Matt Smith is to leave Doctor Who at Christmas after nearly four years of playing the lead role.

The actor will appear in the 50th anniversary episode in November before making his final appearance in this year’s Christmas special.

He is the eleventh actor to have played the role in the TV show, having replaced previous Doctor David Tennant in 2010.

Matt said in a statement that playing the Doctor ‘had been the most brilliant experience for me as an actor and a bloke’.

He added: “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.

“I’m incredibly grateful to all the cast and crew who work tirelessly every day, to realise all the elements of the show and deliver Doctor Who to the audience.

“Many of them have become good friends and I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved over the last four years.”

He also paid tribute to showrunner Stephen Moffat, saying that working with him had been ‘a privilege’ – as well as thanking the show’s fans.

“The fans of Doctor Who around the world are unlike any other; they dress up, shout louder, know more about the history of the show (and speculate more about the future of the show) in a way that I’ve never seen before, your dedication is truly remarkable.

“Thank you so very much for supporting my incarnation of the Time Lord, number Eleven, who I might add is not done yet, I’m back for the 50th anniversary and the Christmas special.”

Steven, meanwhile, added that he was sad to see Matt go – but also looked ahead to the future.

“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,” Steven revealed.

“The Doctor can be clown and hero, often at the same time, and Matt rose to both challenges magnificently. 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.”

“Of course, this isn’t the end of the story, because now the search begins,” he added.

“Somewhere out there right now – all unknowing, just going about their business – is someone who’s about to become the Doctor. A life is going to change, and Doctor Who will be born all over again! After 50 years, that’s still so exciting!”

Jenna-Louise Coleman, who plays the Doctor’s current companion Clara Oswald, will stay in the show following Matt’s departure.

The nature of his exit has not been revealed – and is likely to be kept a closely guarded secret until the Christmas episode.