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Who Is Going To Replace Matt Smith? Let’s Speculate Now and Look Back Later to Laugh at How Wrong We Were

Update: 7/19/2014-Peter Capaldi got the gig.  Boy, we were way off.  

We’ve all already apparently mourned the departure of Matt Smith from Doctor Who (I guess). We are now in the phase where we rampantly speculate over who will take over the role and give our wishlists for who we want to see pilot the Tardis next, which is the phase also known as “what fools we Doctor Who fans be.”  Trying to guess who will be the next actor to play the Doctor is a sucker’s bet (though British bookies like William Hill aren’t stopping you).  We are almost always wrong.

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If we had been right back in 2009, either Paterson Joseph or Robert Carlyle would have replaced David Tennant, not Matt Smith.

In fact, Matt Smith’s name was never mentioned in the speculation phase until literally the morning of the day he was officially announced as the 11th Doctor in a Doctor Who Confidential special which aired in the evening.  However, we just can’t help ourselves.  With the 2013 Christmas special, i.e., Matt Smith’s last episode, set to begin filming next month, we expect the BBC to have announced the new Doctor by that point rather than attempt to keep it a big secret.  Back in 2005, barely over two weeks passed between Christopher Eccleston’s announced departure and Tennant’s announced arrival, and a little over two months passed between Tennant leaving and Smith officially joining.  So, a month should be plenty of time for us to go crazy with speculation.

So, who are the people now forever destined to be written about as “rumored to have been considered for the role” once someone we don’t see coming lands the role?  Well, the early speculation is dividing into separate categories, with some obvious category overlap: ginger actors, famous white male actors, less well known white male actors, female actors (regardless of race), and not-white actors.

Ginger Actors

Rupert Grint as Doctor
Ron Weasley as the Doctor? Does that mean the Doctor is going to start saying “Expelliarmus” every time he points his wand-like sonic screwdriver at something?

Because both Tennant’s and Smith’s Doctors joked during their regenerations that they were not gingers suddenly any British actor who knows the unique social ostracization that befits an individual with red hair and pale skin is considered a highly likely candidate to replace Matt Smith.  At a time when Doctor Who is coming under some (seriously unfounded) criticism for racism and (somewhat more founded) criticism for sexism, I’m sure giving the world a ginger Doctor would appease the critics because, well, I guess because it would just horribly confuse them.

Some of the names being mentioned:

  • Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley from Harry Potter)
  • Damien Lewis (Homeland)

To which we do our best David Tennant impression of his infectious way of shouting, “What?”  Why on Earth would Grint want to attach himself to another British cultural institution, and isn’t Lewis kind of busy with Homeland?  Also, it just occurred to me that the Harry Potter book series is actually referenced by the 10th Doctor in the third season episode “The Shakespeare Code.”  A mere observation.  Do with it what you will.  It’s actually a bit surprising, I guess, that Grint is the only Weasley kid mentioned as a possibility since they would all fit the description of being ginger.  At some point, perhaps Domhnall Gleeson’s name will pop up, based upon his small role as Bill Weasley in the films and starring role in Richard Curtis’ forthcoming time travelling rom-com About Time.

Famous White Male Actors

Cumberbatch as 12th Doctor
Benedict Cumberbatch as the Doctor? He certainly has the love of scarves that Tom Baker had, but this….is….not….happening

Although the Doctor is an alien capable of regenerating into different bodies, he’s always been played by white males so the natural assumption is that he will always be a white male.  I’m not saying it’s necessarily right – it’s just how it is.

Though always a white male, the Doctor is very rarely played by a well established actor.  He’s not always played by a complete unknown, but outside of Peter Davison he’s never really been played by somebody known as a star at the time of the casting.  You usually need to have a very, very thorough knowledge of British television and theater to suss out the legitimate candidates, which means us bloody colonials in the States are often S.O.L.  .

Some of the big names being mentioned:

  • Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness)
  • Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • David Morrissey (The Walking Dead, previously appeared in the Doctor Who episode “The Next Doctor”)
  • Daniel Radcliffe (do you really not know who he is?  He’s freakin’ Harry Potter)
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I have to admit that Hugh Laurie does look dashing in front of the Tardis.

Is a single one of them realistic?  Let me think about that for a mi…no.  All of them area either too busy or too expensive for the very time-consuming and alarmingly cash-strapped Doctor Who.  Of course, you can see why they are being discussed.  For example, Cumberbatch would probably be an AMAZING Doctor and/or Master, but at this point he’s too big for the show. Apparently not worth mentioning due to his Marvel film commitments is Tom Hiddleston, aka Loki, but he’d likely be an astoundingly awesome Doctor.  C’est la vie.

Less Well Known White Male Actors

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Ben Whishaw does kind of just look like The Doctor, doesn’t he?  Too bad James Bond got to him first.

For the historical reasons explained above, these are the guys you have to most seriously consider.  These are the type of actors who have starred here and there in other British television shows, and often have some sort of connection to Doctor Who’s Executive Producer, such as David Tennant having starred in Russel T. Davies’ Casanova prior to being cast as the Doctor.

Some of the names being mentioned:

  • Ben Daniels (Law & Order UK, The State Within, House of Cards)
  • Rory Kinnear (Recurring role in James Bond Quantum of Solace and Skyfall)
  • Harry Lloyd (Human Nature)
  • Stephen Mangan (Dirk Gently, Episodes)
  • Damien Molony (Being Human, he replaced the departing Aidan Turner as the sexy vampire type for the final two seasons)
  • Colin Morgan (Merlin, already appeared in Doctor Who during the David Tennant era, episode title “Midnight”)
  • Andrew Scott (Sherlock’s Moriarty)
  • Martin Shaw (The Professionals, Inspector George Gently)
  • Russell Tovey (Being Human, already starred in Doctor Who’s “Voyage of the Damned” and had a cameo in “The End of Time, Pt. 2”)
  • Ben Whishaw (The Hour, James Bond’s new Q as introduced in Skyfall)

Recent reports, based upon who the bookies give the best odds, indicate Ben Daniels, Rory Kinnear, and Colin Morgan (along with Chewitel Ejiofor) are the frontrunners for the role.  Stephen Mangan, so excellent with Matt LeBlance in Episodes, seems to have thrown his own name in the race due to some rather clever usage of social media, making him perhaps the only candidate (regardless of category) to actually indicate in any way they want to replace Matt Smith.

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Andrew Scott might be a serious darkhorse candidate based upon his experience working with Moffat as Moriarty on Sherlock.

Harry Lloyd, Damien Molony, Colin Morgan, and Ben Whishaw are all around Matt Smith’s age meaning any romantic overtures between Jenna Louise-Coleman’s Clara and the Doctor could continue on its current path.  Morgan might have points against him since he’s already been on the show during the fourth season.  I am most familiar with Molony, who was pretty amazing as Hal, a vampire with obsessive compulsive disorder, in the final two seasons of the UK Being Human. Candidates such as Ben Daniels (48) and Martin Shaw (78) are far older and would represent significant departures from the run of young Doctors with Tennant and Smith.  Russell Tovey seems to be mentioned a lot mostly because Russel T. Davies publicly backed him as a potential replacement for David Tennant back in late 2008.

Female Actors (Regardless of Race)

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So what if Olivia Colman (the adult in the middle in the above picture) has already been in Doctor Who? She’s a popular pick for a female Doctor right now.

In Neil Gaiman’s instant classic Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife,” the 11th Doctor  describes a former Time Lord acquaintance of his as having regenerated from a male body into a female body.  And suddenly the show sacrificed whatever truly solid in-story explanation for why the Doctor hadn’t regenerated into a woman before because it had officially established, once and for all, that Time Lords can switch genders via regeneration.

As such, the inevitable “the Doctor should be a woman” cries seem a little louder this time around because this is the first “who’s playing the next Doctor?” speculation cycle in the history of the show where fans know for sure that Time Lords can indeed go from male to female.  It would be a potentially destabilizing choice at a time when the show is suffering creatively from budget cuts and a now-constant revolving door of all producers not named Steven Moffat.  However, some (like Laura Helmuth at Slate) argue for the creative possibilities a female Doctor would afford the show whereas others (like Christopher Stevens at The Daily Mail) mostly say, “I get what you’re saying, but nope – the Doctor is man.  Sorry.  End of story.”

Some of the names being mentioned:

  • Zawe Ashton (Case Histories, Fresh Meat)
  • Olivia Colman (Broadchurch, was in Matt Smith’s first Doctor Who episode “The Eleventh Hour”)
  • Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones)
  • Dame Helen Mirren (seriously?  You don’t know who Helen Mirren is?)
  • Natasha O’Keeffe (Misfits)
  • Fiona O’Shaughnessy (Utopia)
  • Laura Pulver (Sherlock’s Irene Adler, True Blood, Da Vanci’s Demons)
  • Indira Varma (Human Target, Torchwood)
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Sure, Indira Varma played Suzie in Torchwood, but Moffat-run Doctor Who mostly ignores Russel T. Davies era, Torchwood included.

Natalie Dormer and Laura Pulver currently hold regular gigs on Game of Thrones and Da Vanci’s Demons, respectively.  Otherwise, Pulver would seem a prime contender due to her work as Irene Adler in Sherlock.  Indira Varma, best known to Doctor Who fans as Suzie in the first season of Torchwood, is an interesting candidate.  She was arguably a more compelling presence in just two episodes of Torchwood than many of the show’s regular cast members.  Helen Mirren once gave an interview where she said she’d like to play the Doctor.  So, now her name gets mentioned even though she probably falls into the category of too famous for the role –  the show would need her more than she’d need it.  Zawe Ashton is an up and comer who also happens to be both female and black.  She was fantastic in Case Histories.  Natasha O’Keeffe and Fiona O’Shaugnessy are arguably the least well-known of the bunch.

Not-White Actors

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See what I said about Olivia Colman above and just replace the name with David Harewood (pictured here from his Doctor Who episode)

It didn’t matter that Patterson Joseph had already been on Doctor Who in the first season.  Back in late 2008, he was the odds on favorite for the part along with Robert Carlyle.  Joseph would have been the first black actor to play the role.  Now, David Harewood has already been on Doctor Who and is among the oft-mentioned names to replace Matt Smith.  He also happens to be black.  A similar conversation has been happening with one of Britain’s other lily-white cultural institutions, where Idris Alba has been discussed as a potential future James Bond (to which some fans respond with a curious “does this make me racist?” tone of, “But James Bond is white.”)  The Hollywood Reporter made a more nuanced but similar argument this morning about the Doctor and his unending whiteness.

Some of the names being mentioned:

  • Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd)
  • Chewitel Ejiofor (American Gangster, Serenity)
  • David Harewood (played the boss David Estes on Homeland, was already in Doctor Who’s “The End of Time, Parts 1 & 2”)
  • Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
  • Ashley Walters (Appeared as one of the Junkers in the Season 7 episode “Journey to the Center of the Tardis”)
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The real new Patterson Joseph might be Chewitel Ejiofor (pictured above), who is being reported all over the place as one of THE leading candidates.

Chewitel Ejiofor was the A-MAZING villain in Joss Whedon’s Serenity (he’d be trading in his samurai sword for a sonic screwdriver in this scenario).  When asked in 2011 if he’d take the role of the Doctor if it was offered to him, he replied, “Yes, of course.”  So, there’s that.  Richard Ayoade has serious geek cred from his days on The IT Crowd, and it is surprisingly easy to imagine him as the Doctor.  However, he is an emerging film writer/director in addition to actor, and ambition to direct is reportedly one of the reasons Smith is leaving the role Anyoade would be taking.  As for other candidates, he’s probably in no way a realistic option, but having just recently seen Best Exotic Marigold Hotel my first thought when I saw Dev Patel’s name was, “Holy crap, he’d be an amazing Doctor!”

What does the new Doctor need to have?  Here is what Steven Moffat said in 2009 when announcing Matt Smith as the new Doctor:

“The Doctor is a very special part, and it takes a very special actor to play him.  You need to be old and young at the same time, a boffin and an action hero, a cheeky schoolboy and the wise old man of the universe.”-Moffat

Some of the people listed in this article probably fit that criteria.  However, the more likely option to my cynical mind is that somebody we barely even know about has those qualities, has already been cast, and is walking around the world right now chuckling everytime they hear a casting rumor and seeing how far off we all are.

Now…is the time when I stop, and you pick up where I left off.  Take to our comments section and unleash your passion and wisdom upon the world.  Express yourself.  You hear me – express!  Okay, that last part was meant to sound like I was saying it in a Dalek voice.  Read again and see if sounds funnier now.  Anyway, get to it.

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