Saturday, 3 January 2009

A new last! The new Dr Who: first impressions...

So here we go. In typical bravura high publicity fashion (and not stealing the thunder from ITV's new Saturday night fantasy show Demons, oh no..) the BBC, in a special edition of the documentary series 'Doctor Who Confidential', have just ended months of increasingly-tedious and eye-rolling media and fan speculation about the identity of the eleventh Doctor. It's been an amusing few months since David Tennant confirmed he was "handing over the keys of the TARDIS" (phrase copyright the entire UK media) and the usual suspects have been trotted out as obvious replacements - Robert Carlyle, James Nesbitt, David Morrissey - and even though the role has been played by proper actors since the series returned in 2005, some dafty tabloids have still been banging on about Dawn French and Gordon Ramsey and, in reality, any other minor celeb they happened to have an unpublished picture of laying around the office. Even the most 'respected' (if over-hysterical) Dr Who fan forum (the one which also posted confirmation from, oooh, such a reliable source, a few months ago, that David Tennant had definately agreed to stay on for the fifth season and hey, maybe even the sixth!) recently allowed one of its members to announce with absolute certainty that they'd been informed by an impeccable source that actor Chiwetel Ejiofor had agreed to take the role just before Christmas. Fact. Wait and see. Meanwhile, Paterson Joseph from 'Survivors' was also the obvious choice. Apparently. The moral of the story, of course, is take everything you read on even the most enthusiastic amateur fan site as at best fanciful guesswork, at worst downright lies. Because the new Dr Who is this bloke...

Matt Smith, 26, is the youngest actor ever to have taken on the most iconic role on television . Who hell he? I admit I'm not hugely familiar with the name (full potted biogs are undoubtedely already popping up all over the internet so you don't need Stuff to regurgitate his life-story for you right now) - although it's cropped up a bit the last few weeks and even last night, having seen his name bandied about on another forum, I googled him and had a look. Interesting face, maybe a bit young though... But what do I know? Having seen tonight's 'Confidential' I'm quietly optimistic. I recall his performances in the Billie Piper/Sally Lockhart mysteries and being impressed by him and the clips shown on 'Confidential' tonight, and his interview soundbites, suggest a broad, lively, mercurial actor who, as new show runner Steven Moffatt says, manages the feat of looking simultaneously old and young. The series is clearly keen not to lose the 'young' demographic it's nabbed with Tennant and there are some superificial similarities, although on first sight Tennant seems the 'prettier' of the two. But Smith looks like he might have an indie boy charm and may drag in a few angsty teens and early twenties who, despite Tennant's geek appeal, might have felt a bit uncomfortable about watching a sci-fi show the rest of the family loves.

In restrospect, it was never really going to be someone like Joseph or Ejiofor or Dawn French - although there's really no creative or narrative reason why it couldn't have been. But Moffatt is a fan of the old school, he's a traditionalist (and no matter how iconoclastic his stories for the series have been so far, they're been shot right through with the absolute essence of what the series is all about). It was always going to be someone male, white, odd-looking and probably quite young. Smith's clearly a good, quirky actor - but so much depends on his choices in playing the role and the scripts he's got to work with. He's got his work cut out following David Tennant, who has not only made the role his own but made it everyone's (if you see what I mean) and I just hope Smith will be given a chance and not dismissed out of hand. But somehow I don't think 'Dr Who' attracts viewers who are so shallow and undiscriminating. Smith begins work on his first series in June and we'll have to wait over a year to see him debut properly. I can't wait to see what he makes of it and I wish him all the very best as he embarks on an exciting new chapter of his life in a role which will stay with him forever and as 'Dr Who' itself enters a new and challenging phase as it remains the best damned TV show on the box.

So...what do you think of the choice of actor for the new Doctor? Any hopes or fears? Post a comment, let me know what you think!

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