Monday, January 05, 2009

Doctor Who fandom never fails to disappoint when it comes to drama. This time, it's drama about the casting of the Eleventh Doctor. Poor Matt Smith won't even appear on screen as the Doctor until next year and some quarters of fandom are already declaring him the worst Doctor ever.

After watching the latest Doctor Who Confidential where Smith gives his first interview, I can see definite Doctorish qualities. His normal persona in the interview doesn't seem that far removed from that of the Tenth Doctor, as someone else first pointed out to me. There's something otherworldly about him.

One of the criticisms is that he's too young. Too young for playing an alien who can regenerate into a man of any physical age? The important thing for playing the Doctor is to be able to suggest a wise old spirit and a youthful enthusiasm at the same time. Peter Davison was able to do that as the Fifth Doctor despite being 29 and looking even younger than that. That's what Smith needs to do, too. It's far too soon for anyone to suggest that his youth will be a stumbling block. It's all about acting ability, not the actor's age.

New showrunner Steven Moffat and BBC Wales' Head of Drama Piers Wenger held three weeks of auditions for the role of the Eleventh Doctor. They considered many, many actors of different ages and even races. They actually wanted an older actor. Smith auditioned in the first hour of the first day of auditions and blew them away. After three weeks of auditioning other actors, he was still the best they'd seen.

That's not the first time that's happened to Smith. While still in college, he was picked from thousands of auditioning actors to play Thomas Becket in a National Youth Theatre production of T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, for which he received critical acclaim. He obviously has some special quality that makes him stand out from the crowd.

It's certainly true that Smith has some big shoes to fill. I'd argue that there have only been two truly iconic Doctors, Tom Baker as Four and David Tennant as Ten. Like Davison, Smith is young and trying to replace an icon. Davison succeeded. Only time (how appropriate) will tell if Smith can do the same. Everything I've read and seen so far fills me with optimism. Fans should at least withhold judgment until his first episode airs.

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