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Youngest old man returns in 'Doctor Who'

With "Doctor Who" returning to television this Saturday, lead actor Matt Smith shares his experience of playing a Time Lord who is more than 900 years old.

Matt Smith portrays The Doctor, a 900-plus-year-old Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. BBC

The world's longest-running sci-fi series, "Doctor Who," will return this weekend with the youngest actor yet continuing his portrayal of one of the oldest characters in modern fiction.

The BBC series will turn 48 this fall, while Matt Smith will soon celebrate 29. The Doctor himself is more than 900 years old

"A lot was made of me being the youngest actor in the part," said Smith, who started portraying The Doctor last year. "Actually, I think that's worked to my favor because I think there's a sort of interesting contradiction of having a young face and old soul."

During a recent event previewing the return of "Doctor Who" this Saturday on the BBC in the U.K. and BBC America in the U.S., Smith discussed how starring in one of the world's biggest nerd-centric cult shows affects his existence in time and space.

For the few uninitiated, The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. Blessed with a strange penchant for humanity, The Doctor travels with Earthlings and puts in extra hours defending the feeble planet Earth from various intergalactic threats. The last of his kind, The Doctor can travel anywhere in time and space in his Tardis. Since his alien body can regenerate when severely injured, he's changed his appearance 10 times--making Smith the 11th Doctor.

"The part allows you to reinvent being old. When I first took the part, obviously that was an area of contention for some of the diehard fans. But my favorite Doctor wasn't the oldest actor to play the part. It was (second Doctor) Patrick Troughton," Smith said.

"I don't think his age--or my age--is an issue because that's what's wonderful about him. He's weird and peculiar without ever asking you to find him weird or peculiar."

Rather than worry about age or appearance, Smith urges fans to consider The Doctor as a role model in the 21st century.

"He's such a wonderful benchmark of how to live your life. With that passion. With that heroism. That sense of wonder. With any character, the more you play them, the more time you spend with them. You can take a bath as The Doctor. You can go order fish and chips as The Doctor. You can live your life at time as The Doctor, and that makes it interesting because he's a wonderful man. I like not just playing him--I like him. Every detail of your life, if you look at it through his eyes--it's more interesting."

He added: "That's what's wonderful about the man. That's why children like him. He doesn't dismiss anything. He's never cynical. He's open to every single facet of the universe. I think that's a remarkable mindset and a way to live."

Playing such a role in such stalwart sci-fi series means hordes of fans following Smith's every move on both sides of the Atlantic. This summer saw Smith visit San Diego's Comic-Con and its esteemed Hall H for the first time. The Brit wasn't fully prepared for the response. Serving as the first Doctor traveling in the age of Twitter and ever-present cloud technology means Smith's following is massive, ever-present, and immediate.

"It was overwhelming. All wonderful, but overwhelming to experience the spirit of the place," Smith said. "For us to come there and experience all of that energy--for the show to have such an impact--to fill Hall H. It was all remarkable."