What led to the regeneration of the Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith in 2013?
2013 was an exciting year for Doctor Who. The series had just introduced a new companion in the form of Clara Oswald (played by Jenna Coleman.) The Great Intelligence had returned, as had one of its missing stories ‘The Web of Fear.’ There was a brand new series, an epic 50th anniversary special, and a Christmas episode on the horizon.
Naturally, the Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith was constantly being asked when he was going to give up the role. This was nothing new; incumbent Doctors get it all the time (usually, right after they’ve been cast!) But by 2013, the Eleventh Doctor had been at the helm of the TARDIS for four years – in fact, nearer five when you remember that Matt Smith actually started filming in 2009.
But the Eleventh Doctor dodged these questions and, at the time, it seemed as if he’d be sticking around for the 2014 season. But in hindsight his responses were vague enough to leave the possibility of a regeneration on the table. For instance, when The Sun asked Smith about his future, he said: “I’m on a break for a couple of months while I’m in Detroit making How to Catch a Monster. We come back and shoot the Christmas special over the summer, then we go on to the next series, which will either start filming at the end of this year or at the start of 2014.”
Of course, the 2014 series did not star the Eleventh Doctor. In fact, there was a time when it looked as if the Eleventh Doctor wouldn’t even be in the 50th anniversary special. As the writer Steven Moffat explained: “The script was late, so everybody was cross at me, and I’m saying ‘Guys! Who’s in it, who have you got?! Nonono, you tell me who you’ve got, under contract, to be in it, because I promised this year’s Olympics. Could you tell me who’s in this?’
“‘Jenna.’ And that was the list. So I’m celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who… with Jenna. Who’s wonderful, and one of my personal favourites, but I don’t think that’s really gonna cut it!”
The problem was, the Eleventh Doctor wasn’t under contract to appear in the 50th anniversary special, and it’s not clear if he was even under contract to appear in any more episodes of Doctor Who.
“So I came up with an alternate version of the 50th,” Moffat adds, “which was, the Doctor having stepped into his own time stream at the end of ‘The Name of the Doctor.’ He’s eliminated from all of space and time, and Clara is trying to remember him. And the Doctor turns up in various fictional forms, and she says, ‘That story’s true, that wizard, that was the Doctor.’ So she keeps encountering this, and we have the Doctor played by a succession of very famous people. That was my plan. ‘Very famous people.’”
It’s unclear what impact these plans would have had on the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration. And as 2013 rolled on, rumours began to circulate that he would be leaving in that year’s Christmas special – rumours that were dismissed at the time, but were finally confirmed in the June of that year.
“Doctor Who has been the most brilliant experience for me as an actor and a bloke, and that largely is down to the cast, crew and fans of the show,” said Smith. “I’m incredibly grateful to all the cast and crew who work tirelessly every day, to realise all the elements of the show and deliver Doctor Who to the audience. Many of them have become good friends and I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved over the last four years.”
Despite this, Matt Smith was nearly persuaded to stay. After an immensely positive experience with the Tenth Doctor David Tennant during the 50th anniversary special, the pair mooted the possibility of sharing the next season between them – as in, a Doctor Who Series Eight that starred both the Tenth and the Eleventh Doctors.
Ultimately, this idea did not come to fruition. Smith’s departure was, however, followed by a television first – the unveiling of the Twelfth Doctor before a live TV audience. Hosted by Zoe Ball, the August 2013 event revealed that Peter Capaldi would be following in the Eleventh Doctor’s footsteps, and would be making his debut in that year’s Christmas special.
Filming that regeneration was not easy, though. For one thing, Matt Smith had shaved his head for How to Make a Monster. So the Eleventh Doctor was forced to wear a wig for the pivotal moment, although he certainly wasn’t the first Time Lord to do so – William Hartnell, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann had all worn wigs for either their first or last appearances. And in ‘The Time of the Doctor,’ Smith’s wig was actually worked into the plot (presumably to pre-empt any complaints that ‘You can tell it’s a wig!’) although this was probably unnecessary, as the makeup department did a very convincing job.
Hair notwithstanding, the Eleventh Doctor was also plagued by a knee injury (sustained while working on Doctor Who) and this made walking extremely difficult. “When I first met Matt he was on crutches,” Capaldi recalled, “and I asked, ‘What happened to you?’ and he said, ‘This show, mate…’ It’s a tear of the meniscus in the knee, which holds the knee together. I think it’s something that happens when you run down corridors and suddenly pivot at the end.”
So when you next see the Eleventh Doctor limping around the console room in his final scene, remember that it’s not just superb acting on Matt Smith’s part!
What are your favourite memories of the Eleventh Doctor? And would you have liked to have seen a Series Eight with Matt Smith and David Tennant? Let me know in the comments below.
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