Beyond securing a leading role as a Star Trek captain or perhaps one of the Skywalker clan, there is arguably no more significant role in all of science fiction than as one of the many incarnations of the Doctor in Doctor Who. With a guaranteed worldwide profile and work secured for life through numerous returns, documentaries, audio plays, and convention appearances, the gig is a dream role for any actor, but not without its own unique challenges.
Speaking in the latest print edition of Port Magazine, Eleventh Doctor actor Matt Smith talked about his stint in the role, saying that while his time on the show was “the best job in the world” and he missed it, it was also “challenging and taxing as well.”
Smith, who played the Time Lord for three seasons between 2010 and 2013, added that these “challenges” were the reason “why people often get to three or four years before they throw the towel in,” not delving deeper into what these challenges had been for him. The actor has previously said that he would have signed up for a fourth season of Doctor Who if the schedule hadn’t been so taxing.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Rose Tyler actress Billie Piper said much the same thing. While the fan favorite has returned to the role on audio with Big Finish Productions, Piper says she would never return to playing Rose on television, citing the schedule as her primary concern.
It’s a great role, but you’re away from your kids for so long. My experience was that you were in Wales for nine months solid. And as a job, it dominates your life. It’s mainstream family viewing, so you can’t really escape it. It feels like it makes you very, very famous.
Performing under pressure
Peter Capaldi, who played the Twelfth Doctor, once said that there was far more to the role of the Doctor than just acting. While most acting roles consist of a performance and perhaps promotion and red carpet work for the leads, genre actors are frequently tasked with convention showings, charity appearances, and many more interviews than expected of those starring in other shows. With Doctor Who often capturing a young audience, the behavior of the leading stars is also expected to be exemplary, with restrictions applied to other roles and the lead actor expected to “be the Doctor” when meeting fans.
Doctor Who’s audience often has high expectations, with fans quick to backlash when the quality of the show is deemed to have dropped. While certainly not unique to Doctor Who fans, with toxic fandom being a real problem across the genre, the public pressure is often unfairly placed on the lead actor by both the public and press alike.
These reasons are likely to have played a part in why no leading actor has stayed in the role longer than three seasons since the show rebooted itself in 2005. Although nothing’s been announced, Thirteenth Doctor actor Jodie Whittaker is widely expected to depart the show after the forthcoming 13th season airs later this year. Names such as Ollie Alexander, Michaela Coel, Richard Ayoade, Natalie Dormer, and Kris Marshall are all said to be in the running to replace her.
The classic era of the show saw lengthy tenures for Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee, both of whom became iconic Doctors. There is some debate to be had over whether shorter terms help or harm the show. On the one hand, frequent changes freshen up the series and make it relevant to different generations. But keeping the same cast over the long term guarantees momentum over multiple years and helps build a brand that everybody knows.
Do the short reigns at the top of Doctor Who hurt the show? Is too much pressure placed on the leading actors? Sound off in the comments!