‘Doctor Who’ farewell: 10 extraordinary Matt Smith moments

Dec. 24, 2013 | 11:59 a.m.

Matt Smith in "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

"The Wooden Cyberman" in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

"The Wooden Cyberman" in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Daleks in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

The Doctor (Matt Smith) faces off against Daleks in "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Matt Smith in "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Matt Smith in "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Cybermen in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Orla Brady as Tasha Lem Cybermen in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Orla Brady as Tasha Lem Cybermen in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Jenna Coleman as Clara in "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Rob Jarvis as Abramal, left, and Tessa Peake-Jones as Marta in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Rob Jarvis as Abramal, front left, and Tessa Peake-Jones as Marta in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and the Daleks in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Orla Brady as Tasha Lem Cybermen in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Artwork featuring the Doctor and some of his friends and foes in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Artwork featuring the Doctor and some of his friends and foes in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Jenna Coleman as Clara in a poster for "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

Matt Smith in a poster for "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

A poster for "The Time of the Doctor" features Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman. (BBC America)

Matt Smith wraps up his tenure as the star of “Doctor Who” in the show’s Christmas special Wednesday evening.

“The Time of the Doctor,” which airs at 9 p.m. on Christmas Day, marks Smith’s departure from the long-running British sci-fi series after three years playing the time-traveling alien. Scottish actor Peter Capaldi, best known from his work on the comedy series “The Thick of It,” will be taking Smith’s place in the TARDIS and is expected to make his debut in Wednesday’s episode.

Smith, who took over from David Tennant in 2010, has seen the show skyrocket in popularity, especially in the United States. His time as the ever-regenerating hero was marked by complicated puzzles of time and space, alien quirks such as a fondness for fish fingers and custard, and insisting, despite raised eyebrows from his accomplices, that “bow ties are cool.”

“Every day, on every episode, in every set of rushes, Matt Smith surprised me,” said executive producer Steven Moffat. “The way he’d turn a line, or spin on his heels, or make something funny, or out of nowhere make me cry, I just never knew what was coming next. The Doctor can be clown and hero, often at the same time, and Matt rose to both challenges magnificently.”

To celebrate Smith’s run, Hero Complex looks back at 10 of his most memorable moments as the Doctor. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

Matt Smith in "The Eleventh Hour." (BBC)

Matt Smith in “The Eleventh Hour.” (BBC)

Making a magical debut in “The Eleventh Hour”: When Matt Smith first stepped on board the TARDIS, it was with a new creative team, a new leading lady and an audience still mourning Tenth Doctor David Tennant’s departure. “We really had to have such a charm offensive in ‘The Eleventh Hour’ to sell the idea both that you like this guy who’s taken David Tennant’s place, and that somehow the same man is looking out of those eyes,” Moffat said. The result was an episode that was part fairy tale and part superhero story, introducing Smith’s mop-haired Doctor and a little redheaded girl named Amelia Pond, who would grow up to be the Doctor’s traveling companion and best friend. As he dipped fish fingers in custard, Smith’s Doctor began to work his own quirky brand of magic, enchanting viewers and Amy Pond alike.

The Doctor helps quell hostilities between the humans and the Silurians -- a lizard-like people who inhabited the Earth before humans evolved in the two-parter "The Hungry Earth" and "Cold Blood." (BBC)

The Doctor helps quell hostilities between the humans and the Silurians — a lizard-like people who inhabited the Earth before humans evolved in the two-parter “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood.” (BBC)

Encouraging people to be extraordinary in “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood”: In this two-part story, a group of geologists accidentally drills into an underground cavern where an entire Silurian civilization is hibernating. The Doctor helps quell hostilities between the humans and the Silurians — a lizard-like people who inhabited the Earth before humans evolved — and instead advocates diplomacy between the peoples, sitting Amy and one of the scientists at a table across from a Silurian leader. “This is an opportunity,” the Doctor tells them. “Whatever happens today will change future events, create its own time line, its own reality. The future pivots around you, here, now. So do good. For humanity, and for Earth.” It’s a moment emblematic of the Doctor’s ability to see humanity’s potential and to help humans see their own. As he tells his makeshift team of diplomats, “Come on. Be extraordinary.”

PHOTOS: ‘Doctor Who’ star Matt Smith

Adding to a pile of good things in “Vincent and the Doctor”
: In this excellent Season 5 episode written by Richard Curtis, the Doctor and Amy befriend Vincent van Gogh, the eccentric artist whose life was marked by loneliness and mental illness, eventually ending in suicide. He was convinced his art was worthless and would be forgotten when he died. After dealing with an otherworldly monster, the Doctor and Amy whisk Van Gogh off to the future to visit an exhibition of his work at the Musée d’Orsay, where the docent (a bow-tie wearing Bill Nighy) tells the Doctor, within Vincent’s earshot, “That strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.” The moment is a tear-jerker, but after taking Vincent home, Amy is heartbroken to discover the time-traveling experience didn’t alter Van Gogh’s suicide. The Doctor consoles her with a beautiful lesson applicable to those of us without a TARDIS. “Every life is a pile of good things and bad things,” he tells her. “The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.”

Donning his iconic fez in “The Big Bang”: In the second part of the Hugo Award-winning Season 5 finale, the Doctor uses a vortex manipulator and some timey-wimey cleverness to save all of his friends and reboot the dying universe. In the process, he dons a red fez (“I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool.”), a device that helps audiences keep track of the complicated time-travel plot. Though the fez falls victim to River Song’s gun, it’s become an iconic cosplay element for fans of the series, and it exemplifies Smith’s ability to make insane goofiness seem, well, cool.

Changing a man’s heart in “A Christmas Carol”: Smith’s Doctor became the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future for a miserly man (Michael Gambon) whose heart needed to be warmed in order to save a crashing spaceship. The Doctor zips back in time, visiting the man when he was a boy and filling his past with holiday memories to make him a kinder adult. The Christmas special is filled with time travel antics, flying sharks and fish and a beautiful song performed by Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins, who plays a woman who is woken from cryogenic sleep — first introduced as “Nobody important.” The Doctor sums up one of the show’s recurring themes in his response. “Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing,” he says. “Do you know that in 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important before.”

Auntie (Elizabeth Berrington), Uncle (Adrain Schiller), Idris (Suranne Jones), and the Doctor (Matt Smith) in "The Doctor's Wife." (BBC)

Auntie (Elizabeth Berrington), Uncle (Adrian Schiller), Idris (Suranne Jones), and the Doctor (Matt Smith) in “The Doctor’s Wife.” (BBC)

Meeting the TARDIS in “The Doctor’s Wife”: Neil Gaiman’s Hugo Award-winning episode places the Doctor face-to-face with his oldest companion — his TARDIS. A sinister entity steals the time-and-spaceship’s matrix and places it in the body of a woman named Idris. As the Doctor converses with his beloved TARDIS (aka “Sexy”), he learns that when he “borrowed” her from Gallifrey hundreds of years prior, she chose him as much as he chose her. “I wanted to see the universe, so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away,” she tells him. “And you were the only one mad enough.”

Enjoying the human experience in “The Lodger” and “Closing Time”: The Doctor’s madness is most visible when he does ordinary things with ordinary people like Craig Owens (James Corden), a stuck-in-a-rut office worker whose house the Doctor lives in while investigating some temporal disturbances. The Doctor meddles in Craig’s work, love life and even his football team. Later, when they cross paths once more, he helps Craig develop a bond with his infant son Alfie, “though personally he prefers to be called Stormaggedon, Dark Lord of All,” the Doctor tells him, declaring he can “speak baby.” The Doctor’s interactions with Craig were charming and funny and reminded audiences that the Doctor is, indeed, an alien.

Tying the knot in “The Wedding of River Song”: This finale unraveled several mysteries that were wound over the course of a suspenseful Season 6, beginning with the Doctor’s apparent death and ending with the true identity of River Song. When all seems lost, River tells the Doctor, “I can’t let you die without knowing you are loved, by so many and so much, and by no one more than me.” The Doctor reveals to River his plan to fake his death at her hands, and they share a universe-saving wedding kiss. Later, he tells an ally that pretending to die is “the only way, then they can all forget me. … Time to step back into the shadows.” His friend asks if River will spend all her days in jail to pay for the apparent murder. “Her days, yes,” the Doctor responds. “Her nights … well, that’s between her and me.” Hello, sweetie.

Jenna Coleman and Matt Smith in "The Name of the Doctor." (BBC Worldwide)

Jenna Coleman and Matt Smith in “The Name of the Doctor.” (BBC Worldwide)

Facing his grave in “The Name of the Doctor”:  The Doctor, companion Clara Oswald and several more of his friends are brought unwillingly to Trenzalore, the site of the Doctor’s grave. In an enormous, deteriorating future version of the TARDIS, they discover the Doctor’s remains — a column of electric light. “Time travel is damage,” he explains to his companions. “It’s like a tear in the fabric of reality. That is the scar tissue of my journey through the universe — my path through time and space, from Gallifrey to Trenzalore.” In order to save the Doctor after a foe infiltrates that time stream, Clara dives into it, creating copies of herself throughout time and space in order to save the Doctor in all his iterations. The episode was one of many in which the Doctor himself needs saving, and humans prove themselves heroes.

Matt Smith in "The Day of the Doctor." (BBC America)

Matt Smith in “The Day of the Doctor.” (BBC America)

Working with his past regenerations in “The Day of the Doctor”: “Doctor Who” celebrated its 50th anniversary with a feature-length special that was shown in theaters and simulcast across the world. The episode unites all previous incarnations of the Doctor (though some were shown using archival footage), including Smith’s predecessor David Tennant, with whom he shares some sparky banter. Faced with the prospect of reliving his decision to destroy Gallifrey in order to save the universe from the unending Time War, Smith’s Doctor receives some advice from Clara. “We’ve got enough warriors. Any old idiot can be a hero,” she tells him, urging him to do “what you’ve always done — be a doctor.” Instead of destroying the planet, Smith’s Doctor devises a plan to save it, uniting with all his previous (and one future) regeneration to rewrite history, not to mention the show’s mythology, and save his home planet.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

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