The Five Stages Of Doctor Who Grief


Last June, a bombshell was dropped onto fans of Doctor Who when the BBC and Matt Smith announced that the adored actor was leaving the wildly popular and beloved series at the end of this year, following the 50th anniversary special that is set to air tomorrow. According to the BBC and show runner/head writer Steven Moffat, the Doctor will regenerate in the 2013 Christmas special.

To say fans were in shock is an understatement. How does one comprehend what has happened?

The best way to explain a Whovian’s emotions at this dark and strange hour would be through the Kubler-Ross model, a very reliable device that is best known as the five stages of grief.


Whenever something bad happens, whether it’s the death of a loved one or the loss of something important, most people go into denial. It can’t be, you say. This. Is. Not. Happening. Say it ain’t so. Sometimes there are signs that this bad thing was going to happen no matter what. We just didn’t see the signs. Or worse, we ignore them and only see what we want to see.

I did see a sign that the Eleventh Doctor’s days were numbered. A while ago I attended a Doctor Who convention, a day-long event where in addition to meeting with other Whovians from all over Chicago — and beyond — there were panels about the show and screenings of classic and contemporary Doctor Who episodes. Right after this, I spoke with a friend and fellow Whovian who didn’t make it to the event. She told me that she read a story in a trade magazine that Matt Smith was not returning for the eighth season. “He hasn’t signed on yet,” she said. “That’s nonsense,” I replied. “He’s coming back. He’s at the top of his game.” She did not react. “He is coming back.”

Fans will deny that they did not see this coming. Hate it break to you, but it was coming. We just refused to see the signs. When the BBC officially renewed the show in May, they did not mention Smith at all.

“We’re delighted to confirm a new series of Doctor Who has been commissioned and the show’s lead writer and executive producer, Steven Moffat, has revealed he’s already plotting a brand new run of adventures for the Doctor.”

The key words in the BBC statement that should have had Whovians in a tizzy that Smith was, to quote Tom Haverford, “dunzo” with being the Doctor. Brand new and Doctor. Just omit “and” in the previous sentence, and what do you get.


After you’re done hitting your head for not seeing the obvious, you are now getting angry. You didn’t read the signs about Smith leaving. Or maybe you’re angry at the former floppy-haired actor, who recently shaved off his treasured locks (along with clothing to reveal a ripped physique in publicity stills) for a starring role in a movie that began filming stateside this past spring. Ryan Gosling sought out Matt Smith for a starring role in his directional debut, the drama How to Catch A Monster, which began filming in Detroit in April. He is trying out new different things, and some people don’t like change.

“HOW COULD YOU?” is a reaction you may have said or thought. Some fans see Smith as the Doctor, not an actor delivering a superb performance in a television series. When the recently departed Jean Stapleton (R.I.P.) would walk down the street, people often called her Edith Bunker, before she politely told them her name was Jean. (It was reported that she received condolence letters addressed to Edith when her on-screen husband, Carroll O’Conner, a.k.a. Archie, died in 2001.)

The Doctor is so iconic that it’s tough to simply walk away from it. Tom Baker, Peter Davidson, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, and David Tennant are still recognized, critiqued, and lauded for their Doctor tenures. It’s almost like being President. Bill Clinton is often in the headlines for his philanthropic endeavors, oratory skills, and charitable works, visits overseas (whether for the U.N. or his self-named Foundation), but you still recognize him as once being the President of the United States.

Smith could become a Hollywood A-lister, his generation’s Laurence Olivier, a bad boy turned reformed beloved star (a la Robert Downey Jr.), the star of a hugely successfully franchise or simply appear in that Ryan Gosling movie never to be seen again, but he will always be remembered and recognized for Doctor Who. He will always have people hate him for either leaving the show after only four years or for not meeting expectations that some fans had when he succeeded Tennant. Like anyone else, some people are always going to be angry at you and me. But being angry is exhausting and life is too short to be angry over things we cannot control or change.

And c’mon! How can you be angry at this guy?


It is tough to bargain with a big star on staying on a show after a certain amount of time. Smith already has three full series (or seasons) of adventures (plus Christmas specials, video game appearances, and a couple of shorts for the BBC’s Red Nose Day telethons) under his belt, not to mention he will still be the Doctor for the already-historic 50th anniversary special. Actors leave shows all the time before they wrap up for good (or get cancelled). Steve Carell left The Office, as it began to suffer creatively and in the ratings, opting to becoming a movie star full-time. Shelley Long left Cheers just as the show was reaching its peak to try her hand at a career in Hollywood. And every year, several members of Saturday Night Live leave that show after mostly-lengthy tenures to venture into other projects and callings. Smith seems to be doing the same thing.

Doctor Who and the Hero’s Journey is available for preorder here.


I did not go through bargaining (probably because I don’t have Moffat or Smith’s cell phone numbers) or anger (because I learned long ago that it is useless to be angry at these that are out of my control), but I was in denial and depressed. I was introduced to Doctor Who on a rainy day, when I was at home, bedridden. I couldn’t sleep, so I began watching TV. BBC America was not airing any episodes of Absolutely Fabulous that morning, but they did have a rerun of “The Eleventh Hour,” which premiered a couple of days before. I knew people who watched Doctor Who, but I myself didn’t think I would be into it.

After watching “The Eleventh Hour,” I went to BBC America On Demand and watched several more episodes (all David Tennant ones). When Whovians ask one another who their Doctor is, they often choose the one they saw the first time they ever seen an episode of Doctor Who or which one they like the most or grew up with. Tennant is an extraordinary Doctor, possibly one of the Top 3 greatest, but my answer is the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. Part of the reason is that as I was suffering from a terrible cold and unable to move without experiencing a great deal of pain, his performance as the funny man with the blue box made me feel better, or at least made me forget that I was sick as a dog.

His lively personality, youthful demeanor (which occasionally leads him to act like a child) infused with his centuries-old wisdom, and vanity and stubbornness (not to mention how manipulative he could be) are some of the things that appealed to me. But the big personality trait that had me sold on him was his general awkwardness. I have never defeated armies of Daleks and Cybermen or jumped into my own timeline to try to save the woman who was born to save me, but I have done a terrible job at dancing at a party, reacted oddly when in various romantic situations, and worn questionable hats, thinking they made me look cool.

Like Liz Lemon and myself, this Doctor was often in social scenarios that he did not understand, and acted appropriately in them. (Best example of his awkwardness: When he became temporary roommates with Craig, played by James Corden in “The Lodger” and “Closing Time”) Side note: Now my dream of having a Doctor Who series where Smith is the Doctor and Corden is his companion will never happen. Sad face.


Unlike David Tennant, the 30-year old actor seems to have Hollywood on his mind, plus he’s only thirty. He was born in the same decade as me, which means he’s a young guy (or in the eyes of snotty kids born after the death of Kurt Cobain, we are the exact opposite of fun’s “We Are Young.”)

This is the perfect time for a male actor to develop a fine acting resume. He’s no longer stuck playing youthful roles (unlike some American actors who are stuck playing high school or college-age kids on TV) but can still appeal to the teens and twenty-somethings at the multiplex or TV. Hopefully his agent will get him some more iconic and outstanding roles along the best and brightest talents stateside and in his native United Kingdom.

Smith seems to be ready to venture outside the Tardis for good and try out new things. We know he can tackle serious dramatic fare (see the BBC films The Ruby in the Smoke and the outstanding Christopher and His Kind) as well as comedy (his overall playful demeanor on Doctor Who, in addition to his talk show appearances).

I like Matt Smith. I would love it if he not only became the “next big thing” but he develops a rich career in movies and beyond. There are probably writers typing away at their computers roles and dialogue specifically for him right now. He’s got the talent, the looks, and the mix of down-to-earth charisma and stylish confidence to become a leading man.

Look, we all knew this day was going to come. If Matt Smith didn’t leave this year, it would have been next year, or the year after that. He’s leaving at the top of his game. It would have been depressing if he overstayed his welcome and the quality of the show were to be compromised.

Plus, now we can figure out who is going to be the Twelfth Doctor. Who on Earth is going to occupy the Tardis and join Clara Oswald (Jenna Louise-Coleman, assuming she’s still with us for Series Eight) on this brand new run of adventures?

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who with our new book, available for preorder here.

image – BBC