Sunday, June 2, 2013

Time for Twelve: Thoughts on Matt Smith's Immanent Departure from "Doctor Who"

Doctor Who fans could feel it in the air, between rumors of Matt Smith wanting to pursue a film career and the way in which the current narrative seems to be heading for a conclusion. The time for the transition to the Twelfth Doctor is immanent. The news was made official with a BBC press release yesterday, and while the news overall isn’t much of a surprise, it is a little sooner than we might have expected. Matt Smith will appear as the Eleventh Doctor in this November’s 50th Anniversary special and this December’s Christmas special, and the Christmas special will be his final appearance. Series eight will begin next year with a new actor as, presumably (the twistiness set up by the end of series seven makes me equivocate on this point), the Twelfth Doctor. And I just realized that the word twelfth looks really weird. And this is going to bug me for as long as Smith’s successor is in the role. What’s with the random “f” anyway? While it’s probably time for Smith to move on, there are definitely unique things he brought to the role that will be missed.

It is probably for the best that the transition is happening now. Matt Smith has gained significant notoriety from his portrayal of the Doctor, and it’s time he be given the opportunity to see if he can propel his career further. Granted, David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor) left for similar reasons that didn’t really pan out, but since he’s become a family man, his priorities may have changed. I can also understand an actor wanting to have an opportunity to just take on a new challenge in general. There comes a point when an actor outgrows any particular role, and at that point, it’s probably best to move on. At the same time, it feels like head writer Stephen Moffat has pretty much run out of creative juice for Eleven. We seem to have been revisiting the same themes and general plotlines lately, even with a new companion, so perhaps a new Doctor will be the shot in the arm that the show needs. I’d prefer for Moffat to be leaving along with Eleven (his penchant for overly twisty plots is fun for a one-off episode here and there, but nothing to base a whole season upon), but if we’re stuck with Moffat instead of a new head writer (our strong preference here at MTVP is for “Being Human” creator and sometimes Doctor Who contributor Toby Whithouse), maybe a new Doctor will make Moffat’s remaining time slightly more palatable.

While the Tenth Doctor is “our” doctor here at MTVP, Matt Smith certainly wasn’t a bad Doctor, and there were things he brought to the role that will definitely be missed. He always gives a high energy performance and definitely continued the manic/quirky quality of the Doctor that David Tennant brought out in the Tenth. Smith also works especially well with children, and this was a quality that Moffat and the creative team definitely used to their full advantage once they discovered it. Eleven’s adventures with baby Stormageddon are rather legendary, and there were several other charming interactions with children even before that. Eleven is the Doctor who “speaks baby” after all. While I often wish Smith’s take on the role was a little more serious (I like my Doctor to be confidently the smartest man in the room), he did bring a good quirky energy to the role. He really embraced the “Madman in a Box” quality of the Doctor, even if I didn’t quite buy it when he tried to shift into “Oncoming Storm” mode. He could never quite match David Tennant’s intensity, like in the Tenth Doctor’s first appearance where he said “No second chances,” but in lighter episodes like “The Lodger,” Smith was really able to shine.

So of course, now that the news is official, Whovian brains begin to turn to fantasy casting Twelve. The person who immediately comes to mind as an amazing casting choice would be the awesomely named Benedict Cumberbatch, best known as Sherlock Holmes on the BBC’s “Sherlock.” He has that perfect mix of menacing and quirk that makes for a great Doctor. When I first saw him in “Sherlock,” I immediately thought he should be the Doctor someday. Alas, this is unlikely. Cumberbatch has said in past interviews that he has no desire to ever take on the role of the Doctor, and his movie career is beginning to heat up with his recent appearance as the villain in “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” Other worthy choices I can think of would be Harry Lloyd and Alan Cumming. In his various roles, most notably as Will Scarlett in the BBC’s “Robin Hood” and Viserys Targaryen in “Game of Thrones,” Lloyd has proven to be a versatile actor, capable of being anything from loyal and eager to downright creepy. Alan Cumming would bring a graceful quality to the role, and his style of creepy/menacing would be something different from what we’ve seen out of the last few Doctors. I generally favor the idea of younger Doctors because I like my Doctors to be high energy, but if the BBC were to go back to the early days of the show with a more grandfatherly Doctor, John Cleese would get my vote. Finally, there’s always Rupert Grint, since the Doctor has always wanted to be a ginger!

And so we approach the beginning of a new Doctor Who era. A regeneration is always an event that is sad and exciting at the same time. It will be sad to see Matt Smith go due to the admirable qualities and energy he brought to the role, but seeing what someone new can do with the material will (hopefully) be a lot of fun. I do wish that we could get a new head writer to go with the new Doctor, but since that isn’t in the cards just yet, hopefully a new actor in the title role will be just the shot in the arm that the show needs to regain some energy and momentum. Here’s to many more years of fun, quirky adventures through time and space (as long as the whole maximum of twelve regenerations was just old Gallifreyan law instead of part of Time Lord physiology).

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