Matt Smith to Leave 'Doctor Who'

Matt Smith Dr. Who Portrait - P 2011

Weeks after the return of Doctor Who was made official, season eight will be without star Matt Smith.

Smith, who first made his debut as the Doctor in 2010, will depart following the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special that will air Nov. 23 and the annual Christmas special, the BBC announced Saturday on its official blog. There had been speculation that Smith would return for another go-around.

"Doctor Who has been the most brilliant experience for me as an actor and a bloke, and that largely is down to the cast, crew and fans of the show," said Smith. I'm incredibly grateful to all the cast and crew who work tirelessly every day, to realise all the elements of the show and deliver Doctor Who to the audience. Many of them have become good friends and I'm incredibly proud of what we have achieved over the last four years."

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Smith also thanked the fans for their never-ending support during his four-year stint as the title character on the beloved British staple: "It's been an honour to play this part, to follow the legacy of brilliant actors, and helm the TARDIS for a spell with 'the ginger, the nose and the impossible one'. But when ya gotta go, ya gotta go and Trenzalore calls. Thank you guys."

Steven Moffat, who returns as showrunner/executive producer for season eight, praised Smith's performance on the series, and acknowledged that oftentimes there is an end to all good things. "But great actors always know when it's time for the curtain call, so this Christmas prepare for your hearts to break, as we say goodbye to Number 11," he said.

Though his focus is on the upcoming specials, Moffat teased the search for the 12th Doctor: "Somewhere out there right now -- all unknowing, just going about their business -- is someone who's about to become the Doctor. A life is going to change, and Doctor Who will be born all over again!"

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Details on Smith's exit are being kept under wraps.

The 50th anniversary Doctor Who special will feature Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman, David Tennant, Billie Piper and John Hurt, who was seen in the season-seven finale.

Stateside, Doctor Who airs on BBC America, and is the cable network's highest-rated series. Doctor Who is produced by BBC Cymru Wales.

Over the past few seasons, Doctor Who parted ways with Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), who has joined the cast of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, and Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams). Smith, the first actor to be nominated for a BAFTA award as the Doctor, will star in Ryan Gosling's directorial debut, How to Catch a Monster, expected to hit theaters in 2014.

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