LONDON: Doctor Who star Matt Smith is to leave his role as the Doctor at the end of this year, the BBC has announced.

After four years as the Time Lord on the BBC One show, viewers will see Smith's Doctor regenerate in the 2013 Christmas special. The 30-year-old actor said working on the show had been "the most brilliant experience". Doctor Who marks its 50th anniversary in November with a special episode, which Smith has already filmed.

The BBC said Smith's "spectacular exit" was yet to be revealed and would be "kept tightly under wraps". Smith first stepped into the Tardis as the 11th Doctor in the New Year's Day episode of 2010. Taking over from David Tennant, he was the youngest actor to play the role.

Speaking after the announcement, he said he was "incredibly proud" of what the show had achieved over the last four years under Steven Moffat, the show's lead writer and executive producer.

Smith also thanked fans around the world for their "truly remarkable" dedication to the show. During his tenure, Smith's floppy-haired, bow tie-wearing Time Lord has fought enemies such as the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels and the Silence. His Doctor has shared his adventures with Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) and most recently, Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman).

Referring to his time-travelling companions, Smith said: "It's been an honour to play this part, to follow the legacy of brilliant actors, and helm the Tardis for a spell with 'the ginger, the nose and the impossible one'. But when ya gotta go, ya gotta go..."  Show runner Steven Moffat said: "Every day, on every episode, in every set of rushes, Matt Smith surprised me. The way he'd turn a line, or spin on his heels, or make something funny, or out of nowhere make me cry - I just never knew what was coming next.

"The Doctor can be clown and hero - often at the same time - and Matt rose to both challenges magnificently. –BBC

And even better than that, given the pressures of this extraordinary show, he is one of the nicest and hardest-working people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Whatever we threw at him - sometimes literally - his behaviour was always worthy of the Doctor."

Moffat added: "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."

The announcement of Smith's exit is likely to spark months of fevered speculation about his replacement. BBC