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So, over the weekend Matt Smith announced that he was going to leave Doctor Who after the Christmas Special. Of course, speculation about this has been ripe for most of the past series with rumours going about that he was leaving long before it started (which were largely denied) and a rather strange speculation (that was hotly denied) about this being the last ever series of Doctor Who. Now that the cat of out of the bag regarding WHEN Matt Smith will be leaving, thoughts inevitably turn to WHO will take over as the eponymous Time Lord.

Now, I have lived through a number of time lord regenerations (I have vague memories of Tom Baker regenerating into Peter Davison at the end of Logopolis when I was very young) and have been through the media and fan speculations about the next actor to take on the role. It used to be a big event on Blue Peter when I was at school where they would bring on the new actor, complete with costume, and talk with him about how he intended to portray the character. Generally there would also be lavish tabloid reports of various famous people taking on the role – people who had claimed to have been approached or even just people who may have just happened to have been talking to the current showrunner for a completely seperate reason. Usually, these are just cases of wishful thinking. Sean Connery and John Cleese have been among those tagged in these articles, despite neither of them being likely to have the time or interest with the fairly big Hollywood careers they both had at the time of being suggested.

Often, it tends to be someone relatively unknown at the time of casting. They may have done some previous acting for which they got recognition (Tom Baker was Rasputin in Nicholas and Alexander in 1971 and Koura in The Golden Vioyage of Sinbad in 1973, before he became the Doctor,and David Tennant was in Casanova) but by and large the first time you hear their name as a child who watches Doctor Who is when the casting is announced. There have been exceptions to this, of course. Christopher Ecclestone had been in a couple of things (I think he’d done some films somewhere in Hollywood you might have heard of 🙂 ) and William Hartnell had a  remarkably robust film career (including several Carry On films) but by and large unknowns have taken the part over well known actors. So, perhaps the speculation needs to be looking not at well known actors but at those on the fringes – the up and coming talent rather than the established names? A couple of names that have popped up in this mould include Andrew Scott (who played Moriarty in Moffat’s Sherlock – not a bad choice as he fits the model of the relative unknown who has also happened to have worked with the current showrunner before) and Ben Whishaw whose main claim to fame is the role of ‘New Q’ in Bond.

One thing I will say about this time, however, is that something is different. As Colin Baker said in his first appearance as the Doctor at the end of The Caves of Androzani: ‘Change, my dear, and not a moment too soon.’ Amongst the fairly predictable speculations for the role – the typical white middle class male archetype that the Doctor is often portrayed as – there are calls for some variety. There has long been interest in the Doctor being a woman, of course. I even commented on an article which speculated on who would play the role in all 11 incarnations if the Doctor had begun as female. This time, however, it seems to have become more urgent, with calls for Helen Mirren, Miranda Hart or Joanna Lumley to be appointed to the part. There is also another interesting request – that for the Doctor to change his ethnicity. One barrier in the way of this has been the simple fact that, so far, it has not happened – Time Lords by and large kept the same baisc gender and ethnicity. Though this has not stopped some considering the series to be racist because it has never changed the ethnicity of the lead character. However, that changed dramatically in ‘let’s Kill Hitler’ when River Song showed that it is perfectly possible for a young, black Time Lord to regenerate into a middle aged, white woman and has led me to wonder if Moffat was not setting things up for just such a change. Suggestions in this vein  have included Patterson Joseph (famous for Neverwhere and Hyperdrive), Chiwetel Ejiofor (famous for being the Operative in Serenity), Richard Ayoade (Moss from IT Crowd) and Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel. It seems that Geekdom may actually be ready for a gender or ethnically diverse character to step into the TARDIS. After all, Christopher Ecclestone has already transcended the North/South and class divides in the character and was seen to dabble in sexuality a little with his flirtations with Captain Jack. Can we break even more barriers with number 12*?

Of course, there could also be potential for a double whammy. Change the ethnicity AND the gender in one fell swoop… A name that has been cropping up in a few places is Lenora Crichlow, Annie from Being Human. Not only has she the geek credentials, she has also been in Doctor Who before (a fact which never stopped Colin Baker taking the part). There are even facebook pages dedicated to this.

I think it will certainly be interesting to see how this pans out. Internet and tabloid speculations have a habit of being wrong, especially when you consider the aforementioned tendency for a relative unknown to be given the job – that generally precludes anyone the media considers unless they are keeping a very careful eye on up and coming talent. Personally, I am unfortunately predicting a situation of no change – a white male. It may be a white male with some interesting other feature – an accent. an eccentricity, some new approach to the character – but it will be, by and large, the same basic character. I do not think that those involved in the series yet have the impetus to make such a radical change as to colour the Doctor’s skin or give him ladyparts save in jest (as happened in Curse of the Fatal Death which was interestingly written by Moffat indicating that he has at least considered a woman in the part). However, I do consider it a welcome sight that a large number of fans are seriously considering ethnic or gender diversity in a positive light. It is, I feel, a sign of the times, evidence that we do indeed live in an enlightened age where considerations such as race, gender and sexuality are less of an issue. Well, at least for those of us who are not hard core conservatives…

As for my own preference… if Patterson Joseph, Richard Ayoade or Lenora Chrichlow are not options then I would like to see Moffat’s old pal from Coupling, Richard Coyle, take up the role. I don’t think I have a lot of popular support in this one, I’ve not even seen anyone else mention him and I have been pushing for him ever since David Tennant left the role. However, for all that it is probably a lost cause, I think it would be nice to see him on TV again.

*Or is that number 13 if John Hurt as the forgotten Doctor is actually Doctor number 9, pushing all the subsequent ones up a number?