Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Problem I Have With Matt Smith

Okay, if you follow my blog or at least skim the articles every now and then, you know that I am both a film critic who will write essays about a movie and filmmaking in general and that I am a fan of Doctor Who, and if you know why I hate Steven Moffat then you have seen those two sides of me collide. So, that being said, I'm about to write an essay justifying my general distaste for Matt Smith's Doctor.
Okay, Tennant was the best. Anyone who says otherwise is just wrong and that's that. Nobody has ever played The Doctor better than he has and thus there's no point in comparing Matt Smith to him because that would be ridiculous. Instead, I'm going to talk about why exactly he fails at being as good as some of the other Doctors, starting with #9.
See, when Russel T. Davies sat down to resurrect the show (some might say that it regenerated), he decided that an important thing to do away with was the silly clothing, because silly clothing is gimmicky and the show wanted to instead focus on The Doctor's actual character, so Christopher Eccleston's 9th Doctor wore a simple leather jacket, jeans, a purple T-Shirt and some nice black boots. It was casual, it was cool, it didn't get in the way of the show and Christopher Eccleston had room to act, and he actually manages to act really well. His Doctor managed to be both quirky and at the same time powerful, where he could dance around the scenery pointing out how an alien looked silly, but at the same time he commands a level of respect and you don't want to get on his bad side in any way. Notice how Rose never gets too close to him, and how her friendship with Tennant's Doctor is much stronger. It's clear that while she loves him and is comfortable with him, there's also a slight sense that she's afraid of him, but not in the sense that she's afraid of him hurting her so much as afraid that he won't like her. He commands respect out of people, and sooner or later people start listening to what he has to say. He's the kind of guy that can say something like, "With that comment, you've lost the right to speak to me." and the person he's saying it to will take it seriously. However, he can also dance to fifty's rock music and breath on a bunch of tree people while smiling away, and that gives him a great sense of fun, like he sort of laughs at himself on the inside. This all made it perfect so that when his rage came in, or when he freaked out about the Daleks, you, the viewer, took it seriously. He managed to play the part so that even though the monster in question is a garbage can with a plunger sticking out the front of it, you fully believe that it is one mean motherfucker. He manages to actually act, because he is, you know, an actor, and he does it well enough that it can make the audience lose its sense of the inherent silliness of the show and start to take its low budget sets and monsters seriously. That's the sign of a good Doctor.
Matt Smith is none of the good things I mentioned up there. He's pretty much all quirk with little actual character to him, and whenever they make him brood over anything it always comes out sounding silly, because he works quite hard to establish himself as someone who is not to be taken seriously in any way. One of his very first scenes involves him throwing a piece of toast out the door and shouting, "And stay out!" followed by him becoming his companion's bitch within the episode, and further solidifying himself as her bitch throughout her whole run until she finally dies and he goes and becomes Clara Oswin's bitch. Matt Smith doesn't command any kind of respect whatsoever really, and even the characters know it. With the other Doctors, eventually they can get everyone to shut up and listen to them, whereas I don't think a single character takes Matt Smith seriously. Amy pokes fun at his bow tie and lack of any kind of dominant features, River frequently dominates him to the point of flying his TARDIS for him, Rory establishes himself as being fairly intelligent right away and makes The Doctor look stupid, and Clara, oh god don't even get me started on Clara. That respect-the element that made Eccleston and many of the other Doctors cool-is totally missing from Matt Smith. He's not The Doctor, he's fucking Inspector Gadget, bumbling around like a moron while his companions go and fix everything for him.
I mentioned earlier that the show tried to avoid the gimmick of having the character dress in a silly fashion, and Matt Smith totally un-did all of that, though that was probably Moffat's fault (that fucker). In fact, they got even more gimmicky than the classic series with its costume stuff. The Fourth Doctor is known for his long, colorful scarf which is mentioned (as far as I've seen) only about two or three times, and one of those times was by the Fifth Doctor, who was remarking that he wished he still had it because it was cold out, not even pointing out that it was a big silly colorful scarf. Tom Baker didn't go around shouting, "I wear a scarf now, scarves are cool." he just wore his scarf and that was that, and nobody questioned it because he's The Doctor, damnit, and he'll wear any kind of silly scarf he pleases. The Fifth Doctor also wore a stick of celery, that did serve an actual purpose though he did occasionally make up fake purposes sarcastically.
Going back to what I said earlier about Matt Smith instantly and always being bested by his companions, I don't want to give off the impression that I think The Doctor needs to be a strong male hero who makes the women always look stupid and weak. Donna Noble is a great example of a companion who was The Doctor's equal and the two had a level of mutual respect for one another. Donna knew not to fuck with The Doctor because he'll commit genocide one day and burn down pompei the next, and The Doctor knew that he couldn't just assert himself higher than her and expect her to do what he says because she will demand that he turn the TARDIS around and go and save somebody. They have what's called chemistry, something that characters should generally have with one another. Another great example of that happening is in The Key to Time series of the classic show, where The Doctor is forced by the White Guardian to be paired up with Romana, who instantly starts going off on him about how he's old fashioned and self centered and he in turn asserts that he's wiser and she's just a young twerp who hasn't seen anything yet, and throughout the course of the series they begin to gain a mutual understanding of one another, where Romana can appreciate The Doctor's recklessness and direct approach to things while The Doctor can appreciate her confidence and intelligence, and they make a kick ass team. Matt Smith just gets pushed around by everyone and a bunch of fans just say it's cute, totally ignoring the fact that this is an 1150 year old Time Lord who's committed genocide countless times, including on his own race and he's being dominated by a stuck up girl from Scotland.
It goes even further than that though, to the point where, when compared to the other Doctors, Matt Smith is just kinda empty. Let's take a look at the various Doctors from the past and see what trait of theirs really defines them. The first one was old and grumpy, the second one was adventurous, the third one was serious, the fourth one was witty, the fifth one was crazy, the sixth one was irritable and snide, the seventh one was very matter-of-fact, I never saw the eighth one, the 9th was silly and serious at the same time, and the tenth was a perfect mix of all the best parts from every single Doctor before him. I know I said I wouldn't do this so I'll make it brief: he was just perfect. He had the depth of the Ninth Doctor, the occasional recklessness of the Fifth Doctor, the wit of the Fourth, the cool of the Seventh, and the adventure of the Second. He didn't just have them though, he balanced them. They weren't just occasional cool moments, each of them added up to become his personality and as a result, we got the most real feeling Doctor we've ever had. He feels like he could be an actual person because he's layered like an actual person. There is just so much depth to David Tennant's Doctor that I could write a whole essay on it. Matt Smith on the other hand desperately tries to juggle all of these elements but frequently he just drops them to the floor and tries to play it off like he's the klutzy Doctor who can't do it when in fact he's both a combination of bad acting and bad writing, and it's a shame, really.
All of that being said, I do enjoy Matt Smith from time to time, and he's started to get more interesting in the most recent season but every time I watch an episode of the new season, I breath a sigh of longing for the Davies era, when the episodes and the character were smart and could be lighthearted while tackling dark concepts and deep philosophy at the same time, as opposed to the current day when it's all about making the scariest CG monster the budget can afford and having The Doctor shout catchphrases for forty three minutes.

4 comments:

  1. On the up side. Since David Tennant was a real actor and RTD was a sadistic SOB they indulged in a whole lot of gratuitous audience abuse. They probably considered it using Tennant's acting range but I still can't re-watch End of Time. Of course I can't re-watch any of season 6 either..it's too stupid. Now I feel no emotional connection to any of the characters so meh.

    About the stupid catch phrases and ridiculous outfits. Moffat has always had his eye on branding the Doctor. His catchphrases fit really well on tee shirts. My son has a "wibbly wobbly timey wimey" one, my daughter, a "Don't Blink". If you go to comic-con it's a lot easier to be recognized in a stupid bow tie and tweed jacket than a black leather jacket and jeans.We tried it last year with all three doctors, Rose and River. They were pretty much recognized in reverse order. Perhaps BBC has decided that is all they need. Moffat only has to write stories that will put the concept of the Doctor out there. The stories do not need to have value in and of themselves. People will buy into the brand. I dressed as River Song even though I dislike her and what they did to the character because I knew people would recognize her as part of our group..she was branding. I think that is all Moffat and BBC are after and that is sad.

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  2. I think a lot of the issues I've had with the Eleventh Doctor have more to do with how Moffat has written him than with Matt Smith himself. If you're given shit to work with, there's only so much you can do with it-shit in, shit out. The way that RTD wrote Ten made the Doctor believable as a genius. It felt like there was some actual science to the science fiction. Whereas I feel like Moffat has written the Doctor as someone who's clever but mostly gets lucky. To me it feels like Moffat has replaced the science part with overly complicated soap opera drama. I don't mind complicated stories if they have depth and force you to think about bigger issues, but what I don't like about Moffat's writing is that it just seems like he enjoys writing complicated stories only for the sake of them being complicated. Somewhere along the way, I think the all the complicatedness took over the characters themselves. To his credit, he's good at coming up with creepy memorable villains, but that's about it. His writing worked when RTD was running things because it was only the occasional episode. There's very little depth to his writing. I also have a HUGE problem with how he writes women. I could go off for days about River, Amy, and Clara, so I'll spare you the tirade. All I'll say is I think that Moffat could really benefit from some help from someone like Joss Whedon who does a phenomenal job at writing female characters.

    But anyway, I'm honestly not sure anyone could have filled David Tennant's shoes. He WAS the Doctor. There's just no arguing that. If Matt Smith came in and tried to play the Doctor the exact same way it would have failed miserably. I think Eleven had to be a very different Doctor, so I don't mind that he's silly and clumsy. What I do mind is that Eleven isn't respected by the other characters. Now, maybe Matt Smith can't pull off the "don't fuck with me" vibe in the same way David Tennant or Christopher Eccleston could, but I suspect it has more to do with Moffat having less of a deeper understanding of who the Doctor is as a character (compared to RTD) and also with him writing companions that don't respect the Doctor. I think the reason why Matt Smith's Doctor doesn't have as many layers and complexities as David Tennant's is because Moffat doesn't write the Doctor that way. I dunno, maybe Matt Smith is the problem, but given all of Moffat's faults and the sheer number of Doctor Who fans who have a lot of the exact same complaints about what he's done to the show, I'm hesitant to shoulder the blame on Matt Smith.

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  3. I always suspected that 11's clumsiness, awkwardness, and complete lack of respectability was Moffat projecting himself onto the character (and it also leads into why he represents women the way he does). There have been little hints here and there that point to the fact that Moffat is, or at least was for a very long time, incredibly socially awkward. For example, season 5 often calls a strange amount of attention to Amy being a Scottish girl in an English village, and seeing that Moffat is also Scottish, I'm pretty sure that's what he was as a kid. I mean, why else would he constantly point that out? Then I noticed that every love interest character is a hot girl who unconditionally falls in love with The Doctor and flirts with him no matter how much he flirts back, as well as being incredibly domineering. Now, I was very socially awkward for a long time (though thankfully I got over that stupid shit) and back then I would constantly wish that a girl would come by and do all of those things that Moffat's love interests do. The end result is that it feels like erotic fanfiction written by Steven Moffat, a way for him to fulfill all of the things that he always fantasized about. Once I realized that, it's made watching any of his episodes incredibly awkward as I see Moffat wherever The Doctor or Rory are. So take comfort in the fact that when Moffat writes a horribly sexist female character, it isn't because he hates women. It's because he's jerking off to it.

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  4. I never looked at it like that before! Wow, that does make it kind of awkward watching his episodes now...Makes perfect sense though. Thanks for the response!

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