Doctor Who: Goodbye, Matt Smith, and Things the New Doctor Needs to Know
Last Saturday, the BBC announced that the Eleventh Doctor was hanging up his fez and bowtie. Matt Smith will leave Doctor Who during the 2013 Christmas special, regenerating into the next incarnation of the Time Lord. Hints have abounded for almost a year that the strain of being The Doctor was wearing on Smith, and his recent entry into Hollywood via How to Catch a Monster has ensured he will likely follow Christopher Eccleston's path towards feature film star.
Goodbye, Mr. Smith. I for one will miss you a great deal.
I have no desire to follow the example of my other Whovian pop culture critic colleagues and give you a list of who I think the next Doctor will be. For the sake of weighing in I'm hoping for Rupert Grint, Idris Elba, or Harry Lloyd, but I'm sure those are all wrong. Instead, I'll quote Steven Moffat.
"Somewhere out there right now - all unknowing, just going about their business - is someone who's about to become the Doctor."
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Which is Zygonpoop, of course. The chances of the role having not already been cast is less than zero. There's a man, or hell maybe a woman, who is about to enter a world they've never dreamed of. To that actor, I dedicate this list.
You Will Talk About This For the Rest of Your Life: During Comicpalooza I had the chance to speak a fair amount with Frazer Hines, who played the Second Doctor's companion Jamie McCrimmon. I also watched a panel with Ian McNiece, who played Winston Churchill in but two episodes of the modern series. Both men had no shortages of people desperate to pump them about any and every aspect of their experiences with Doctor Who.
No matter what else you do after this, Doctor Who will define you. It will be mentioned in your obituary. If you win an Academy Award, or dedicate your life to fighting AIDS in Africa, or walk on the moon, you will always be The Doctor. Forever. The show is older than all three modern actors who have played the lead, and there is no shortage of people from all across Earth's last fifty years of history who have been touched by the series. You can never, ever let it go. Especially because...
You Will Have to Be Nice to Crazy People For the Rest of Your Life, Too: I have a love/hate relationship with comic convention panels. Sometimes you hear questions from the audience that astound you and teach you something you have never known. Other times lunatics grab the mic and shoot word bullets at the heads of the actors and writers.
You have no choice. You have to treat them equally, or end up in the same hot water John Simms did. And hell, meaning no disrespect to Mr. Simms or the role at all, he was just The Master. Yet he still, clearly, had people come up to him that were a little too intense to deal with. The reason is because there is a level of fandom that happens because some people have led lives where something like Star Trek or comic books or Doctor Who is the only reliable constant.
It's like this... say you wanted to be a nurse. It's a noble, well-paying profession, but it comes with a certain amount of getting pooped on or taking the occasional gut full of projectile vomit to the face. Nonetheless, that's what you sign up for, and you can't complain. Being The Doctor is exactly like that. You make a lot of people's lives better, but some of them are nuts that lash out.
Everyone is About to Hate You: New Doctor, I get it. You've been reading the articles about Smith leaving and delving into the comments. You see so many people saying, "It's about time!" because of the three modern Doctors Smith alone is truly divisive. No one stopped watching the show because of David Tennant, but I've met dozens that did because he was replaced by Smith.
However, all that apathy is about to go out the window. It's like how we as Americans immediately tend to start lionizing old presidents once they've left office. It's so much easier to like a guy who no longer involved than to like someone who is. When I started watching the new series I immediately hated Matt Smith as the current Doctor just because it meant that Eccleston didn't have the part anymore.
That is a naïve and ridiculous way to behave, but it's colored my view of Smith all the same. Trust me, plenty of people that moaned about Smith's Doctor are about to come out of the woodwork to declare him better than anything you do. Speaking of which...
You Will Never Be Considered Original: If you somehow had every episode of Doctor Who to watch from beginning to end it would encompass almost 400 hours of television. That's not even touching the millions of words that exist in novel form or the over 170 audio stories. Doctor Who isn't just big, it's damn near infinite.
So literally everything you do is going to be placed against something that has come before. There is no escaping that. Smith's run has been plagued by comparisons to Patrick Troughton (I certainly share some of the blame for that in print) even though he has clearly added so much of his own brilliant abilities to the role.
Just to drive it home further I was six-years-old when Patrick Troughton died yet I sit here all the time accusing Smith of aping him, even though Smith is only a year younger than me. Is the nature of this tiger you, New Doctor, have by the tail coming in loud and clear? I hope so, but I want you to also remember this...
You Are Now Immortal and Forever Beloved: There's an interview I saw once with William Hartnell after his time as the First Doctor that I have been unable to find again, but it summed up everything that I'm trying to say. It was with a South African paper, I believe, and Hartnell opened it with, "I was worried that people had forgotten me."
Even today, closing in on 40 years after he died, fans thrilled to see Hartnell return in "The Name of the Doctor." He's the constant subject of fan art, and to people like me still exploring the classic series his portrayal of The Doctor is as alive for me as it was for the people in the '60s... or folks now listening in on returning television broadcast from space.
Sir or madam, you are now The Doctor. Paul McGann appeared as The Doctor for 90 minutes, yet he has fans signing petitions for him to appear one last time. Colin Baker was almost universally hated, yet he too is now held high thanks to his gifted renditions in Big Finish audio stories. Eccleston did one season, but I lost my mind when he returned in puppet form alone.
It's a hard road ahead for you, New Doctor. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, but in the end you get to be something beyond amazing. You are the Doctor, and some seven billion people aren't. That's something. Good luck, and I'll be watching.
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