I am Canadian. A lot of Canadian culture is tied up in English culture and the media or customs that we, as a country, have retained from our commonwealth roots. As such, the contemporary Doctor Who phenomenon (which is to say, following the 2005 reboot), hit Canada in a big bad way earlier than it hit the United States (where I live now).
Throughout my high school and early university career I had friends extoll the virtues of Doctor Who to me, I even saw a few episodes most notably The End of the World, and remained thoroughly unconvinced that it was in any way worth my time. The mythology of the world is incredibly dense even if a new viewer knows the basic “mad man with a box travels through time and space with a companion” and I often found the Ninth and Tenth Doctor adventures insular and unfriendly to a newbie such as myself. Now, I would certainly argue this point today, Blink, for example, is a great introductory episode to the world of Doctor Who, but at 18-years-old that didn’t do it for me.
This is where the Eleventh Doctor came in. I remember the first promotional image of Matt Smith that the media and I remember the fandom – including some friends of mine – screaming their heads off about how different he looked and that he couldn’t possible touch David Tenant ad how dare this young buck even try! I won’t pretend that I was compelled enough to break into Doctor Who that this seemed like the place to cut in, I liked the way Matt Smith looked (shallow, terrible, I know), and, at the time, I rather liked to be contrary.
… Interestingly enough I found a lot of similar dissent to Peter Capaldi’s casting as the Twelfth Doctor, though more along the lines of: how dare this old man step into a young man’s game!
When I finally did get around to watching The Eleventh Hour, admittedly, a few years later, I finally understood what it is about the mythos of Doctor Who that was so appealing. Later it was pointed out to me that the Eleventh Doctor series are fairy tales, flights of fancy and this whimsy appeals to my very heart. Not only does The Eleventh Hour (written by Steven Moffat), introduce Matt Smith’s new Doctor, but viewers also get to meet his new companion – Amelia Pond (Karen Gillan). The brilliance behind this hard reset of all aspects of Doctor Who story structure is that it gave new viewers point-of-view characters of two genders to both identify and learn with. This was a safe space to learn the rules of the world.
So, The Eleventh Hour is a great episode, but why Eleven a great Doctor? The joke answer is: he’s a baby giraffe. Matt Smith has an incredible energy and a weird body that he never seems quite in control of, he makes manic choices that are endlessly entertaining to watch. These visual cues speak to the fact that the Doctor is, in fact, alien. The Eleventh Doctor is also very sad and he is ancient in his sadness. Episodes like Vincent and the Doctor and The Pandorica Opens allow the audience along with Amy and Rory (Arthur Darvill), to learn that the Eleventh Doctor understand sadness and loss on a profound level. These two episodes both feature Eleven explaining to his suffering companions that sadness can be overcome and that there may even be beauty in it.
This idea appeals to me greatly.
It is also worth noting that the Eleventh Doctor goes into the clouds and isolates himself as he mourns the loss of Amy and Rory … for years.
Doctor Who is an all-ages television show. I would not qualify it as a kids show because the sophistication of storytelling does not compare to other offerings in that genre, despite what the initial premise of the series may have been. The Eleventh Doctor stories are uniquely remarkable because they tackle some big, scary ideas by wrapping them up in whimsy and a fantastical mystery, often mired in common themes and faces.
For example, when Clara (Jenna Coleman), is introduced we see her as Oswin Oswald (Asylum of the Daleks), and the Governess (The Snowmen), before Clara Oswald joins the show as his new companion. Clara’s mystery is wrapped up in The Name of the Doctor in a way that pays off all the seeds of questions and answers that had been planted throughout the previous season, she remains on the show. At the beginning of the fifth season Doctor Who began implementing serialized storytelling that elevated the types of episodes and narratives being put on screen and turned the adventures from monster of the week to more sophisticated plots.
The Eleventh Doctor makes big, bad promises and he makes big, bad sacrifices all of which are infused with whimsy and lesson in the human condition. What could be a more wonderful way to employ the alien protagonist of Doctor Who? He was created in a vacuum of information that allows for potential Whovians to step into his TARDIS and his adventures through space and time have kept me endeared to him by recalling the fairy tales of my youth – and the themes nearest to my heart.
I love the Eleventh Doctor. I hope you do too.