My history as a Whovian is not that long-lived. I picked up the Doctor Who series one or two years ago and have been watching it sporadically — though faithfully — ever since.
Last summer, I worked my way through the entire recent series starting with the ninth doctor. Over a few days, I faithfully remained parked in front of my Netflix account and spoiled away my time with the Doctor and company. Slowly, over time, I became more and more engrossed in the series. It had the sort of whimsical novelty that other TV shows seem to lack. There is no need for plot congruity or for that matter even a stable timeline, because, after all, the Doctor time travels. Each episode provides a clincher at the end, and they never seem to repeat the same clincher more than once, which keeps the series fresh and interesting.
Understandably, like many Whovians, I was quite disappointed to find that at the end of the fourth season, David Tennant would be leaving his position as doctor and resigning it to a newcomer named Matt Smith.
I was skeptical at first, as was a large portion of the fanbase. No one knew this new Doctor. He was a stranger to us, and taking on the role of the much-beloved David Tennant would be daunting for even the most seasoned professional.
All the same, he seemed to take it in stride, and at the beginning of the fifth season, I found myself strangely fond of this new Doctor with his bow tie and his tweed jacket. There was something likeable about him, in a whimsical, alien sort of way that I couldn’t quite place. There was nothing that this new Doctor couldn’t fix, and no problem he couldn’t solve. It was like the pure fact of him being the doctor allowed him to surmount almost any problem — and for a while, that was okay — but it was in that fact that Smith’s weakness lay.
The thing we liked about Tennant wasn’t that he was perfect, or that he could fix anything with a wave of his hands and a shout of “I’m the Doctor!” It wasn’t his grand whimsy or his delighted smile whenever he found a new problem to solve. The thing that drew us to Tennant was his humanity. With one look, Tennant had the ability to bring an audience to their knees. In his eyes you could see the 900 years the Doctor had lived, all the trials he’d endured. Every loss, every grief, every guilt. Every hope and cherished memory. Every lost love. It wasn’t Tennant’s alienness that we loved. Quite the contrary, it was his humanity.
Up until last month, I still wasn’t sure that Smith had the same chops. I enjoyed watching him frolic with Amy and Rory, smile with every step, and solve each problem with a flourish and a shout of “I’m the Doctor!” There was something missing, though. A certain edge provided by Tennant that Smith still hadn’t quite mustered up to yet. All of that changed September 29 with an episode called “The Angels Take Manhattan.”
Anyone who watches the series regularly knows how special Amy and Rory were to the Doctor. Each and every interaction with them deepened the bond in a way we hadn’t quite seen before. It wasn’t as lighthearted as with Martha, and there wasn’t the weird, sexual tension subtext that we experienced with Donna or Rose. This was something different entirely. They were a family. They ate together, traveled together, lived, slept, laughed, and cried together, and throughout it all, they supported one another in a way that only a family can.
That is why I came apart right with the doctor when they disappeared, and for the first time, I saw Smith portray the sort of raw humanity that I wasn’t certain he was capable of. I can pinpoint in my mind, the exact moment where the Doctor’s heart broke — “Come along, Pond, please!” — and for that moment I was certain mine would too right along with it. I’m not ashamed to say I cried.
Matt Smith, you’ve won my heart. You deserve to win many others. May the Doctor live on.