Doctors appointment 2: the Doctor is in

And the 11th Doctor is indeed Matt Smith. Which means I can breath a huge sigh of relief that I didn’t come across as a complete idiot with my post yesterday suggesting that he would be named in the role today.

Okay, I hedged my bets a little. I found it hard to believe that they would go for someone so unknown, now that Doctor Who is no kids’ show any more but possibly the BBC’s biggest drama series in its arsenal. That suggests they would put the show in safe hands, not a 26-year-old of almost no name recognition value.

With so may apparently knowledgeable people going on for so long about the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Nesbitt or Paterson Joseph, I confess that I thought my gut instinct was sure to be well off the mark. So many people can’t be so completely wrong, after all. Right? So I thought. And for what it’s worth, I still think Richard Coyle would make a brilliant Doctor and he would have been my choice even though I never thought it particularly likely. Perhaps he’s a little too Tennant-y for the immediate succession, which is a shame.

When I started writing that blog post yesterday, I had only just found out who Matt Smith was (or rather, finally linked the name to the actor I remember as Danny in Party Animals.) And my immediate reaction was: “Yes, he’s got the Doctor X-Factor”, in just the way that Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker and David Tennant did – whereas Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison and Christopher Eccleston had to work at it but pulled it off wonderfully; and Colin Baker and Sylvestor McCoy never managed it, at least for me.

Having written that post yesterday, I’ve spent the last 24 hours hoping it would indeed be Matt Smith, but never really thinking it would be the name announced when the moment came (and didn’t the Confidential programme build up the suspense and tease wonderfully with the little clues in the first 25 minutes?!) If not Smith then I hoped it would be someone even more interesting, exciting and surprising: in other words, anyone other than the much-touted lead candidates, who just lacked that something extra that makes a great actor a great Doctor.

If all this sounds slightly smug back-patting on my part for having come up with the name – I don’t mean it to, it’s really just relief at not looking stupid. And I only came up with the name because the clues were out there, not because I had inside info or was being particularly bright. The biggest clues were:

  • The betting: who the hell would suddenly start putting money on Matt Smith, unless the news was leaking? He wasn’t remotely connected to the role until 36 hours beforehand and to come out of nowhere to suddenly be the bookies’ favourite suggested that something was afoot.
  • The sudden timing of the announcement, 15 months before the start of the next series. Why so early? One blog suggestion linked it to the Barack Obama factor, suggesting a black Doctor, but that never rang true for me and almost suggested the reverse. More practically, it strongly suggested to me that the story was about to break come what may and the BBC were scrambling to get their story in first, which supported the leak-triggering-betting side
  • Peter Davison’s comments about it being no one that people were talking about.

I’m happy I read the tea leaves right, but you can see that there’s no deep insight required on my part. Although I will add – with just one little smug grin – that that makes me two for two on Doctors now. (Okay, okay, I confess – I didn’t see Christopher Eccleston coming. Not at all.)

And what about now, post-announcement? Having seen the announcement (and isn’t it great that Doctor Who can be such staggeringly nation-stopping news once again after all these years?) – what do I actually reckon to Matt Smith as the Doctor?

Actually – I’m terrified. For him, for the series, for the fans. This is one big gig and he’s very young and it could all go horribly wrong. I wasn’t kidding when I said in my post yesterday that it would require Steven Moffat to “throw caution to the wind and go for the utterly unreasonable choice” – it’s a staggering brave decision. It’s amazing that the BBC have backed it. I wonder if there are a few BBC senior executives bricking it tonight in the wake of the announcement?

I’m not secure and calm in the knowledge that Smith will be superb, at least not in the same way that I genuinely was from the minute David Tennant was announced in the role. This will be a scarier ride for all of us, myself included – I might very well hate the 11th Doctor. But at least it will be a wild, radical, nerve-shredding ride as we find out together, and for a show like Doctor Who you can ask for nothing more.

I have great confidence in Steven Moffat as a writer and a producer. If you haven’t checked out Jekyll yet, then do so. Also his first hit, the kids show Press Gang, and his sit com Coupling, to gauge just how good he is, and of course his Doctor Who episodes if you haven’t seen those – Blink is about the best 40 minutes of television you’ll ever see. Oh, and while you’re at it – get your hands on Party Animals to see why Matt Smith really does have the Doctor X-Factor. I’m guessing the BBC might just repeat that show now, given the interest this latest casting news will generate!

So in Moffat I trust. He’ll be a great show runner for Who, and if he says that Matt Smith is the best person to play the Doctor then I’m willing to go along with him and believe in his judgement. It’s fascinating to hear that Matt Smith was seen in the first hour of weeks of casting sessions; that they felt that it couldn’t be that easy, went on for weeks seeing people, only to finally come back to one of the very first people they saw. That’s saying something.

And of course it’s still some 15 months away till the 11th Doctor – we still have four new David Tennant specials to go. It’ll be bitter sweet to see his time as Tardis resident tick away, but at least we’ll be able to savour him while we have him.

And after that – it’s into the frightening unknown. Which is how Doctor Who should always be.

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