“You do not require tea”
There is one Labour MP with whose judgements I agree so often that I have bemoaned his failure to run for the leadership of the party. I refer, of course, to Tom Harris, and to his opinions of Doctor Who.
His review of Matt Smith’s first series is terrific. He tells how he asked Steven Moffat, the series producer and a friend of his, “Isn’t Matt Smith too young to play the Doctor?”
Yes, of course Matt Smith is too young. So was David Tennant, so was Tom Baker, so was William Hartnell. The Doctor is 900 years old! I tried to cast a 900-year-old man, I really did, but he just wouldn’t return my calls …
And Harris goes on:
Doubt remained as to whether this relatively unknown young actor could really pull it off. It turns out we needn’t have worried our pretty little heads. I have rarely enjoyed anyone’s performance as much as I did Smith’s during the first episode of season five, The Eleventh Hour. How on earth can anyone that young give a performance that leaves the audience genuinely perplexed as to how old he is? He was ancient and a teenager at the same time. More importantly, fifteen minutes into the episode, his age mattered not a jot; he was the Doctor, and he was brilliant! Part of the charm is that he doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing himself; he’s a mad professor who is genuinely, 24-carat mad.
He’s also very funny and charming, as the Doctor, of course, must be. And while there are shades of the character’s previous incarnations – specifically Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker – Smith’s performance is 100 per cent his own. Bloody marvellous, in fact. He makes every single scene completely watchable, irrespective of what’s actually going on.
I’m not sure that the Vincent van Gogh episode was the highlight of the season, although it had its moments. The one with the Daleks pretending to help Winston Churchill out in the Second World War so that they could take over the world was pretty good. In particular the line delivered in what Chambers Dictionary calls “a harsh staccato voice” (I had to look up whether Dalek was spelt with an initial capital) when the Doctor had hit a servant-Dalek with a sledgehammer:
You do not require tea.
And I think Harris is characteristically generous in his assessment of Moffat’s genius:
Not for him the ratcheting up of the drama, the emotion and the special effects, putting the Doctor into an unwinnable and inescapable situation, only to have him escape by reversing the polarity of the neutron flow or some other unexplained and unconvincing McGuffin. Instead, he thinks about the plot from a million different angles and constructs the plot arc, not as a single theme running through the season, but as a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional construct with a tight logic that can be just about explained with the right standard of writing.
Some of Moffat’s devices are unconvincing McGuffins after a moment’s thought, although not perhaps as unconvincing as some of the plot lines of the later Russell T Davies, brilliantly satirised by the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (this second part of the skit on the indulgent nonsense of RTD’s swan song is priceless).
But Harris is right that Moffat is an outstanding dramatist, who has taken the franchise to new heights, led by the genius casting of Matt Smith, who has more range than David Tennant and more strangeness than Christopher Ecclestone. Smith is already the second-best Doctor ever, just behind Ecclestone (who gains extra bonus points for his courage in reviving the series), Tennant and Jon Pertwee.*
*Yes, I am that old.Tagged in: doctor who, tom harris
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