Matt Smith Reflects on 'Doctor Who' at 50 and His Decision to Leave

Matt Smith in Doctor Who Episodic - P 2013

Matt Smith in Doctor Who Episodic - P 2013

Matt Smith surprised few fans when he announced his imminent departure from Doctor Who this past June. He is the 11th actor to take on the iconic BBC drama's titular character since it premiered in 1963. The most recent run has not seen one man linger in the role for very long.

With his final turn as the Doctor in the can -- Smith appears in the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor and December's yet-to-be-named Christmas special before relinquishing the role to Peter Capaldi -- the 31-year-old seems quite at peace to leave after three years.

"I'd always talked about leaving after the 50th anniversary," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It's a very intense process to play the Doctor. The line-learning is really hard, and you have to live away from home for nine or 10 months a year. I love the show, and it wasn't an easy choice to come to, but it's the right time for both of us."

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Doctor Who is indeed a particularly demanding television role. Though the series does max out on 13 episodes every season, with the stray special here and there, the stunts, special effects and excessive dialogue for the lead make it a complicated production. The series has also seen its global presence expand in recent years, filming twice in America since Smith took the role. The location shoots have coincided with Doctor Who achieving a level of recognition in the U.S. that eluded it for so many decades. "It feels like every time I'm back, the show has an even bigger presence," says Smith.

What he has little to say on is the 50th anniversary special. Simulcasting for the first time in the series' history in both the U.S. and the U.K., the special has thus far managed to keep a lot of details under wraps -- other than the fact that it unites Smith's Doctor and current companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) with 10th Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) as well as guest John Hurt as yet another Doctor.

"Steven Moffat managed to reveal something new about the character, and after 50 years, that's a testament to both the show and the writers," says Smith. As for his scenes with Tennant, Smith says that it really only sunk in once he saw the footage for himself. "It's a real moment. … There's more than one Doctor, and they're looking at each other. I got quite excited by it, actually."

The celebration and touted game-changing events of the Nov. 23 anniversary will take a back seat just a month down the road, when Smith's Christmas exit paves the way for the Capaldi relaunch later in 2014. Smith, who chatted with THR just before shooting his last episode, still wasn't sure exactly how he would be going out -- but he did suggest that it would be a less somber affair than Tennant's 2009 swan song.

"I think he should go out as he came in -- with a bit of a whiz and a bang," he suggests. "Hopefully it will be funny and touching in equal measure. That, for me, would be the right balance. I really trust Steven, and I think he'll deliver something fabulous."

As for those who still aren't ready to let go, Smith did add that one fan was particularly upset with his decision to move on. "My mom was like, 'Please, don't leave,' " he says. "She really didn't want me to go."