‘Doctor Who’: For Matt Smith, it’s been a ‘nutty and silly’ ride

Nov. 21, 2013 | 12:50 p.m.

"Doctor Who" star Matt Smith is leaving the show at the end of the year. Click through the gallery for Times photographer Al Seib's portraits of Smith in Beverly Hills on July 24, 2013. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

"Doctor Who" star Matt Smith. “I’d have very happily done another year,” Smith said. “It’s a wonderful show. But I think you gotta go when you gotta go, and for me, it just felt like the right time to move on.” (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

"Doctor Who" star Matt Smith. “I was really interested in the side of him that was an alien, you know, the bit that sort of came to Earth and suddenly went, ‘What’s cooking? Why are you getting married? Why are you kissing each other?’” Smith said. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

"Doctor Who" star Matt Smith. “I’m going to miss my friends, and being part of a show where people dress up and make you feel like you’re part of something really unique and special," he said. "It’s changed my life.” (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

"Doctor Who" star Matt Smith. “Matt was overwhelmingly right, for the reasons that everyone now knows,” executive producer Steven Moffat said. “He is like an old man trapped in a young man’s body. He was irresistible, the hipster boffin.” (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

"Doctor Who" star Matt Smith. “I think what he brought back to the role is the absolute nuttiness of the Doctor,” Moffat said. “Matt’s Doctor is basically insane. You put him in a normal situation, and you realize he’s an absolute lunatic.” (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

It’s difficult to separate “Doctor Who” star Matt Smith from the larger-than-life role he’s inhabited for the past 3-1/2 years. Even out of costume, the 30-year-old actor radiates the exuberance and twinkly eyed curiosity that are the hallmarks of his character, the ever-regenerating, time traveling alien protagonist in the world’s longest-running sci-fi TV series.

But his time in the role is about to run out – Smith will leave the series this year to follow a new career path that will take him to Hollywood; he recently acted opposite Christina Hendricks in the Ryan Gosling-directed thriller “How to Catch a Monster,” due out in 2014. The 55-year-old Scottish actor Peter Capaldi will take his place as the BBC show’s leading man.

“I’d have very happily done another year,” Smith said, propping his boots up on the coffee table in a San Diego hotel room. “It’s a wonderful show. But I think you gotta go when you gotta go, and for me, it just felt like the right time to move on.”

Smith had come to San Diego’s Comic-Con International in July for a panel presentation commemorating the 50th anniversary of the landmark show, and the session was filled with mournful fans, some with tears in their eyes, praising the actor and thanking him for his memorable performance.

Matt Smith slides on stage during BBC America's "Doctor Who" 50th anniversary panel at Comic-Con International at the San Diego Convention Center in July, 2013. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Matt Smith slides on stage during BBC America’s “Doctor Who” 50th anniversary panel at Comic-Con International at the San Diego Convention Center in July, 2013. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

But when Smith first stepped into the spotlight in 2010, at the end of Russell T Davies’ run as executive producer and lead writer, skepticism abounded. Steven Moffat, a writer on “Doctor Who,” was set to take the helm, but the show’s beloved star David Tennant was leaving, along with the executives and a slate of popular costars, including Catherine Tate and Billie Piper.

“No one really wanted me to be the Doctor at that point,” Smith recalled.

What Moffat and Smith faced was, in many ways, a blank canvas.

“I can admit this now, all these years later. It wasn’t an ideal situation to come into,” Moffat said. “That was terrifying, because there was a real chance that people would look at it and say, ‘That’s not even the same show,’ because in no physical sense was it.”

Amelia Pond and the Doctor in "The Eleventh Hour," Matt Smith's debut episode as the time-traveling alien. (BBC)

Amelia Pond and the Doctor in “The Eleventh Hour,” Matt Smith’s debut episode as the time-traveling alien. (BBC)

Moffat recalled devising Smith’s debut in an episode titled “The Eleventh Hour” that would introduce the new Doctor, his new traveling companion and a new design for his time machine and spaceship, the TARDIS. While devoted fans on both sides of the Atlantic mourned Tennant’s departure, Smith’s Doctor worked his own brand of quirky magic, enchanting viewers with a premiere that was part superhero story, part fairy tale.

Smith says it remains his favorite episode.

“There was a lot of pressure, and there was just a lot of truth in it for me,” he said. “I look back on it, and I just think it was a brilliant piece of writing.”

What followed were three seasons during which “Doctor Who” reached unprecedented popularity, especially in the United States. The show now ranks as the highest-rated series on BBC America.

Nicknamed “raggedy man” by his first companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Smith’s mop-haired Doctor loved unraveling complicated puzzles of time and space, eating fish fingers and custard and insisting, despite raised eyebrows from his accomplices, that “bow ties are cool.”

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald and Matt Smith as the Doctor in an episode of "Doctor Who." (BBC America)

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald and Matt Smith as the Doctor in an episode of “Doctor Who.” (BBC America)

“Matt was overwhelmingly right, for the reasons that everyone now knows,” Moffat said. “He is like an old man trapped in a young man’s body. He was irresistible, the hipster boffin.”

Smith reached instinctively for a characteristic that had been missing from the Doctor since Patrick Troughton’s run in the late 1960s, Moffat said.

“I think what he brought back to the role is the absolute nuttiness of the Doctor,” he said. “Chris [Eccleston] brought gravitas and stature to “Doctor Who,” which had been missing for a while. David [Tennant] brought cool and sexy. What Matt just went for instinctively, even though he’s the youngest of them all, is the mad boffin. Matt’s Doctor is basically insane. You put him in a normal situation, and you realize he’s an absolute lunatic.”

For Smith, the madness comes from the fact that the Doctor isn’t human.

“I was really interested in the side of him that was an alien, you know, the bit that sort of came to Earth and suddenly went, ‘What’s cooking? Why are you getting married? Why are you kissing each other?’” Smith said. “For me what was interesting, what made him an alien, is that he didn’t understand human behavior, and therefore that makes him kind of nutty and silly.”

Rory, Amy and The Doctor find themselves aboard a pirate ship in the episode "The Curse of the Black Spot." (BBC)

Rory, Amy and The Doctor find themselves aboard a pirate ship in the episode “The Curse of the Black Spot.” (BBC)

His oddball flair was tempered by the steady presence of charming companions. Smith acted alongside Gillan, the Doctor’s best friend Amy Pond, along with her husband, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) and the Doctor’s lady love, River Song (Alex Kingston). Jenna Coleman replaced Gillan and Darvill beginning in the 2012 Christmas special, playing “impossible girl” Clara Oswald, whose unlikely existence baffled the Doctor during the latter half of the season.

Smith’s costars note his generosity on set, saying he went out of his way to make everyone feel comfortable and included.

“It’s a very warm atmosphere, and I think a lot of it is down to him, really,” Coleman said.

“The Day of the Doctor,” the feature-length 50th anniversary special slated for worldwide simulcast on Saturday, starring Hurt, Smith and Coleman as well as alumni Tennant and Piper, marks Smith’s penultimate appearance as the Doctor – the character will regenerate into Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in this year’s Christmas special.

Matt Smith is wrapping up his run as the Doctor in BBC's long-running sci-fi adventure series "Doctor Who." (BBC)

Matt Smith is wrapping up his run as the Doctor in BBC’s long-running sci-fi adventure series “Doctor Who.” (BBC)

But Smith said he’s tried not to dwell too much on his departure.

“I haven’t even talked about it that much,” he said. “I’m going to miss my friends, and being part of a show where people dress up and make you feel like you’re part of something really unique and special… It’s changed my life.”

But then his face-encompassing grin returns, and the sadness in his eyes is replaced by a mischievous sparkle, as though he has some big secret.

“I do,” he says. “I have a lot. If this brain could really tell you everything that was in it about ‘Doctor Who,’ then you’d have quite the story.”

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

RECENT AND RELATED

Matt Smith debuts as the 11th Doctor in the "Doctor Who" episode "The Eleventh Hour." (BBC)‘Doctor Who’ casting: ‘You know it when you see it’

Peter Capaldi: A return to distinguished tradition?

Peter Capaldi is revealed as the new Doctor

‘Who’: Jenna Coleman is right in time

New Doctor will be announced in live show

Moffat reveals new Doctor’s audition scripts

Comic-Con bids Matt Smith farewell

‘Doctor Who’ finale: The mystery of Clara

Matt Smith is leaving ‘Doctor Who’

ESSAY: A love letter to ‘Doctor Who’

Comments


12 Responses to ‘Doctor Who’: For Matt Smith, it’s been a ‘nutty and silly’ ride

  1. A great article on one of the most entertaining and heartbreaking Dr's ever! I still think the Christmas episode where the Dr may or may not have married Marilyn Monroe is his best ever-and I thank TPTB for letting us share his ride!

    • iLqcs says:

      I agree! I tried so hard but couldn't come up with a better episode in Smith's run than The Christmas Carol. Beautifully written and brilliantly acted story with amazing guest stars. Underrated, of course.

  2. Kiara Jones says:

    I don't want Matt Smith to leave the roll of the doctor

  3. DrWho says:

    Matt Smith was my first doctor and I will always love him for that.

  4. Bob says:

    I LOVE MATT SMITH!!! hope they don't change the doctor :/ cause he plays the role really well.

  5. Jennifer Keller says:

    This is so heartbreaking 💔 Matt you’re my favorite actor and doctor. You are an amazing actor right from the start. Don’t let anyone bring you down to me your better then David you bring out the Doctor more ten he did. I don’t want you to leave Doctor Who. I hope your career goes good in Hollywood and I’ll be watching very one. I ❤ Matthew Robert Smith

  6. Rodney Slone says:

    I think that Matt Smith is the best Dr. ever. I will miss seeing him on the show. I have enjoyed all three of the latest incarnations of the Dr. I hope that the new Dr. Who is at least 1/2 as good as Chistopher Eccert, David Tennant, and Matt Smith. I don't think that anyone can match these three but, everything that is good on T.V. always changes.

  7. Hmsljj says:

    What a wonderful ride Matt Smith took us on the last 3/12 years. To come in to replace arguable the most popular Doctor that was David Tennant was a staggering task. But within 5 minutes of the episode "The Eleventh Hour" I knew we had a wonderful replacement who made the role his own.

    My very best wishes to you Mat Smith with all your future endeavors. And thank you so much for helping to keep my favorites show exciting, moving, thrilling & a wonderful joy ride. GERONIMO !!!

  8. Kismet says:

    Matt Smith, IMO, is the rich culmination of the tremendous evolution of The Doctor – 11 lifetimes' worth of experience, revelation and growth, coupled with a joie de vie unparalled in the Doctor's history. I will miss him greatly, yet deeply appreciate every moment he has given us!

  9. Patrick O'Brien says:

    Matt Smith is the best! Great article very articulate & entertaining! Keeps me coming back again & again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Close
E-mail It
Powered by ShareThis