Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Geronimo!.........and What's Next?

I must be the last person on the planet to post about this, but over the weekend the news broke that Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who.

Smith will stay for the upcoming 50th Anniversary special in November (which sees him paired with David Tennant, his predecessor in the title role) and for the Xmas Special in December, which will be his final turn in the role that made him famous the world over.

In the BBC press release, Smith had this to say:

Doctor Who has been the most brilliant experience for me as an actor and a bloke, and that largely is down to the cast, crew and fans of the show. I'm incredibly grateful to all the cast and crew who work tirelessly every day, to realise all the elements of the show and deliver Doctor Who to the audience. Many of them have become good friends and I'm incredibly proud of what we have achieved over the last four years.

Having Steven Moffat as show runner write such varied, funny, mind bending and brilliant scripts has been one of the greatest and most rewarding challenges of my career. It's been a privilege and a treat to work with Steven, he's a good friend and will continue to shape a brilliant world for the Doctor...

...It's been an honour to play this part, to follow the legacy of brilliant actors, and helm the TARDIS for a spell with 'the ginger, the nose and the impossible one'. But when ya gotta go, ya gotta go and Trenzalore calls. Thank you guys. Matt.

Steven Moffat had this to say about his leading man:

Matt Smith and Steven Moffat

Every day, on every episode, in every set of rushes, Matt Smith surprised me: the way he'd turn a line, or spin on his heels, or make something funny, or out of nowhere make me cry, I just never knew what was coming next. The Doctor can be clown and hero, often at the same time, and Matt rose to both challenges magnificently. And even better than that, given the pressures of this extraordinary show, he is one of the nicest and hardest-working people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Whatever we threw at him - sometimes literally - his behaviour was always worthy of the Doctor.

It's a sad day for the series. I remember posting with a little trepidation the news of his casting. And my fears were proven immediately unfounded within about 30 seconds of his first episode. Ever since then, Smith has been nothing but fantastic, eventually becoming my favourite Doctor of the new series and probably up there with Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker as my favourite Doctor ever. So, I'm sad to see him go. But, I'm very grateful for all his hard work. No matter the quality of the story he was appearing in, he elevated it to another level with his mad, subtle and always surprising performance. Whatever he does next will be lucky to have an actor of his talent involved.

As for what's next for the show? Well, there's a lot of speculation out there. Women are asking why the Doctor can't be a woman, which is a good question, and with suggestions floating around like Emma Thompson and Olivia Colman, one can see how it could be a good idea. Also, are we finally going to get a Doctor of colour? People are suggesting Chiwetel Ejiofor or David Harewood. And both are solid actors. I'm also hearing Ben Whishaw, Rupert Grint, Helen Mirren being bandied about.

Here's the thing though. There's a lot going into the process for choosing a new Doctor. The first thing is whether or not an actor actually wants to do it. Especially when we're talking about people like Mirren, Thompson, Grint or Ejiofor. These are people who are working, and doing high-profile work. Taking on a role like this, with a vocal fan base and a series at the very top of its game and the potential to be seen as a disappointment; it's a risk an established star may not want to take. Taking on this role is no little thing, and by and large, you have to be okay with the idea that it could be the defining role of your life. Even if David Tennant and Matt Smith do great work for the rest of their lives, the first line of their obituaries will likely be about playing the Doctor. Even Christopher Eccleston, who played the Doctor for only one season and left partially out of fears of being typecast, has yet to totally escape the shadow the role casts.
Ben Daniels

The ideal person for this role is an actor that is somewhat known in the UK, but not a hugely big star. Someone with a track record in building good characters, with a the ability to shoulder most of the burden of carrying a whole show. Someone who is capable of being a hero, but still can inject that bonkers eccentricity. It's got to be a very tough role to cast.

And finally, I think Moffat must be looking for someone to bring a different quality than Matt Smith brought. A lot of people have mentioned Ben Whishaw. I think he's great, but with his look as well what we've seen from him in prior roles, one has to wonder if his energy would be too similar to Smith's Eleventh Doctor. I think you want a different flavour; regeneration is a chance to rejuvenate the series as well as the character, and bring in some unpredictability.

Personally, I think it could be someone like Ben Daniels, star of Law & Order UK, and Merlin. He's older, but not too old for the part. He's known in England, but not too huge a star. He's got a completely different energy than Smith, but has had a career on stage and in film and television playing a wide variety of different types of roles to significant acclaim. And, he could see the role as a career-maker and a great challenge, rather than a burden (I'm looking at you Eccleston). All of these qualities apply to someone like David Harewood too, I'm just less familiar with his work outside of Homeland.

So, time will tell. I imagine word will leak soon about who the new Doctor will be. For my part, it's not so important to me if the Doctor is a woman, black, white or Asian. He, or she, just has to be the right actor for the role. You can't go wrong if you let go of all other outside pressures and just pick the best person who walks in the room. That's how we got Matt Smith in the first place, after all.

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