I can't believe it's here already: Matt Smith's final episode of Doctor Who, "The Time of the Doctor," airs tomorrow. Across almost four years and 43 episodes, Smith has helped bring Who even further into the mainstream of pop-culture consciousness, and while I don't intend to open a can of worms, I think it's fair to say that he's successfully filled the shoes vacated by David Tennant. (As for whether showrunner Steven Moffat has kept the show on track after taking over for Russell T. Davies, well, that's another story.) Thus, in celebration of Smith's last hour as the Eleventh Doctor, I've compiled my picks for his 11 best episodes.
A couple notes before we begin: Obviously, these sorts of superlatives are extremely subjective. For example, I tend to think the Moffat-era finales are very convoluted and full of false stakes, so you won't find them here. And even though I have my favorites among the episodes named below, it seemed more sensible to arrange them in chronological order; in that way, this list is more of a retrospective journey through Smith's time on the show than anything else. But as always, I await your suggestions for what should have (or have not) made the cut.
In the meantime, here we go. Or, geronimo!
"The Eleventh Hour" (Season 5, Episode 1)
All these years later, this might still be my favorite episode of the Matt Smith era. Everyone involved did a masterful job of introducing a brand-new set of characters and a whole new story. Although Smith would later evolve into a more assured Doctor, the enthusiasm and charm he brought to Eleven in this first hour certainly eased the transition away from Tennant. The episodic story with the Atraxi was hit-or-miss, but that stuff didn't matter as much as building up the rapport between Smith, Karen Gillan's Amy, and Arthur Darvill's Rory. A great way to kick off a new era.
"The Time of Angels" and "Flesh and Stone" (Season 5, Episodes 4 and 5)
Ah, remember when Doctor Who still did satisfying and thrilling two-part episodes? This double shot made great use of the Weeping Angels and of River Song in a time when they weren't yet overused, and Smith was really good at directing traffic between those two Moffat toys and a distressed (and later lusty) Amy.
"Vincent and the Doctor" (Season 5, Episode 10)
Sure, this one is probably worth praising more specifically for Tony Curran's great turn as Vincent van Gogh and for Karen Gillan's work as Amy—especially since the show was finally starting to figure out what the character could be outside of the Girl Who Waited and/or the Girl Who Wants to Do the Doctor—but then again, "Vincent and the Doctor" is worth praising in general. Richard Curtis's script created a lovely story about death, loss, and depression couched in an appealing gimmick with one of the world's most famous artists. Though Smith served more of a supporting role here, his work in the final few scenes—particularly once he and Amy realized that their time with van Gogh didn't prevent him from committing suicide—added a sort of necessary sense of emotional maturity to his version of the Doctor.
"The Lodger" (Season 5, Episode 11)
Craig! I'm probably in the minority, but watching the Doctor try to adapt to a human life, integrating himself into Craig's inner circle of one, filling in for him at the call center, etc. was a nice change of pace for a show with typical LIFE AND DEATH stakes all the time. Obviously things get much more grim in the second half of the episode, but the story of the secret second floor worked because the first part successfully introduced us to Craig, Sophie, and the Doctor's temporary life in the apartment building. It was cool to see Smith in those early moments, especially in the comedic exchanges between the Doctor and and James Corden's Craig.
"The Impossible Astronaut" (Season 6, Episode 1)
The second part of the Season 6 opener wasn't quite up to snuff, and in general, the season's overarching story about who killed the Doctor tapered off, but "The Impossible Astronaut"? Pretty great. Shooting for the first time in the U.S. and working with a particularly intriguing time period injected a little extra energy into the proceedings. The Doctor's death was a shocking development, and Smith did a fine job, however briefly, of playing the character in two different points of his life. Bonus points for the cowboy hat.
"The Doctor's Wife" (Season 6, Episode 4)
Timey-wimey stories are cool and all, but I really love it when Doctor Who takes advantage of its you-can-literally-do-anything premise to try episodes like this one. "The Doctor's Wife" smartly personified the TARDIS and "her" relationship with the Doctor, taking what had long been relegated to subtext ("The relationship between the Doctor and the TARDIS is like a marriage!") and brought above the fold. My favorite Matt Smith is the playful, kind of awkward Matt Smith, and Suranne Jones' performance as the human version of the TARDIS brought that out in spades. What a fine way to explore decades of history.
"The God Complex" (Season 6, Episode 11)
Based on conversations with the diehard Doctor Who fans in my life, I feel like this one might be a controversial choice. But amid a run of episodes that got lost within its own narrative, "The God Complex" was a really great palate cleanser powered by a strong episodic story and some good character stuff. It's kind of too easy to explore "The Doctor is dangerous to those around him!" stories, but "The God Complex" did it really, really well. The "mad man in a box" utterance is one of the more notable lines from Eleven's run on the show, and for that alone, "The God Complex" belongs in any worthwhile Smith-era Who conversation. Plus: Minotaur!
"The Asylum of the Daleks" (Season 7, Episode 1)
As a season premiere, the beginning of the end for one story, and the beginning of the beginning for another, "The Asylum of the Daleks" had a lot of ground to cover, but the episode managed to make it all work. Clara's surprising introduction was a highlight here, as was the really wonderful production design of the Dalek parliament. And yet, it's hard to beat that late-episode sequence when the Doctor realized that Clara had wiped him out of the Daleks' collective memory. Moffat has probably had too much fun with integrating the show's title into actual storylines, but Smith's delivery of "you're never going to stop asking" was simply lovely.
"The Angels Take Manhattan" (Season 7, Episode 5)
Amy and Rory's final episode makes my brain hurt when I really think about it for more than a few minutes, but above all, it was tremendously satisfying on an emotional and character level. The last 10 minutes delivered numerous gut-punches, and really required Smith to be at the top of his game. He was. It's because of the cast's great performances that this episode even remotely holds up.
"The Day of the Doctor" (the 50th Anniversary Special)
I couldn't not, really. Last month's celebratory blowout brought multiple Doctors together and generally lived up to expectations. It was hard not to divert most of the attention to all the historical references, John Hurt's work, and the returning performers, but Smith, as he always has, did a wonderful job of playing off of the jam-packed cast and bringing depth and wonder to a character that will be difficult to bid farewell. The scenes between Smith, Tennant, and Hurt were about as good as Who gets for me.
What are YOUR favorite episodes from Matt Smith's tenure as the Doctor?
AIRED ON 11/8/2014
Season 8 : Episode 12