Why We Should See Maggie Smith as The Doctor


Editor

Okay, so before I get into my explanation for why we should see Maggie Smith as the Doctor, let me say that I know  that Peter Capaldi is going to be a fantastic 12th Doctor. I fully support the choice of the BBC, and I think that a Doctor cut from the same cloth as Tom Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Christopher Eccleston is a step in the right direction.

But let’s think back to a short time when things were up in the air and there was talk about a new Doctor whose appearance could potentially drastically deviate from what people were used to. I thought this was exciting and totally in the spirit of what Doctor Who represents. Part of the appeal of the Doctor is his ability to change his face and his soul. Each regeneration is an implicit response to the past incarnation. He changes because he has to. Much of what he becomes compensates for some previous character flaw while at the same time recalls old traits from lives even farther back. I believe that he even takes on some traits that are inspired in part by his companions. Let’s all think about David Tennant for a moment. The Tenth Doctor’s accent (and possibly persona) is said to be the result of him imprinting on Rose, like a chick hatching from an egg. In his previous life as Nine, he was dealing with some major PTSD and guilt as a result of what he thought he recalled from the Time War. As Nine he was this dark and guilty ex-soldier who struggled with his power and feelings of messianic yearning. It only made sense that his persona as the Tenth Doctor would be lighter and more fun. I always got the sense that Nine was a paternal figure to Rose, and becoming Ten was a way that he could become her equal (at least on the surface). Where Nine was this open wound, Ten was the colorful Spider-Man band-aid that covered it up.

So fast forward to the moments before Capaldi was chosen as the Twelfth Doctor.  There was a constantly lingering idea for the Doctor to become someone other than the usual tallish, lankyish, Caucasian male manic pixie dream boy. Most people when trying to speak against the casting of a female, black, Indian, or other Doctor usually cited the problems he or she would have with time-travel as a “social minority.” And to that I ask:

Isn’t conflict what makes a story worth experiencing?

No, it would not be “stunt casting” or “pandering to politically correct fans.” The Doctor has never been defined by one face, so why should race or gender matter all of a sudden? (And yes, it would be “all of a sudden” –so don’t start.) As far as I’m concerned, it could be the same old Doctor and the TARDIS — just a little different this time, like it always is. But whatever, Capaldi was cast, and there was no need for me to have this argument in comic book stores anymore. Like I said, I really, really like Capaldi, and I think because he’s following Matt, he’s the perfect back to basics Doctor that we need.

But one day I was watching an episode of Downton Abbey, like I always am, and a crazy idea popped into my head:

What if Peter Capaldi’s Doctor regenerated into Maggie Smith? What if that was the Doctor’s right time to shake up the status quo? As the Dowager, she is the biggest boss since Denzel a la Training Day — maybe she could have some of that residual Capaldi snarl. And I think since the Doctor has spent THOUSANDS of years imprinting on usually female companions, maybe it makes complete sense that a future appearance is inspired by the HUNDREDS of strong and clever companions that he/she has traveled with. I love New Who, but the TARDIS has become a bit of an intergalactic snogbox. I thought it was good for  a while, but subtext of a thousands-year old man snatching up young women is starting to get a little shady for me. I’d like to see just a little more social redemption in that department, and I think River Song was the first step — now let’s take the commentary forward.

  • QED42

    At 79 I think it might just be too late for Maggie Smith as the doctor but I’d love to see Helen Mirren given a go in the role.

    • Michael Saint Evens

      My brother brought up that same argument, and it’s hard to establish a counter point. I would love to see a doddering Doctor. The oldest Doctor so far has been John Hurt, but even he’s 6 years younger than she is. I don’t believe in “too old,” but “too late” makes more sense to me. I’d LOVE to see Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Tilda Swinton, or Emma Thompson take on the role. I don’t know why Helena Bonham Carter isn’t on my list, but she still isn’t. I’d prefer to see her as a villain.

      • QED42

        I don’t ever think it will be a problem in terms of you couldn’t have the doctor appear to be a certain age but more the rigors of playing the role would be too hard on an actor of that age. The doctor is a pretty active role and filming a lead role tv series like this puts a lot of strain on people just because of the hours involved.

        • Michael Saint Evens

          Awesome point. And the rigors weren’t even something I considered since I just imagined Maggie’s Doctor sitting and pointing at stuff. Maybe that could get a little boring for non-Downton freaks.

          In a perfect world, this would have been a great thing to happen maybe ten years ago. Heck, I’d even take 5. (But then we get into the logistical issue of “when she would have happened”).

          I dunno. As much as I’d live to see Maggie Smith as the Doctor in a series, I think you’re right in pointing out the rigors of being the lead of a show like this. Still, I do think that I would like to see an older actress – perhaps someone that we don’t already see as an “action hero” take on the role. Helen Mirren is great – perfect even – but I still “expect” her to be the Doctor. She’s an action hero.

          But I’m glad that these conversations are happening. I think it’s important for Doctor Who to deviate from expectations, b/c that’s what’s so great about the show. Perhaps it wouldn’t be practical to have Maggie Smith or Angela Lansbury (nearing 90) take on the role per se, but I think we do need to imagine it. We’re fandom, it’s our job – it’s what we do.

          • Michael Saint Evens

            Sorry, that was a rant…and a bit of a manifesto. I’m new here.