The opening paragraph of Target’s “The Eleventh Hour”, novelised by Terrance Dicks and on sale in all good bookshops inside my head, reads:
“The burning Tardis span round and round, hurtling relentlessly towards planet Earth. In the console room stood, or to be more precise, staggered a rather odd-looking yet pleasant-faced young man. His awkward build was squeezed into a tattered brown suit, obviously made for a man half his size. This new Doctor was tall with long scraggly hair. He examined himself frenetically, pulling at his hair and grasping his legs in wonder. He passed some cursory remarks on his newly acquired physiognomy before noticing his current perilous predicament. But surprisingly his reaction was not one of fear, but of utter excitement, “Geronimo!” he cried, gazing skywards in wonder.
This imaginary piece refers of course to our first meeting with the Eleventh Doctor. Matt Smith took to our TV screens on 1st January 2010. To the regret of many, after building up a grand total of forty four episodes his Eleventh Doctor will sadly be relinquishing fez and bow-tie on Christmas Day 2013. Like a fishfinger dipped in custard, the fact that four years have already flown by, is extremely difficult to swallow. But for young fans four years are an eternity. It is a huge proportion of their life. Matt Smith has been their first Doctor, the Doctor they have grown up with, in probably one of the most intense and exciting chapters of their lives. Many older viewers have also joined the show with Matt. A great deal can happen in four years. You can change your job, get married or become a parent. Matt Smith may well have been the Doctor at a highly significant stage of an adult’s life. Young or old, one thing is for sure: Losing Matt ain’t gonna be easy.
A survival guide might come in handy. After all, every cloud has a silver lining (not of course referring to Peter Capaldi himself, his age or hair!). But what could possibly make the Eleventh Doctor’s departure more bearable? I hope the following words of dubious wisdom will bring the grieving fan some solace and consolation.
1. Doctor Who needs change to survive. Every week we have a new location in space and time to explore, new characters to meet and new adventures to thrill us. Companions come and go. These are the things which keep the show alive and make it feel fresh and new. Likewise, changing the Doctor guarantees the show’s longevity. In other words, more Who. Forever! Like a Slithereen’s derrière, something not to be sniffed at.
2. If a Doctor doesn’t leave, how can we ever find a better one? Fans were up in arms and in total despair when David Tennant announced he was leaving. But if he hadn’t stood aside, we would never have met Matt Smith. When Jon Pertwee left, he had already firmly established himself as the Doctor. If he hadn’t got a dose of Metebelis, so to speak, Tom Baker would never have graced our screens. Many fans still consider him the definitive Doctor. It isn’t for nothing that he made a reappearance in the fiftieth.
3. Regeneration stories are special. Only in these adventures might the Doctor not win through and save the day. He might lose and he will most definitely die. Tension is pumped up to the max, giving us a unique and unforgettable viewing experience. Writers, cast and crew rise for the occasion. Almost always a top-notch tale results from their labours. A regeneration is like the coronation of a new Doctor. The story is the sumptuous ceremony beforehand.
4. We love Matt Smith, as a man and actor. We want him to go forward, blossom and be successful on the world stage. An actor of his talent deserves no less. We owe him so much for being such a wonderful Doctor and for the love and enthusiasm he has shown towards the show. When he is an even bigger star, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous on the red carpets of Hollywood, his fame and glory will also shine on our “little show”. We will feel proud and we wish him all the best.
5. Doctors don’t completely disappear. Eleven will be back! In this month’s “Doctor Who Magazine” Matt Smith has just indicated his willingness to appear in any future anniversary stories. What about Big Finish and other audio adventures? What about novels? The Eleventh’s story is far from over. Let’s not forget either that we will always have Series 5, 6 and 7 to relish on DVD.
6. Doctor Who fans love statistics. Once the Eleventh Doctor regenerates, we can tie up his adventures into a neat little package in our brains. We can impress our friends, or if we don’t have any, ourselves, with our extensive knowledge of Eleven’s reign. How many Dalek stories did he have? How many “Geronimo”s? How many fezzes or other hats? The list is endless.
7. On a more serious note, regeneration in Doctor Who can help prepare for “change” in life. The show already helps young fans deal with “fear” in a positive way. They can watch a scary episode in the comfort and safety of their own home, holding a parent’s hand or cuddling their cat. Certain bulky items of furniture are known to have been dislodged from against the wall in order to facilitate a safer viewing experience. In another attempt to be serious, life is full of changes and the concept of regeneration can help children understand that. Best friends move away, a relative dies, relationships break up, you lose your job. Changes aren’t easy, but they help you to grow in life and test your mettle. Forewarned is forearmed. Acknowledging an impending change can help you prepare for it. Doctor Who can give young viewers the opportunity to talk to their friends and parents about change as the regeneration approaches. On Christmas Day, during Matt’s final dazzling performance, kids will learn to cherish what they have and how to go about losing it. When the dreaded moment actually arrives, children will see that, although sad, losing Matt isn’t all that bad after all. They will survive. This is practice for real life.
8. If it is of any comfort, I had a relatively easy ride when it came to my first experience of regeneration. When Tom Baker left, he wasn’t really “my” Doctor. He was “the” Doctor, everybody’s Doctor. The Doctor. Full stop! I found the idea slightly ridiculous that other actors could play the role. My Dad had told me about it, but his credibility was already at something of a low after our own personal Doctor Who story: “Revelation of the Santa”. However the “Five Faces of Doctor Who” season of repeats came along and prepared me for the imminent change, showing me the three Doctors who had gone before. I started to find the idea of a different Doctor quite exciting. I was actually looking forward to the regeneration. (My mum even fancied the new guy, albeit when he had been playing a “dishy” vet.) I believe, or at least hope, that the appearance of Tennant, Hurt and the other Doctors in “The Day of the Doctor” has had the same effect on new fans, consoling and enthusing them at the same time. I just hope my mum doesn’t have a crush on Capaldi!
Christmas is coming and by Boxing Day, the Eleventh Doctor will be no more. No longer will we watch him whirl around the Tardis console. No more silly hats. No more childish ingenuity and innocent wonder. No more adult indignation and wrath. The Gallifreyan sun is going down on the Eleventh. As he heads off wistfully down the road into the orange horizon, his fez casts a long dark shadow behind him. Try as I may to hide my emotions, a tear runs down my cheek. The Doctor is quite a way off, nearly gone now. Suddenly he spins around! He beams at me and waves for the last time ever. He cries “Geronimo!”, spins around again and dashes off into the distance. Just a tiny dot now, almost imperceivable. But wait! Was that a little leap he did there? And look! He is throwing his fez up into the air, full of joy! He is happy to have shared his adventures with us and to have been so utterly loved! So on Christmas Day, when Eleven is no more, remember this. In our dreams and memories the Eleventh Doctor will always exist. He will never leave our hearts and minds. All we have to do is close our eyes.