Doctor Who: Top 10 Matt Smith episodes (and where to watch them online)
Ivan Radford | On 03, Nov 2013Reading time: 7 mins
Photo: Adrian Rogers (BBC)
Ah, Matt Smith. The Eleventh Doctor – and possibly the best Doctor of them all. From custardy fishmongers to fezzes and mops, his mad professor has shown a range that perfectly matches a Time Lord: a clumsy clown one minute, a powerful force the next. Smith’s hyperactive babbling lets him turn on a sixpence between the extremes; he’s an unpredictable, awkward hero, as emotional as David Tennant and as old as William Hartnell. All that while wearing a tweed jacket and a fringe that’s bigger on the outside? It’s an impressive, definitive turn from the actor. You wouldn’t believe he was only 26 when he started.
It’s a shame, then, that while Matt Smith achieved the mammoth task of making The Doctor his own after the towering David Tennant, he hasn’t always had the best luck with episodes – a whole season of one big narrative arc involving River Song left him with a legacy of muddled storylines and over-ambitious set pieces. If he’s the best Doctor, he’s had some of the worst scripts.
And so, as we count down the weeks until the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special – Smith’s penultimate outing – we look back at the Eleventh Doctor’s time in the TARDIS and select the best Matt Smith episodes – and tell you where you can watch them online.
1. The Doctor’s Wife (Season 6, Episode 4)
“Do you have a name?” “700 years and finally he asks.”
The Doctor and the TARDIS have always been like a married couple. Neil Gaiman’s first Doctor Who episode brought that dynamic to life – literally. Suranne Jones is electrifying as the unbalanced Idris, a wife to a madman who spends his time talking to a blue box. Did he chose the TARDIS? Did the TARDIS choose him? Gaiman excavates the innards of the time machine – taking in control rooms past and corridors infinite – and comes out with the same old Doctor Who relationship we’ve always known, but taken apart and reassembled into something brand new. It’s a love letter to a sci-fi series, but one that’s passed intimately between its two lead characters. And amid all the emotion, fear and suspense, Matt Smith emerges as a husband determined to protect his companion. “Fear me! I’ve killed hundreds of Time Lords,” hisses the villain. “Fear me,” comes the calm reply. “I’m killed all of them.”
Doctor Who has rarely seemed so intricately complex – yet so breathtakingly simple.
2. The Name of the Doctor (Season 7 Part 2, Episode 8)
Who is Clara Oswin Oswald? After bidding farewell to Amy and Rory, Part Two of Doctor Who Season Seven flipped the show on its head. Whereas The Doctor has traditionally been a Manic Pixie Dream Guy to his companions – Amy, Rose, Martha – taking them out of their ordinary lives, Clara became that same thing for him; an ideal woman, an enigma to puzzle over. She even bakes.
Her feisty intelligence (and flirting) saves The Doctor from his post-Amy/Rory depression, driving the narrative arc of those eight episodes. After a few, the format became a bit repetitive, a frustrating outcome following a season where over-arching plots had left many chapters without a satisfying conclusion. But Steven Moffat’s finale – The Name of the Doctor – delivered that elusive final act with a dazzling flourish of fanboy enthusiasm; a rush through Doctors old and a glimpse of The Doctor’s future tomb.
Richard E. Grant (reprising his role as The Great Intelligence from The Snowmen) gives good menace, while laughs are found with reunited favourites Strax, Jenny and Madame Vastra, but the killer punch is saved for the closing few minutes, which answers the question of Clara’s identity – and then poses another one entirely: what next?
3. Amy’s Choice (Season 5, Episode 7)
“I’d blush if I had a blood supply, or a real face.”
Who do you hire to play The Doctor opposite The Doctor? Toby Jones, of course. The chameleonic Brit is a slimy nemesis (The Dream Lord) opposite Matt Smith’s sincere hero, creating a dilemma for Amy and Rory, who must decide which of two nightmare worlds is real. While they deal with evil pensioners and a frozen TARDIS, Jones has a whale of a time stealing the show with sarcastic, bitter one-liners. “You die in the dream, you wake up in reality,” he explains. “Ask me what happens if you die in reality.” “What happens?” “You die, stupid. That’s why it’s called reality.” It’s the best kind of Doctor Who epic: one that happens on a very tiny scale.
4. The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (Season 5, Episode 12 and 13)
What is the Pandorica? And who’s the monster locked inside it? Matt Smith’s first season ended with one hell of a big bang: a TARDIS-ripping explosion that jumped back and forth in time to create a stunning portrait of the Eleventh Doctor: a Time Lord with an unwittingly deadly power. Together, the two-parter created a finale that gave Karen Gillen a chance to play heroine, Alex Kingston a chance to play sassy and a devoted Arthur Darvill a chance to steal the show from them all. Add in a fez and a mop and you have a Steven Moffat epic that doesn’t lose sight of the little things. A laugh-out-loud, hand-in-mouth classic.
5. Asylum of the Daleks (Season 7, Episode 1)
Ever since the Daleks were turned into Fisher Price My First Bumper Cars, The Doctor’s oldest enemy were somewhat lacking in scares. Asylum of the Daleks gave them their terror back – and then some. Reminiscent of Christopher Eccleston’s one-on-one encounter with a lone machine, Matt Smith’s tete-a-tete is with the bright, souffle-loving Oswin. It’s a funny, fast-paced encounter with the Daleks, but the episode’s power lies in the shocking discovery that anyone could be a Dalek – a slice of unsettling body horror that had adults hiding behind their children, who were behind the sofa already.
6. The Girl Who Waited (Season 6, Episode 10)
Even fans who didn’t like Karen Gillen couldn’t fail to be moved by this heartbreaking look at what happens when The Doctor leaves someone – a creepy, claustrophobic tale of quarantine that saw Amy Pond seize her role as companion and become an agent in her own story. A showcase for a great performance – and a fantastic script from Tom MacRae.
7. Vincent and the Doctor (Season 5, Episode 10)
Richard Curtis’ historical art excursion ticks all the boxes: famous figure, check. Knowing dramatic irony, check. Invisible chicken, check. But then it breaks that formula, allowing the person from the past to see their impact upon the future; a moment that delivers a flurry of sentiment so well-meaning, it’s impossible not to well up. For everyone else, there’s Bill Nighy in a bow tie.
8. The Angels Take Manhattan (Season 7, Episode 5)
The Weeping Angels instantly became the most terrifying monster in Doctor Who history when Blink arrived in 2007. Attempts to bring them back haven’t always been successful (watching them move in Season 5’s Flesh and Stone broke their sinister spell completely), but this period-set noir-tinged mystery rediscovered their unseen terror, before giving Rory and Amy the moving send-off that the couple deserved.
9. The Snowmen (Christmas Special, 2012)
Clara Oswin Oswald returned again for this seasonal episode, one that set everything in motion for the 50th Anniversary Special: a Richard E. Grant here, an enticing governess there. But while it’s important for understanding Matt Smith’s climactic outing, it’s the smaller touches that make this such a Christmas treat, from Strax and Jenny’s humour (“I sent you to get the memory worm” “Did you?”) and the chilling threat of moving snowmen to the new design of the TARDIS, which went from chaotic steampunk to a cooler, moodier look. The prospect of going back there for further adventures was thrilling.
10. The Impossible Astronaut / The Day of the Moon (Season 6, Episode 1 and 2)
“I wear a stetson now. Stetson’s are cool.”
The audacity of starting a season with its finale is something Doctor Who seemed born for. Government agents, lakeside confrontations, River Song… and the death of The Doctor? Steven Moffat lined up the questions with bombastic confidence, helped along by one of the freakiest Who monsters from the modern era – The Silence. It’s a shame, then, that the answers would turn out to be so disappointing.
What are your favourite Matt Smith episodes?