Sunday, 11 January 2009

Matt Smith is the Doctor!

Well, it's been just over a week since the casting of the eleventh Doctor was announced, something which has seemingly split fandom and galvanized all manner of extreme opinions. What do I think? Strangely, I don't really have an opinion. I'd never even heard of Matt Smith before his name started cropping up in the rumours and the bookies' lists a couple of days before the announcement. I don't watch a lot of modern television, so I don't think I've ever seen him in anything. So I'm really in the position of having absolutely no preconceptions or prejudices. And part of me still clings to the belief that these highly-paid tv producers and executives must actually know what they're doing. (And as they've told us, Matt Smith's audition was fantastic.) If Steven Moffatt had made a completely disastrous choice, you'd think that Piers Wenger would have questioned it, or vice versa. They must be sure of what they're doing. Would the BBC really risk their flagship show and biggest cash-cow like that?

It's interesting to think back to some of the previous changes of Doctor. When I saw Jon Pertwee turn into Tom Baker at the tender age of 5, I had no idea beforehand that it was going to happen. I don't recall being stunned or upset by it, just amazed. I suppose at that age, I just accepted what happened in Doctor Who as part of the magic. (Of course, I had no idea that this had ever happened before. As far as I knew, Jon Pertwee was the first Doctor. It must have been Christmas the following year, when I got the Doctor Who Monster Book, that I first found out there had been four Doctors.) I remember asking my mum how they made Doctor Who's face change like that. She told me: "they put wires in his pants". I've since discovered this is untrue, and the realization that my mother could lie to me was quite shocking. In some way, it has justified every small fib and half-truth I've ever told her in the intervening years...

By the time of Baker's departure, I was a bit more aware of the world outside Doctor Who. So I knew that Peter Davison had been cast - I don't recall actually seeing it on the news, but certainly I read about it in DWM. I knew who he was, I'd seen him in All Creatures and some of those sitcoms he'd been doing. I don't recall having any particular preconceptions or worries about him taking over, but I suppose then, aged 11, I was too young to be cynical and was still largely in awe of everything I saw in Doctor Who. So I just went with it - the fact that I was instantly won over by the brilliance of Davison's performance helped there.

I know exactly where I was when I heard about Colin Baker's casting. I was sitting behind a desk in the door of my friend's dad's garage. (I have no idea why I was there, it was obviously part of some game we were playing.) My friend came out of his house and told me it had just been on the radio that Colin Baker was the new Doctor. I'd never heard of him - so a bit like the current situation. I'd been too young to have watched The Brothers or War and Peace. In retrospect, I realize I'd have seen his guest spots in Blakes 7 and Juliet Bravo, but of course, I wasn't looking at a potential Doctor then, so it hadn't really registered in that regard.

I was at work when I heard about Sylvester McCoy - this is a tale of me growing up with Doctor Who, isn't it...? I was in the canteen for lunch, and the story was in someone's copy of The Sun. The headline, I remember, was New Doctor Who is the Unknown McCoy. Again, I didn't know who he was, though I suppose I must have seen some of those children's shows he'd been in. I thought he looked good in the pictures, and the one fact that always struck me was that he'd trained as a priest. I remember thinking, Tom Baker used to be a monk. This must bode well. What odd thought processes we fans go through. But I recall being optimistic, until about five minutes into Time and the Rani, when it all started to unravel.... Still, we won't go there.

I can't recall when I heard about Paul McGann, but it wasn't much of a surprise. His name had been bandied about for some time. He was a fine actor, I'd seen him in some good roles, so there was nothing to worry about. By the time of ninth Doctor, the internet age was here. I'd heard the casting would be announced just after midnight, and I was sitting there (no doubt along with thousands of others) refreshing the BBC website until the news came up. The choice of Christopher Eccleston was unexpected, surprising even. Of course, I knew who he was... David Tennant was a completely different matter. No surprise there - let's face it, we knew it was going to be him even before we knew that Eccleston was leaving!

So I'm going into the whole Matt Smith thing without prejudice. Some people are going around trying to track down things he's been in, to watch and get some idea of what he's like. I say, why bother? You'll just end up with false impressions. Just wait for his debut as the Doctor. Some of the other comments erupting across the forums are strange. Is he too young? He's only a couple of years younger than Davison, who was brilliant, let's face it. I'm more surprised by the people who say he's ugly, or his face is strange. I'd say his face is interesting. I can certainly understand what Moffat says when he looks like he's young and old at the same time. And he does such weird things with his hands - let's hope he incorporates some of that into his performance. As for his looks, I point you to the stunning male models who were Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, etc... Does it matter what the Doctor looks like? I have to laugh at some of fandom's conclusions though. They've cast a young guy because they want to appeal to a teenage girl market. They've cast an ugly guy, so they're going to alienate the teenage girl market. Both at the same time, apparently. That should cancel both concerns out, surely...

So, welcome aboard the Tardis, Mr Smith.

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