As the BBC announces the new Time Lord, Matt Smith could take the
latest incarnation of Doctor Who to a new dimension.
The great thing about Doctor Who, as a colleague pointed out, is that
you don't have to watch the show to feel part of it. Even when you've exhausted, or been exhausted by "Who will be the next
Doctor?" and moved into "I'm sorry, who will be the next Doctor?", there's still a full cycle of gossip to come: you
can speculate about the identity of the Doctor's companion, and then the guest stars, and then the year's big villain, and
then – as a pick-me-up at the end – whether this season will be the Doctor's last. At this rate, by the time Matt
Smith actually steps into the Tardis, in 2010, we'll probably be vigorously debating the merits of his successor.
The BBC certainly knows the value of the publicity to what is, according
to audience satisfaction figures, its most-loved show. Whereas the Queen only gets 10 minutes over Christmas, the show's producers
were offered a full half-hour on Saturday evening for their message to the nation. Even with all the careful priming, even
with the drip-drip of comments that this was the youngest Doctor, that he was only 26, the moment when the boy himself popped
up on screen was still a shock. Still, the BBC seems to have got away with it – according to the instant polling provided
by a trawl through Facebook, groups such as "We hate Matt Smith as Doctor Who!!!!" are more than balanced by those willing
to give him a try. Other internet commentators are taking the middle ground: they'll watch him in the role, as long as he
gets rid of the Spandau Ballet hairstyle.
For some of us, there is something more personal at stake. Like the
actor who must finally accept that he is too old to play the Dane, we have suddenly become Older Than The Doctor, forced to
accept that even if we could go gallivanting around the universe with the time-travelling Gallifreyan, we'd be too busy worrying
about our pensions to enjoy it.
The big winner, of course, is the man lucky enough to have played
both the Dane and the Doctor. Only marginally better-known than Smith when he took the latter role, David Tennant is now a
certified national treasure, able to pick and choose any role that takes his fancy. Whether Smith will become as beloved is
a moot point: although obviously a talented actor, and from all accounts a bright and enthusiastic guy, he lacked, at least
in that initial, unscripted interview, the articulacy and wit that defined Tennant's performance. Whatever his merits, he
and new head writer Steven Moffat could find themselves in the collective shadow of Tennant and outgoing writer-producer Russell
T Davies: the equivalent of the men who take over Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson retires and Cristiano Ronaldo
Yet I am optimistic about the show's future – precisely because
of how unusual a choice Smith is. Despite all the speculation about a black Doctor or a female Doctor, all the show's bosses
had to do to keep the gravy train rolling was find a well-known name, a Bill Nighy or David Morrissey, who was prepared to
spend a couple of years chained to the production treadmill down in Cardiff. That they went for a 26-year-old suggests either
that they were blown away by his energy, or that they have a clear and interesting vision for the show, or both.
One word of warning, however: speculation is already cranking up over
the identity of Smith's companion. As we reported yesterday, the suspicion is that producers want a "big name" to counterbalance
their unknown Doctor, preferably from outside the world of acting. True, that thinking gave us Billie Piper as the Doctor's
assistant – but it also gave us Bonnie Langford. Rather than risk that sort of thing again, the producers should ignore
the focus groups, and follow their instincts. After all, the last time Doctor Who caused this much fuss was when its bosses
plucked Tom Baker off a building site, and that certainly worked out.
Credit: Robert Colville The Telegraph 5th Jan 2009