Wednesday, 5 June 2013

DOCTOR WHO's regeneration game

Wednesday, 5 June 2013
It's happening again. Every time the BBC announce the current actor playing the lead in Doctor Who has quit, the rumour mill goes into overdrive and the internet is quickly awash with articles speculating about a replacement. After three series and a 50th anniversary special, Matt Smith is stepping down as The Doctor this Christmas. A Christmas Day regeneration is more than likely, echoing how Smith himself inherited the role from David Tennant in 2010's "The End of Time". (I think an Easter regeneration would be more apt, but there you are.)

So who's going to play The Doctor next? It's a fun guessing game, but one that's extremely unlikely to be predicted correctly. I know quite a few people (including myself) correctly named David Tennant as the new Doctor shortly after Christopher Eccleston quit, but that was mainly because he'd starred in Russell T. Davies' Casanova around the same time. But he still wasn't a household name back then, so I don't recall him being linked to it very seriously beforehand.

The fact is, all the names you hear swirling around online are essentially 'fantasy picks' based on recognisable actors people could imagine playing The Doctor. Quite a few of the names are always appearing on these lists, like Stephen Mangan (Episodes)--who would be ideal in many ways, although it's perhaps too much of an obvious pick after the similarly quirky Dirk Gently.

Tovey, Kinnear & Whishaw
But I still think it's best for the BBC to use Doctor Who as a springboard for new talent, which means the new Time Lord is likely to be just as 'unknown' as Matt Smith was three years ago. So I doubt it will be Russell Tovey (Being Human), or even the likes of Rory Kinnear (Skyfall), whose name has been mentioned by bookmakers Ladbrokes. Ben Whishaw (another James Bond alum as Q) would be a brilliant choice, but he strikes me as being too close to Matt Smith... and the new actor should be a departure.

But what does that mean exactly? Well, I think we've had enough of the clownish, childish, oddball style of Doctor. Tennant gave us 'geek chic', and Smith arguably perfected the 'nutty time-traveller', so I'd like to see someone older and less OTT. Someone aged between 35 and 45 who will bring more gravitas to the role. I understand that sillier Doctors appeal to children in a Willy Wonka way, but I don't recall kids being bored by Christopher Eccleston's moodier approach when the show returned. Kids certainly enjoy seeing adults fooling around like youngsters, but they also respond to seeing 'uncle'-type characters who retain a sense of being adult and are just naturally fun and intriguing to watch.

Another issue that always comes up is whether or not The Doctor should finally be played by a black actor, or a woman. I'm not against someone like Patterson Joseph (Peep Show) or David Harewood (Homeland) getting the job, but I do have some concerns with the idea of turning the Doctor into a female. I think people are scared to discuss this because it's easy to claim someone is sexist if they don't like the idea of a woman taking the role, but that's really not the case. I just don't think the character is feminine—in the same way a Shirley Holmes or Jane Bond wouldn't really work for most people.

Sure, they could easily write something to explain why The Doctor has improbably avoided becoming a woman in over 900-years, taking in 11 regenerations, but I don't feel the show would benefit enough from that radical sex change. While it would certainly put a different spin on adventures into Earth's past, regarding how The Doctor is perceived by sexist eras, I'm just not sure that's enough to warrant going down that knotty avenue. And you'd get that same intrigue by casting a black man, too, which is the 'easier' option than changing the character's gender.

Anyway, as will probably become apparent very soon, the BBC have likely chosen a replacement for Matt Smith, and it will probably be someone we couldn't have predicted. But I'm guessing it'll be a slightly older white male, who will bring a different style and temperament to Smith... and yet work well in a partnership with Jenna-Louise Coleman, of course.

What type of actor do you think the BBC will go for? Someone continuing the Tennant/Smith 'boyish mad professor' trend, or someone older and more serious-minded? Will they change the character's ethnicity or gender to make a bold statement about the character's relevance in the show's 50th year?