have I mentioned yet….

….that I saw the first episode of the new series of “Dr. Who” and it’s really, really, really good?

Matt Smith is new to me–I didn’t know anything about him. So I wasn’t sure, one way or the other, what I thought of the casting of him as the new Doctor. I was, however, looking forward to more of Steven Moffat’s writing. He wrote some of my favorite episodes of the first four seasons…well, writing-wise, maybe all of them: “The Empty Child,” “The Doctor Dances,” “Blink,” “Silence in the Library.”

Turns out, the writing is top-notch, which I was expecting, and the casting is also darned-near perfect. Matt Smith as the Doctor is an inspired choice: he captures all of the arrogance and vulnerability of the Doctor, wrapped up in a youthful exuberance that’s a perfect contrast to David Tennant’s increasingly world-weary performance. (Full disclosure here: I liked, but did not love, David Tennant, and it’s possible that I am enjoying Matt Smith so much because he’s more in the vein of Christopher Eccleston, the first Doctor I saw and my favorite.)

Smith is his own Doctor, though, not an imitation of anyone else.  Both the writing and his performance highlight the Doctor’s weaknesses as well as his strengths. For example, you might think that the Doctor would learn not to promise to be back in five minutes, but he never does, and his companions suffer for it (Madame Pompadour, from another Moffatt episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” lives out her life waiting). It’s obvious that the Doctor only thinks he is in control; in reality, his time travel is a barely-manageable skid that he can–sometimes–control enough for a rough estimate.

The most significant stroke of genius in this episode, though, is the writing of the Doctor’s new companion, Amy Pond (and the casting). Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan, is quite good, but Caitlin Blackwood, who plays Amelia Pond–Amy’s younger self–is brilliant. She’s a wonderful, expressive, poignant actress, and the idea to write the Doctor opposite a young girl is fantastic. It lets Matt Smith do what the Doctor does best: combine childlike irresponsibility with crushing responsibility. Their scenes sparkle with wit, humor, realism, and a certain amount of pathos. The direction deserves some credit too, because their interchanges are perfectly paced.

Anyway, on the whole, this knocked my socks off. It’s fantastic TV. The monsters are good. The writing is superb. And Matt Smith is much, much better than I dared to hope. I can’t wait to see what else is coming in the season.


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