It's official. Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who at the end of this year, departing his role as the title character to make way for another actor to fill the Doctor's Tardis when he regenerates. This confirms the rumors that we might be seeing a new Doctor in the near future. And as it happens, the regeneration will take place one year after the Doctor gained his new companion Clara, who was introduced (or technically re-introduced) during the 2012 Christmas special.
The news comes straight from BBC America, stating that Smith, who's spent four years playing the title role in the beloved sci-fi series, was leaving at the end of this year, "after starring in the unmissable 50th Anniversary in November and regenerating in the Christmas special."
Here's Smith's full statement, which was included in the announcement of his departure, and acknowledges the cast, showrunner Steven Moffat, as well as the fans:
"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. I'm incredibly grateful to all the cast and crew who work tirelessly every day, to realize 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.
Meanwhile, Moffat urges fans to prepare for their heart to break as we say goodbye to number Eleven…
"Every day, on every episode, in every set of rushes, Matt Smith surprised me: the way he'd turn a line, or spin on his heels, or make something funny, or out of nowhere make me cry, I just never knew what was coming next. The Doctor can be clown and hero, often at the same time, and Matt rose to both challenges magnificently. And even better than that, given the pressures of this extraordinary show, he is one of the nicest and hardest-working people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Whatever we threw at him - sometimes literally - his behavior was always worthy of the Doctor.
News of Smith's departure is likely bittersweet for fans. On one hand, it's such an iconic role, but never a permanent one, given the nature of the character. On the other hand, leaving will free Smith up for other roles. Who knows? Maybe he'll follow in Karen Gillan's footsteps and find a villainous role on the big screen.
BBC America says we should expect the spectacular exit to be tightly under wraps. Fans have months to speculate over how he'll go and who who be cast to replace him.
The 50th anniversary episode is set to air Saturday, November 23, 2013.