A tale of two Doctors

Having watched all of the modern Doctor Who series and some of the classic Doctor Who series I think I can confidently call myself an unimpeachable expert.


He wears a fez. Fezzes are cool.

My esteemed college and, more importantly, fellow Sarah, has asserted Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor is the best Doctor. While in every subjective way her opinion is well reasoned and valid, in every objective way her opinion is obviously ill-informed and invalid. Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor is the best of the modern Doctors.

My personal Doctor Who trajectory had me starting, like Sarah, with Nine and I’d also consider it blasphemy to skip him and go to Ten. But while I watched the modern series as it premiered, I also simultaneously watched some of the classic series thanks to the magic of Netflix. I’d jump from the grumpy First Doctor to the joie de vivre of the Ninth Doctor, then back to the flamboyant Fourth Doctor, then to the manic Tenth Doctor. The result being I never really imprinted on one particular Doctor or developed a certain expectation for the show.

For me, it doesn’t matter whether Eleven is the truest incarnation of earlier versions of The Doctor (he is) or whether he’s the most interesting portrayal of The Doctor (he is) or whether Matt Smith is just the most handsome of the three modern Doctors (oh, yes, he is). What matters is that Eleven is the most believable character.

All my problems with the Tenth Doctor and Russell T. Davies crystallized in the character’s finale where Ten has to decide whether to give his life for a human, an elderly man he had no particular connection to or affection for. Not the love of his life, not the president, not a child destined for greatness. Just a run-of-the-mill old guy who by his own admission will probably die in a couple years anyhow.

Look at you, not remotely important. But me, I could do so much more!

I hate most vampires because they’re unrealistic, and I don’t mean the blood sucking part. If you are a thousand-year-old nearly invincible creature, why are you spending your time and energy becoming super BFFs with humans?

I mean, I have a cat. I love my cat. I’m going to outlive it and be sad when it dies. I’ll probably get a new cat after that. But no matter how much I love my cat, I’m not going to give my life for it or pretend my cat or cats in general have any sort of meaningful impact on my life or the world. In what functional way are humans different than cats when it comes to other worldly immortal beings?

Now in the Doctor’s case, sure, he’s the last of his kind so he’s going to get bored and lonely and want to befriend other creatures. I get why Ten finds humanity interesting and wants to hang out with humans. What I don’t understand is why Ten gets all weepy and martyrs himself for one lousy human. You’d never see Eleven (or any other Doctor (or any other ancient, nearly invincible being)) giving his life in such a meaningless bargain. He cares more about puzzles than people.

Eleven doesn’t give a shit. He’ll promise a kid he’ll be right back then take another ten or fifteen years to get around to it. Does he care about what he put that kid through? Eh, not really. He has no compunction about manipulating people or dropping them entirely. Hanging out with humans is a means to an end: fun.

Taken in isolation as a character, Eleven is unequivocally my favorite but when you start looking at plot, companions, and how it’s written generally then things get murkier.

Amy Pond

She's frequently referred to as "the girl who waited." How's that for agency?

Whereas Russell T. Davies tugs at your heart with dramatic emotional plots, Stephen Moffat tugs at your brain with complex intellectual plots. Eleven’s aloofness pairs well with Moffat’s cerebral writing.

When it comes to companions, I don’t love any of them, and Amy least of all. Her lack of agency in the show is disturbing. (I was really pregnant and in a vat the whole time!) Unfortunately what I love about the character of Eleven, I hate about the writer: Stephen Moffat is extremely misogynistic. From Coupling to Sherlock to Doctor Who, all his leads are characterized by a borderline pathological disregard for women. I still enjoy his shows but it’s not always easy.

As a show with decades of history and hundreds of people working on it, the quality of the episodes vary wildly. It’s almost impossible to be a fan of the show and love all of it. Of my DWho friends, I’m probably the most critical of the show. From the cheesy to the nonsensical to the overblown, for every one episode I love there’s probably two I hate. But the highs are high and they keep me coming back for more.

Because when you start in on Doctor Who you have to watch it for better or worse, in cheesiness and in earnestness, as long as you both shall endure.

Who is the best Doctor from the modern Doctor Who?

The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) by Sarah Werner

The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) by Gavin Craig

The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) by Sarah Pavis

River Song (Alex Kingston) by Matt Santori-Griffith

Sarah Pavis is an engineer, writer, and Netflix obsessive. She writes “In the Queue” for The Idler.

4 Responses to “A tale of two Doctors”
  1. Gavin Craig says:

    It actually feels a bit weird to me the way that the Stephen Moffat run of Doctor Who has come to center on Amy Pond. In particular, giving Pond a bit of narration before the opening credits really gives the impression that the show is centered on her worldview, but she’s often a narratively passive character — “the girl who waited.” She dies and spends a thousand years locked away in a box. She’s kidnapped and spends more than half of a series literally doing nothing but gestating a child. There are big exceptions — like when she saves the Doctor from nonexistence just in time to crash her wedding — but if Moffat is really as devoted to Amelia Pond as he seems to be, he should have tried to give her a spinoff in the vein of Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures. Part of what made the Russell T. Davies run so great was the way he created an expanded universe and kept it all connected — and how Doctor Who itself stayed focused on the Doctor.

    I’m excited to see Matt Smith finally get his first new companion this year (other than Craig, whom I actually wouldn’t mind seeing more of), but I’m nervous too. Moffat’s world has a lot invested in Amy Pond, more than any companion since Rose Tyler. It’s a big (and needed) change. I hope he can pull it off.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] his companion to keep him from going over to the dark side.” He’s a bit distant, and “he has no compunction about manipulating people or dropping them entirely.” He’s dangerous — when the Doctor is around, people die — but he’s […]

  2. […] be fair, Matt Smith is a very fine Doctor, better than I had expected in fact. Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, […]

  3. […] The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) by Sarah Pavis […]

%d bloggers like this: