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10 Actors Who Could Replace Matt Smith On 'Doctor Who'

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 3, 2013 at 11:01AM

For anyone with even a vaguely geeky bone in their body, this weekend brought big news. Yes, Dan Harmon is coming back to "Community," but in perhaps even bigger news, Matt Smith, the eleventh actor to play the seminal time-travelling hero of the BBC's long-running "Doctor Who," which is fifty years old today, will be hanging up his bowtie and tweed jacket, and leaving the series at the end of the year.
Doctor Who Feature

For anyone with even a vaguely geeky bone in their body, this weekend brought big news. Yes, Dan Harmon is coming back to "Community," but in perhaps even bigger news, Matt Smith, the eleventh actor to play the seminal time-travelling hero of the BBC's long-running "Doctor Who," which is 50 years old today, will be hanging up his bow tie and tweed jacket, and leaving the series at the end of the year.

Smith, a virtual unknown before he took over the part in 2010, is the eleventh Doctor (though John Hurt's recent cameo in the season finale may complicate that order somewhat), and the third to play the part since the series was revived in 2005 (after Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant). And Smith has had as much acclaim, if not more, than the previous pair, winning over fans young and old, in addition to helping the show gain traction stateside.

It's a big pair of shoes to fill then, but as has happened ten times before, the Doctor will be regenerating, on Christmas Day, no less. As such, showrunner Steven Moffat is going to need a new actor to pilot the TARDIS, so we thought we'd make a few suggestions. We previously weighed in on this a couple years back when it emerged that "Harry Potter" helmer David Yates was developing a film version of the property (of which little has been heard since), but this is likely a very different kettle of fish. Big names aren't likely to sign up to a long-running TV series in the same way that they might headline a movie franchise, so we'd expect a rising star or relative unknown, as Smith and Tennant were before Smith.

It's also been speculated for some time that the twelfth Doctor might see the BBC and Moffat go with someone other than a white man for the role; the seeds have been sewn to make it more likely that a woman, or a non-Caucasian actor, might become the Doctor at the next regeneration. We've acknowledged that in putting together our list below, but there's no tokenism; we've simply put ten actors who we think stand a realistic chance at taking on the role, and could do a damn fine job while they're at it. Check out our picks below, and let us know who you'd like to take on the part in the comments section.

Riz Ahmed
Riz Ahmed
Why He Could Do It: A rising star for quite a few years who's finally starting to make his name in the U.S., Riz Ahmed perhaps isn't the most obvious choice for the role, but could make a damn fine one. The 30-year-old actor first came to attention in Michael Winterbottom's "The Road To Guantanamo" before cropping up in a diverse selection of head-turning parts including zombie miniseries "Dead Set," the lead in the excellent "Shifty," Plan B's "Ill Manors" and, perhaps his best-known performance, as one of the quartet of incompetent terrorists in "Four Lions." More recently, he rightly won acclaim for his starring role in the otherwise-disappointing "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," and it looks to have helped cracked his U.S. profile; he's going to be starring alongside James Gandolfini in HBO limited series "Criminal Justice," and has what looks like a big role in the upcoming Eric Bana/Rebecca Hall vehicle "Closed Circuit." Like Smith, Ahmed's a thrillingly unpredictable actor who'd undoubtedly make interesting choices with the part, and he's deserved to be a megastar for years.
Why He Might Not: Given that he's starting to get traction across the Atlantic, and that he's been focusing principally on film the last few years, would he really want to commit to a small-screen TV series, especially given the risk of typecasting. (David Tennant, for instance, hasn't quite managed to  break out of TV roles, though we'll see if Smith has better luck.) Given that Ahmed also has a reasonably successful side career as a rapper, signing on to a fairly establishment, long-running sci-fi series might have symbolic value, but it's hardly going to help his street cred either. We love the idea of him playing the part, but we suspect he isn't going to be all that interested.

Charlie Cox
Charlie Cox
Why He Could Do It: For a while, it seemed like Charlie Cox was going to be one of those perfectly charming, perfectly capable young actors who come out of drama school in the U.K., land a big movie, and are then never heard from again. The 30-year-old Brit had only a handful of roles under his belt (most notably a role alongside Heath Ledger in "Casanova") when he was cast as the lead in Matthew Vaughn's "Stardust." It seemed to tip him as the next big thing, but the film underperformed, and Cox mostly figured in minor roles in indies that no one really saw like "Glorious 39" and "There Be Dragons." Then suddenly, he cropped back up in an unexpected place, as the dreamy IRA hitman Owen Slater in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire." It was a much-needed left turn, and now he has enough heat to have starred in his own pilot (the not-picked-up priest/lawyer show "The Ordained"). Could the Doctor follow? He's a faintly recognizable face, proved capable at the heroics in "Stardust," and can layer in darkness as required, as on 'Boardwalk.' He's not really been in the conversation so far, but we'd be surprised if the thought hadn't crossed someone's mind at the BBC.
Why He Might Not: Cox seems to be based in the U.S., and may be reluctant to come back across the pond while the iron's hot. Furthermore, the Doctor tends to work best when he's played by someone who seems like they walk to the beat of their own drum. Cox is a fine actor, and could certainly do a decent job, but unless he's been keeping his freak flag well-hidden, probably wouldn't be as transcendent as Smith has been.

Ben Daniels
Ben Daniels
Why He Could Do It: Not a name that really would have occurred to us on our own, it should be said, Daniels is here because he's currently the favorite of at least one bookmaker. The 48-year-old actor is a Tony-nominated theater veteran who might be familiar from TV roles including "Cutting It," "Law & Order: UK" and most recently, Robin Wright's photographer lover in "House Of Cards," as well as a few scattered movie parts like "Doom" and "Jack The Giant Slayer." He's hardly a household name, but seems to have risen to the top of bookies' lists after Bleeding Cool, who have an imperfect but generally successful record of 'Who' scoops, tipped him as their favorite. Daniels is a very good actor, and we can see him in the part for sure, though we wonder if there might be more inspired choices. He'd also be notable because, while he is a white guy, his casting could be as boundary pushing as some of these other picks; Daniels is openly and outspokenly gay, which would make him the first such actor to play the part. Given the show's admirable diverse approach to sexuality since it was revived, it'd be a fitting choice.
Why He Might Not: Somehow we're just not buying it. For one, Daniels would be 49 by the time he took over the role, making him the third-oldest actor to take over the part (behind Jon Pertwee at 51, and William Hartnell at 55). Historically, the part was generally played by actors in their 40s or upwards, but the two fresh-faced leads of late can only have helped the show's profile reach beyond sci-fi geeks and kids. Would the BBC really be ready to roll the dice on an older actor again? Beyond that, Bleeding Cool got fooled before, tipping Paterson Joseph to be the eleventh Doctor before Matt Smith was announced. Whether that was misinformation, or a dodgy source, we wouldn't bet the farm on Daniels just yet.

Domhnall Gleeson
Domhnall Gleeson
Why He Could Do It: The 30-year-old son of legendary character actor Brendan Gleeson, Gleeson Jr.'s profile has been rocketing in the last few years; a Tony nod for "The Lieutenant of Inishmore," and small parts in "True Grit" and "Harry Potter" led to a more substantial and head-turning part in "Anna Karenina" last year, and in a few months, he'll be playing another time traveler in "About Time," the new film by Richard Curtis (who, let's not forget, wrote an episode of "Doctor Who" a few years back). Gleeson has serious range -- arguably the most important aspect of a potential Doctor -- capable of comedy, tragedy, and everything in between. And just look at him; he looks like he's been Doctor Who for years. Plus a red-headed Doctor would pay off a number of jokes and references that have been scattered through the show in the last few years...
Why He Might Not: Like a number of these candidates, Gleeson's stock is ever on the rise; there's some very promising buzz around "About Time," and he's lined up a few other major parts, including the lead in comedy "Frank" with Michael Fassbender, and Alex Garland's sci-fi "Ex Machina." Given that he's already stacking up the leading man roles, it'd be a risk to head back to TV for a part like this; Gleeson's currently stuck in that awkward no man's land where he's not big enough of a name to headline a movie version of the series, but probably too hot to take over on the small screen. Maybe give it a few years, and that movie might be more viable... 

Daniel Kaluuya
Daniel Kaluuya
Why He Could Do It: We've been tipping Kaluuya -- one of the many graduates of TV series "Skins" -- for a while at this point; he was one of our On The Rise actor picks a few years back. Kaluuya's done pretty much everything since breaking out in "Skins": comedy like "Psychoville" and "Bellamy's People," impressive dramatic theatre roles in "Sucker Punch" and the Joe Wright-directed "Trelawny Of The Wells," small-screen 'Who'-esque fantasy with "Black Mirror" and "The Fades," and big-screen fare like "Johnny English Reborn," "Welcome To The Punch" and, later this summer, "Kick-Ass 2." He seems to be able to ace pretty much everything he turns his hand to, and like our ideal candidate, is a consistently exciting and unpredictable actor who could make the role our own. And unlike some of these candidates, his star hasn't risen so far that taking on the Doctor wouldn't feel like a step up.
Why He Might Not: For one, he's very young: still only 24, Like Smith, he's got a certain older-than-his-years feel to him, but Smith was at least 27 when he was cast, and those few years may make all the difference. Unlike most of these other candidates, he's also actually been in the show before, appearing in the David Tennant-era special "Planet of the Dead." That's not been a deal breaker before (both Karen Gillan and Freema Agyeman had cropped up on the show as other characters before landing the gig), but fans may feel differently when it comes to the Doctor. Then again, we wouldn't put it past Moffat to ret-con that particular episode so that it somehow fit into continuity... 

This article is related to: Doctor Who, Matt Smith, Features, Riz Ahmed, Domhnall Gleeson, Daniel Kaluuya, Television, TV Features

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