Doctor Who: Changing of the Guard

As you’ve likely heard by now, Matt Smith has announced his upcoming departure from Doctor Who.  He’ll be on board for the 50th Anniversary Special, but he’ll be regenerating soon after in the 2013 Christmas Special.

The day the announcement was made, I had a surprisingly difficult time of it.  When I first started watching New Who in 2005 I was no stranger to the concept of regeneration or the various and sundry Doctors; thus, Christopher Eccleston’s departure was bittersweet, but expected.  And he regenerated in such a reassuring manner as well, which worked to the benefit of both Rose and the audience.

When David Tennant regenerated, I was frankly sick of Russell T Davies, sick of the path the show had taken, sick of the angsty Doctor Tennant had become.  I was more than ready for a regeneration.  And then the episode drew it out so ridiculously long, and his plaintive last words – well, let’s just say I was not the fan for which the episode was intended.

Within Matt Smith’s first episode, I fell hard.  I know Doctor Who is a show people of all ages can enjoy (obviously) but in other New Who episodes it felt like the children were either forgotten altogether or pandered to (Slitheen, ugh), which is essentially forgetting a large component of Who History.  Within the first few minutes Matt Smith is onscreen, though, he’s interacting with a child, embracing that portion of the audience, and being everything I always felt a Doctor should be – fun, alien, but reassuring.  As adults we view the companions running off with the Doctor in one way – we can appreciate the danger, the risks, maybe even the potential for romance – but kids see the adventure first.   Matt Smith brought back a kind of purity and fun, while still maintaining deeper levels (for possibly the last time, I cite his confrontation with River in the TARDIS in “The Impossible Astronaut.”  And, well, most of “The Name of the Doctor”).

So even though the Eleventh Doctor is far from my first, he became My Doctor within his first season.  I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go see The Doctor Who Experience in London when I did – so that I could stand in my favorite TARDIS, with my favorite Doctor leading the adventure on-screen, and check out props from some of my favorite episodes (and I still wish there’d be an exhibit in the US – touring, even).  I don’t know if Matt Smith will always be the featured Doctor there, so I’m glad my chance came when it did.

Chances are great that I’ll tear up when he leaves.  That’s never happened, but knowing Moffat he’ll try to milk every last one he can (and this is the one aspect of Moffat writing I don’t like).  But if I do well up,it won’t be due to manipulative writing – it’s because I’m saying goodbye to My Doctor.

Something New

To distract myself, I almost immediately began thinking about who the next Doctor could be.  I would have been happy if Matt Smith had remained the Doctor longer than Tom Baker, but I do recognize that the direction of the show needed a little freshening up, and a new Doctor is the simplest way to do so.  Thus, I’m all for someone who further expands the definition of who the Doctor is.  Maybe older?  Maybe a different ethnicity?  Accent?  Gender?  Will we finally get a ginger Doctor?   I don’t mean just different for the sake of being different – the best actor for the job, absolutely – but maybe broaden the search parameters a bit.

After all, we’re talking about a science fiction show, and an alien who can regenerate into pretty much any humanoid.  I believe there was even talk of the number of heads being up for grabs in one episode.

Some names have come up over and over again, since before Matt Smith was chosen – Paterson Joseph and Idris Elba are two that are frequently cited.  In women, Helen Mirren and Tilda Swinton almost always come up (and I must say, I firmly believe Helen Mirren could be an amazing Doctor if she chose – that woman could make anything amazing, and she has that perfect combination of alien authority and reassurance I was talking about with Matt).   Nothing is wrong with any of those choices, but I almost feel like the more they get tossed around, the less likely it’ll ever happen.

Then there are what I think of as “fan” choices.  If someone is popular in another role, particularly one with a strong preexisting fanbase, their name will inevitably come up, and loudly.  Some of those include:

  • Rupert Grint
  • Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Tom Hiddleston
  • Jaime Murray

Again, none of these are bad choices, but I feel like people tend to go for actors they just like, or who are in similar roles already.  Rupert Grint is frequently cited on the basis of his hair.  I’ve seen Jaime Murray listed numerous times, as well as Lucy Liu; Murray played a female H.G. Wells on Warehouse 13, and Liu is currently a female Watson.  If the idea is to think outside the box, this doesn’t feel like we’re going much past the perimeter.  And as for Tom Hiddleston – the man is probably drowning in offers for everything right now.

Not that I’m immune from my own fan preferences – I would absolutely love for Richard Ayoade to be the Doctor.  I’ve heard some people say he’s similar in various roles, but perhaps they haven’t actually compared his over-the-top Maurice Moss in IT Crowd with the deadpan way he slays an audience in a panel show.   Even his voice is pitched differently!  At any rate, I totally think he’s got the capacity to handle it – but I may be just a bit biased.

And in keeping with the IT Crowd theme, I wouldn’t turn down the idea of Chris O’Dowd as the Doctor either – the movie Bridesmaids shows he can be a more toned-down character and that he’s incredibly sympathetic.  An Irish Doctor would be awesome.  Or maybe I’m looking at the wrong desk in the basement of Reynholm Industries – Katherine Parkinson is a redhead, after all!

It’s highly likely we’ll be hearing that the new Doctor has already been cast within a matter of weeks, but in the meantime it’s fun to speculate.  What about more “established” actors like Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet or Alan Rickman?  What about Naveen Andrews?  What do you consider to be a defining characteristic of The Doctor, and what new aspects would you like to see?

And are you gutted about news of Matt Smith’s departure, like me, or are you ready for a changing of the guard?   Share your thoughts below!

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