January 09, 2009

This time, it really is Dr. Smith

Following David Tennant's recent announcement that he will be stepping down from the starring role of the venerable Doctor Who after the 2009 season, the BBC recently announced his that his replacement will be Matt Smith.

Three years ago, I noted how each new Doctor is a sign of advancing age: Christopher Eccleston was the first who was younger than the program itself, and Tennant the first to be younger than me. Now, the 26-year-old Smith will be the yuongest actor to pilot the TARDIS, breaking the record previously set by Peter Davison, who was 29 when he assumed the role in 1981. This seems to me to be a departure from the original formula, in which older and more established actors took the starring role. However, today's Who is definitely not the program of my childhood, in many respects. Besides, in a way it makes sense: if the purpose of regeneration is to prolong a Time Lord's life, does it make sense for the Doctor to assume the form of a 50-year old man, or a 26-year-old one.

Ironically, "John Smith" is the Doctor's frequent alias. It's taken eleven incarnations of the character before someone actually named Smith has played him. (Coming soon: a guest appearance by Freddie Jones?)

Publicity photos show Smith wearing a grey sweater, black jeans, and a black sports jacket. Realizing filming for the sixth season of Doctor Who probably doesn't begin until later this year, I assume that his official costume has yet to be announced. But if this is it, it seems far too close to Eccleston's outfit: just switch the jacket for a leather one.

Smith's age means he doesn't have much of a resume to judge him by. However, in 2006 I had seen nothing of Tennant either (except for his very minor role in Jude, and that didn't stop me from growing to like his Doctor. A whole lot. I originally described his style as "manic, talky, [and] somewhat physical" - which he certainly was, but before seeing the second season, I couldn't have anticipated the depth of character that he brought to the role: an unprecedented amount of humanity and compassion. Matt Smith has some big expectations to live up, and I certainly wish him the best.