amy's feelings once more, finally forcing her to accept that he is not the perfect hero she has always needed him to be. Amy finally grows up, and the Ponds are able to start a life without the Doctor.
This, of course, is not the end of it. The Doctor's manipulation of his own timeline brings them back together, as do River's actions. Throughout his lifespan, the eleventh Doctor is running from his own death, which always seems to be inevitable. In fact, each of his seasons ends with his unavoidable destruction – be it by the cracks in time, assassination at Lake Silencio, or erasure by the Great Intelligence – only for it to be avoided by a combination of his cleverness and that of his friends. It is, admittedly, hard to get worked up about yet another impending demise when he always wriggles out of it, and nobody important ever dies for good anyway. Still, the Doctor's way of facing his destiny at the lake speaks volumes about his character. He spends almost two centuries avoiding his fate, adventuring throughout the universe before bringing his past self and his friends together to witness his murder. Of course, after years of moping about, once he finally accepts his fate – spurred on by the final, unavoidable, unchangeable death of his oldest friend, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart – he suddenly works out a way of escape in a flash of inspiration.
Double Trouble: The eleventh Doctor has to be the most frequently duplicated of all his many incarnations. In his very first adventure the shapeshifting Prisoner Zero takes his form, not that he realises that, having not had time to check himself out in a mirror. His reckless notion to research the Flesh in its formative days leads to his replication, with a Ganger-Doctor coming to existence. The Doctor seemingly accepts his other self, even tricking Amy so that she will we do the same. Yet he leaves him to make a noble self-sacrifice that frankly isn't necessary. Perhaps both Doctors really know that there's only room for the one of them in the universe? Finally, the Doctor hides out in his own duplicate when he gets the Teselecta to copy him, allowing him to survive his own assassination. It's not just the Doctor, either; Amy gets copied by the Teselecta and duplicated by the time-fold on Apalapucia, Rory gets brought back as an Auton, and both of them lead parallel lives in the paradoxical timeline created by River Song. It's hard to know who's who at the end of the day.
As much as these cunning escapes and temporal tricks are the Doctor's habit, they are as nothing compared to the ongoing madness that is the life of River Song. “The Doctor lies,” she says, and she's right, but he doesn't lie half as much as she does. River keeps Amy, Rory and the Doctor in the dark about her identity and the nature of events until she sees fit, according to which points in her timeline she intersects with theirs. Her very existence is an anomaly, having been conceived during a flight in the TARDIS, which has somehow imbued her with Time Lord-like abilities. She is born to Amy in captivity at Demon's Run, stolen by Madame Kovarian and her renegade chapter of the Church of the Silence, and raised to be an assassin. She is trained to hate the Doctor, so much so that she develops a deep obsession with him that, Stockholm-like, turns to love. Having tried, and nearly succeeded, in murdering the Doctor by poison, River donates her remaining regenerative energy to heal him. The Doctor then leaves her in the care of a convent hospital in the 51st century and leaves her to it.
River is a strong, intelligent, independent and joyful woman, a powerful female character and one that's actually able to face up to the Doctor at his own level. On the other hand, her love for the Doctor is, in part at least, the result of years of systematic abuse at the hands of a psychotic fringe organisation. The Doctor, keen to have the universe believe that he's dead, allows River to go to prison for “the rest of her days.” He might take great pleasure in taking on “her nights,” but still, he lets her sit in prison for years, for a crime she didn't commit, just to keep his profile down. This is not what can be described as a healthy relationship.
The affection the Doctor has for River is not in question. Aside from the fact that she is, post-Time War, the closest thing he has to an equal in the universe, he is clearly knocked out by her charms and resourcefulness. The Doctor, regenerated into a more gauche and naïve persona than before, is taken aback by this confident and sexual woman. Added to this that she knows considerably more about his future than he does, and he is understandably on the back foot throughout much of their relationship. On the other hand, the Doctor has encountered River at the very end of her life, and knowing her final fate has left him with a great deal of guilt that hangs over their time together. We see another side to River when the Doctor's not around. She admits to Rory – a father-daughter talk, although only one of them knows that at the time – that she was totally swept away when she first met the Doctor, a legendary man who knew everything about her. While they don't quite live their lives in the opposite direction as she says, the Doctor and River are forever out of sync, and there's a tragic impossibility about their relationship. Nonetheless, River is closer to the Doctor than almost anyone. For one thing, she knows his real name, a secret from the universe itself. For another, he chooses to marry her, and while this is of dubious legitimacy, both bride and groom seem to consider it to be binding.
The Doctor continues on with his travels, the universe at large considering him dead. He makes an attempt to erase himself from the records that is at once hugely thorough and half-arsed. He goes as far as to erase himself from the Inforarium, the greatest repository of knowledge in the universe, leaving one unfortunate archivist there trapped in an eternal loop of forgetfulness. His removal from the records also, for no well-defined reason, gets River off the hook for his murder. Nonetheless, he continues to charge around the universe getting into scrapes, and even if he does avoid calling himself “the Doctor,” his legend continues. Even the Daleks have their memories of him erased, only to regain them rapidly. As masterplans go, it's not the best thought out.
The eleventh Doctor, for all his enforced solitude at times, is perhaps the most eager to make friends. While Amy and Rory are his core team, he spends many years at a time going off with other people from throughout history. He teams up with such unlikely characters as John Riddell, a big game hunter, and Queen Nefertiti of Egypt. Bringing them in with Amy, Rory, and Rory's dad Brian, he rejoices at his new gang, but this isn't the only time he forms one. His assault force on Demon's Run is an unusual example, formed out of necessity, but it leads to the creation of a more regular associate group. The Paternoster Gang is the first equal-rights-for-monsters group we get in Doctor Who, with a human, a Silurian and a Sontaran among its ranks. While the Doctor still mocks Strax in a decidedly speciesist fashion, he's come a long way to even consider such a being as a friend. Jenny, Strax and Madame Vastra form a new “home team” for the Doctor, as does the new, revamped UNIT under Kate Stewart, and Sarah Jane Smith and her gang.
This care-free lifestyle can't carry on forever, though. Brian Williams (“I'm not a Pond!”) sees right through it. He confronts the Doctor on his lifestyle, and the Time Lord is forced to admit that yes, some of his companions have died. He promises to bring Amy and Rory back, but he fails. The machinations of the Weeping Angels in New York leads to Amy and Rory becoming trapped in the past, in a segment of space-time that the Doctor cannot visit. For all his ingenuity, even the Doctor cannot manipulate time enough to get back to them. The Doctor weeps for them, for from his perspective, they are dead. However, the Ponds lead a long, happy life together, adopting a child and finally moving on from the trauma of the abduction of their daughter. Amy makes her final, decisive choice and follows Rory, choosing a life with him over adventures with the Doctor.
The Doctor asks River to come with him, but she is too independent to become his full-time travelling companion. Nonetheless, it seems safe to assume that the bulk of the Doctor's time with River happens in this period, after his loss of Amy and Rory. While we know that he nips out at night while his companions are sleeping, we also know that there is a great deal more to their time together than we see. River certainly implies that she and the Doctor have a fully-fledged relationship, inarguably a sexual one, and they must spend far more time together than we see on screen. Even so, we do see the very end of their time together. In the “Last Night” DVD short, the Doctor finally takes River to Darillium, having put off the inevitable last date for as long as he could. From River's perspective, what comes next is a meeting with the previous Doctor at the Library, and her unavoidable death. For the Doctor, solitude. Having lost Amy and Rory, and now River, the Doctor retreats, abandoning a life of adventure and hiding out on a cloud above Victorian London. As bad as his “dark times” might be, the Doctor clearly doesn't really want to be alone. If he did, he would not have gone to hideout in one of the few places in the universe where he had friends. No, he has, subconsciously or otherwise, challenged his friends in the Paternoster Gang to bring him out of his depression. Fortunately for them, distraction is not far away, in the form of one Clara Oswald.
Clara is the latest of the Doctor's impossible girls. While her life is nothing bizarre or inexplicable, her appearance throughout the Doctor's timestream is anomalous. Jenna-Louise Coleman made no fewer than three “first” appearances in Doctor Who, first as Oswin Oswald, trapped in the Dalek Asylum, then as faux-governess Clara in Victorian London, and finally as Clara proper in the twenty-first century. In spite of their separation, communicating only by voice, the Doctor and Oswin have an immediate connection. She's another confident, intelligent and capable woman, and the Doctor can't help but be attracted to her. He loses her before he has her, as she has been transformed into a Dalek, a truly terrible fate. He gets a second chance in London in 1893, when he bumps into Clara, seemingly by chance, as he reluctantly investigates the matter of the killer snowmen. Again, he is swept away by this precocious young woman, but she is killed in the course of the adventure.
Meeting Clara is almost enough to bring him out of his doldrums, but it is his realisation that she is somehow the same woman as Oswin that galvanises him. Friendship is enough, neither is romance; this Doctor needs a mystery. The Doctor spends subjective months trying to track down another version of Clara, eventually, unwittingly, meeting her as a child. On her advice her goes to a quiet place to think about things, and holes himself up in a monastery. The Doctor is an obsessive, and Clara represents a new mission for him. Finally, she contacts him, given the TARDIS' phone number by an unknown “woman in a shop” (something still unexplained). His pursual of Clara is heavy-handed and unsettling, but she falls for his adventurous lifestyle. Both the Doctor and Clara are clearly attracted to one another, and come to be strong friends, but not before the Doctor risks alienating her by refusing to admit to his actions. He lies to her about his intentions, sneaking around behind her back in an attempt to work out who she is. He cannot accept the possibility that she is nothing more than an ordinary girl.
Finally, of course, the Doctor's destiny brings him and Clara to Trenzalore. The plans of the Great Intelligence, driven by madness and desperation, force the Doctor to explore his own tomb. Interestingly enough, he is already aware that he is destined to die on Trenzalore, and has been taking pains to avoid the world. We rarely see this Doctor so introspective, accept when he is facing death. He and Clara have never been closer than when the Doctor weeps at the prospect of reaching Trenzalore. We also see the depth of his feelings for River; even something so innocuous as referring to her as “an ex,” speaks volumes coming from the Doctor. On Trenzalore, reunited (one last time?) with River, a mere phantom, we see that the Doctor really does love her. He just cannot bring himself to say goodbye.
The Intelligence gains access to the Doctor's “corpse,” a rift in space-time left by the Doctor's tumultous existence. The Intelligence proceeds to retroactively destroy the Doctor, erasing him from history. The stars begin to go out, as all the Doctor's good deeds are wiped out. Whatever questionable things the Doctor has done, we are reminded that he has saved the universe numerous times, and without him, all of reality could be at risk. Facing this, Clara does the only thing she can do. She dives into the Doctor's timeline herself, becoming endlessly repeated throughout time (raising the possibility that she could meet herself someday). The Doctor is saved, again and again, by Clara, and in turn, saves her, but not before she learns something of the truth of his greatest secret.
The events of The Day of the Doctor not only give the Doctor the opportunity to completely come to terms with his actions in the Time War, they entirely rewrite his past and his future. Facing both his immediate predecessor, with his “vanity issues,” and his Warrior incarnation, the Doctor is able to accept the actions of previous iterations. He finally accepts the War Doctor as part of his own being, expunging the last of his lingering self-hatred regarding the War. Naturally, he will still harbour guilt following his many other actions in the War, but his decision to destroy Gallifrey is something he can finally move on from. He can accept that he made that terrible choice, but also found a way out. Abusing his time-travelling privalege more than ever before, the Doctor crosses his own timeline, bringing all his selves together to save Gallifrey, hiding it away in another space.
In the process, he alters his own timeline, both past and future. The Doctor was destined to die on Trenzalore; we've already seen the aftermath. With the Time Lords still in existence, he is given a “get out of jail free” card. The Doctor arrives on Trenzalore, his very presence the trigger for a centuries-long war between dozens of alien factions that threatens to erupt into a new Time War. It's the ultimate consequence of the Doctor's making enemies throughout the cosmos. For over three hundred years he defends the tiny human settlement of Christmas from the results of his own actions. It is, strangely enough, precisely what the Doctor needs. Following years of flightiness and adventure, he can, at last, settle down in one place and live a life. A dangerous, extended life, but a committed, comfortable one, nonetheless. The Doctor lives for centuries as the town's self-appointed mayor, befriending generations of children as a strange sort of cross between Gepetto and the War Doctor.
The Dark Design: The Doctor admitted way back in his third life that he has a dark side to his mind. In his eleventh life, the Dream Lord manifests as a personification of this darkness. The Dream Lord is an arrogant, spiteful mirror to the real Doctor, although he is isn't really all that dark. The worse he does is mock the Doctor and his companions and put them through a gruelling dream sequence. Traumatic, yes, but not actually dangerous. However, it's tempting to think that this is the first manifestation of the darkness that will one day become the Valeyard. Given time to fester, away from the Doctor's nobler side, who knows how vicious and vindictive he could become? There's another aspect to consider. The Valeyard was said to be from somewhere between the Doctor's “twelfth and final incarnations,” and the eleventh Doctor is, in fact, his twelfth incarnation and his original final life. It has been suggested that the Valeyard may have been created by experimentation by the final Doctor to try to extend his life. Add to that the fact that the Intelligence knows the name Valeyard from the Doctor's future – the future that should end on Trenzalore – and there's a possible explanation. What was the Doctor doing for all those centuries on Trenzalore? Surely he wasn't fighting aliens the entire time. Could the Valeyard have been created in this long exile, as an attempt to create a new, thirteenth regeneration?
The Doctor faces his final fate with dignity. The war with the Silence that has defined and directed this entire regeneration has brought him here, to the final moments of the centuries-long siege of Trenzalore, and he meets his end face on. He is the last Doctor, his regenerations expended, and having finally stopped running, he has earned his reward: to grow old. The Doctor gets the chance of a natural death from old age, something he never anticipated. Even the Dalek hoards haven't the courage to gun him down, fearing what other tricks he may have up his sleeve. He has none, but Clara has. Having returned to him, across time and space, Clara pleads to the Time Lords on the Doctor's behalf, and once again saves his life.
The Doctor receives a whole new life cycle, presumably granting him another twelve regenerations. Beginning its fifty-first year, Doctor Who secures its future, and no one need worry about his running out of lives anytime soon. Clara, of course, can understand the trials and traumas of regeneration more than most companions. She has, after all, been split into many iterations throughout time, and these have met all eleven of the Doctor's previous selves. Her memory of this may be fractured, but she has also met two other Doctor's face-to-face in this life. She has even seen her Doctor grow old in front of her. Nonetheless, how she will cope with her boyish best friend transforming into an middle-aged Scotsman remains to be seen.
The Doctor himself faces the end with quiet pride, celebrating his long life in this form with a quick bowl of fish fingers and custard. Trenzalore is saved, his future is secured, and somewhere, somewhen, Gallifrey is waiting. The Doctor goes on, but Matt Smith's time is done. At the same time, he was the youngest of the Doctors, and the oldest; the silliest and the wisest. It feels as though we never got to see all that he was capable of. He will be missed.
The Doctor is dead. Long live the Doctor.