Surprising everyone, the BBC announced Saturday that 26-year-old actor Matt Smith will inherit the starring role in its hit series Doctor Who. He replaces David Tennant, who announced in late October that he will leave the British sci-fi series early next year.
Smith, a rising star of stage and screen, is the youngest person ever to portray the 900-year-old Time Lord. His previous credits include Secret Diary of a Call Girl and the BBC’s adaptations of the Philip Pullman novels The Ruby in the Smoke and The Shadow in the North. Former Doctor Who companion Billie Piper appeared with Smith in those productions. He also appeared in an episode of ABC’s Boston Legal.
When a Time Lord like the Doctor is mortally wounded, he “regenerates” — his appearance and personality are changed, but at his core he always remains a wanderer and unlikely hero who saves Earth, and the universe, from unimaginable threats. With assorted companions, usually from Earth, the Doctor rattles around in his trusty TARDIS, a spaceship and time machine disguised as a British police call box.
Paterson Joseph (Survivors, Jekyll) had been widely rumored to be the leading contender, and he would have been the first black actor to play the Time Lord — but really, the speculation has been all over the place, from Joseph’s Jekyll co-star James Nesbitt to Catherine Zeta-Jones. Joseph had appeared in Doctor Who’s 2005 season as a competitor on a futuristic version of The Weakest Link.
The identity of Smith as the lucky actor was revealed in a special Jan. 3 episode of the behind-the-scenes series Doctor Who Confidential, appropriately titled “The Eleventh Doctor,” in which he discussed his views on being cast in the popular role:
Here are some quotes from Matt Smith about his casting as the Doctor:
“I’m just so excited about the journey that is in front of me. It’s a wonderful privilege and challenge that I hope I will thrive on. I feel proud and honoured to have been given this opportunity to join a team of people that has worked so tirelessly to make the show so thrilling. David Tennant has made the role his own, brilliantly, with grace, talent and persistent dedication. I hope to learn from the standards set by him.
“The challenge for me is to do justice to the show’s illustrious past, my predecessors, and most importantly, to those who watch it. I really cannot wait.”
Lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat added:
“The Doctor is a very special part, and it takes a very special actor to play him. You need to be old and young at the same time, a boffin and an action hero, a cheeky schoolboy and the wise old man of the universe.
“As soon as Matt walked through the door, and blew us away with a bold and brand new take on the Time Lord, we knew we had our man.
“2010 is a long time away but rest assured the 11th Doctor is coming – and the universe has never been so safe.”
Tennant took over the role from Christopher Eccleston, who left after only one season when the show returned from a 16-year break in 2005. Going backwards from there, the role has also been held by Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker, Peter Davison, Tom Baker (no relation), Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell.
“I think it’s better to go when there’s a chance that people might miss you, rather than to hang around and outstay your welcome,” Tennant told the BBC when his departure was announced last year. The show’s fifth season had been pushed back to 2010, replaced by a series of specials at Easter and three other unannounced dates to allow Tennant to do more stage work with the Royal Shakespeare Company. When the show returns to a weekly run after the specials it will also have a new executive producer (Moffat).