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Matt Smith to quit Doctor Who

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No word on whether or not he exclaimed, "Geronimo!" as he announced it...

Matt Smith to quit Doctor Who


Matt Smith, the Eleventh, current, and arguably best, Doctor in Doctor Who, has just announced that he's leaving the role. This news is fairly self-explanatory, and as a dramatic and sure to rock the fanbase as when, in the recent Season 7 finale...something big and dramatic happened. (Seriously, I don't know what it is; I haven't watched it yet. No spoilers please...or for the previous seven episodes, for that matter. Or for anything, really, since not everyone will have seen everything, no matter how popular a particular thing is, so you can never assume.)

If you want to know at what point he's scheduled to leave the show, click on the link. It's probably not a spoiler, but just in case you don't want to know. (The news of his departure itself, while hypothetically potentially a spoiler, will no doubt be everywhere over the next few days, so it's essentially not.)

When commenting on actor departures like this from iconic roles, past, present, and future are all relevant.

The past is looking back on his tenure on the show (or at least, the vast majority of it, since he still has two episodes left to go). Matt Smith is a brilliant actor, and made the role his own, while paying homage to previous Doctors. His manic energy and his ability to really sell the dramatic moments made him one of the best Doctors; on a par with his predecessor David Tennant, for me.

The present is assessing how it plays into the current storyline, especially in the context of a mythology-heavy show such as that which Doctor Who has become. (Of course, it's only present for those who are up to speed; for those who aren't, like me, it's necessary to avoid spoilers. So for us, the 'present' storyline, whatever it is / may be, is still future. That's where time-shifting makes things all timey-wimey. And the fans in question all wibbly-wobbly at the merest mention of the possibility of spoilers.)

It's interesting that big casting (or un-casting, or whatever you call it) news such as this will catch the attention both of fans (obviously, since the casting of the lead actor of any show is significant, but especially with one so concerned with the identity of the main character) and also of casual fans / those only vaguely aware of the show. Like with James Bond, it's a British institution (and gaining popularity worldwide), and the [regular/continual] recasting of the lead role provides an in-built opportunity for speculation, sweeping almost everyone up into the discussion. Which could be seen as slightly annoying for fans, since it may feel like the conversation is being co-opted, on a shallow level, by those who don't know the show. But on the other hand, this could be seen as including more people in the fandom of the show (because speculation is arguably a key part of fandom), and thus getting more people more interested in the show, who might then become more regular viewers, and thus get more out of it. This is kind of a microcosm for the increasing popularity of geek culture in general; while it can seem like an intrusion on the territory that 'belongs' to the existing geeks (the 'real fans'), it also brings in more people to appreciate awesome things, which is surely a good thing.

Interestingly, the present aspect can only really be discussed by those up to speed with the show, who generally tend to be the more dedicated fans. This leaves out the more casual fans (who probably don't really mind, since they're more interested in the casting of the role in general (e.g. 'Oh, Matt Smith, he was good, I really liked him, he had a real manic energy to him')), and also, ironically, the really dedicated fans, who feel like they can't carry on watching if they've missed one episode from the last several seasons, or they could miss a vital clue or nuance or sliver of character arc or something, and so have to catch up on the episodes in order or not at all.

And the future is speculating about who could step into the role next. Because with a long-running series with so much potential like Doctor Who, it's not going to end in the foreseeable future. Even if the writers write themselves into a corner, they'll find some way of writing themselves out of it. Like using time travel to get to before the walls were built and there was even a corner. (Of course, the Battlestar Galactica writers wouldn't have had that problem, since their spaceships didn't even have corners.)

Best Doctor ever leaves, fans distraught, until the next one quickly becomes the best Doctor ever. Just like when David Tennant left...

Who could play the next Doctor? Some possibilities that come to mind follow, just throwing it out there. (And these are by no means all original suggestions; other fans have brought up some of these possibilities before.)

Benedict Cumberbatch – He's brilliant, in a similar way to Matt Smith. However, he's already Sherlock Holmes in Steven Moffat's other show, Sherlock; plus he's ruled out playing the role.

Robert Downey Jr. – While the role is a quintessentially British one, and Robert Downey Jr. is American, he's a great actor, and has played an iconic, quintessentially British role before (that of Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie's recent Sherlock Holmes films).

Richard Armitage – He has the necessary gravitas in spades (Is gravitas measured in spades? If so, is it anything to do with shovelling gravel?), as he's amply displayed in the roles of Sir Guy of Gisborne in the BBC's Robin Hood, Lucas North in Spooks (aka MI-5 in the US), and the dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, for instance. However, it remains to be seen whether he can pull off the more comedic aspects of the Doctor. (Still, Christopher Eccleston could be rather intense as the Doctor, and then suddenly jump into a moment of humour, so it's possible.) Or perhaps he could play another role, such as the Master.

Chiwetel Ejiofor – Like Richard Armitage, he has plenty of gravitas, and his Shakespearean background is evident in his bearing and line delivery, as he's shown in films like Serenity, but he's displayed his comedic side less. However, his subtler, more understated acting style gives the impression that he'd slip into the comedic aspects of the role with more ease than the more intense likes of Richard Armitage might.

Of course, we can speculate all we like (which will probably be a lot), but the next Doctor might turn out to be an unknown, like Matt Smith was. But now everybody knows his name.


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