Saturday, January 03, 2009


And The Next Doctor Is… (Matt Smith, Eventually)

…Not David Morrissey* (look, I think we all knew that before Christmas, didn’t we?)
To be revealed this evening at 5.35 on BBC1, in a special edition of Doctor Who Confidential called The Eleventh Doctor (but mainly celebrating the first ten**)
…Not actually going to appear in an exciting adventure on TV for another year yet, so don’t get too excited today
…Oh, who am I kidding, the most exciting announcement since, ooh, Christopher Eccleston was cast or Tom left
…Paterson Joseph, according to the smart money. Or James Nesbitt. Or Matt Smith. Or Rupert Penry-Jones. Or Chiwetel Ejiofor. Or…

But in the meantime, BBC1’s been showing wall-to-wall broadcasts of a trailer with all the first ten Doctors! They’re plastering the airwaves and the internet with pictures of William Hartnell and Sylvester McCoy because they know that will get people watching in their millions! Truly, the time of restitution has come.

(Long) Goodbye, David Tennant

I remember the emotional roller-coaster of the last few days of October and first few of November – up to my parents to see the dentist for urgent drilling, lurching back in time for my birthday and the news suddenly breaking that David Tennant was leaving, then the joy of Obama and heartbreak of Proposition 8 – and the couple of months since have been a frenzy of media speculation. There’s been nothing like it since Tom Baker left (and sorry, Lawrence, otherwise the most comprehensive tipping about the eleventh Doctor of many, many on the Internet and probably even responsible for the Billie Piper rumour, but there was nothing like as much attention when Peter went).

I’ll miss David Tennant, though I know Jennie’s rejoicing (and I never got round to replying to all of her very persuasive points against him). I’d have liked him to do one more year, if not expecting the role to be prised from his cold, dead hands. In part, that’s because it would have helped the new production team settle in; in part, because stretching the last year out with just the occasional special feels like a bit of a let-down rather than a solid goodbye; and in part because I do actually rather like him as the Doctor.

I thought David was terrific in The Christmas Invasion, though I was disappointed to find him very uneven and often too cartoony in 2006. Last year, though, I thought he really hit his stride; the 2007 season is easily his best for me, with a strong through-story and a great central performance. I think what changed is that Russell T Davies discovered that what David does really well is suffering, and put him through the wringer. Moments like his confession to Martha at the end of Gridlock, his despair as John Smith in Human Nature, or his grief over the Master at the close of Last of the Time Lords gave real weight to already marvellous stories. And, I have to admit, a bit of me’s rankled that just a handful of stories after all the emotional investment of a cop-out fake regeneration we’re being asked to care about the real one: you can’t ask “Why would I want to?” and then do it anyway, though I admit that in retrospect there have been stronger than usual intimations of mortality in every episode from Midnight on.

Who Would I Cast?

This time round… I really don’t know who I’d cast. My preference is instinctively for someone old, authoritative but unpredictable, though for the last few years it’s been clear that younger, sexier actors who can have their backs ruined by lots of running. Had the series come back in the 1990s, I’d have said like a shot that it should be Graham Crowden, having seen the demented majesty of his Dr Jock McCannon in A Very Peculiar Practice and his child-like enthusiasm as Tom in Waiting For God (a little like the original casting of William Hartnell for his tough sergeant from the likes of The Army Game and his pathetic old trainer from This Sporting Life, it suddenly occurs to me). And when time travel is a reality, of course, I hope the 393rd Doctor Who production team will cast Alastair Sim. Perfect!

But the Doctor doesn’t have to be Scottish… I remember on a fan e-group I used to belong to, when David Tennant was announced back in 2005 there were people who argued that he was Scottish, and that wouldn’t do, and that he was far too young – ignoring that previous Doctors had both played the part as far more Scottish and been several years younger. I suggested some actors that I thought were terribly good, and might make suitable Doctors, being neither too young nor ostentatiously from Scotland: for some reason Adrian Lester, Judi Dench and Bruce Boxleitner seemed to press people’s buttons, too.

OK, Is It Going To Be Paterson Joseph, Then?

I suspect the Doctor is very unlikely to be American, quite unlikely to be a woman (though the first woman tipped for the job way back in 1980, Joanna Lumley, did the best job of many sort-of cast in 1999), but quite likely to be black. There are as many runners and riders as there are agents, tabloids and fans to promote them. James Nesbitt’s been a top tip for his work with Steven Moffat, but the fact that David Tennant’s been telling fans to stalk him for months (well, and Wee Jimmie Krankie) suggests that he may not be the actual chap. Like David Morrissey, I might even put money against (too late). Harry Lloyd could be brilliant, but is probably too young (oh, dear, I’m at it now), and Matt Smith both too young and a bit too insipid when I’ve seen him… The big question, really, seems to be not ‘Who will it be from this big list?’ but ‘Will it be Paterson, or a surprise?’

It’s difficult to think how Paterson Joseph has been on the boil for so many weeks, having first been the ‘surprise’, without some sort of discreet plugging from inside sources. So, is he just a big bluff? Pretty much every other surprise story that’s leaked out in the last four years has turned out to be true, and there was that slip in an interview from one of his co-stars in Survivors (in which he was rather good, if underused, and given a cliffhanging ‘He’s been shot in the chest so he doesn’t have to be in the second series if, cough, he’s cast in anything else’), but you never know – this could be the one. It’s got to the stage that it could almost be a disappointment either way: disappointed that he’s not a surprise, or all keyed up to expect him and disappointed if it’s someone who doesn’t seem as good. I’m sure whoever it is will cope, though.

Back in 2005, when I was thinking of potential Doctors who were either black, female or American – all attributes I knew would wind up some fans, but trying to come up with actors I’d rather like in the part as well as for mischief-making – three black actors all sprang to mind. They were Adrian Lester (charismatic and sexy), Don Warrington (charismatic and authoritative) and, of course, Paterson Joseph (charismatic and dangerous). I went for Adrian, simply, because I was wary I was associating the other two too much with one Doctorish part and thinking ‘that was good’: respectively, Rassilon in Doctor Who CDs (particularly Neverland, ironically) and the Marquis de Carabas in Neverwhere. Neverwhere was the first time I remembered seeing Paterson Joseph in anything, and – appropriately for a series that felt very much like someone trying to do something very like Doctor Who – he instantly seemed to be playing a Doctor-like character perfectly. It’s precisely because of that that I had reservations a decade later, because although his playing of that role was a perfect ringer for the Doctor, I don’t want the Doctor to be just a repeat of AN Other Role. I can remember long wariness of polls during the wilderness years where fans pleaded for the Doctor to be played by, say, ‘Captain Picard’ or ‘Mr Giles’, rather than looking at the whole range of the actors who’d played them.

Despite all that, Paterson’s a fine actor, and it’s been enough time since Neverwhere that I’m sure he could do something new and exciting even in much the same part, and for anyone, sorry to feel I have to say this, who complains that the Doctor’s never black before… Oh, get a life. If you’re a racist, have you ever actually watched the show? And if you’re just a pedantic, conservative fan, you’re wrong, too. As I wrote a couple of months ago, we saw a potential black Doctor in The War Games in 1969. He’s up there, right on screen, no denying it, when the Time Lords offer a choice of new bodies to Patrick Troughton’s Doctor on his execution and the Doctor turns them all down. The Doctor calls out “Too fat” as part of looking for excuses for the lot of them, and I’ve never spotted anyone trying to mis-hear it as “Too black” (since then, we’ve had a fat Doctor, and a thin one, too, so you can't use those excuses either. Yay!). So, that’s 39 years out of the 42 that we knew the Doctor could change body that we knew he could change not just his hair colour but his melanin count (or alien equivalent), too. And only a few minutes to find out…

Are you excited? I am.

5.40 update: Well, he’s going to be really young, so it’s not a woman, and it’s not Paterson – now forever the former next Doctor, poor man. It’s a surprise. Is it really Russell Tovey after all, with Russell T Davies so jealous? He’s brilliant and sexy, but I’d probably slightly go for Harry Lloyd now, who’s both, too. Of course, if it’s Matt Smith (more tipped right now), ignore what I said above, because I’ve always thought he was a very mature and exciting actor. Ahem.

And now William Hartnell’s on BBC1! In prime time! After being in the titles! Oh, heaven. I suppose a CGI Billy’s out of the question? Russell’s praising his range, as people damn well should. Ooh, and my favourite Troughton scene, too…

Yes, I have fallen into liveblogging this. I may pop.

5.50: The next Doctor’s 26 (and I’m officially old). It’s surely Matt Smith, and I refer you to the paragraph above. No, not that far above. That was an impersonator. Three above. It’s what I said all along, honest, guv. Excitingly, there’s also a man on screen who I’ve met with Millennium, as his welcome to the scariness that is to come.

The Doctor Who Forum has almost certainly melted down. I’m not even looking.

5.59: Matt Smith. The Eleventh Doctor. He’s on screen now.


And he says Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes! He’s right.

They’re showing a favourite Confidential montage to close – I suspect it was cut together personally by David Tennant – and I’m grinning and teary-eyed. My favourite Billy line, too. And I whooped when it cut to the new Doctor at the final shot. I don’t care that he’s 26. I just want him to be marvellous.

If you’ve just watched The Eleventh Doctor and been taken with some of the Twentieth Century Doctors, incidentally, there’s a bewildering array of their stories available on DVD (and more every month). If you can’t decide which to go for, here are some tips I prepared earlier.

Next, what about the next Master? Who can live up to the legend?

There’s no doubt, of course – albeit too late for the Christmas number one – about the new hit sweeping the nation (later: in between making toptastic poptastic hits, Will has even prepared a fact-file on Matt Smith. Is there no end to the man’s talents?). Sunday Update: there are more versions! Soon it’ll be better-covered than Yesterday.

Comedy links pre-prepared, of course, because now I’m all emotional.

* And you can trust me on this, because the last time I was so sure about who a wide-open pick wouldn’t be, I knew there was absolutely no way John McCain could possibly pick Sarah Palin.

** (See *)

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Crowden would actually be a really good choice. Shame there's no chance of the current show casting him. (Also, according to his Wikipedia page, he was offered the role after Pertwee and turned it down...)

Personally, I can't wait for Tennant and Davies to be gone. The new series is not the series I love, and while I'll give the new regime a try, I can't imagine them being much better...
Thanks! Though the odd thing is, I've seen Crowden in things in the '70s, and he doesn't quite have it yet. He reached his peak when his hair turned white; a sort of raddled majesty.

I hope you enjoy the next one more, though. And look out for my piece on what's brilliant about 1993 later on - I remember you thinking that would be a difficult one, but actually it was much easier to come up with brilliant things about it than several earlier years!
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