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A Doctor Who for modern times

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The Doctor is back. The iconic sci-fi series Doctor Who has finally returned for another season with the lanky Matt Smith again assuming the character's cloak. A British TV staple since 1963, the new Doctor Who has been revamped and recharged for today's viewing audience.

Smith, 28, readily admits he never watched the program while growing up. He was a teen soccer prodigy before a back injury derailed his plans to turn pro. From that point he concentrated on acting and earned roles on the BBC series Moses Jones and Party Animals. Smith also put in time on the British stage. And then, the role of a lifetime: Out of the blue, Smith won the coveted lead role in Doctor Who last year. He became the 11th - also the youngest - actor to play the character. Although British TV critics and fans initially wailed dismay, Smith quickly earned kudos for his intriguing take on the time-travelling alien. Here was a Doctor Who for modern times. He recently spoke to The Globe from New York.

The original Doctor Who was a British phenomenon, now he's all over the world. Does that factor into your portrayal? The show really airs everywhere. It's popular in so many countries now and it has a universal feel in so many ways. I'm always trying to be inventive with the character and push him forward and keep it interesting.

Have you seen examples of the show's appeal outside of Britain? Yeah! We had a screening in New York the other night and the response was tremendous. It's so inspiring and heartening to see the dedication of the fans there. I hope the fans in Canada really get into this season as well.

How does one's life change after playing a cherished British TV icon? Well, you're obviously recognized more in public. I wore more hoods last year than I ever used to. That's part and parcel of doing a job like Doctor Who that is in the public eye. When people come up to you in public, you just deal with it as gracefully as possible and give them time.

Do you make a point of not reading the advance buzz and speculation about the show in the press and on blogs?I don't read it anyway because I've just got to focus on the work I have to do on a day-to-day level. But I realize it's a good thing the show gets so much coverage. It's wonderful to be part of a show that has that much enthusiasm.

Did you look back at previous portrayals of Doctor Who to fully realize this character? No, I try not to do that, to be honest. I think it's a bit like playing Hamlet. Whichever actor is playing him, it has to be their version. The choices you make have to be based on your own creative instincts.

Would you agree there's a subtle sadness to your version? I always thought you have to take in consideration that he's 900 years old and has seen so much tragedy and heartache and has lost so many people, which is also why he's affable and silly sometimes, because if he wasn't, he'd be really depressed.

What kept you busy between Doctor Who seasons? I was in the BBC movie Christopher and His Kind. I'm not sure if you'll get the film up in Canada. The movie is about the English writer Christopher Isherwood and his time in Berlin. It was very interesting to play someone different from the Doctor, but of course it was nice to come back to the role.

What do you want to do after hanging up the Doctor's cloak? I'm really intrigued by having a film career, which I'd like to explore at some point. But I have so much work on my plate with Doctor Who that it takes up the majority of my time and focus. It's a job I love doing, and one I don't wish to give up any time soon.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Doctor Who airs Saturdays on Space at 8 p.m.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Ryan, Andrew (2011-04-27). A Doctor Who for modern times. The Globe and Mail p. R4.
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  • Chicago 15th ed.: Ryan, Andrew. "A Doctor Who for modern times." The Globe and Mail, edition, sec., 2011-04-27
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