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Matt Smith, that's Who: BBC unveils Doctor of the future

AGE and experience have been exterminated. Unknown actor Matt Smith became the new face of Doctor Who last night and the youngest Time Lord in the history of the iconic science fiction series.

The unveiling of floppy-haired Smith, 26, ended weeks of speculation about the closely guarded identity of the new Doctor. He beat a number of more experienced challengers for the role, which is likely to propel him to international superstardom.

He will take over from acclaimed Scots actor David Tennant, 37, who announced his intention to quit the space-time continuum last October. Filming for the new series will begin in the summer for broadcast next year.

Tennant said he loved playing the Doctor and was "jealous of the chap who comes next because of the extraordinary journey he has to look forward to". Before last night's special recap of Doctor Who history, the BBC show's producers had done little to dampen feverish website gossip that they would break the mould by going for either a black actor – Paterson Joseph – or the first female doctor, Billie Piper, the doctor's former assistant.

Even Hollywood actress Catherine Zeta-Jones had been linked with the job.

But youth won the day with Smith, although fans were divided last night over his merits. "He is a wonderful actor," wrote one website blogger. "Far too young for me," wrote another.

The show's producers said: "The reason we chose Matt was because of his skills as an actor. He has the dynamism and the swagger we want for the 11th Doctor Who. He can act his socks off, but he also has a mercurial quality."

Smith said: "David Tennant made the role his own, brilliantly, with grace, talent and persistent dedication. I hope to learn from the standards set by him.

"The challenge for me is to do justice to the show's illustrious past, my predecessors and, most importantly, to those who watch it. I really cannot wait."

Executive producer Steven Moffat said: "The Doctor is a very special part, and it takes a very special actor to play him. You need to be old and young at the same time, a boffin and an action hero, a cheeky schoolboy and the wise old man of the universe."

He continued: "As soon as Matt walked through the door, and blew us away with a bold and brand new take on the Time Lord, we knew we had our man."

Smith first came to attention as the nerdy Danny in BBC2's political drama Party Animals. But it was his role in a London play, That Face, as the damaged 18-year-old son in thrall to a manipulative alcoholic mother, that last year took him into a different acting league.

After the Royal Court run, he was then cast opposite Christian Slater in the stage version of Swimming With Sharks.

Northampton-born Smith did not attend drama school. He was aiming to become a professional footballer before quitting due to injury. Instead, he "fell into" acting after a teacher at school persuaded him to give it a shot. Last year, he said he was still learning his craft. "I'm still rough around the edges and I want to keep on improving," he added.

Doctor Who was first broadcast in 1963, making it the longest-running science fiction series in TV history.

The bookies' favourite to take command of the battle against the Daleks and the Cybermen last night was not Smith, but 44-year-old Joseph, a central character in the recent revival of Survivors.

David Morrissey, who starred in the Doctor Who Christmas special, was also a leading contender, but his role as a Victorian who mistakenly thought that he was the real Time Lord was likely to have ruled him out.

Money was also placed on Piper, who played the Doctor's assistant, Rose Tyler. But again, another TV role, as the explicit lead in Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, may have been enough to end her chances.

Viewers have not seen the last of Tennant in the role, however. There will be four Doctor Who specials featuring the garrulous Scotsman, starting at Easter and culminating in a Christmas special in which the next Doctor will regenerate.

Even by Doctor Who's standards, Tennant has done well out of the role. The actor was last week named as one of the most influential people in showbusiness by entertainment newspaper the Stage.

He is only the fifth actor ever to make the top 20 – after Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Nigel Havers and Simon Russell Beale – in a list normally dominated by theatre directors and producers.

Theatre directors now know that any production starring Tennant is guaranteed to sell out within hours.

Tennant has also recently been crowned the sexiest man on TV, by readers of TV Times.

Doctor Who's reputation was enhanced by last year's Christmas Day special, which became the second-most watched programme that day with 11.7 million viewers, beaten only by Wallace and Gromit's A Matter Of Loaf And Death.

The programme ran originally from 1963 to 1989 and was successfully revived in 2005 with its iconic theme music intact. It is now produced by BBC Wales in Cardiff and spin-offs include current programmes Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Doctor Whos of the past

1 DAVID TENNANT 2005-2009

Vintage suits and trainers, a cheeky chappie capable of ruthlessness.

BBC's Recovery and the RSC's Hamlet – suggest an alternative future for arguably the best actor to play the Doctor.

2 TOM BAKER 1974-1981

Until Tennant, pretty much the universal choice as Favourite Doctor – and the first truly modern one. Played as an eccentric genius with a penchant for jelly beans and trip-risk scarves. Became the weirdo voiceover man in Little Britain.

3 CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON 2005

Working class, brooding with flashes of brilliance – Gordon Brown with two hearts instead of none. Quit after just one series. Sheer acting class should help him avoid typecasting.

4 JON PERTWEE 1970-1974

Pertwee played the Doctor as a James Bond/The Saint man of the times – suave and forceful, he practised karate... but dressed like an Edwardian fop. Best known thereafter for Worzel Gummidge. Enough said.

5 WILLIAM HARTNELL 1963-1966

According to a script guide the first Doctor was "frail-looking but wiry and tough as an old turkey". According to Hartnell: "a cross between the Wizard of Oz and Father Christmas". Returned to the theatre with little fanfare.

6 PAUL McGANN 1996

The Lost Doctor, he only appeared in a one-off TV film special. Played the role with huge enthusiasm and a romantic lust for life. Curse of The Doctor led to lacklustre career.

7 PATRICK TROUGHTON 1966-1969

Ten years younger than Hartnell, Troughton played it deceptively bumbling and at times childlike, as a smarter cousin of the Marx Brothers. Died in 1987 while attending a science fiction convention in Georgia.

8 PETER DAVISON 1981-1984

As All Creatures Great And Small's Tristan Farnon, Davison had the best TV track record of any Doctor, but struggled to follow Baker. Adopted the look of an overdressed cricketer.

9 COLIN BAKER 1984-1986

The Doctor that time should forget, despite an overbearing personality that matched his gaudy outfit. Later appeared in Strangers On A Train at Bromley's Churchill Theatre.

10 SYLVESTER McCOY 1987-1989

A bit like Troughton's daft-but-brilliant style, McCoy – the first "Scottish Doctor" – wasn't actually as bad as Baker, but earns bottom slot for being the man who presided over the mothballing of the Tardis.

 
 
 

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