Merry Christmas, the BBC left pain and loss under your tree again this year. Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor took (off) his final bow(tie) last week in an emotional farewell, and he acted the heck out of it. We’ve seen Matt grow from a baby-faced 26-year-old floppy haired giraffe to an outright star, and his enthusiasm, devotion to the show, and big heart will be very much missed. Here are just a few of the times he made me love him. Thank you, Matt. You owned your stage.
1. Hello, Stonehenge—“The Pandorica Opens”
There’s a reason this scene got Matt Smith a role in Ryan Gosling’s next movie. This is my favorite of his line readings by a mile. The man takes a scene that’s essentially anticlimactic (he’s just postponing the battle!) and makes it a soaring salute to the power of words, as well as to the Doctor’s history. Matt absolutely owns the Doctor’s authority here. He turns his speech into a kind of slam poem shouted at the heavens, punctuating wherever he wants and pausing in such a way that you’re never entirely sure where one thought ends and the next begins (“oh and something else/ I don’t have/ Anything. To. Lose. So!”). It’s absolutely musical.
Plus there’s that adorable little “guess who.”
2. Alive isn’t sad—“The Doctor’s Wife”
Neil Gaiman’s first episode is a gorgeous tribute to the most enduring relationship on this show. It will always be the Doctor and the TARDIS, and the TARDIS, with her wanderlust, knackered navigation system, and bigger-on-the-inside spirit, will always stand for the best of the Doctor and his companions. As he says his last goodbye to her first hello (shades of Rose) (sorry) (dying) (why did I just do that to myself), Matt taps into all of the Doctor’s loneliness. He’s killed all of his people—the self-loathing in Eleven’s face when he warns House to fear him gets me every time—and now his one constant companion will never be able to speak to him again. His quivering lip and warm eyes are just too much. Stop it, Matt. I can’t cope.
3. Do I even look like people?—“The Eleventh Hour”
Even when he’s wearing Ten’s Converse sneakers and everything hurts, it’s still impossible to deny that Eleven is adorable in his debut, and that’s largely thanks to his interactions with the young Amelia Pond. Put Matt Smith opposite a kid and magic happens. He’s whimsical and kind and respectful. (“You know when grown-ups tell you everything’s gonna be fine, and you think they’re probably lying to make you feel better?” “Yes.” “Everything’s gonna be fine.”) When the Doctor kneels to look Amelia in the eyes, reassuring her that he’s not like anyone else, the youngest actor to take on this role suddenly feels like a grandfather. Matt carries every one of the Doctor’s years, and he does it with childlike enthusiasm.
4. Take it all—“The Rings of Akhaten”
There’s a lot happening in this speech, and Matt makes it work, filling himself with rage and exhaustion until he’s literally shaking. Everything the Doctor accuses the planet of being is everything he fears he can be, and the fact that he offers up his own memories as tribute proves that he’s actually so much more. It’s a badass summary of everything that the Doctor has seen and lost and survived. He’s so old, and so tired, and so so cool.
5. Don’t ever, ever think you’re capable of that—“The Impossible Astronaut”
In a word, terrifying. This is one of those rare glimpses at how powerful the Doctor really is. He so often wallows in angst that this brief “don’t challenge me” comes as a shock. The way Matt twirls his arm like a king in want of a scepter, it’s like the Doctor is laughing at the thought of the cute peasants who might try to stand in his way. He’s completely dismissive, and it’s scary. Time Lord Victorious, I see you in there.
6. Is that what I’m supposed to do, go looking for Gallifrey?—“The Day of the Doctor”
Look how young his eyes are now. Look at the way he suddenly lights up with hope at the thought of finding his planet. Now think about the fact that Matt’s only 31 years old, and yet he plays the Doctor in such a way that young eyes come as a surprise.
7. We definitely added to his pile of good things.—“Vincent and the Doctor”
TRY NOT TO CRY, I DARE YOU. The Doctor’s optimism has always been hard earned. When Amy feels powerless in the face of history, he gets the chance to share that optimism with her. Matt’s chemistry with Karen Gillan in this scene is perfect. All of the love between the Doctor and Amy is there in the way he holds her tight, cradles her head, and touches his forehead to hers. It’s like he’s trying to squeeze her into a better reality. A part of her will always be little Amelia to him, and Matt plays up that gentle, earnest protectiveness just right.
8. Yep. And I always will be.—“The Time of the Doctor”
Matt’s final episode was a mixed bag, but he still made me cry in the end. The catch in his throat mirrored my own when he told Clara that he’d always be the Doctor. For a Doctor who hates endings so much, Eleven accepted his with grace.
9. Amelia Pond….—“A Town Called Mercy”
The consequences of the Doctor’s nonviolence have almost caught up with him. In memory of the people who’ve died because he won’t fight, Eleven picks up a gun, and it’s all kinds of wrong. This isn’t who the Doctor is, and Amy knows it. I love it when this show explores the complicated side effects of pacifism but still affirms it as the right choice. Matt nails the Doctor’s rage, guilt, and love of the girl who won’t let him give in to it.
10. Because they are going to be sad later—“The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe”
If that doesn’t sum up the show, I don’t know what does. Everything the Doctor loves is temporary, but loving is still worth it. Matt and his big sad eyes totally get that. Standing there between the hammocks, all stiff and proper, he feels so alien and so in touch with what it means to be human.
11. Season with pepper—“Closing Time”
It’s the littlest moment, but it’s classically Matt Smith, and I love it. Craig is feeling stressed out, so Eleven grinds a little pepper on his back. WHY. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Matt improvised this. His Doctor is one who can’t stop moving, can’t stop trying to help, even if he has no idea how, even if all he can do is goof off, even if no one notices. Matt never stops. He adds something of himself to every scene. It’s that complete commitment that makes him the Doctor, and he always will be.
What are some of your favorite Matt Smith moments? Excited for Capaldi and his eyebrows and that lilting Murray Gold Twelfth Doctor music? Let’s talk about it.