I just spent a few hours playing a Doctor Who trivia game on Facebook, something I managed to avoid until tonight and would do well to avoid in the future. It's way too much fun, way too addicting for someone who has been watching the show for over 20 years. But I needed to be in Doctor Who mode tonight, because in another six hours or so, the BBC will reveal which actor has been cast to replace David Tennant as the Doctor. Even without the answer to that question, the Doctor Who Forum is already in meltdown as people log in with last minute speculations or looking for last minute leaks of the news. At least, I assume that's what's happening. I only know that their server is extremely sluggish tonight, and that historically that's been due to fan reaction to major news or the airing of pivotal episodes. When the name is revealed on Doctor Who Confidential, which starts at 5.35 PM GMT, the DWF will be locked down so that only paid subscribers can post until the frenzy subsides.
The Doctor reveals that "The Next Doctor" is not in fact the next Doctor,
in the 2008 Christmas special. The special's guest star, David Morrissey,
was listed as having good odds for landing the role before the special aired.
It's probably difficult for an American who has not watched the show to understand what a big deal this is in the UK. Even the casting of a new James Bond probably doesn't quite measure up. For years the British newspapers have been speculating about how long David Tennant would play the role, and who would replace him when he left. Even before he announced on the 29th of October 2008 that the four 2009 specials (one of which will apparently air in January 2010), bookmakers were giving odds on a long list of potential successors. This episode of Confidential, originally titled "The Ten Doctors," has been renamed "The Eleventh Doctor." It will air not only on the BBC, but also on the network's big outdoor screens in major city centres "including Hull, Liverpool, Rotherham, Swindon, Swansea, Norwich and Walthamstow."
Topping the list of possibilities is Paterson Joseph, who played a minor, largely unsympathetic role at the end of the 2005 series. Coincidentally, Tennant took over as the Doctor at the end of that same story. Granted, I haven't seen enough of Joseph's work to have an informed opinion, but I'm hoping he won't be the Eleventh Doctor, despite what the oddsmakers say. I'd like it to be someone even more obscure, someone who isn't on the lists at all. Apparently new executive producer Piers Wenger and new showrunner Steven Moffat are now thought to have steered away from big name actors (and also, actresses), resulting in seismic shifts in the odds over the past 24 hours. At least one newspaper reported that the fact of the casting (which happened "over Christmas," reportedly after months of negotiations) was accidentally leaked by Fifth Doctor Peter Davison to a fan he met in a park somewhere. Davison supposedly told the fan that the new Doctor is "not someone you will have heard of." If it does turn out to be Paterson Joseph, I will assume that Moffat knows better than I do whether he'll make a good Doctor, and seek out other work by him, including a Neil Gaiman film.
All the hoopla over the casting gives fans something to be excited about and to argue over while savoring the precious last stories of the Tenth Doctor. If David Tennant's announcement was the beginning of the end for his Doctor, then the casting announcement is the beginning of the middle of the end. It ushers in a period of adjustment, giving fans something to look forward to beyond Tennant's departure. We surely need it. Many fans, myself included, believe that he is the best actor ever to play the Doctor. No other Doctor ever rivaled Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor, the fellow with the scarf) in popularity until Ten came along. Now he regularly tops polls, not only as the favorite Doctor, but also as the favorite actor on British tv. Not bad for a science fiction show that premiered in 1963!
Naturally enough, lots of people don't want Tennant to leave at all, but indications are that he'll leaving at the right time. He will have appeared in the last minute or so of Series One, across three "mini-episodes," three entire series, five Christmas specials and three other specials. He will be leaving at the same time as showrunner Russell T. Davies, who cast him in the role. And it may be a good idea for Tennant to ease up on playing an action hero and doing nearly all his own stunts. His widely-acclaimed run as Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company was recently cut short by the need for back surgery.
But oh, I wish he were staying a bit longer!
I win! It's Matt Smith, whose name, as far as I can tell, only emerged in the last few days of speculation. At 26 he's the youngest Doctor ever cast, beating out Peter Davison. He also has the odd qualification if being a Smith, as in past Who companions Sarah Jane Smith and Mickey Smith, and the Doctor's frequent alias, John Smith.
Having been up all night playing Doctor Who trivia, writing this blog entry, and watching David Tennant as Eddington in Einstein and Eddington, I shall now go back to sleep until John announces he has procured "The Eleventh Doctor" and its ready for viewing.
Aww, who am I kidding? I can't sleep now.
Meanwhile, though, Doctor Who screenwriter, novelist and longtime fan Paul Cornell (who also writes the Marvel comic Captain Britain and MI-13, to much acclaim) has an excellent post about the announcement as an event, and how it wasn't always this way, even in the UK.
ETA: Here is the interview part of the Confidential. I love his enthusiasm, and the wonkiness of his hair and his gestures. If he's as appealing as the Doctor as he is in this interview, the role will be in good hands.
And more good news: it looks like David Tennant's back is well enough for him to return to the stage for Hamlet tonight. So he should be there for the last week of the RSC's London run. I won't get to see him (unless the BBC films it), but it's still great news for the actor, the company, and fans who bought their tickets months ago.
In other news, I called the potential employer who left that message on my landline before Christmas, and apparently I haven't blown my chances with him after all. It's a health care provider, and it would be a long commute, but for good money. I've completed a detailed application online, and interviewing is supposed to begin on January 6th. Judging by what they already had about me in their database, it looks as though I first applied for a job with them about 16 months ago, right after First Magnus folded. Wish me luck!