A conversation with my children this morning about unusual food combinations (jelly with onions, sausages filled with cake) led me to revisiting this:
Josh hasn’t yet experienced any Eleventh Doctor stories (although I am assured that ‘The Death of the Doctor’ is approaching in the Sarah Jane Adventures playlist he’s working through with his mother). But everyone – including my father – is familiar with this. It’s one of my favourite scenes with Matt Smith, back when Moffatt’s irreverence was still relatively fresh, and before it started to come across as inevitably gimmicky. Tennant’s Doctor – while admirable in many respects – had become almost too human by the end of his run, and even his arrogant godlike demeanour was an enhanced form of humanity. The Tenth Doctor, like the Ninth, had never been particularly eccentric, being content with a sort of know-it-all smugness instead, and I’d felt for a while that the show had needed a more alien Doctor – a Doctor who admired humanity, but who had trouble relating to it.
It’s a shame, really, that the Beeb didn’t include the beginning of this scene, which sees a sopping wet Doctor (who’s just climbed out of the library, which was in the swimming pool) chomp on an apple before spitting it out with the words “That’s disgusting. I hate apples. Apples are rubbish”. The current Doctor’s little foibles are starting to grate a bit now, which is by no means the fault of the actor, but is rather down to some annoying recurring themes (yes, we understand the irony of a twenty-nine-year-old saying “Oh, I’m so old”, but we don’t need to keep hearing it). But this was back when everything was new and exciting and we were shaking off the post-Davies blues and hoping that the show would stop being so overblown and melodramatic (it hasn’t, but it’s easier to take under Moffatt’s penmanship).
Thus I’m perhaps inclined to give ‘The Eleventh Hour’ more credence than it ultimately deserves, because it launched a new era for the show in which a lot of the problems it had been having were fixed (only for new ones to crop up, but that’s for another day). They were still working out the Eleventh Doctor’s characterisation at this point and I suspect many people watching – perhaps those who weren’t familiar with Baker (i) or Troughton, whose eccentricities Smith mimics – wondered what on earth they were watching. But the source of Moffatt’s inspiration actually goes back much further than the 60s and 70s – the parallels are obvious to anyone who remembers The House at Pooh Corner, and the first time we watched this, Emily’s response was “Right, so he’s Tigger, then?”.
The sadist within me would dearly love to think that shooting this was as tortuous for Matt Smith as the sprout-eating contest was for Dawn French in the Christmas episode of The Vicar of Dibley – during filming, James Fleet and Gary Waldhorn would repeatedly (and deliberately) mess up their lines, forcing endless retakes and more and more sprouts for the unfortunate French. I’m told, in fact, that Matt Smith ate eleven fish fingers when they were shooting the sequence in Amelia Pond’s kitchen, and enjoyed every one – symptomatic, perhaps, of an actor who’s every bit as youthful and fun-loving as the character he portrays. And that has to be a good thing.