Matt Smith to bow out of Doctor Who at Christmastime

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Doctor Who (BBC)

Bow ties. Fezzes. Stetsons. They’re all cool. This is not so cool: Just two weeks after assuring a UK publication that he would be returning for Doctor Who’s eighth modern season in 2014, Matt Smith has apparently decided to leave the role of the itinerant Time Lord’s 11th incarnation, according to the BBC.

We’ll have him (and his predecessor David Tennant) for the 50th anniversary fete on Nov. 23, and he’ll be back for the traditional Christmas special — but that’s it.

Smith’s departure, of course, means that the Doctor will regenerate — an ability unique to his extinct Time Lord race that has given long life to a show that debuted in 1963 as a pseudo-educational children’s program with a rather crotchety, professorial main character. The concept has allowed the show to endure and expand in much the same way as the James Bond franchise has traded leading men over the years.

The Sun had reported in March that Smith was leaving Doctor Who after the Christmas special. But Smith was singing a different tune when he spoke to the tabloid again a couple weeks back, saying he would be returning after Christmas for the just-confirmed eighth season since the show relaunched in 2005 after a long absence. The program, which originally ran from 1963-89, is celebrating its golden anniversary this year with a special on its special day, Nov. 23.

Whether Smith’s promise to return was misdirection or something else remains to be seen. But time, and Time Lords, march on: Lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat said the search is on to find the actor to play the regenerated 12th incarnation of the Doctor (although that numbering may now be in doubt, as fans were thrown a curve in the recent season finale when John Hurt was introduced as another, hitherto secret version of the character).

Doctor Who lore has long held that Time Lords have only 13 lives, and thus 12 regenerations, although circumstances could bestow new life upon those who had spent theirs, and recently the Doctor himself told a friend in a spinoff series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, that the process was more or less unlimited. Make of that what you will — but the universe (or at least the BBC finance department) has shown an unwillingness to part with the Doctor. Rules, shmules.

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