If you’re a budding thespian and you’d like to one day try for one of the most unusual roles in British television—namely the Doctor in Doctor Who—there are some things that will definitely act in your favor, should you be able to cultivate them.
They’re not complicated or unreasonable demands in themselves, but getting them all right and ready could prove to be tricky. Which makes it all the more infuriating that departing Doctor Matt Smith seemed to have been born with gifts that could only be of use if he had to play a young-looking old, old man with a zest for travel.
Here are five reasons why he had an unfair advantage over his fellow actors.
Long Spindly Legs
It helps that the current young man fashion is for the tighter trouser, but Matt’s legs are the legs of a tall, imposing man whose knees would be terribly uncomfortable to bounce a baby on. A patrician uncle from a fairy story, in other words. They are the legs of a person with some stick insect DNA still biffing around in his gene pool and causing trouble. They are the legs of an old man, in the trousers of a young man—and his feet! His feet are preposterous. Watch him dance around the TARDIS when he is pleased with himself, watch him get up off the floor in “Let’s Kill Hitler,” when his entire body is hovering on the edge of death, and you can’t be sure which part of his shins will suddenly crack and reveal a knee joint. Those legs are a phenomenon by themselves, and they suggest patrician Time Lord far better than dumpier, shorter pins would.
It’s one of the things the Doctor does when he regenerates, he develops interesting hair. One swept his back, Two had a Beatle cut, Three, Four and Six shared a predilection for something a little more fluffy, Five had a blond floppy parting, Eight had beautiful locks, Nine had an army-style close crop, Ten had modern days Good Hair, and Matt? Matt had public schoolboy hair. The hair of a man who was raised among peers and is often told to make an effort to look smart, without all of that tedious business with barbers and whatnot. His is the hair of an elite British explorer from the home counties. the kind of hair that could build a new British Empire. Hugh Grant hair, basically.
Note: Seven did not have particularly idiosyncratic hair.
Because not everyone can pull this sort of thing off. See those kids? There’s no acting involved. They LOVE him. Also, you’ll notice in this clip that he appears to be gliding in a dancey way long before he actually takes to the floor. Matt’s got that slightly lighter-than-air quality to his movements.
There’s no getting around this, if you want to play an ageless alien you will need a face that looks like it could tell a few stories. That cold glaze that comes over his eyes at the end of his first long speech in “The Eleventh Hour,” the bit where he says “Basically… run” is steeped in the wisdom of his many, many years. You need to be able to be craggy and irritable (an unkind word for it would be sulky) one minute, and all sparkle-eyed and giddy the next without looking petulant in the first instance and seriously unhinged in the second. You need to somehow be the authority in the room while pretending you are not, and that’s not something that would come easily to everyone. And then you need to just damn well BE the authority in the room and expect no questions. That’s a lot to ask of a face.
It’s not so much that Matt has the perfect voice to be the Doctor, it’s that he shares with his forebears the ability to deliver certain emotional pitches that represent the character. So you can’t play the Doctor if you can’t do the long impassioned speech about morality and make it fly. You can’t play the Doctor if you can’t charm people with some daft logic or a moment of quick-wittedness, reclining on a flying carpet of audible grins. You can’t play the Doctor if you can’t express infinite sorrow and then suddenly cover it up, because the Doctor is always fine. You can’t play the Doctor if you can’t inject a note of cold venom to your voice, should the situation require it. And you can’t play the Doctor if you can’t manage to convey sudden delight at an unexpected doohickey in your path.
Matt’s voice, a light, sometimes croaky, and entirely ageless affair, is one of the reasons he’s such a good Doctor. You could assume that it’s the voice of an old man whose screams have run to whispers, or the voice of a young man whose whispers have yet to fully blossom into screams.
Now tell us why you think Matt was born to play the Doctor…
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