A Word of Warning: Ahead, there be spoilers.
When I was much younger than I am now, and after having discovered the joys of a funny old British sci-fi show entitled Doctor Who on my beloved local PBS station, I witnessed the following:
What you see there is the fourth Doctor, as played by the legendary Tom Baker, regenerating into Peter Davison, the fifth Doctor (well, technically, it’s the fourth Doctor regenerating into the Watcher, who regenerates into the fifth Doctor. Don’t ask). This was difficult for me to watch for a few reasons. First of all, Tom Baker was my Doctor. I vaguely remember seeing an episode or two with Patrick Troughton (second Doctor), and I know I saw at least a couple of episodes with William Hartnell (first Doctor) before PBS settled into the Tom Baker years. But once Baker hit the screen, I was hooked. The hat, the scarf, the jelly babies. Plus, it was the first time we’d seen the Doctor as a fun-loving guy. The first Doctor was the wise old man, a sense of which we all still have of the Doctor, somewhere beneath whatever personality has taken over since. We still see him as that wise old man underneath all the silliness. The second Doctor was the mad scientist, the third Doctor was all business. But the fourth Doctor seemed to genuinely enjoy flying through space and time in a bright blue Police Box. And who wouldn’t? Sure the fourth Doctor had moments of seriousness (usually whenever anyone tried to fuck with Sarah Jane Smith), but he had this overall childish charm about him, which I loved.
So, after many episodes (seriously, Baker portrayed the Doctor in over 170 episodes), he was definitely my Doctor. So when the time came, as it inevitably does for every Doctor, that he must regenerate to stay alive, it was a rough moment for me. I felt so betrayed, so violated. Here was this Doctor that I had grown to love and admire and he was being taken from me. It wasn’t the same as when any of the previous Doctor’s regenerated, because none of those other Doctors were my Doctor. This was my Doctor, and he was regenerating into someone else entirely. I swore I wouldn’t like this new Doctor. Peter Davison? Who the hell does Peter Davison think he is, coming in here and replacing Tom Fucking Baker? What an asshole.
But I grew to appreciate Davison, as I grew to appreciate the remaining Doctors as well. The great thing about Tom Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor was the fun and silliness that he brought to it, as I mentioned above. But that fun and silliness has stayed with the Doctor throughout all later regenerations, in some detail. Maybe not Paul McGann (eighth Doctor). I don’t remember the movie very well, as it’s been a long time, but as I recall, Paul McGann’s Doctor was a bit over-serious. I may be wrong.
But in 2005 when the series Doctor Who itself regenerated (see what I did there?), Christopher Eccelston (ninth Doctor) brought some of that fun-loving nature back into the role. The ninth Doctor, for me, was the most intense Doctor. This was a version of the Doctor who had definitely seen some shit (some shit = the Time War and the death of every other living Time Lord). But there are still episodes where he’s able to crack jokes and have a good time. That’s an element that is vital to the Doctor, I feel. It’s humanizing.
Enter David Tennant (tenth Doctor). I think it’s fair to say that David Tennant is the Tom Baker of this new generation of Doctor Who fans. Tennant has had the longest run of these new Doctors, much as Baker held the longest run in the old series. He was much more upbeat and cheerful than the Doctor that came before him, though he also held on to the ability to be somber and reflective. Tennant had the uncanny talent of combining personality traits from several of the past Doctors into one being. So, it’s clear why so many people love him.
That’s David Tennant regenerating into Matt Smith (11th Doctor). This regeneration was met with a few different reactions, that I have heard. The loudest one being an outcry of mourning the loss of “the best Doctor ever” that was marred by a tint of absolute rage toward Matt Smith and the BBC.
I was also quite sad to see Tennant go. I love everything he did as the Doctor and some of the best episodes of Doctor Who, and I mean EVER, came and went under his flag (if you’ve never seen Blink, then you’re doing yourself a disservice). But you see, I had already experienced this pain. I had already felt this sense of betrayal, this unfounded hatred of an actor I had never even seen before (well, Smith had briefly appeared in a previous episode of Doctor Who), so I was already well aware that it would pass, if I was only able to give the new guy a chance.
A lot of the new fans have embraced Matt Smith, some are even calling him their Doctor, which is wonderful. But there remains a large cross-section of fans that are holding on to the Tennant years so tightly, that they can not see how much of his portrayal of the Doctor is still very much alive within Matt Smith’s performances. You must remember that this is the same character. Each actor brings something different to the table, but in essence, it’s the same guy with a different face, and so far, each actor has done a decent-to-phenomenal job of working that fact into their performance. I know people who stopped watching the show completely after Tom Baker’s regeneration. These people have never seen any of the following Doctors, they never saw the 1996 movie with Eric Roberts as The Master, they’ve never seen any of these new episodes at all. All because, simply put, why bother? “If Tom Baker isn’t the Doctor, I’m just not interested.”
And I’m finding this to be true of this new generation of Whovians. Many seem to have adopted a “if it’s not Tennant, I simply don’t care” view of the show, and I feel horrible for them. Because there have been some truly amazing episodes to come out of this “Matt Smith era” and I feel as though they are either not able to fully enjoy them, or even worse, not watching them at all. Sometimes as a fan of something, you need to loosen your grip on it, just a bit, to fully enjoy it. If one takes a step back and looks at the greater picture, they are often able to find more enjoyment in it.
So, for those of you out there who dislike Matt Smith because he’s Matt Smith and you don’t like him, that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, especially regarding something of fandom. But if you dislike Matt Smith for no other reason than he is not David Tennant, I implore you; Please rethink it. Please go back to the start of Smith’s run and try to watch these episodes with fresh eyes. Because they’re really something magical.
And to those of you who are huge Matt Smith fans and who want him to play the Doctor forever, hold on. Your time of outrage is coming, as well.