Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Trial of a Time-Lord-to-be

I wasn't going to post about the Eleventh Doctor casting news, because I didn't really think I had anything to add. And I don't, not about the casting choice itself, except for a minor misgiving that he's not a bigger change in physical type from David Tennant. Which just means he'll need to make up for it with a big persona shift, because regeneration is more than just recasting -- the Doctor is not Darren Stephens. But that's not what made me decide to post after all.

At the risk of sounding condescending, I have no problem with fandom freaking on spec. That's just one of the things fandom does, and if people didn't have fun with it, I sincerely hope they wouldn't do it. Not my personal bag, but no skin off my nose either.

I am, however, observing it in a superficial sort of way, and keep being struck by some of the underlying assumptions -- at a couple different positions in the discussion -- about acting and age. And here's the thing that I think people are missing: Acting is all about being what we are not. (Generally speaking, we get there by building it out of pieces of what we are, but it's still all about getting there.)

I've personally known several, and am familiar with the work of several more, very young actors whom I would consider perfectly capable of bringing the whole package: the class clown, the Lonely God, the unknown quantity, the Oncoming Storm. We're talking about building a 900-year-old Time Lord here. In that realm, the difference between the life experiences of a 25-year-old and those of someone twice that age is a whole lot less than you might think.

On the other side of the coin, I've personally known several, and am familiar with the work of several more, middle-aged actors perfectly capable of keeping up with the physical demands of the Doctor's role in its current form. Richard Dean Anderson started playing Jack O'Neill at 47. Patrick Swayze, at 56 (not to mention, y'know, in treatment for pancreatic cancer!), has been dubbed "Superman" by his younger colleagues on The Beast.

These people are exceptions, yes. But any star is, by definition, an exception. Heck, statistically speaking, any time you book a gig you are an exception.

The Doctor, of all characters, is nothing if not the ultimate exception.

One more thought... We're all grownups. We all know that the story of the casting process as told in the Doctor Who Confidential special is already packaged, polished, and sprinkled with PR fairy dust. That's how these things work. But there's one thing I see no reason not to believe happened exactly as Stephen Moffat tells it: Matt Smith walked in on the first day and knocked their socks off, and they couldn't get him out of their heads.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is called being a star.

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