My mother always told me that one day, a special man would come into my life. I might not like him very much at first, but little by little he’d work his way into my heart, and eventually I’d realise that I couldn’t imagine living without him.
And, Mum, you were right. Because it turns out Matt Smith does make a damn fine Doctor after all.
It wasn’t always this way. I fell hook, line and sinker for David Tennant’s tortured Time Lord in the rebooted Who. I celebrated and I suffered right along with him, because his heartfelt performance never failed to draw me in.
But then Tennant was gone and Smith appeared in his place. And at first I was OK with that. The Eleventh Hour, Smith’s first episode, gave us a man of action with a rakish smile, smart, enquiring eyes and a rather petulant tone. So far so good.
But the stories that followed brought us a lot of running around, lines that still seemed to be tailored to Tennant (absolutely not Smith’s fault) and altogether too much gabble. (Before you say it, I know Tennant could gabble, too. The difference was, when he did it, I could still hear what he was saying.)
In short, there was just far too much madness. And whenever the line “Trust me, I’m the Doctor” was trotted out, I found myself thinking, “Why? Why would anyone trust you? You are acting like a total and utter wally.”
Then, one day, I sat down with the series five box set to enjoy Arthur Darvill’s performance again. And something strange happened. I started to “get” Matt Smith’s Doctor.
I’m not sure what caused it. Because, clearly, he wasn’t doing anything different from the first time I watched him.
Maybe I just needed to see more than one episode at a time to appreciate the character Smith was building. Maybe the story arc was clearer second time round, so I had more time for the sideshow when I wasn’t trying to figure out what the heck was going on.
Certainly the writers have got better at crafting dialogue for the Doctor Smith has become, series six playing more to his skills than series five.
Though his performance has grown in gravity and conviction, and I love his dexterity, for me Smith’s greatest strength as the Doctor lies in his humour. There had, of course, been flashes of it before, but it came to the fore in The Lodger and helped to humanise his character. Before, the 11th Doctor had been too much “a mad man with a box”. Too alien. I struggled to see why anyone would follow this lunatic into the Tardis, let alone into peril.
There are still odd moments where I feel Smith hasn’t quite nailed it. These tend to be lingering emotional scenes (the death of the flesh Tardis in The Doctor’s Wife felt overblown; news of the Brigadier’s demise in The Wedding of River Song touched me not at all).
However, give him a big emotional development and only moments to react to it, and he’s spot-on: seeing the Dream Lord’s reflection instead of his own; being dragged, eyes filled with horror and feet scrabbling for purchase, into the Pandorica.
My colleague, Patrick, has written that he looks forward to seeing the Doctor play on a smaller stage in future. I certainly hope the writers will dial down the melodrama and allow Matt Smith to continue to find the sometimes simple, sometimes terrible beauty in those small – yet hugely important – moments. Trust him: he’s the Doctor.