Monday, September 19, 2011

The Moff, Matt Smith & Troughton Syndrome

This is a bit of a digression from my usual blogs in that it touches upon contemporary Doctor Who. It comes as the result of watching 'The God Complex' on Saturday & still being undecided about whether I like it or not. Then realising that without exception the one thing I always like in The Moff's era is Matt Smith, which got me thinking about Patrick Troughton.

I recently wrote two columns on Patrick Troughton for Starburst Magazine and I noted there that Patrick Troughton was what made the Patrick Troughton era so fondly remembered and that whilst there were a number of exceptional stories broadcast during the Second Doctor's era there was a lot of mediocre stories that were raised by Patrick Troughton. It wasn't so much that the scripts were great: a lot of them were pretty much the same story repeated but that the central performance was so good. That combined with an excellent chemistry with his various companions raised a lot of Troughton's stories above the average. Even in the poorer stories it is Troughton that brings a certain class to proceedings.

That's how I'm beginning to feel about The Moff and Matt Smith. After the RTD era came to an end there was a perceptible desire for a change. The Moff's pre-showrunner scripts were well loved. He was one of the few Doctor Who writers to play with the time-travel concepts of the show and there were high hopes that this would continue.

I'm not going to dismiss the whole Grand Moff era in one fell swoop. It's had some great stuff in it. I've been amused, entertained and moved a lot but...

There's something not quite right for me and I've found it hard to put my finger on it. In fact I'm not even sure I have but it just doesn't feel as good as it looks. I don't mind the smart-arse plotting. It isn't that hard to follow. I don't mind River Song. But it's just that the sum of its parts don't add up properly. Something feels askew.

But what always saves it is Matt Smith's wonderful performance. For example 'The God Complex' contains two great examples. One was the extended scene at the end where he talked Amy out of her faith in him - which reminded me of the Seventh Doctor's similarly themed scene with Ace in 'The Curse of Fenric'  and the other was the darker moment where he turned on Tibbis regarding his races genetic cowardice. You could glimpse then the fear that the Doctor can generate in that moment and Matt Smith never has to raise his voice.

I've come to enjoy the episodes not because of their plots or the over-dramatic story arcs but because of Matt Smith. I found myself waiting to see what he'll do. He doesn't always do what you'll expect but you can watch Matt Smith and convince yourself that here is an alien who just happens to look like a human being.

And whilst immediate judgements on Doctor Who stories are often wrong I suspect when we look back on the Matt Smith era it'll be remembered best not for the fireworks, the story arcs or its 'smoothness' but for Matt Smith (and as with Troughton the support he's got from his companions Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill).

In the end Doctor Who changes. It's flexibility means that we sometimes anchor ourselves to a particular era of Doctor Who and judge all that follows by those standards and we forget that Doctor Who isn't just for us but for everyone. I'm aware therefore that my criticisms are based on personal prejudice. I'm also aware that there has been much to admire with The Grand Moff's run. I find myself crying more than I ever have watching Doctor Who (and I'm a bit of a blubberer it must be admitted) but I also feel more obviously emotionally manipulated. There are big neon signposts marrked 'THIS IS EMOTIONAL' (as if they were Wayne's World's Oscar Nomination scene) and I think they would be insufferable if Matt Smith was not so good.

This is my first attempt to articulate my feelings about the current Doctor Who so forgive me if I have not quite made myself clear and - as always - feel free to disagree.

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