“Rose, before I go I just wanna tell you — you were fantastic…absolutely fantastic…and d’you know what? So was I.”
Christopher Eccleston spoke these as his last words as Dr. Who, delivering them with the energy and eccentricity that embodied his interpretation of the Doctor. Even though he had the appearance of a man, there was always something impossible to relate to - something alien. His character was defined by his actions and by those around him, rather than the exposition dialogue that came to cripple Tennant.
For Eccelstone’s reign was a brief one – a great explosion from nowhere and covering the BBC in its glorious embers – and he needed no longer.
“I don’t want to go.”
These, of course, are the last words of David Tennat and also go some way to summarising his Doctor. Tennant was a passionate fan and he conveyed this through his commitment and enthusiasm. However, at some point, these traits seem to have tarnished his stay – for me, at least.
Whereas Ecclestone was Russell T. Davies’ primordial Doctor, Tennat came to be his fully realised form. Unfortunately, what Davies believed the Doctor to be was contrary to my own.
I’m all too familiar with liking things that embarrass me. An avid wrestling and Weezer fan, I’m constantly exposed to disappointment in what I want these things to be. A reviewer once said of a particularly awful episode of Raw that, to separate himself from his investment and unconditional love for wrestling, he imagined what he would feel like if someone came in – who knew nothing about wrestling – and watched the program with him. He concluded he would feel overwhelmingly embarrassed.
But loving these things is inescapable because we know when the things we love are good there’s nothing better.
Lost – another example – when compared to its first season, is so off the mark of what originally made it so inventive. But now, after 4 seasons of testing and inconsistencies, we are beginning to be rewarded. For when Lost is on form, and to experience that as a devotee, the effect is unrivalled.
Too many times did I watch Dr. Who and have to select its good parts, not having enjoyed the episode as a whole. Davies’ tendency to dip all in sentiment and force an overly liberal agenda prevented that.
And when was Dr. Who genuinely scary? A few episodes aside (most notably Blink), tension was built by shots of running and the most intrusive soundtrack since, well…Lost.
Near the end of Tennant and Davies, Dr. Who was almost unbearable. Enjoyment was instead from Cribbens or bringing back classic villains. Even John Simms felt somehow wasted.
And their parting note – the most self-indulgent montage ever endured – typified the series that preceded it. Jokes that were visibly trying to be funny, Catherine Tate, plots that didn’t feel either necessary or sufficient and far, far, far too much sentiment.
Of course I welled up at Tennat’s last scene, and of course I jumped up and cheered when the Timelords returned, but that is only because I am a delusional fan – a fan so starved for quality that I mistake morsels of it for genius.
Tennant overstayed his welcome, as did Davies, and still had the tenacity to declare neither wanted to leave. Emotional, sure. Probably true to life also. But, on reflection and not whisked up in the feeling of it all, this is a tarnish. Why end such a significant part of the Doctor with this line of lingering? As poignant as it was, it devalues the work they both put in. Tennant lost some of his dignity there. Not bowing out as nobly as Ecclestone, pleading for a few more scenes after those few scenes too many.
And this is the other fault in Davies and Tennant’s interpretation and portrayal of the Doctor – he was far too human. He felt too much. And as Tennant’s face was permanently so expressive, he showed every microscopic occurence of that feeling. He may have been eccentric at times, but only ever in his energy or knowledge. He never, say, asked which part of the jelly baby you would like, or ate fish fingers dipped in custard.
This is what makes the great incarnations of the Doctor so great; their noticable difference from the human characters. That’s what made Ecclestone so menacing, Pertwee so suave and Baker (the Tom one) so engaging. Tennant was simply a very nice guy, confusing quantity (running, eyebrows, Segways, holding his mouth open like Munch’s Scream whenever saying ‘weeeeell’) for quality.
This is Davies’ fault as much as it is Tennant’s, maybe more so. And this new regime of both Doctor and show runner (as they would say in America) appears to run far deeper than just actor and narrative.
The Eleventh Hour was superb from the first electronic waves of the theme tune – which too has been revamped. The cinematography seemed film-like rather than the noticable sets that reeked earlier episodes. The soundtrack, although present, wasn’t even half as intrusive. The editing was more efficient – quicker for shots of action (still, unfortunately, quite limited to running) – but also allowed itself to linger on moments of enchantment. Near the end, as the Doctor asks Amy to come with him in the TARDIS, he is shot in profile. Matt Smith’s face is naturally odd and the contours of his forehead seem to pulse the exact other-worldliness that is so vital for the Doctor. He motions the idea of space travel with a glint in his eye, and the editing holds this. Slightly longer, only a second or so, than economical editing would allow, which makes the moment all the more mythical.
These things we love often come from our childhood. Both wrestling and Weezer were my vices from 10 – 15 and I had neither the experience or critical ability to recognise their flaws. The same is true for the Dr. Who repeats I used to watch on UK Gold when I was even younger. The postcard of McCoy’s assistant, Ace, the TARDIS play set that flashed its blue light, the Dalek video box set that I watched in the excess that only a child can.
When we grow out of them, the love remains as nostalgia. Sometimes we return to them, or in Dr. Who’s case, they return to us. When they do, we still have the love, but we have the hindering experience that maturity brings. As remnants of our childhood, one has a fixed notion of what they can and should be. Just like when Christopher Nolan captured a shared notion of what Batman should be in his interpretation
In their first proper outing, Steven Moffat and Matt Smith laid some solid foundations. Amongst the episode specific qualities of an actually scary antagonist and a story that holds together, the new era’s characters have been introduced. What is so special, however, is that the human characters come across as they should do – not as the caricatures of Davies. And the one character that shouldn’t come across as human, didn’t. Matt Smith, in his awkward bow tie and tweed, exuding the confidence of the Doctor that has inhabited so many before his present form, physically and metaphorically bursting through and out of his predecessors.
This is who the Doctor is.