David Tennant quits as Doctor Who
David Tennant is to stand down as Doctor Who, after becoming one of the most popular Time Lords in the history of the BBC science fiction show.
Tennant stepped into the Tardis in 2005, and will leave the role after four special episodes are broadcast next year.
He made the announcement after winning the outstanding drama performance prize at the National Television Awards.
"When Doctor Who returns in 2010 it won't be with me," he said.
"Now don't make me cry," he added. "I love this part, and I love this show so much that if I don't take a deep breath and move on now I never will, and you'll be wheeling me out of the Tardis in my bath chair."
'I'll miss it'
Three years was "about the right time" to play the role, he told the BBC in an exclusive interview.
"I think it's better to go when there's a chance that people might miss you, rather than to hang around and outstay your welcome," he said.
His stint in the show had been "the most extraordinary time, it's been bewildering, life changing, very exciting", he said.
"And just so much fun, such a great show to work on.
"That's one of the reasons I think it's right to take a deep breath and bow out when it's still fun, when it's a novelty.
"I don't ever want it to feel like a job, so I want to move on when it still feels exciting and fresh and that means I'll miss it."
Tennant, the 10th actor to play the Doctor Who, left fans guessing about his return at the end of the latest series.
In the last episode, in July, the Doctor had to defeat his enemies the Daleks to save the universe.
Almost 10 million people watched as the Time Lord apparently started the process of regeneration - but did not complete it.
Tennant will appear in a Christmas special, titled The Next Doctor, before filming four more specials in January.
"They'll be the four last stories that I do," he said.
In a sign of his popularity, he was voted best drama performer in a public vote at the National Television Awards.
He has been named most popular actor at the same ceremony for the past two years. That prize has been discontinued this year.
An average of 8.1 million people a week watched the latest series - the fourth since it made a comeback in 2005 - in its Saturday evening slot on BBC One.
Russell T Davies, executive producer, said: "I've been lucky and honoured to work with David over the past few years - and it's not over yet, the Tenth Doctor still has five spectacular hours left!
"After which, I might drop an anvil on his head. Or maybe a piano. A radioactive piano. But we're planning the most enormous and spectacular ending, so keep watching."
A fifth series of the show is scheduled for 2010.
Tennant replaced Christopher Eccleston, who resurrected the show after a 16-year break.
Tennant made his name in TV dramas such as Blackpool and Casanova.
He started his career in theatre and in recent months has returned to the stage with well-received performances in Hamlet and Love's Labour's Lost for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
In December last year, Tennant denied rumours that he was planning to quit after Catherine Tate - his new companion in the Tardis - told the Jonathan Ross radio show she thought the next series of Doctor Who would be Tennant's last.
He said at the time: "Catherine Tate stitched me up good and proper. She goes on Jonathan Ross and makes up a load of old nonsense."
Matt Smith has been named as the actor who will take over from David Tennant in Doctor Who - making him the youngest actor to take on the role.
At 26, Smith is three years younger than Peter Davison when he signed up to play the fifth Doctor in 1981.
Smith will first appear on TV screens as the 11th Doctor in 2010.
He was cast over Christmas and will begin filming for the fifth series of Doctor Who in the summer. Tennant is filming four specials in 2009.
Smith was named as Tennant's replacement in Saturday's edition of Doctor Who Confidential on BBC One.
He said: "I feel proud and honoured to have been given this opportunity to join a team of people that has worked so tirelessly to make the show so thrilling.
"David Tennant has made the role his own, brilliantly, with grace, talent and persistent dedication. I hope to learn from the standards set by him.
"The challenge for me is to do justice to the show's illustrious past, my predecessors, and most importantly, to those who watch it. I really cannot wait."
Piers Wenger, head of drama at BBC Wales, said that as soon as he had seen Smith's audition he "knew he was the one".
"It was abundantly clear that he had that 'Doctor-ness' about him," he said. "You are either the Doctor or you are not. It's just the beginning of the journey for Matt.
"With Steven Moffat's scripts and the expertise of the production team in Cardiff behind him, there is no one more perfect to be taking the Tardis to exciting new futures when the series returns in 2010."
Wenger said a broad range of people had been auditioned, but they had not set out to cast the youngest Doctor.
Smith's TV debut was in the 2006 adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke, which starred former Doctor Who companion Billie Piper as Sally Lockhart.
He has also acted opposite Piper in the follow-up, The Shadow in the North, and in ITV2's Secret Diary of a Call Girl.
In 2007, he had a leading role in BBC Two's political drama Party Animals, in which he played a parliamentary researcher.
Smith's stage work has included stints with theatre companies such as the Royal Court and National Theatre. His West End debut was in Swimming With Sharks opposite Christian Slater.
He was born in Northampton in 1982 and studied drama and creative writing at the University of East Anglia.
Tennant said in October that he would stand down from the show after filming four special episodes in 2009.
The star is due to begin shooting the first special this month, just weeks after surgery on his back forced him to pull out of a London run of Hamlet.
The last of these special episodes is expected to run in early 2010.
With a new creative team in place for the 2010 series led by executive producers Steven Moffat and Piers Wenger, the casting of the Doctor was the first job to be completed before scripts could be finalised.
Doctor Who began in 1963, and seven actors played the Doctor before the show was dropped in 1989.
After a TV movie in 1996 - starring Paul McGann - the TV series returned in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston in the lead role. Tennant took over the same year.