Matt Smith's Doctor Who Audition Caught Steven Moffat Completely Off Guard

Even before he was fighting for his life to make that Morbin' movie worth his Morbin' time, Matt Smith was dazzling casting rooms everywhere. And thankfully, those rooms were sometimes filled with the right people, ready to thrust him into the spotlight where he belongs. One such person was Steven Moffat, way back in 2009, when the writer/director/showrunner was just gearing up to begin work on what would become two defining series in his career, "Sherlock" and "Doctor Who."

In the June 2020 issue of Doctor Who Magazine, former series showrunners Moffat and Russell T. Davies sat down for a chat where Moffat recalled a very memorable audition involving Matt Smith. Brace yourself, because it's a bit of a surprise: "He was the first-ever person to audition for John Watson in Sherlock." At this point, Benedict Cumberbatch was already set to play the titular role and in the end, Smith didn't make the cut (thanks, Martin Freeman) because the casting team was blithely aware of the obvious — Smith is more of a Sherlock than a Watson.

Know thyself, Matt Smith

On one hand, this happens all the time. Lots of people think that they're a Han Solo until a good samaritan comes along and informs them that they're actually a Luke Skywalker. Others think that they're a Rachel when they are so obviously a Monica. But I'm truly stumped as to how Matt Smith ever thought he was a Watson when he so clearly radiates Sherlock energy. But at least it worked out in the end: while he didn't land this particular role, Smith still made an impression on Moffat and was days away from the audition that would really blow his mind.

When Davies asked about Moffat's favorite off-set day during his "Doctor Who" tenure, Moffat reminisced about the second time Smith auditioned for him — just a few days after reading for Watson. But this time around, Smith was auditioning for a role that nobody else could've filled. The role in question? No one special — just a madman with a box.

How Matt Smith became the 11th Doctor

Here's how Moffat described Matt Smith's audition for the Doctor:

"He was the third person through the door... And he just slammed it. There was no doubt. In every detail, the performance everyone saw later was already there — hair flopping around, fingers flying about. Hot young bloke and boffin at the same time. We knew, we really did."

Filling the space shoes of the titular Time Lord is no easy feat, especially coming off of the high of David Tennant's run. But Smith more than rose to the occasion and helped bring on an entirely new era of "Who," marked by whimsy, wonder, and of course, emotional turmoil! You can't have a 900-year-old time-traveler without trauma!

Moffat and co knew that change was a-coming while they were casting the Doctor — every regeneration has to stand apart in its own way. They expected casting to be a major challenge, so Moffat was completely caught off-guard when the third guy through the door made such a powerful impression. He told Davies that after Smith's audition, he and executive producer Piers Wenger "went straight for a drink and gulped down bad white wine in a state of mild shock. Because you don't expect that on your first day, do you?"

Lucky for them — and even luckier for viewers — Matt Smith was born to play the Eleventh Doctor. While Moffat worried that finding their Doctor was just a little too easy, Wenger spoke up as the voice of reason, telling him: "He's brilliant. If we don't cast him, he'll go straight off and be a huge star." Moffat agreed, "Yeah. Let's stop him being a star." While recounting the story to Davies added, "I don't think we did, though."