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Dr. Who fans were startled when the Sunday front pages of U.K. newspapers started to leak out Saturday evening. There were surprising headlines announcing Matt Smith, the man currently playing Dr. Who on the wildly popular BBC series, was leaving the show.

Usually a major casting change like Smith's departure would be protected under an embargo with the studio. But because Dr. Who is such a wildly popular institution in the U.K. -- the show is approaching its 50th anniversary -- Smith's decision to leave prompted front page coverage. See: 

The Sunday Times was smart enough to tease it a little without leaking the story completely: 

Imagine all of the judges of The Voice left the show in one swoop and the news leaked in a tweeted newspaper front page. That's the best domestic comparison available, probably. Or if Jeff Probst left Survivor

So, sensing that the news was out, the Telegraph became the first to report the need for a new doctor. Smith, the show's 11th doctor, joined the show in 2010. ""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," Smith said. The BBC confirmed the casting change in a press release shortly after the Telegraph put their report up. Smith was the youngest doctor ever, and he was well-received by both critics and fans alike. 

It's odd that newspapers reporting something is news, but this is a strange new frontier. No one released the story early for their own gain. The Mail's front page came out and broke the news, but it was the Telegraph that released their story ahead of the end of the embargo. The rest followed suit. So newspapers broke the news, which isn't unusual, but they did it in a convoluted way. 

Dr. Who fans are a notoriously passionate bunch. (Community's "Inspector Spacetime," Abed's favorite British sci-fi show, is a parody of Who.) So it's no surprise they are going through that awful, swirling emotional combination of grief and denial and hope that comes with world-shaking casting changes: 

It'll be OK, everyone. These doctors seems like a replaceable bunch. There are eleven of them, after all. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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