Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Who's Who?

It's been a while since BBC announced Matt Smith will be stepping down from his titular role in Doctor Who, and since then, the net's been abuzz with speculation about who his successor will be, as well as the occasional threat from some fans that they'll stop watching if this criterion or that is not met in casting the next Time Lord.

For my part, I'm glad to see Smith go. He wasn't terrible – I just didn't really like him in the title role. Maybe it's because his head is too big. Seriously, it makes Tommy Lee Jones' enormous noggin look normal. Damn thing pushes past the borders of my TV screen when the show's on, and intrudes on the rest of the room. Shallow, I know, but you've gotta be honest with your comfort zones. Beyond that, there was just something I couldn't really pin down about him that prevented me from really liking his Doctor and getting in his corner – to the point where I was, surprisingly, kind of indifferent to missing a few of this past series' episodes.

I won't try to engage in speculation because I have no connections whatsoever with the network or producers, and, unless you are in that inner circle, there's no way you'll know who they're really serious about choosing either.

As for threats to stop watching if certain casting conditions aren't met? Whatever. Empty words from most people who make statements like that, because, ultimately, if you're a fan of the character or the series, you'll come back for a peek. Hell, chances are you'll stick with the series anyway, just to see what the writers/producers/directors do with that incarnation you don't approve of. How many people bitched about what Lucas did with the Star Wars prequels, and how many of us went ahead and watched all three anyway? It's a philosophy that's been successfully applied to talk radio for years. And if you really stick to your guns, it won't matter. The show will keep lumbering on. Moreover, if you stop watching, you run the risk of missing a potentially good performance (or at least an entertaining episode or two) from an actor who might rise to the occasion, despite the absence of the characteristics you insist upon.

For my part, I hope they don't cast the Doctor any younger than Smith. I understand that in the UK, Doctor Who is classified as a kids' show, and there's logic in casting younger actors to appeal to the primary demographic. But, really, if the Doctor gets any younger than he is now, I'm going to start feeling like I'm rewatching an old episode of Mork & Mindy with the late Jonathan Wintes (or, similarly, from much later, the Star Trek - Voyager episode "Innocence") with aliens who age backwards. But again, that's all in the hands of the producers.

And while I won't claim any authority to speculate on who will get the part, I will (in no particular order) indulge in offering a few thoughts about actors I think would do a great job at the helm of the TARDIS:

  • Stephen Fry – Imagine the TARDIS doors opening after the transformation flash, and seeing Stephen Fry step out to evaluate the Whoniverse! Here's an actor with gravitas balanced by a sense of humour, an air of intelligence and attentiveness, and an excellent sense of timing. The only problem is, I just don't see his Doctor running much, and there's a lot of frenetic running on this damn show.
  • Lenny Henry – Years ago, when it was announced that Tennant was stepping down, I said I'd like to see Lenny Henry take a crack at this role, and I still stand by that statement. The electric wit he demonstrated on Chef! was perfect, and while the Doctor's temper isn't anywhere near as explosive as Gareth's, sometimes, despite the fact that the Doctor tries to let on that he's mellowed with age, I think it would do to have an actor who could give the sense of simmering when confronted with something deeply annoying, if not life-threatening. Henry's also got a depth of feeling and a sense of timing that would be perfect for the Time Lord.
  • Emma Thompson – I seem to remember John Scalzi mentioning on his Twitter feed that he'd like to see Emma Thompson become the next Doctor. I was on-board with this as soon as I read it. Yes, Emma Thompson would be perfect. Any doubts? Rewatch her in Much Ado About Nothing. Genius. Enough said.
  • Omid Djalili – Yes, the comic who played the warden in The Mummy. Talk about a sense of timing! In his stand-up act, or in his movie roles, Omid Djalili is always spot on with the timing of his delivery – just the right nuance of tone and speed at just the right time, and the ability to switch gears instantly. He's also got that sense of watchfulness that the Doctor needs – regardless of his role, you always sense that his characters are paying attention to the situation. They may not be able to cope with the situation, but they're taking it all in, and that's something the Doctor always seems to display. I think he's also an actor who could show us the right depth of feeling for the Doctor, even if previous roles haven't afforded that opportunity. As much as this Doctor could make us laugh, I have a feeling he could show us what it's like to hurt if he wanted to.
  • Lena Headey – If you could pry her away from Game of Thrones, Lena Headey would be The Oncoming Storm - the battle angel version of the Doctor, if you needed to show some serious kicking of Dalek ass. And yet, as we saw in moments in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, she can show a pretty good range in character. I'd like to see what she could do with the Doctor.
  • Alexander Siddig – Okay, Alexander Siddig has already played a space-and-time-travelling doctor in Star Trek - Deep Space Nine, but I think he'd make a fantastic Doctor. As an actor, he's got a great range, and I could see him bringing some of the even-tempered wisdom of his character in Kingdom of Heaven to the Time Lord. He's also got that timing and sense of watchfulness I've mentioned before, that I find so essential to the Doctor.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor – I saw Chiwetel Ejiofor again the other night while rewatching Serenity, as the parliamentary assassin sent to run-down River Tam, and thought, here's an actor who would just feel right as the Doctor. I thought back to how much different his character was in Inside Man, and yet how completely at home he seemed in both, as different as they were, and it just reinforced my impression that he would make a completely believable Doctor who could show us a lot about the character that maybe we haven't seen before. Like the others I've mentioned in this list, timing and watchfulness are traits that he's got down.

To reiterate, this is not a predictive list, just some thoughts about actors I think could bring something new and interesting to the role of the Doctor.

In any case, regardless of who the producers select, I'll be watching when the changeover happens, and, as long as the Doctor's head doesn't get any bigger, I'll be willing to give whoever it is a chance.

So, if it was your call to make, who would you cast as the Doctor?