Doctor Who: What the twelfth Doctor needs to know about their big role…

The role of the Doctor is the biggest gig in television, but it's also the hardest. Here, Stephen Kelly tells the next Time Lord what they'll have to come to terms with...

It’s the eleventh hour and the clock is about to strike twelve.


Yes, finally, Matt Smith’s replacement will be revealed to the nation this Sunday on a live show presented (for some reason) by Zoe Ball. But does the new Doctor really know what they’ve let themselves in for? Are they, right now, sitting in a secure bunker underneath Elstree studios rocking back and forth, crying? If not, then they probably should be.

For 50 years, the lead role in Doctor Who has been one of most sought after parts in television. It’s the chance for an actor to immortalise themselves in the annals of popular culture – to become an icon. Yet as well as being the best job in showbiz, it can also be the hardest: on set, off set and, when it’s time to regenerate, beyond.

Here, for any potential Time Lords out there, are a few points you need to consider before accepting the biggest role there is…

You need to have a thick skin

Cast your mind back to January of 2009: the unveiling of Matt Smith as the eleventh Doctor on a special episode of Doctor Who Confidential. Airing amidst the build up to David Tennant’s regeneration, Smith was a goat being lowered into the raptor pen. As soon as he flashed up on screen, distraught fans took to Twitter complaining that the relative unknown was too young, too ‘cool’ and – overall – looked far too much like a foot.

It’s all part of the Doctor Who fan cycle, you see: a new Doctor is announced, fans hate them because they’re replacing the actor who has become their Doctor, the new Doctor starts, grows on them, becomes their Doctor, and then it’s time to regenerate…

Doctor Who is a serious business, and fans take it seriously; developing emotional bonds with whoever is making them cry weekly. The same will go for Smith. Whoever is announced to replace him on Sunday is bound to be too old, too young, too well known, not well known enough and so on. “I can imagine him/her as the Doctor,” fans will say about the actor in question, who will be written off before they’ve even set foot in the Tardis.

Luckily, they will be able to win them over if…

You need to be good at that acting stuff

The role of the Doctor is a strange, delicate balance. For whilst it is, essentially, the same character, each actor brings their own subtleties to the role. William Hartnell was a grumpy old granddad, Tom Baker brought a sense of charisma, whilst Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant balanced wonder with a sense of darkness. As Steven Moffat himself said recently, “He’s the same man. Each actor that plays it comes with a different emotional background. There is only one Doctor. He has lots of different faces.” 

It’s a challenge for an actor to not only stamp their own identity same 906 year-old man, but to balance its requirements of being able to pull off dark, emotional scenes while also larking about in a fez – a difficult balance of The Oncoming Storm and The Mad Man In A Box. The Doctor is a complex character; only a skilled, pragmatic actor can pull him off.

Your work ethic will be tested

Being the Doctor is more than a job; it’s a lifestyle. Beyond your acting work – which means committing to Cardiff – you are also required to comply with all the promotional aspects of the job. That means more than interviews; that means voicing video games, appearing at the opening of exhibitions, posing for pictures for lunchboxes… When you’re the Doctor, you become more than a mere actor: you become a brand. 

You need to accept that this role will dominate the rest of your career

When you stop being the Doctor, you don’t stop being the Doctor. It’s a role that will hang over your entire career. That might not be so bad when you played the Doctor in the classic era – where you can milk it for conventions in retirement – but if you’re a working actor, you might find your career stagnating. David Tennant experienced this. Using his Doctor Who status, he hoped to crack the US. Instead, he had to manage his expectations with a failed pilot and a part in St Trinian’s until his role in ITV’s Broadchurch brought him to the forefront again. With his role in Ryan Gosling’s How To Catch a Monster, Smith’s career may very well go down a different route. But one thing’s for sure: when he’s approached in the street, there’s only one role people will want to talk about.