The Internet has been buzzing for a few days about remarks that 'Doctor Who' star Matt Smith made recently -- he appeared to indicate in an interview that he may only be doing one more season of 'Doctor Who' and then try his luck in Hollywood.
You'll note that the previous paragraph contained a lot of hedging -- that's because there's no confirmation from the BBC or Smith's handlers that the actor's next 'Doctor Who' season will be his last.
Still, if Smith leaves the role after next season, which is set to go into production in early 2012, I think it'd be a terrible mistake. Here's why.
Smith has been a huge hit in the role, and his triumph was by no means assured when he first grabbed the sonic screwdriver. David Tennant was much loved in the role of the Doctor, and he left big shoes to fill. Yet Smith came in and in short order, made the Doctor his own creation -- a bit more mad, a bit more manic yet sharp as a tack, very funny and quite troubled at times. Smith made fusing all that together look easy, at a relatively young age (the actor, who scored the role in early 2009, turns 29 on Friday).
But some of the things that made him a success in the very demanding role of the Doctor may well work against him when it comes to making a go of it as outside the confines of 'Doctor Who.' He's certainly a good-looking man, but his is a distinctive and unusual look; he's not someone you look at and instantly assume that he fell off a leading-man assembly line.
His rubbery, expressive face -- which is perfect for the shenanigans that happen inside and outside TARDIS -- might cause casting directors, especially in the film realm, to put him in the "character actor" category, and while Smith is of course very talented, how many good movies with meaty roles for young male character actors come out each year? Not many, by my count.
And I would bet that for every one of those roles, there are about 100 eligible actors qualified to take the part. It'd be a huge shame if Smith left a role that is very much written with his particular talents in mind only to have his professional output slow to a trickle. He has such charismatic energy and such range that to see him get a few minutes of screen time in more prosaic, formulaic movies and shows would be a lamentable state of affairs.
And as showrunner Steven Moffat has often said, he finds in Smith a particularly energizing muse. Moffat loves puzzle-y plots that whiz and burble and double back on themselves, and Smith manages to invest those intricate kinds of stories with real heart, when given the chance. Just as I can't picture 'Doctor Who' without Smith, I can't picture any other actor doing all the things that Moffat's scripts require with such dedication and panache.
Of course, there's also speculation about whether Moffat and Smith will leave together, after production ends on the next season and its Christmas special. (Some context: The BBC hasn't confirmed this, but it's widely speculated that next season's episodes will air in two parts. We know some episodes will air in the fall and there's reason to believe that the second half of the season will air in 2013, when 'Doctor Who' celebrates its 50th anniversary). There's precedent for a star and showrunner leaving together: Previous executive producer Russell T Davies and Tennant left 'Who' at the same time a few years ago.
All BBC America would say, when asked about whether Smith would remain past next season, was this: "The BBC has commissioned another 14 episodes of Doctor Who starring Matt Smith. There is nothing else to announce at this stage."
And it's worth noting that Smith may have merely been referring to the long break he may get after next season wraps (as io9 noted), and that what Smith said in that recent red-carpet interview isn't so different from what he said in an AolTV interview a few months ago.
"I'm gonna shoot the next season and then see where I end up after that," Smith said in August. "Of course you do [think about the future], but by the same token I think there's a skill in focusing on the task in hand, which is what I try to do. But of course I want to have a film career eventually. And I'd love to get back into theater."
For now, though, I think Smith would be unwise to pursue life outside the TARDIS, and not just because David Tennant's career hasn't exactly set the world on fire since he left 'Doctor Who' (yes, I realize he's worked steadily since then, but the projects haven't been as high-profile as 'Doctor Who' and his attempt at a U.S. series, 'Rex Is Not Your Lawyer,' didn't go anywhere).
The point is, I think there's a lot more mileage to be gotten out of Smith in this role. Though Moffat and Smith have been a fruitful pairing in many ways, I also find that, as I wrote after the most recent season finale of the show, Moffat's tricksy storytelling can sometimes be too convoluted and distracting for its own good. I'd love to see Smith stick around for future seasons, whoever is running the show, but I'd be quite intrigued by the idea of seeing him execute another writer's vision for the character.
To my mind, Smith's potential in the role hasn't been fully tapped: Another writer might be able to draw out the kind of emotional elements that Moffat seems to shy away from. There's clearly a sincere and well-intentioned heart (or two) lurking inside this Doctor; how interesting it would be to have a writer explore those aspects of the character before Smith is done with the role.
It'd have to be the right writer, of course. But in my mind, 'Doctor Who' already has the right star.
Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.