In a moment that Doctor Who fans have been nervously bracing themselves for pretty much since Matt Smith was first announced as the Doctor, the BBC has announced that Smith will leave the show in this year’s Christmas special. Smith will depart after serving three full seasons in the role— a tenure matching his predecessor David Tennant’s run, give or take an Easter special here and there. The Eleventh Doctor’s swan song will be preceded by November 23’s 50th anniversary special, which costars Tennant, Billie Piper as returning companion Rose Tyler, and John Hurt as some mysterious figure.
This announcement appears to be a slight reversal from previous interviews from the Doctor Who team, which generally seemed to indicate that Smith, costar Jenna-Louise Coleman, and showrunner Steven Moffat would all be back for the recently confirmed eighth season. Whether that was just a bit of misdirection or a genuine, last-minute change of mind on Smith’s part—perhaps because he discovered how much fun it is hanging out with Ryan Gosling all day—is a question probably best left to history (or, inevitably, rampant Internet speculation). Although, it does seem rather significant that the BBC’s official announcement of season eight carefully avoided any official mention of whether Smith would be returning to the role, so this has probably been in the works for a while now.
Anyway, let’s put that to one side for the moment, as the BBC has published some rather lovely thoughts from Smith himself, wherein he thanks everyone who made the last four years possible:
Doctor Who has been the most brilliant experience for me as an actor and a bloke, and that largely is down to the cast, crew and fans of the show. I’m incredibly grateful to all the cast and crew who work tirelessly every day, to realize all the elements of the show and deliver Doctor Who to the audience. Many of them have become good friends and I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved over the last four years. Having Steven Moffat as showrunner write such varied, funny, mind-bending and brilliant scripts has been one of the greatest and most rewarding challenges of my career. It’s been a privilege and a treat to work with Steven, he’s a good friend and will continue to shape a brilliant world for the Doctor.
The fans of Doctor Who around the world are unlike any other; they dress up, shout louder, know more about the history of the show (and speculate more about the future of the show) in a way that I've never seen before, your dedication is truly remarkable. Thank you so very much for supporting my incarnation of the Time Lord, number Eleven, who I might add is not done yet, I'm back for the 50th anniversary and the Christmas special! It's been an honor to play this part, to follow the legacy of brilliant actors, and helm the TARDIS for a spell with ‘the ginger, the nose and the impossible one.’ But when ya gotta go, ya gotta go and Trenzalore calls. Thank you guys. Matt.
As Smith’s statement reiterates, Steven Moffat will be staying on as showrunner, which means he'll have be the one to choose the Twelfth Doctor. Based on previous instances in which the new Doctor Who has had to replace its Time Lord, we could learn the identity of the new Doctor in as short as two weeks (in the case of David Tennant replacing Christopher Eccleston) or, more likely, in about two to three months (as when Smith replaced Tennant). And, why not, we might as well start speculating on when that Doctor is going to leave the show. (Personally, I just can’t see this hypothetical Doctor lasting beyond midway through 2016).
Anyway, after paying tribute to Smith, Moffat addressed the show’s future and its unknown next star, noting that, “Of course, this isn‘t the end of the story, because now the search begins. Somewhere out there right now—all unknowing, just going about their business—is someone who's about to become the Doctor. A life is going to change, and Doctor Who will be born all over again! After 50 years, that's still so exciting!”
In the meantime, here’s to the Doctor who outwitted Prisoner Zero and the Atraxi on his first day on the job, tangled with Weeping Angels in the wreck of the Byzantium and again in ‘30s Manhattan, faced his own worst self while caught between two dreams, gave Vincent van Gogh a moment’s joyous relief, broke himself out of the Pandorica and rebooted the universe, rewrote a man’s entire past because it was Christmas, used the Apollo 11 landing to vanquish the Silence, had a long overdue hearts-to-heart talk with the TARDIS, humiliated a fanatical army into surrender, locked Hitler in a broom cupboard, conversed with babies and horses, cheated his own death with the most gloriously convoluted plan imaginable, braved the Dalek asylum, reached an understanding with a Martian warlord on a Soviet submarine, beat the Cyberplanner in the universe’s most important chess game, survived the Great Intelligence’s time-destroying onslaught—all this, in addition to whatever awesome, goofy, crazy things he’s going to do in his last two adventures. Yeah, Smith's had a good run, and bow ties—and, on occasion, fezzes—are most definitely cool.