To those who don’t give a damn, I make no apology for posting an item on Doctor Who. I’ve loved the programme since I was a kid (I vaguely remember Jon Pertwee, but Tom Baker was ‘my’ Doctor) and have greatly enjoyed Russell T Davies’ ‘re-imagining’ of the show over the past four or five years. Last night one of the great Who traditions continued with the passing on of the sonic screwdriver from David Tennant to new boy Matt Smith.
Much discussion has surrounded the change with many fearing that Smith, a virtual unknown for those who never saw ‘Party Animals’, will never be able to fill the boots of the mighty Tennant. We have, of course, been here before. Patrick Troughton replaced William Hartnell, the original Doctor, and went on to become one of the best-loved incarnations of the Time Lord. Similarly Jon Pertwee, the action man dandy of the genre, was superceded by the then unknown Tom Baker (who has subsequently ‘regenerated’ into barking-mad national treasure). After a mighty seven years in the hotspot, Baker made way for Peter Davison who managed to make the role his own, despite a dodgy re-working of the theme tune and the shunting of the show from Saturday tea-time to midweek.
After that, it’s fair to say that the show struggled. Colin Baker always seemed a bit too grumpy (in a badly-clothed psycho-killer sort of way) and Sylvester McCoy – well… By the late eighties it was difficult to argue with Michael Grade’s assessment that the programme was “rubbish” and the then BBC1 Controller cheerfully brought the axe down on Doctor Who in 1989.
Enter Russell T Davies in 2005. The show was given the benefit of Davies’ scripts, a half-decent budget, 21st century production values and Christopher Eccleston in the title role. It was an instant hit but many were shocked when Eccleston announced he would quit after just one series. David Tennant had worked with Davies on ‘Casanova’ and was seen by the production team as the obvious choice for the tenth Doctor, but many in the wider public wondered if such an early change at the top might kill the Doctor Who revival before it was even a year old. (I remember thinking at the time that John Simm would probably have been a better bet, but he was destined for darker things.) Tennant went on to become the most popular resident of the TARDIS since the programme began way back in 1963, and the latest in a long line of actors who have proved that, no matter how loved their predecessors were, the show must go on.
So give Matt Smith a chance. He looks the part, he can act and he has a great production team around him who have demonstrated that they know what they’re doing (although Davies has moved on to pastures new). Doctor Who always seems to keep its popularity, come what may, and a new face will not change that. Within a year or so Smith will have become as synonymous with the role as (nearly) all the other Doctors have done. The new boy will do just fine.