It’s almost impossible to disentangle the qualities of Smith’s tenure as the Doctor from Moffat’s reign as showrunner; they fit each other so well, both in their qualities and their flaws. For some time, it really looked like the eleventh Doctor could become the definitive Who; the standard to judge all the others by. But Smith’s legacy suffers from the fact that something went awry in the writing of the last series; that for all the enjoyable twists and flips as they were in flight, very few episodes nailed the landing.
Because when the script was missing something and the momentum was gone, Smith had a tendency to … well, turn it up to Eleven. He’d overcompensate for the exposition dumps and the gaps in narrative sense, twirling and gurning and SHOUTING A LOT and tripping over his own elbows. He would do Hair Acting.
(It also didn’t help that he was forced to spend the past half-season playing Unsettlingly Creepy Doctor, time-stalking a young woman for reasons the plot never quite seemed to justify.)
To an extent, the show’s suffered under the weight of its own ambition (a pretty laudable reason). Ultimately, the Moffat/Smith years have fundamentally been about story. Not just the giddy, headlong rush of Moffat’s narrative, but the idea of story as a living, breathing thing - a force of nature in its own right. In Moffworld, the Doctor’s superpower isn’t his mind or his two hearts or his sonic screwdriver; it’s that he’s a legend. He’s a fable passed down the generations, “a goblin, or a trickster”, the thing monsters have nightmares about, the reason our language has the word “doctor”.
It’s funny; for all his Doctor has been at the centre of big, complex story arcs, it’s the quieter stuff I’ll miss; his fairytale-wizard-like empathy with children, his physical and social klutziness, his nerdy enthusiasm underlying his declarations that something else is now cool. I’ll remember his Doctor for telling the young Amy a bedtime story, for showing Van Gogh his legacy, for every conversation he had with the TARDIS in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, for dropping the mic before delivering an epic call to arms.
Given Quatermass’ ground-breaking achievements it is unsurprising that renowned figures such as Stephen King and John Carpenter have utilised, cited and even referenced it. However it is Doctor Who that bears the strongest familial bond to Kneale’s creation, which it mined for inspiration proudly. The Ambassadors of Death; The Seeds of Doom; Spearhead from Space; Image of the Fendahl and even The Lazarus Experiment draw greatly from Quatermass, and you can look out for direct nods to the character in Remembrance of the Daleks and Planet of the Dead.
Indeed, the Doctor’s exile during Pertwee’s tenure was done by the production team, in part, to emulate the feel of the Quatermass stories and Doctor Who’s historic efforts to develop visual effects clearly mirror Quatermass’ own production. It can even be argued that the character of the Doctor owes a lot to the character of Quatermass. Kneale himself may not have been an admirer, but whilst Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert may be considered the parents of Doctor Who it can also be seen that Kneale, Cartier and Quatermass are its grandparents. But the success of Doctor Who isn’t the greatest single legacy that Quatermass left.
Doctor Who may not have even existed had Quatermass not won Kneale’s battle to prove the potential of sci-fi for mainstream BBC. Quatermass was hugely popular, achieving eleven million viewers in these early days of mainstream TV. Not only were people watching the Quatermass stories but they were talking about them too – reportedly emptying pubs whilst the show was on. Hereford City Council proposed an early adjournment in order to see the show and Kneale even had a request from someone asking to know the resolution as they would miss it on account of becoming a nun!
The Blue Box podcast discusses the tenth Doctor’s first season. There’s an interesting suggestion that “New Earth” wasn’t the right story to introduce the tenth Doctor, especially as he was taken over by Cassandra. It would have made a great mid-season romp.
Generally a Doctor’s second story is important with establishing the character. Consider “The Ark in Space”, “The End of the World” and (even) “The Beast Below” Each illustrated the new Doctor’s character. “New Earth” was a fun romp.
In that moment, at least, the line between the character and Doctor Who becomes momentarily clearer. Tucker is the same basic fantasy - the hypercapable man who can figure out a way out of any problem with his wits and charm. But where Tucker’s charm requires a swearing consultant, the Doctor is, ultimately, a fantasy of a wonderful hero - one whose charm is, in fact, the very fact that he is fun. Malcolm Tucker saves the world through aggressive and cruel political savvy. The Doctor saves it by being wonderful. That they’re both inhumanly clever is only one distant point of similarity.
Not that this gives us any clue to what the twelfth Doctor will be like.
"The 12th Doctor’s new look is really interesting. It’s a classic early skinhead look, which started to appear in the late 1960s (in Earth’s timeline, that is). These days people think of the skinhead movement as being associated with racial violence and far-right politics, but in the beginning it wasn’t like that.
"The style grew out of the harder end of mod, but also took in fashion and musical influences from Jamaican culture. These were kids wearing classic British bands, like Crombie and Dr Martens, but also listening to ska and rocksteady and wearing elements of Jamaican rudeboy style, such as sharp tonic suits (made with shiny two-tone fabric) and porkpie hats.
One of the watchwords we have this year is there are consequences for choosing to live like this. It’s not a fairytale. If you have people back home, if you run away it’s going to have an effect on them. And it’s not necessarily always going to be lovely. And does the Doctor make you better?
The TARDIS/wardrobe to Narnia connection has always been an obvious one, but it’s never been one the series has been particularly eager to explore, and certainly not one the series has ever just decided to ground itself in. And it’s a huge shift from the Davies era. Under Davies, the TARDIS is the vehicle that gets you out of a humdrum working or lower middle class existence. Now, suddenly, the TARDIS is the Hogwarts Express. […]
And it’s clear from the start that this is an approach that has been thoroughly thought through. Leadworth itself harkens back to this as well. For all that the Davies era positioned the TARDIS as the escape from menial drudgery, it was in practice always assembled out of other bits of television. It’s not that Leadworth is something that has never been seen before on television, but rather that it’s difficult to read Amy as a character from some other television show who has unexpectedly been mashed into Doctor Who. Instead Amy, along with Leadworth, are visibly storybook characters. They exist not in a primarily televisual tradition, but in an essentially literary one.
The usual tagline for this is “fairy tale,” and it’s a reasonable term, but its use as a slogan for the era obscures much of what is actually going on in these stories. “Children’s adventure fiction” would be a more honest description, but it’s not as good a brand. The point, however, is more the contents than the label: the familiar and august body of stories in which someone, often a child, finds some eccentric space that allows access to another world: a wardrobe, a rabbit hole, the portal to Annwn, or whatnot, and crosses over to have adventures. This is not new ground for Doctor Who by any measure, but the decision to situate the show within one of its oldest and most iconic influences feels strangely fresh. The initial stakes of the era are sensible and, perhaps more to the point, compelling: the Doctor failed to take a child with him, and now must make it up to her adult self, changing Amy Pond back to Amelia. It’s too early to say with any certainty how this will play out, or how it will respond to the unfinished business of the Davies era. But it is, at least, interesting and, in its first big statement, compelling and entertaining.
Much was made of Moffat’s description of his Doctor Who as being a “dark fairy tale”. “The Eleventh Hour” establishes what this means: escaping into other worlds and what happens when children grow up.
In the same scene, Astrid questions whether the Doctor is a doctor of Law or Divinity. The Doctor’s reply, ‘Whose law? Whose divinity?’, is, as Mark Gatiss observed after the screening, a mission statement for the character. It is an utterly Troughton moment – full of charm, and delivered with the kind of lightness of touch that belies not only the cleverness of the character but also the cleverness of the performance.
There are some quotes that become integral with how we understand Doctor Who. This scene has now joined that collection.
That’s that then – everyone says, in Tombstone, in Little Hodcombe – shaking hands, exchanging quips. We sense that our time travellers won’t spare their latest adventure another thought. Not every Doctor Who story has to be profound, or offer some moral message, but they ought to make us feel something as the final credits roll. If they don’t, then you might as well say that the most significant thing about them is the planet on which they happen to be set.