I really do not like Smith’s era. I had the creeping qualms in the moment, and those have crept far in time. Usually when there’s someone else in the TARDIS besides the Doctor and Amy, be it Rory, River, or whoever, things get a little better. But that doesn’t change the insufferable ego-driven writing. Everything is so superficial; about how cool things are, about how things look, about how (yes) sexy things are. It’s the CW era of Doctor Who.
When Clara comes in, I think things improve tremendously even if the scripts largely don’t, inasmuch as Clara – through violently under-written – becomes through Coleman’s performance a far more grown-up, confident character than Amy, who more easily sees through the Doctor’s bullshit and is totally fine to live her own life. Like so many classic companions, early Clara is defined by the actor, and Coleman is one of the best actresses the modern show has had in this role.
Later, of course, she’s given an actual character to play. And things get better!
Stories that still work well from Smith’s era, I find:
- Time of the Angels / Flesh and Stone
- Amy’s Choice (probably)
- Let’s Kill Hitler (If anything, far more relevant today!)
- The Girl Who Waited (though this now feels like a series 2 story, tonally)
- The Power of Three (probably? Chibnall’s most recent)
- The Rings of Akhaten (some of the only notable character work in the Smith era)
- The Day of the Doctor
Vincent and the Doctor has a lovely metaphor at its heart, and the actor who does Van Gogh is just fabulous. But the episode comes at the story from such a neoliberal vector that it makes me want to bite my thumb off.
I used to like Hide, but… the glow faded quickly. I dunno.
Honestly, I think you’re fine just sticking with the Angels two-parter (the best Angels story, on reflection) and Day of the Doctor. There’s not much else that compels me to watch it again soon. Unlike Eccles/Tennant (mostly for the RTD stories, frankly) or Capaldi, which I can just hammer at any time.
Seriously, the bulk of Capaldi’s era – a few whiffs aside – stand sup to me as one of the three pinnacles of the show to date, alongside season 7 (1970) and seasons 25-26 (1988-89). I even include series 10 in that, which I like considerably less on balance than 8 or 9, yet I still like more than nearly any non-Capaldi run.
Here’s hopin’ Chibnall has his act together. It sounds like he’s approaching the job more deliberately than Moffat ever did, so that’s a promising start.