"Doctor Who" has clocked more than 50 years, transporting fans through time and space on remarkable adventures. Here's a look back at the Time Lord's regenerations over the years. (BBC)Link
William Hartnell, right, played the First Doctor from 1963 to 1966. (Getty Images)Link
Patrick Troughton played the Second Doctor from 1966 to 1969. (BBC)Link
Jon Pertwee played the Third Doctor from 1970 to 1974. (Evening Standard / Getty Images)Link
Tom Baker, center, played the Fourth Doctor from 1974 to 1981. (BBC)Link
Peter Davison played the Fifth Doctor from 1981 to 1984 (BBC)Link
Colin Baker played the Sixth Doctor from 1984 to 1986. (BBC)Link
Sylvester McCoy played the Seventh Doctor from 1987 until the show's cancellation in 1989.Link
Paul McGann played the Eighth Doctor in 1996. (BBC)Link
Christopher Eccleston played the Ninth Doctor in 2005. (SyFy)Link
David Tennant played the Tenth Doctor from 2005 to 2010. (BBC)Link
Matt Smith has played the Eleventh Doctor -- the Time Lord's current incarnation -- since 2010. (BBC)Link
Matt Smith is leaving “Doctor Who” after four years of portraying the time-traveling hero on the long-running British sci-fi adventure series.
Smith, the 11th actor to portray the wandering Time Lord from Gallifrey, will leave the role following the show’s 50th anniversary special in November, BBC announced Saturday. The character will regenerate in the Christmas special.
“‘Doctor Who’ has been the most brilliant experience for me as an actor and a bloke,” Smith said in a news release. “I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved over the last four years.”
Although Smith’s fans will be sad to see him go, it’s the show’s ability to continue transforming itself over time that has helped it remain fresh and compelling for multiple generations of viewers.
“The beauty of ‘Doctor Who’ is its incredible flexibility, anchored by this iconic simplicity,” executive producer Steven Moffat told Hero Complex earlier this year. “All the things that work against a show’s longevity work for us. If people get tired of the Doctor, he regenerates. We bring in new companions before anyone can get bored. We can do any sort of episode we want anywhere we want in space and time.”
Smith first stepped into the TARDIS in 2010, taking over from 10th Doctor actor David Tennant and introducing Whovians to a protagonist who seemed to viewers as much a fairy tale character as a superhero. Nicknamed “raggedy man” by his first traveling 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.”
“Every day, on every episode, in every set of rushes, Matt Smith surprised me,” Moffat said. “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 behavior was always worthy of the Doctor.”
Smith acted alongside Gillan, a plucky redhead and the Doctor’s best friend, along with her husband, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), and the Doctor’s lady love, River Song (Alex Kingston). Jenna-Louise Coleman 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. Increasingly throughout Smith’s tenure, the show shifted its focus from one-off adventures to the Doctor himself and the relationships he shares with his traveling companions.
“It’s been an honor 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,’” Smith said.
Smith’s run has been accompanied by growing popularity this side of the Atlantic; “Doctor Who” is nothing short of an institution in the U.K., but until recent years has garnered only a cult following in the States. Now, American fans gather en masse at conventions, and pint-sized Whovians don “Doctor Who” costumes to go trick-or-treating each Halloween. The show is BBC America’s highest-rated series, drawing more than 2 million viewers for its mid-season premiere in March.
“The fans of Doctor Who around the world are unlike any other,” Smith said. “They dress up, shout louder, know more about the history of the show (and speculate more about the future of the show) in a way that I’ve never seen before.”
Speculation, indeed. Although BBC has not announced who will portray the Doctor’s next regeneration, many fans are chattering online about John Hurt’s appearance in the season finale’s cliffhanger ending this May. After the Doctor and Clara discover the Doctor’s grave in the fields of Trenzalore, the pair meet Hurt’s character, introduced as “The Doctor.” Fans are speculating that Hurt’s character might be a previous iteration, a future iteration or an alternate-timeline version of the time traveler, or else another character altogether; it wouldn’t be the first time the show’s writers threw viewers a curve ball.
BBC has not announced who will play the next Doctor, and it would appear from Moffat’s statement that the network might still be casting.
“This isn’t the end of the story, because now the search begins,” Moffat said. “Somewhere out there right now — all unknowing, just going about their business — is someone who’s about to become the Doctor. A life is going to change, and Doctor Who will be born all over again!”
Meanwhile, Smith is acting alongside Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan and Eva Medes in the Ryan Gosling-directed fantasy thriller “How to Catch a Monster,” slated for a 2014 release, not to mention appearing in November’s “Doctor Who” 50th anniversary special and the Christmas special in December.
“Great actors always know when it’s time for the curtain call, so this Christmas prepare for your hearts to break, as we say goodbye to number Eleven,” Moffat said. “Thank you Matt – bow ties were never cooler.”
– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark
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