1. His exuberance
“Geronimo!!” - Too many episodes to count.
From the moment Eleven comes crashing onto our screen at the climax to End of Time, there’s a palpable shift in the show’s energy. If Ten had clung to life out of fear for the end, then Eleven clings to it for the sheer joy of living. Matt himself said it well in a 2011 interview: “He's like a baby. He wants to sniff, to taste, everything; he'll never dismiss anything”. The youthful quality that he brings to that aspect, as an actor, is part of the charm.
But rather than negating the grief and loneliness of his earlier incarnations, as perhaps one might expect, Eleven’s sense of wonder and his delight in the universe often serves to throw his darker side into even sharper relief. Bringing me on neatly to…
“There’s a sliver of ice in his heart.” Hide
Though Matt has been the youngest actor so far to play the role of the Doctor, I never for one second doubted the age of the character, purely on the strength of the writing and his own extraordinary performance. Every nuance of the Doctor’s incredibly long and chequered past comes across at some point during Matt’s tenure. The terrible guilt he carries over the loss of innocent lives, coupled with the sheer fury he feels towards those responsible for such loss; the grief of so many goodbyes, the bitterness of old, unsettled scores. It all feeds into the character’s motivations and drives his attitude towards his enemies- and towards himself.
“Oh! Amelia Pond. Before I got it all wrong.” Let’s Kill Hitler
Eleven may not be human, but that doesn’t mean that he’s almighty. He screws up; and, more importantly, he recognises when he screws up. He spends most of his time with the Ponds trying to make up for all the damage he’s wrought in their lives, with varying degrees of success. And when the people he trusts call him out on his shit – like River in ‘A Good Man Goes to War’, or Clara in ‘The Day of the Doctor’ - he listens.
“My friends have always been the best of me.” The Wedding of River Song
For all his secrets and his apparent flippancy, Eleven is not afraid to get close to those he meets. Like many previous Doctors he is a friend to the lost and dispossessed, but also to the brave, the unconventional and the simply ordinary. He might not always understand them, but he spends his whole time trying.
"D'you know, in 900 years of time and space, I never met anybody who wasn't important before.” A Christmas Carol
Eleven can never stand aside, even when he longs to, or even when he should. He can’t bear to watch children cry; can’t let Ada continue to live in her mother’s shadow; can’t leave Vincent without adding to his pile of good things. His concern for others extends beyond simply saving the world; he wants the people he saved to have a world worth living in.
6. His idealism
"I am and always will be the optimist, the hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams." The Almost People
It's not a naive idealism, either. When a man who's lived so long and seen so many horrors still maintains his faith in the ability of good to prevail in the end, it stops looking like naivety and starts looking like a mission statement. He finds whatever hope he can in every situation, and goes out of his way to nurture it in others, too. There is also a cruel side to the expectations that he holds of others, one that surfaces rarely but alarmingly. People who fall short of his ideals or who are tied to a morality that conflicts with his own - Ambrose in 'The Hungry Earth', Simeon in 'The Snowmen', Jex in 'A Town Called Mercy' - are given short shrift. That is what comes of trying to live by so many rules, in a Universe that flouts them with such regularity.
“Are you capable of speaking without flapping your hands about?” The Day of the Doctor
I mean, come on. It’s Matt Smith. The man can’t even walk through a door the way ordinary people do. Every part of his body seems to be traveling in a different direction simultaneously, and yet somehow he manages to stay upright and remain magnificently in control throughout. Nor does the performance come across as overly mannered, a collection of peculiar tics; rather, it flows naturally from the action, underscoring this Doctor’s sheer otherworldliness. And speaking of otherworldliness:
“Bowties. Are. Cool.” Various
It so shouldn’t have worked, but somehow it was perfect. And, as I suspect most of us already know, it was largely down to Matt's input.
The pictures really speak for themselves here, but I would add that the inclusion of Amy’s glasses in the last half of series 7 was a particularly nice touch, effectively showing us how this Doctor, quite literally, carries his remembrances with him.
“Excuse me, I’m making perfect sense. You’re just not keeping up.” The Hungry Earth.
It’s not a cool-headed sort of cleverness, but the kind that blazes out of everything Eleven does and makes you dizzy. Though you never doubt that he’ll find an answer, the excitement is in seeing just how he arrives there. There is a glorious unpredictability about him that, with just one adventure left to go, has continued to surprise all the way through. And so we move on to…
10. His silliness
“LOOK AT ME I’M A TARGET!” The Pandorica Opens
Just sometimes, Eleven isn’t half as clever as he thinks he is. Sometimes, he is so patently ridiculous that someone really should pull him up by his bowtie and laugh in his face. Partly it’s because he’s so alien that his brain is operating along different lines to everyone else. Mostly it’s because he shows a blithe disregard for logic and self-preservation whenever such things get in the way of a really appealing plan.
11. His bravery
“Oh, you like to think you're a god, but you're not a god. You're just a parasite eaten out with jealousy and envy and longing for the lives of others. You feed on them. On the memory of love and loss and birth and death and joy and sorrow. So...so come on, then. Take mine. Take my memories.” The Rings of Akhaten
One of the reasons that I’m both looking forward to and dreading 'The Time of the Doctor' is seeing how Eleven will handle the end of his run. I haven’t got the faintest clue how it’ll play out, but all I really know is; I want him to be brave. Because that’s part of what I most love about Eleven’s character. Without fail, he will put himself in the firing line if it’ll protect the people he cares about.
And really, I could have used any number of quotes to illustrate my point. We saw it in ‘The Big Bang’, as he consoled Amelia in his final moments. We saw it in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, when he dedicated his dying energies to saving Amy and Rory. Offering himself as a vessel to the tree-people in ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’, facing down the Daleks with a Jammy Dodger in ‘Victory of the Daleks’, leaping into his own timestream for Clara’s sake in ‘The Name of the Doctor’ – the list just goes on and on.
Yes, he might be afraid; he might even run away. Yet still we don’t lose faith in him as the protagonist because we all know, when push really comes to shove, he’ll see it through to the bitter end.