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Doctor Who: David Tennant vs. Matt Smith

David Tennant Matt Smith Doctor Who

Tennant and Smith

My husband was the person who got me started on “Doctor Who”. I was unsure about the show when he described what it was about, but I was hooked after just one episode. Since then, I have been witness to three different Doctors. Yet, it seems that the real debate happening on the Internet is about latter two: David Tennant’s Doctor versus Matt Smith’s Doctor.

Personally, it took me a long time to be ready to watch David Tennant assume the role of The Doctor. I was in love with Christopher Eccleston’s version of the character and had a hard time accepting someone new. I’m glad I did though, and I truly love Tennant’s characterization. Because of going through this transition once, it was easier for me to move into the era of Matt Smith’s Doctor. However, it seems the same can not be said of everyone.

Now, cards on the table here; I didn’t really like Matt Smith at first. I had to get well into the season before I came to accept him. A lot of people seem to have never really given him the benefit of the doubt, and I’ve heard a lot of people say they gave up after a couple of episodes. Yes, Matt Smith is quite different, but isn’t that the point?

The mythology of The Doctor is such that each incarnation is finite. During a regeneration, he doesn’t just swap one look for another the same way you change a mask. He becomes another person. There is some essence that transfers over, but that’s about it. We had Tennant for so long that I think people became comfortable, then were jarred by the change in a way we didn’t experience with Eccleston (who was only The Doctor for a season).

The other reason I think there is a lack of acceptance is that Tennant’s Doctor was someone you could fall in love with. Let’s face it, the ladies (and some men I’m sure) fell hard for him. He was cute, he was quirky and he was the sort of guy you’d let take you on a date to some distant planet in another galaxy. Matt Smith’s Doctor, on the other hand, is not anything like that. He’s awkward, his focus is always somewhere else and he just doesn’t seem interested in romance.

I also think the acceptance of Matt Smith suffers from having some really weak episodes early on in his first season. They really started fresh by way of cast and crew, and it can take a while to find the right footing. You may not realize you’re doing it, but often a bad reaction to an episode will cause you to also take it out on the actor. The good news is that the season did gain some steam, and the Christmas special from 2010 was especially pleasant and fun.

All in all, I’m alright with Matt Smith. He is a very different Doctor, and that’s okay. I’m looking forward to seeing where the next season takes us. If you’re one of those that gave up too soon on Smith, give him another try. If you really don’t like him, fine. I miss Tennant myself, and I’d have loved for him to stay longer. But such is the nature of The Doctor.

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17 Responses to “Doctor Who: David Tennant vs. Matt Smith”

  1. Sabrinna says:

    I had the exact opposite reaction to you. I was totally primed for a new Doctor. I loved Tennants Doctor but was happy for the role to be passed onto the next person. The first episode, I thought Matt Smith copied David Tennant far too much and hadn’t come up with an original version for himself. I decided to hang in there and if give the actor time to develop into the role. It just kept getting worse. I’ve seen everything up to the Christmas Carol and each episode was more disappointing than the last. Now I’m done. It’s turned into yet another show aimed at the tween, teen & early 20’s market; just like 90% of what’s out there already. BORING! I give up. When they announce a new Doctor, new writers a new Director & a new companion, I’ll come back but until that day, I hope the show suffers major ratings losses because it abandoned it’s fan-base in favour of an already over-saturated market.

  2. The Le says:

    I liked Tennant a lot, but frankly I was happy to see him go. The last seasons were dreadful and I think Tennant should be ashamed that he left on such a low note. Granted, this is mostly writer Russel T Davies’ fault, but they both go hand in hand.

    The new Matt Smith / Steven Moffat era had some hits an misses in their first season, but overall the quality of the episodes were greatly improved over Tennant/Davies last seasons.

    Also keep in mind that Moffat wrote 4 of the most beloved Tennant episodes — The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances (aka “Are you my mommy?”), The Girl in the Fireplace, and Blink.

    Is Matt Smith better than Tennant? God yes, but to be fair I think much of that has to do with Moffat’s writing (and Smith’s ability to bring Moffat’s vision to life).

    Example: When pressed by Amy about his people, Matt Smith responded with “It was a bad day. Bad stuff happened.” Davies + Tennant would have responded with a 2 minute overly dramatic speech.

    And don’t get me started on Tennant’s over dependence on the Sonic “save the day” Screwdriver. Smith’s Dr Who has been very keen to keep the Sonic in check.

    Make no mistake — Matt Smith is the better Dr. Who. (even if I do miss Donna).

  3. Jerry says:

    I thought I would look up some comments tonight, as I watched The Doctor’s Wife today.

    For me, the modern Doctor Who was not really good until the third season (Tennant’s second). Before then, I would watch the shows, but I could take them or leave them. Then Tennant really found his stride (or mojo or whatever) until his second year. I’m sure part of that has to do with the writing, too.
    But I like Tennant’s rants. Tennant was the clever version of the Doctor. He would think out loud step by step, and with each step, he got more excited after realizing something important. He was fun to watch, and he had great comedy moments, imho.

    Likewise, Smith has grown into his own version the Doctor in his second year. All Doctors were eccentric. But Smith has taken eccentricity to a new level and this trait, as exemplified in the Doctor’s wife, is the focal point of his personality.

    Which one do I like better? At this point, it is Tennant. But over time, I won’t be surprised if I like Matt Smith’s better over time.

  4. Kessieisme says:

    Personally, when i heard Tenant was being replaced by someone even younger, i was dubious, But from the first time i saw him even if it was for twenty seconds, i instantly fell in love with him. In his first episode people say he was Trying to be like David, But that’s how Moffat wrote it. He said in an interview that he was still writing for David at that point, because it was still him in a way, So, Not Matts fault. But the thing that makes him my ultimate Doctor, are him mannerisms. The way he uses his hands and fingers and the way he is sometimes, truly shows that he is six hundred year old man. Whereas Tennant seemed much more as though he were only in his twenties. The only thing that let’s matt down, for me, is i haven’t seen him do a proper emotional scene, not on the level of doomsday, or even when talking about his home land. When i see his acting capabilities in that area, he’ll become complete in my mind.

  5. Aaron says:

    I have just now started watching the 5th season of Doctor Who after having caught up through the 4th season and the TV movies (and Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures). I have watched through the Weeping Angels two-parter, and I have to say that I love Matt Smith as the Doctor, I love the writing, and I love the production values. (When they went to high definition during the TV movies, the look of the show went from good to very, very good.)
    I was never in love with the 10th Doctor, and the poor quality of the 4th season didn’t help matters. David Tennant’s Doctor was annoying. The overwrought scripts and hyper-emotional tone of the series didn’t help. His character was manic and intense all the time. Intensely playful, menacing, depressed, whatever. At the end, he just couldn’t maintain that intensity through all those scenes in a way that I could believe. (Unlike his 4th season co-star Cathering Tate! She cried in every episode, but I felt it every time.) I thought he was at his best as John Smith in Human Nature. I prefer my Doctors to be a little understated or they get tiring. Matt Smith is energetic, but he still holds back some emotional energy. There’s still some remoteness and mystery. He (and the scripts) are very funny and his performance is nuanced in a way that David Tennant attempted, but failed at precisely because the attempt was visible. Matt Smith’s Doctor has a compassionate quality that I find charming. When David Tennant tried to act compassionate, you could see it was all in his head not his heart. His acting style was more about theatrics as opposed to real emotional charisma. As for appearance, I never understood the fuss about David Tennant. I felt that he was one of the less physically charismatic Doctors, certainly behind John Pertwee, Tom Baker, Christopher Eccleston, Patrick Troughton and definitely Matt Smith, who is striking.

  6. Red Lee says:

    I recently started watching the 5th season on dvd-s and gave up on the show, not really because of Matt Smith, but because of the changed concept of the show. I loved Doctor Who being well rounded and having mostly single episode stories. Moffat introduced to many dragging mysteries, like River Song identity; he also put WAY too much emphasis on the big bad (silence and cracks) from the very first episode, so it kinda ruined the joy of all the individual stories for me. This is simply subjective, but I really don’t like that. Makes all the episodes in between seem like fillers until we reach the finale.

    Yes, RTD had “bad wolf” in season 1, or hints about missing planets in season 4, but they were much much more subtle, any you could easily sweep them under the rug or not notice them.
    Now I feel it is much different and it seems that show has switched to a different format of a show – one that forces much more continuity.

    So, basically this is what made me stop watching :(
    I’m not saying these changes are objectively bad, but for me they killed the show.

    Regarding the actors:

    Yes, I certainly enjoyed and liked Tennant’s (and Eccleston’s!) Doctor much more than Smith, because their performance would grab my compassion, while Matt Smith seems too detached and cold in a way. However, I think he’s okay – a different kind of Doctor, and he’s certainly not the reason I stopped watching.

    RTD’s writing had SO much flaws (and some annoyingly weak episodes.) – but still the show of that era had a certain silly atmosphere that made it fun in such way that I didn’t mind the flaws that much. It seemed to me that the show is being somewhat retro SF at times, and not taking itself entirely seriously. And it was about the adventure! It captured that feeling really well.

    Now, Moffat’s episodes during RTD’s era were excellent and I loved them. Now I realize that they worked better as a break from RTD’s annoyingly goofy aliens. Now we have annoyingly smug miss perfect full of herself River Song. I prefer even Slitheen to that. :/

    Anyway, in fifth season sense of wonder was gone. And so was I as a watcher. I really WANTED to love it, but half way through I realized I just don’t care what happens anymore… :(

    P.S. all of this is me venting my personal opinion and I hope no one gets insulted! I’m kinda sad that most of the internet discussion fall down to which Doctor/Actor is better, instead of having interesting discussions…

  7. MoniqueDC says:

    I am in agreement with Red Lee. Matt Smith is adequate, but only adequate (and he rambles on incessantly). The quality of Eccelston and Tennant is far superior (as are the quality of the episodes) to the current version of Dr. Who. Since BBC decides to make a change, I was hoping they would REALLY CHANGE the context by selecting an actor who was a person of color and/or female. Such a different dimension that would have been to the show – and consistent with the framework of Dr. Who. They missed a great opportunity by not doing so.
    The current episodes seem quite shallow compared to the earlier content. The weeping angels came no where near the suspense and intensity of the orignal “Blink” episode. And the companions? Amy may be cute, but so trite and predictable. She shows more “spoiled brat” than depth of character.
    Just one more example of why I am looking forward to the 4th Dr. Who in the recreated series. I hope they find him or her soon and recreate the distinctive feel of the Eccelston/Tennant characters.

  8. Tuft says:

    I’ve got to throw it out there: I really don’t like Eccleston as a Doctor. He’s a good actor, and he got me hooked on Doctor Who, but I don’t really think he stacks up to Tennant or Smith or Baker. (not sure if you’re discussing the older Doctors, but I LOVED Baker, so I had to put him in here somewhere) Now, on to the question of the hour. Tennant or Smith? I personally prefer Tennant, because he has more “serious” moments, whereas I think Smith relies more on humor. I’m only saying this, because usually, while watching an episode of Smith, I only stop laughing when I go to the bathroom, or take a drink or something along those lines. Tennant can still be funny and quirky, though, which is one of the reasons I like him better as a Doctor. I also think Tennant’s music fits him better than Smith’s, even though that isn’t Smith’s fault. I also think that Steven Moffat, while a great writer, is only good every once in a while. In Washington, USA, everyone always wants more sun until it’s too sunny, and I think that is reflected in Moffat. Like wine, Moffat is good in small doses, but he isn’t so good after long periods of time. RTD, while he does have some very silly aliens, like the Slitheen and the Krillitaine, and he had a much better story written in my opinion. His story spans four seasons, whereas Moffat has two, less grand stories in the short time of two seasons. Sure, there is some foreshadowing as to what is coming, but that’s it. Would it kill Smith to acknowledge his past? I mean, I know it references Rose, Donna, and Martha in “Let’s Kill Hitler”, but all he said was “I messed you up” basically. I mean sure, there are references to the Time War, and the Daleks, and the Cybermen, but to me, those seem like afterthoughts, just a few days before, Moffat thinking “Oh, right, he knew the Cybermen before”, and penciling it into the script. RTD also has, in my mind, the best companions. People like Martha, Rose, Mickey, Astrid, and of course, Jack Harkness. Another thing: Why isn’t Torchwood EVER mentioned in Doctor Who nowadays? I mean, they don’t have to be in EVERY episode, but they haven’t even been seen in the last nearly three years! I loved Torchwood, both the old and new, and I was really sad to see them go. This was what I mean by Smith severing all of his ties– We never see so many lovable characters, like Jack, or the rest of Torchwood, Martha, or so many other lovable characters that established a relationship with the 10th! The only one we get is River Song, and personally, I find her very annoying. I also miss the Master, and was really excited in the episode “Amy’s Choice”, because I thought that the Dream Lord was the Master. I was waiting for the “big reveal” so to speak, but it never happened. The episode ended, not with a bang, but a whimper. Apparently, it was the Doctor all along, and there was conveniently some plot pollen. I don’t like episodes where it’s just “Oh, it was just ________ all along! Wow, there was also a convenient plot device introduced at the end, that was there since the beginning! Cool beans!”. It kind of peeves me that Moffat would do that. As for the actor himself, I don’t HATE Smith, even if that is what it sounds like. I genuinely like him, and I think he’s a great actor. In fact, I think he’s a better actor than Tennant. But I simply think that Tennant was a better Doctor. He’s been training his whole life for this— Literally. When he was a kid, he made home videos, where he was playing with a Sonic Screwdriver, (branch) pretending to be The Doctor. The entire REASON he went into acting was for Doctor Who. I hope none of you guys get mad at me, I’m just expressing my personal opinion, I think that Tennant is a better Doctor, but that’s just me.

  9. i am biggest fans in world with david tennant and matt smith good Actoning in doctor who done will
    and i got a dr who collection and the king of rock ‘n’ roll elvis presley
    meet doctor who

  10. Marie says:

    I agree with most of you actually but
    I really wasn’t upset that David Tennant was leaving…(though i did cry…) i knew it had to happen, if he didn’t leave at the right time i wouldn’t respect him as much as i do. Anyway, i knew i wasn’t gonna like matt smith right away (esp because like you i fell in love with Eccleston and then had to get used to Tennant) so i waited, and i’ve watched them all, and i gotta say i love matt smith now but the show has definitely gone down hill. It’s very convoluted and so action packed sometimes it’s annoying. The thing is, I really enjoy it, it just doesn’t feel like doctor who so much anymore you know? (exactly what you were saying Red Lee)

    i agree with Sabrinna that smith really plays to a younger audience, but i am impressed with how he’s aged the character in the past two seasons, he doesn’t do dramatic as well as david, im always aware of how young he is (and that he’s playing a 900 yr old) during dramatic scenes- but i think he gets away with it, and the way i’ve begun to see him is like so old he’s infantile you know what i mean? Anyway im really hoping the next season will have more substance

    Also, is anyone else PISSED that river song’s not gonna be a companion for a little while?? They have such good chemistry… i mean they better explain that story line really well, they can’t just leave it at they’re married okay now the doctor moves on. Hell no.

  11. Tacohell says:

    I must say I enjoy David Tennant over Matt Smith, but not just because I grew up on David Tennants the Doctor its just that I like his personality much better. I do have to agree that after Martha left the show seemed to go down hill ,and don’t get me started on the last episode of season 3! The sign off for Martha was just sloppy and the acting on the other time lord was laughable to be honest. It was hard for me to get though the last season without wanting to puke, but i must say the last episodes for Tennant were fantastic. Then Matt came along and I must say I was bit spectacle at first. I felt he was trying to be Tennant not himself. After pushing through the first season it has gotten better. Again do I like Tennant or Smith? I must say Tennant, because he has a special place in all our hearts whether you like it or not. Matt is great, but the first season I must say was almost as bad as Tennants last season. I will never forget the time I spent watching Tennants seasons, but as the seasons change… so does the Doctor!

  12. Lylo says:

    I definitely prefer David Tennant. His character was much deeper: he was clever, and funny, and so easy to emphasise with. Matt Smith is much shallower, more like a puppet bouncing around the stage, whereas David Tennant’s doctor seemed much more like a person.

  13. Sonny says:

    With Tennant you could really believe there were hidden depths – rage, passion, joy, intelligence. Matt Smith tonal range has felt much more limited.

  14. Jason0521 says:

    I loved all the doctors :) but Matt smith and Christopher were my favorites
    (and I mean ALL the doctors 1-11)

  15. Ellie says:

    I preferred David Tennant, he is also amazingly good in Broadchurch and he’s damn hot wit it, I prefer him in the latter actually he is serious and sexy!

  16. a fan of the 10th doctor -preston millerd says:

    Oh I miss David remnant so much he was fun always a step ahead and brilliant. He could be epic, serious, kind, apologetic, and or loving to people he always even gave a chance and an apology to his enemies but sadly the ood decided to end his sad song. The ood have never been seen again and yet after only 100 years they accomplished more than humans could in 2000. I am sad to say that if the 11th doctor saw them he would act as he does to all the inoccent beings who done him wrong and brought the message of fate He Will Be Evil and rude to my favorite species ever. The ood at first a slave race that wanted freedom a nd when that was achieved they showed great intellegence the doctor appeared very shocked at their 100 year success. An important question is what the heck happened to the ood?!? They were awesome. They foretold the return of the master and warned the doctor that his time would soon come to an end when he attempted to change a fixed point in time. He failed. His song ended with the help of the ood and he visited his old companions one … last… time… goodbye David tennant. My only question left is Doctor Who? Spread the word “all songs have an end”

  17. Lilac says:

    I preferred David Tennant over Matt Smith. I feel like 11 and River Song were trying so desperately to capture the relationship between 10 and Rose Tyler. I also think that 11 was incredibly shallow. His character didn’t show any emotion other than bouncing happiness and the occasional sadness. 10 really got to me; he managed to capture the playful side of him and the serious, depressing, I-blew-up-my-planet-and-killed-off-my-entire-race sadness. 11 made me laugh like crazy, and I enjoyed him a lot, but I just didn’t feel the same connection that I felt with 10. The only episode 11 showed any emotion was in “The Angels Take Manhattan.” That episode, I saw so much raw pain on his face, and I thought that it was going to get better, but unfortunately that moment passed. I honestly loved Amy and Rory, but I absolutely despise Clara. She just seems like a carbon copy of every other companion. Fall in love with Doctor, do something life-threatening to save the Doctor, then have him love you because you saved him, yadda yadda yadda. But that’s just my opinion.

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