Regenerating is a tough gig. Filling the shoes of the most popular Doctor in the history of the world’s most popular sci-fi show is hard enough. When you have precisely 65 minutes to foil your first intergalactic threat, you need to hit the ground running.
“Yeah, no pressure,” laughs Matt Smith, the 27-year-old actor who came, appropriately enough, from nowhere to scoop the title role in the new series of Doctor Who. “My Doctor is like a newborn lamb, trying to discover what these limbs are on his body, but he’s straight into active service. It’s a bit like trying to save the world with flu.”
It seems a safe bet that eight-year-olds all over Britain will soon be plaguing their mums for a bow tie. There’s a fogeyish charm to the eleventh Doctor (Smith prefers “geek chic”) with his worn tweeds and flapping fringe. Smith’s own manner is a likeable blend of puppyish and professorial, with a tendency to talk in italics. Playing the Doctor, he points out, is a little like “giving your Hamlet”. You have to make the part your own.
“I mean,” he says, “the Doctor has always been, and he always will be. But how many parts are there in world TV that could be played by a 27-year-old or a 60-year-old? It’s been wonder- ful, just exploring the multitudes of him, but it takes a while to evolve a strong identity.”
A graduate of the University of East Anglia, where he studied drama and creative writing, Smith has his own way of accessing this enigmatic character.
“I had the part six months prior to shooting anything on camera – and for much of that time it was all a big secret – so I had to find a way of channelling my energy and excitement, my lust, as it were, for creating this persona. I was thinking, ‘Who in the world has a brain and a silliness which is close to the Doctor?’ and then I saw that photograph of Albert Einstein poking his tongue out and it just clicked.
“I found this book of quotes by Einstein – which I recommend as a life choice, he was such an insightful man – and I started writing short stories about Einstein and the Doctor, where the Doctor was getting irritated with the great man’s buffoonery. He’d be saying, ‘Come on, Albert, keep up!’ and I think that, more than anything, was my way in to the part.”