Why we shouldn’t fear a 26-year-old Doctor Who

The casting of Matt Smith as Doctor Who has got some people up in arms already. But perhaps we shouldn't worry...

Who wasn't Who?

In some quarters, it’s fair to say that the unveiling of Matt Smith as the new incarnation of Doctor Who hasn’t got down particularly well. It’s no slight aimed at Smith himself, who has landed himself the role of a lifetime and good luck to him. It’s more fears over the direction that the show is taking, and how the casting of someone so young in the role reflects that.

Naturally, some have written him off already, off the back of one interview in an episode of Doctor Who Confidential. In that interview, he was clearly as shocked as many of us that he’d come from nowhere to get the role, but also on the basis of that short snippet, a small legion have decided that he’s entirely wrong for the role. As one poster on an Internet board over the weekend noted, “I hate him already”.

But hold up. Because there are surely a few things worth considering before Smith’s reign is written off before it’s even begun. And for starters, let’s state the obvious: it might just be worth waiting to see him in the role before making any kind of judgement. That, at the very least, seems like common sense. He’s nearly half a year away from having to have his take on the Doctor in place, and his list of theatre credits and plaudits suggest that the BBC has cast an actor rather than a face to head up its flagship Saturday night show. Smith could prove to be inspired, could fall flat on his face, but for all the chatter, we’re well over a year away from finding out which.

And there’s also the Moffat factor. For Matt Smith isn’t a Russell T Davies casting decision, rather the choice of the man who a legion of Doctor Who followers were keen to take up the controls of the show. So let him make his decisions. Moffat, surely, knows exactly what he’s doing, and has been involved with enough quality telly to understand the nature of casting, and how it affects the show concerned. Granted, there are few of us who would truly believe that the BBC wouldn’t have some kind of veto over the decision, but Moffat has consistently produced interesting stories, and you wonder just how he’s going to pitch his Doctor. Given Smith’s casting, does this give Moffat a chance to play around with the youthful appearance of his title character? How will he play on the paradox of such a youthful looking man being over 900 years old? Personally, I can’t wait to find out.

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What would, in this writer’s view, make things still more interesting would be the casting of an older assistant, although Doctor Who has changed to the point where that’s unlikely now. Back in the era when the likes of Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and perhaps even Christopher Eccleston were cast, there weren’t the merchandising considerations that surround the show today, and you suspect we’re going to get a young, female assistant for Smith to go on his travels with. As long as it doesn’t end up with a will they/won’t they romantic story arc, then fair enough. But it was surely no surprise that one of the finest characters to spend time with across season four was Bernard Cribbins’ Wilfred Mott (and let’s not forget the enduring brilliance of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah-Jane Smith). While the assistant doesn’t need to be quite so senior, it would be an interesting dynamic to explore, having an assistant played by someone who was far more advanced in years than Matt Smith.

Yet this is Moffat’s show, and Smith’s casting has dampened my anticipation of it not one little bit. Granted, Paterson Joseph would have been fascinating casting (and yep, we lost a few quid on that too), but let the man make his decisions, and wish Matt Smith the best of luck in the role of a lifetime. The last time the show offered up a young Doctor – Peter Davison – didn’t turn out too badly (despite the pitifully low budgets and problems the show was going through at the time), and you can’t help but suspect that when Smith himself decides that the time is right to hand the Tardis over to someone else, that Tennant-like levels of furore will follow shortly thereafter.

In the meantime, count this writer as someone not willing to write him off. Yes, he might be young. Yes, this could all turn out to be the BBC going for the younger demographic. Yes, a 50+ Doctor Who would be great, as it was before. But Matt Smith could be great too, and it’s over now to Mr Moffat and his team to give him the best possible material to work with. Roll on Spring of 2010…


5 January 2009

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