How does Doctor Who stop itself from growing stale with age? The producers of the sci-fi institution have been wrestling with that question for nearly 55 years now. As with any TV show, it’s a challenge to keep things fresh and innovative, and former Doctor Matt Smith has addressed the issue head on in a recent interview.
While talking about his exit from The Crown with Variety, Smith explained that he’s glad he’s not doing more than two seasons of the Netflix drama because it’s tough as an actor to do your part to ensure the show is still at its best, which he related to his experience making three seasons of Doctor Who over four years.
“Had it been six seasons [on The Crown], I might not have done it. I don’t even want to do six seasons of anything really. Look, never say never, but I did four with Doctor Who and it’s tough. What shows do you think have been brilliant over five seasons? I think Breaking Bad did it. The Sopranos[…] that’s the greatest. Game of Thrones…“
The actor then went on to say that he believes it’s most difficult for science fiction or fantasy TV, as the temptation is to just redo what’s come before because it’s such a challenge to conceive of new stuff. Smith even admitted that he feels this is a problem they encountered during his tenure on Who, under former showrunner Steven Moffat.
“Hopefully that’s why The Crown has a chance, I think, because there’s a different kind of setup. You’ve got new actors coming in that are going to be fresh and that’s such a good thing. And also it’s rooted in history. You’re not having to invent too much and that can become a problem, because the great danger of science fiction is if you get caught up in your own mythology, it’s tricky. We found it on Who. It’s a tricky thing. You’ve got to be very, very diligent about it all.”
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It’s interesting that Smith should say this as his era – seasons 5 to 7 – is arguably one of the most fan-oriented passages of the show to date. The serialized, interconnected storytelling encouraged binge-watching and rewarded committed viewers, but it did receive criticism for alienating more casual fans. Like Smith says, though, you can’t accuse the show at this point of resting on its laurels, as Moffat introduced major new additions to the mythos during this time, including marrying the Doctor off to River Song and casting John Hurt as a hitherto unknown version of the Time Lord.
In contrast, the new rebooted era of Doctor Who starring Jodie Whittaker looks to be bringing things back to basics, as incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall is describing season 11 as very accessible and intended for as wide an audience as possible. No doubt in a few years’ time, though, it’ll hit similar problems to the ones Smith describes.