Geronimo! It’s Matt Smith’s 39th birthday,
I’m gonna be the first in line for a piece of that TARDIS-shaped birthday cake! Custard filling, of course – to go with the fish fingers, the cookies shaped like little crowns, and the dragon’s blood punch over there on the snack table…
…and, of course, the Corsair beat me to it. Darn! Oh well – while I wait for her to finish loading up her plate, allow me to share with you some of the accolades and highlights of the birthday boy’s career. From his tenure as the Eleventh Doctor to his reign as Prince Phillip on The Crown to his upcoming role on the Game of Thrones prequel, The House Of The Dragon, Matt Smith’s resume is a varied one that includes acting, athletics, and unexpected performance gems that will shock and delight.
Born October 28, 1982, in Northampton, England, Matt Smith’s initial career aspirations growing up were sports oriented, being that Smith was an avid footballer. He showed great promise, but after suffering a back injury that resulted in spondylolysis, his hopes of a professional future were permanently dashed. He subsequently ventured into acting, though not of his own accord. Signed up for several theatrical programs against his will by one of his teachers, Smith resisted heavily for a long time, refusing to participate. Though he did relent to act in one or two, he continuously fought tooth and nail to steer clear of theater because he still thought of himself strictly as an athlete and believed that embracing drama would damage his social image.
Thankfully for sci fi fans everywhere, Smith eventually was persuaded to join the National Youth Theatre in London, and studied drama as well as creative writing at the University of East Anglia, graduating in 2005. Two short years later, he took on his first major role as Jim Taylor in the BBC television adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s The Ruby In The Smoke, and the subsequent Sally Lockhart film The Shadow Of The North, performing opposite fellow Doctor Who alumnus Billie Piper.
It was during a fateful audition for the role of John Watson in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s infamous Sherlock that Smith’s future was secured: while he did not fit the part of Watson, he did have what Moffat was looking for in another project, and in 2009 was presented to the world as David Tennant’s successor on the legendary BBC series Doctor Who, beating out Peter Davidson as the youngest actor to ever play the Doctor at the age of twenty six.
As the Eleventh Doctor, Smith not only hearkened back to the men who came before him with tributes to predecessors like Jon Pertwee’s action-fueled fashion plate of a Third Doctor and William Hartnell’s wizened, vaguely acerbic First Doctor, but remained true to the offbeat charm of Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. While keeping his performances connected to the legacy of the part, Smith brought a fresh new twist to the character, portraying him with a perfect truth sometimes lost when the Doctor wears a younger face: that he is an old, impossibly old man with a painful history and too much compassion to truly bear up under it. Ironically, this is best viewed in episodes such as The Beast Below, his first full episode as the fully actualized Eleventh Doctor and his last episode, The Time Of The Doctor, where he lives out his remaining centuries defending a planet full of innocent people, and resigns himself to a true death because he has no regenerations left. Even after he is given a new lease on life by the Time Lords at Clara’s behest, in his last moments before regenerating, Smith strips the character raw as Eleven perceives a vision of his long lost, long loved Amelia Pond bidding him good night – sending him to his rest with the memory of the first face Eleven ever saw, and the woman who, essentially. shared with the Doctor the experience of growing up.
In addition to his run as the Doctor, Smith also made a name for himself as the late Prince Phillip in the first two seasons of Netflix’s hit series The Crown with a respectful yet brutally honest portrayal of the man. Other noteworthy performances include his moving portrayal of Christopher Isherwood in the television film Christopher And His Kind, and the role of Bully in the Ryan Gosling directorial debut Lost River. He also has other connections to science fiction and fantasy on his resume, such as the human embodiment of Skynet in Terminator: Genisys and his upcoming role as Daemon Targaryen in HBO’s prequel series The House of the Dragon. Smith is also featured in the upcoming release that’s intended to be part of Sony’s Spider Man universe, Morbius.
Whether it’s drama, period pieces, comedy, or genre media, there’s no question that Matt Smith is a versatile actor that has given a lot to sci fi and fantasy as a fandom – and there’s even more waiting for us in the future. It’s enough to make you dream of a TARDIS of your own to fly off and take it all in sooner rather than later.
Maybe I’ll see if the Corsair can give me a lift later – until then? Happy birthday, Matt Smith! May you find joy and good fortune in the coming year, and in all of time and space.
Liz Carlie, the Mad Woman with a Box, a regular book reviewer for SCIFI.radio and a regular guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. She has been in and around science fiction fandom for years, and works with the American Red Cross on blood drives at science fiction conventions all over Southern California.