Dear Steven Moffat: Goodbye to the Gallifreyan Ganglinoid

Goodbye to the Gallifreyan Ganglinoid
Dear Steven,

I’m just a fortnight into my holiday from Doctor Who yet you won’t let me rest; you had to make an announcement. Matt Smith has decided to pack it in. I can understand it from an actor’s perspective; he’s had three years, he’s built an international profile for himself and he smells opportunity. He also fears typecasting. No one wants to be pigeonholed at 30. Well, I say that – the rest of us are but for typecast actors it’s a living death twice over. They get to be caricatured in both their personal and professional lives. As Smith had only just discovered girls when he took on the role it was always going to be a rite of passage for him, a springboard to other things. Some might say that being cast as The Doctor at 26 is like having your career in reverse. Now he’s played the best part on British TV what’s left? A movie career you say? The last series of self-contained genre farts was a showreel for Hollywood, conceived at his request you say? Well you say an awful lot, Steven but I know you wouldn’t compromise the show at an actor’s behest that way. You’ve seen Star Trek: Nemesis, you know the risks.

So was Smith’s portrayal any good? I think the only fair verdict is yes. He’s not my favourite Doctor; he lacked Tom Baker’s gravitas and didn’t get close to McCoy’s aura of mystery but he had great comic timing and the means to switch gears from glib eccentric to ponderous elder that David Tennant lacked. When he took on the role it had been somewhat devalued by the light-touch approach. It was never po-faced in Smith’s hands, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor, but neither was it camp. Smith didn’t sing Ghostbusters in the console room while pretending to wear a proton pack and for that, if nothing else, we should all be grateful.

Has he gone too early? My gut says there was another series left in this Doctor and that maybe the two of you should have regenerated together. I think that would have allowed for a genuine re-birth of the show, given the change in tone and style that would inevitably have followed. Smith’s Christmas departure means that his last full series had a fag-end quality.

I wonder if you’d have been bolder, Steven, had you known this would be Smith’s farewell tour? Now we have a situation where you may feel compelled to have a steady as she goes series to ease people into the new Doc at the exact moment the opposite’s required. Following on from a run of failed blockbusters, a safe series would constitute two full years without revolution. When I think of the bold 2011 series, frustrating though it was, I’m forced to lament the timidity that characterised the last of the 11th.

Nevertheless a new Doctor means new opportunities, not least for Clara who’ll have a different foil and a chance to grow as a character. Will you consider a major shake-up Steven? How brave are you? If it’s your last year you can afford to take some chances. Would you consider a return to the serial format or is that verboten because of foreign sales? Will you create some momentum with an arc that will test all but the most loyal of viewers? I hope so, man. You didn’t give us many reasons to tune in this year.

So how will Smith’s tenure be remembered? Undoubtedly for your un-even attempts at writing it. I think most would broadly accept that the first series was fun and well judged, only falling at the final hurdle when you botched a superb climax with your guilty device of choice, the ontological paradox, that the second series was ambitious and maddening, lacking sufficiently surprising answers to the questions it posed, and the third was a cowed reaction to the second; a clutch of adventures that lacked the vision thing.

Yet through it all, despite the mistakes, despite Rory, Smith’s run has delighted more often that not. Warm and funny episodes like The Lodger will live long in the memory, so too The Pandorica, The Doctor’s “demise” at Lake Silencio and most recently his visit to Trenzalore. Oh and let’s not forget the lovely Amy, without whom this era would have been infinitely less erotic.

Smith’s been a great Doctor; he’s done the show proud. In the midst of some truly insane plots, the first in the show’s history to really test the full implications of a character without a linear life, he managed to be charming, funny and suitably awkward. That forth series might have given him the chance to explore the character’s hidden facets, to engage with some heavier material, but it wasn’t to be. We had fun and a few laughs. Maybe we don’t deserve more than that.

So who’s next, Steven? Would we be naïve to assume you don’t already know? Some ridiculous names have been bandied about – Benedict Cumberbatch (he’s not going to commit to 10 months a year) Helen Mirren and er, Billie Piper, I mean – what the fuck? But I’m sure you’re far too shrewd to consider anyone from the tabloid checklist. David Warner’s a fine actor for example, and a genre stalwart, but is he going to commit long-term at 71? Whoever you get has got to sign on for at least 3 years or be an unknown who’s actually been signing on for 3 years.

The question you need to ask yourself is what kind of Doctor should the 12th be? This, after all, is the character in the winter of his years. If you want heft you’ve got to cast older, Steven – a teenage timelord is going to be hard to accept as a font of wisdom and experience. Have the guts to go for a different character type. Smith was Tennant’s successor in more ways than one; they both had an energetic, jokey approach to the role. I’d like to see a more serious character bestride the TARDIS – less gesticulation and running, more dry wit, who could play the big scenes with conviction because he hadn’t spent most of his time playing the fool. You’ll note I said he, Steven. You could cast a woman, there’s no reason why The Doctor can’t be a fem – I know you set this up to give yourself that option, but what if Miriam Margolyes says no?

Casting older, going for a character actor who can combine wit with gravitas, will enable you to tell different types of stories. It will mature the show. If Doctor Who’s to grow in its modern incarnation it needs to put away childish things. Imaginations allow kids to identify with older characters, Steven; there’s no requirement that they talk and act like their audience. This is escapist entertainment after all. The show’s been back for eight years now, it’s at a point where it can either begin a slow decline into the familiar and uninspired, a trajectory that almost certainly ends with the axe and another 16 wilderness years for fans, or it can reinvent itself and push on to new heights. If you facilitate this transition you’ll be remembered for more than giving viewers time-head and funny one liners, you’ll be the man who secured The Doctor’s long-term survival. It’s decision time, old fruit.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

The Smith Era Reviewed

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