Is the departure of Amy Pond and her husband a signal that a new "Doctor Who" era is approaching?
On Thursday, Steven Moffat, the executive producer of "Doctor Who," told an audience at a London press screening that the Doctor's current companions will exit the show at the end of the next season. The "final days of the Ponds are coming," said Moffat, who added that when Amy and Rory leave, "the Doctor will meet a new friend."
According to the official "Doctor Who" Twitter feed, Matt Smith, who currently plays the Doctor on the long-running show, said the couple and the actors who play them "brilliantly" will be missed, "but the great thing about 'Doctor Who' is its ability to change."
But just how much change is coming to the show? Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory's (Arthur Darvill) departure had been rumored for months, although we'll have to wait a long time for the couple's swan song. New episodes of "Doctor Who" won't begin airing on either side of the Atlantic until the fall of 2012. (Thankfully, there is a one-off special that will air on Christmas Day on BBC America.)
The BBC and its U.S. offshoot, BBC America have not officially announced the schedule for the next season yet (beyond saying that the TARDIS will return in the fall), but many "Doctor Who" observers speculate that the season will be split into two halves again, as was the case with the most recent season. If that happens, we'd likely see a half-dozen or so "Doctor Who" episodes next fall, and another six or seven hours some time in 2013 -- which is, as it happens, the 50th anniversary of the storied sci-fi franchise.
No doubt the BBC and BBC America will want to take full advantage of the hoopla surrounding that major anniversary. This is pure speculation, but my guess is that some time during 2013, we will see a new Doctor take control of the TARDIS and a new executive producer/head writer begin running the TV franchise.
Why am I guessing there will be a changing of the TARDIS guard around then? As I said, the show will be getting maximum press coverage in 2013, and the BBC, which has gone through serious cutbacks in the U.K., appears to want to wring maximum revenue from one of its best-known franchises. "Harry Potter" director David Yates has been brought on board to develop a feature film alongside BBC executive Jane Tranter, and though any potential movie is years away, it just shows how serious the Beeb is about expanding the pop culture influence of the TARDIS.
Whether or not the movie happens any time soon, introducing a new Doctor to the Comic-Con faithful in 2013 would undoubtedly whip the show's fans into a huge frenzy.
But only time will tell if the departure of "the Ponds" is the beginning of the end of the current Smith-Moffat era. The actor and executive producer are only signed for the next season, which goes into production early next year. After that? At the risk of getting too punny about it, who knows? Though it's worth noting that rumors of Smith's possible departure sent the nerdier precincts of the Internet into a tizzy recently.
When I interviewed Smith at a Los Angeles hotel in August, he talked about enjoying the "Doctor Who" gig but wanting, at some point, to do films and get back into theater.
"I'm gonna shoot the next season and then see where I end up after that," Smith said at the time. Around the same time, Moffat told me in an interview: "I haven't got any kind of plans to leave. I take it one [season] at a time."
The thing is, Moffat currently has a heavy workload -- he is also an executive producer and writer of the PBS series "Sherlock," and before he took the reins of the "Doctor Who" franchise, he had a busy feature-writing career (he is one of the writers of "The Adventures of Tintin").
Here's a possible bit of geek heresy: Though I've generally quite enjoyed the Moffat era, which is marked by clever storytelling, cheeky humor and dizzyingly complex plots, I wouldn't mind if Smith were to stick around if Moffat does indeed depart the franchise. The most recent most recent "Doctor Who" season finale is a good example of what can sometimes go wrong in the occasionally over-caffeinated Moffat era. "The Wedding of River Song" had its moments, but, as I wrote in my review of it, it was superficial in all the areas in which I'd hoped it would go deep.
As I said in a recent piece, I'd love to see the actor explore different sides of the Doctor's character. Though Moffat increased the complexity of the adult relationships inside the TARDIS, he seems less than willing to take on intensely emotional stories in a direct way. As I wrote, I'm "quite intrigued by the idea of seeing Smith execute another writer's vision for the character." And it might be interesting to see him with another companion as well.
But that's just my two cents. As for what happens next in the "Doctor Who" universe, well, only time will tell.