Matt Smith’s Best Doctor Who Moments

So long, raggedy man.

By David Wharton
| Published

matt smith

The Time of the Doctor came and went. But Matt Smith’s time as Doctor Who was anything but forgotten. Now we’re taking a moment to look back at the Doctor. The guy who slowly won us over after the pain of losing David Tennant. Here are the Eleventh Doctor’s Best Moments in chronological order.

“Basically…run.” (“The Eleventh Hour”)

I spent most of the length of Matt Smith’s premiere episode fidgeting nervously and silently comparing Smith to the departed Tennant, a comparison that didn’t favor the new guy. It seemed every quirk and catchphrase was designed to irritate me, from “Geronimo!” to the fish sticks and custard.

But then came this scene, a beautifully crafted tip of the hat to the show’s long history, capped by the moment Matt Smith truly won me over, proving that he could do subsurface darkness as well as whimsy, and that he might just have what it takes to fill the Doctor’s shoes (or bow tie) after all.

One thing you never put in a trap (“The Time of Angels”)

This one is notable for, even if nothing else, offering up the jarring sight of Matt Smith as the Doctor firing a gun. Sure, he’s not actually shooting somebody with it, but the marketing people clearly understood what an attention-getting move it was.

That moment, as well as the Doctor’s tongue-twisting but unforgettable “one thing you never put in a trap” speech wound up as the button for pretty much every commercial advertising “The Time of Angels.”

It’s also a nice bit of counter-intuitive problem-solving, with the Doctor taking a weapon designed specifically to kill or wound and instead using it to save himself, Amy, and the rest. What else would a Doctor do, after all?

“I…am…talking!” (“The Pandorica Opens”)

If there’s one thing Matt Smith does very well, aside from being silly, it’s delivering an Epic Speech. This one is perhaps his most memorable of them all, with the Doctor staring down the assembled fleets of his enemies and daring them to try and get past him to the Pandorica.

This is perhaps also the best demonstration of where the show was headed, the notion of the Doctor’s own legend having become a hindrance. There’s no shortage of arrogance about the Doctor in this scene — even if earned — and that cockiness is shortly about to bite him in the ass, which makes this bold stand even more interesting from a story and character standpoint.

He says he got too big, but an argument could be made that he also got too big for his britches. Matt Smith sells that mix of danger and hubris perfectly here.

The TARDIS says goodbye (“The Doctor’s Wife”)

While we’re wading in the feels, this moment from Neil Gaiman’s Hugo-winning episode features one of Matt Smith’s best acting moments from the show, all the more impressive because it’s comparatively understated for a guy who often plays up the Doctor’s over-the-top elements.

Here we have a brilliant concept from Gaiman — the Doctor finally meeting face-to-face with his one constant companion through all the years: the TARDIS itself. Leave it to Gaiman to come up with a love-story twist unlike any other, and when the TARDIS uses its fleeting moments in a humanoid body to tell the Doctor, simply, “Hello, it was so nice to meet you,” it’s far more gutting than if she’d said goodbye.

And when you factor in Matt Smith’s quiet “Please…I don’t want you to,” that’s it, I’m done for. It’s a rare episode that can make you look back at the entire series in a different way, but that’s just what this love story between the Doctor and his TARDIS does so well.

The Speech (“The Rings of Akhaten”)

And while I’m heaping praise on Matt Smith’s acting chops, we come to this: not one of the show’s finest episodes by any stretch, but one of Smith’s most impressive performances. We rarely see the Doctor with his walls down, his emotions raw and not hiding behind a barrier of silliness or frenetic motion.

Here, stuck in the middle of an unquestionably goofy concept, Matt Smith digs his heels in and gives it everything he’s got. I mentioned earlier that the dude can rock an epic speech like few others, and this is perhaps his most passionate.

His monologue opens up the wounds of traveling for so long and losing so many and perfectly exposes the fact that, for all his wisdom and power, the Doctor is very, very human…and that’s why we connect with him so. He’s the best part of us, but his soul is no more immune to pain than we are.

“You’re always here to me, and I always listen.” (“The Name of the Doctor”)

Man, I didn’t go into this Matt Smith retrospective expecting to highlight all the most heartbreaking moments but damned if those aren’t the ones that have really stuck with me.

This touching sequence from “Name of the Doctor” puts a beautiful capper on the time-twisted romance between the Doctor and River Song. In the episode, River’s consciousness is summoned from the Library computer where the Doctor left her. However, throughout the episode, only Clara is able to see her. As the Doctor prepares to enter his own timeline to save Clara, he reveals to River that he has seen her all along, but acknowledging her was too painful.

Finally, the two are granted a moment of closure, a respite from the inverse unfolding of their relationship, and a chance to say goodbye. And, in typical Who fashion, that bittersweet moment is immediately undercut with comedy as the Matt Smith realizes just how peculiar his moment with River must have looked for everybody else who can’t see her…

“You know I really think you might.” (“The Day of the Doctor”)

This lovely coda to the anniversary special served up the one thing long-time fans were eager to see: the return of one of the classic Doctors. Sort of. As is only appropriate for a show about crazy adventures through time and space, the cameo by Tom Baker takes great joy in winking at the audience without actually nailing down what’s happening here.

Is the elder Tom Baker truly the Doctor at the end of his long life, revisiting his old faces and enjoying retirement as “the Great Curator.”

That’s certainly the implication, but neither Moffat nor Baker’s character is so straightforward as to definitively say so. Either way, it’s a great moment that honors the legacy of the show, and a comic gem watching Baker and Matt Smith play off each other (“Congratulations.” “Thank you very much.”).

Matt Smith’s performance is also wonderful here. He looks like an excited kid at Christmas as the Great Curator gives him a bit of hope and a new guiding focus. It is, quite simply, perfect.

“An Adventure in Space and Time”

Okay, so this is technically a Matt Smith cameo outside the narrative, but it’s too wonderful not to include. When I tuned in for this excellent TV movie about the origins of Doctor Who, I knew it was going to be a bit of a downer.

After all, the William Hartnell years launched a show that’s survived five decades, with a dozen-plus actors putting their own touches on the role, but Hartnell’s run didn’t end happily. His increasing difficulty remembering his lines forced the producers to come up with the notion of regeneration and replace him with a new Doctor. So, how do you end Hartnell’s story without things just being massively depressing?

You opt for a bit of magical realism, creating a meeting that could never have happened but which perfectly honors Hartnell’s accomplishments and the legacy he helped create. That surprise appearance by Matt Smith, a moment that bridges yesterday with today, was easily as touching as anything I’ve ever seen in the series proper.

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