In 1966, the producers of Doctor Who had a big problem. Star William Hartnell’s health was deteriorating, forcing him to leave the show, and their decision on how to deal with it remains one the best decisions in sci-fi. Rather than simply recast, they revealed that the Doctor periodically regenerates, changing appearance and personality. This has allowed Doctor Who to remain on air without being rebooted for nearly sixty years, with twelve subsequent Doctors playing the role in very different ways.
Since the 2005 relaunch, each Doctor (excluding Christopher Eccleston) has lasted roughly three seasons, meaning the rumors that the upcoming thirteenth run will be Jodie Whittaker’s last are likely true. Now, with talk of the next regeneration beginning to build, the much-loved Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, has spoken about his time on the series and why it’s necessary to pass the baton to another actor. In an interview with Port magazine, he was asked if he missed life in the TARDIS and said:
“Of course you miss Doctor Who – it’s the best job in the world, but it’s challenging and taxing as well…That’s why people often get to three or four years before they throw the towel in.”
Smith didn’t explain exactly what makes this specific role so difficult, but it’s a sentiment echoed by many others who’ve played the Doctor – with Peter Capaldi saying there’s a lot more to it than acting. My bet is that portraying such a beloved character comes with a lot of scrutiny about your past and restrictions on how you can behave off screen. After all, the Doctor is one of the BBC’s flagship properties and I’d imagine they’re keen not to have any controversies affect their public image.
All of which may hint at why they tend not to go with established stars for the part and prefer lesser-known actors who can properly commit. It’s worth remembering that when Matt Smith accepted the role, he was almost completely unknown and has used it as a springboard to an impressive career in film and TV.
So, who’s picking up the sonic screwdriver next? We’ve heard some names, but let’s hope we get a bit of concrete information on the future of Doctor Who very soon.