Speculation is running high that BBC will tap show's first femme lead

It’s a mystery almost worthy of the Time Lord himself – who will succeed Matt Smith as the new Doctor Who? Speculation in the U.K. is rampant that the Beeb will tap a woman to play the 12th incarnation of the Doctor in the beloved sci-fi series.

Smith, who has played the iconic doctor for four years, announced June 1 that he will quit the role at the end of the year.

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He will regenerate for the 2013 Christmas special and star in the special 3D episode already filmed for “Doctor Who”’s 50th anniversary, lined up for a November telecast.

“Great actors always know when it’s time for the curtain call, so this Christmas prepare for your hearts to break as we say goodbye to number 11. Thank you Matt – bow ties were never cooler,” said “Doctor Who” showrunner Steven Moffat

In Blighty, much of the chatter around Smith’s departure has centered on who might be the show’s first, eh, Time Lady.

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Helen Mirren is famous for her portrayals of the British monarch, Elizabeth II, so defeating the Daleks would be all in a day’s work.

Two years ago she expressed interest in the part when she said: “I would like to play the new female Doctor Who. I don’t want to be just his sidekick.”

But as betting opened on who might succeed Smith – himself a surprise choice – the odds suggested a black actor was more likely to be the new occupant of the Tardis than a female one.

In the U.K. support for the first lady doctor came from an unlikely quarter – in the leader column of The Times, still associated with the English establishment despite being owned by Rupert Murdoch.

“The first episode was delayed owing to extended news coverage of the assassination of President John F Kennedy,” The Times reminded readers. “It must be possible to turn the Time Lord into a Time Lady.”

British bookmakers have made Rupert Grint and Russell Tovey joint favorites for the role, best known for “Harry Potter” and “Being Human” respectively.

While ratings for “Doctor Who” are on the slide in Blighty, across the Atlantic the show’s popularity continues to grow.

The opening episode of the most recent series was watched by 1.6 million on BBC America.

Smith’s exit is not expected to disrupt the production schedule since “Doctor Who” is one of the BBC’s most lucrative international properties.

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