Matt Smith, The DoctorIt may be the eleventh time an actor has taken on the iconic role of the Doctor but Matt Smith hasn't let that stand in his way of creating his very own vision for the world-famous character. Here the star of Party Animals and Moses Jones explains what it was like to land one of the biggest roles in television and talks about his dream trip in the TARDIS.
"It was quite weird news to receive" says Matt Smith, the youngest actor to play the title role of hit Sci-Fi show Doctor Who.
"I mean at that point it was a piece of information I couldn't share with anyone so it didn't feel tangible, but needless to say I was very pleased."
"I actually ended up walking around London listening to Sinatra on my iPod," laughs the 27-year-old as he tries to explain the moment he found out he had won the much coveted role of the Doctor.
"Funnily enough my mum had texted me to say she thought I should play the Doctor a week before my agent asked me to audition so she was delighted I got the part. I was also abroad when it was announced on the BBC and my phone went mad – the bill was enormous!"
Spanning five decades, Doctor Who has been a part of British culture for nearly 50 years. Since its successful return in 2005 both Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant have played the title role and made their own mark on the eccentric Time Lord. Now it's Matt's turn to give his own portrayal of the iconic character; a challenge which some young actors may have shied away from.
"I think these things are only as intimidating as you allow them to be," explains Matt.
"It's a real privilege to join such a successful show; it's a bit like joining Man Utd. It's good to be part of something strong and long may it continue. Plus, I couldn't have inherited the role from a nicer man. I guess it's like anything really, the more you do something the less daunting and intimidating it becomes."
However, Matt admits his first day of filming, which took place on a beach in wet and windy conditions, was both daunting and challenging.
"It was very tough because we were up against the tide and could only film until 3.00pm," reveals Matt.
"It felt like being in a twilight zone because there were so many people watching and dozens of paparazzi around! It was nice that Karen was there as well though," he continues, "because we were both going through the same experience. We were also surrounded by Doctor Who fans and every time I had to nip to the toilet they followed me. I've now learnt this is the norm on Doctor Who!"
Central to the story is the TARDIS which transports The Doctor across time and space to a wonderful array of worlds and universes. The TARDIS is a living creature and regenerates along with the Doctor in the opening episode of the new series. The details of the new TARDIS will remain an on-screen surprise for viewers but Matt confesses he was like a boy in a sweet shop when he first set foot in it.
"It's like a Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche all moulded into one!" exclaims the excited actor.
"It's so incredible because the TARDIS is an icon of our cultural history and suddenly I'm the one who's flying it. I am quite clumsy though so I kept breaking parts of the console and the poor production team had to keep fixing it," chuckles Matt.
"But the TARDIS is a magic concept and it provides a constant source of wonderment and adventure for both the Doctor and the viewers."
But where would he like the TARDIS to take him if he could go anywhere?
"I would definitely travel back in time to see the dinosaurs and then I'd get the TARDIS to take me to the bottom of the sea to the lost city of Atlantis," says Matt.
"I'd also like to go back in time and hang out with Sinatra for a bit but if I could star alongside anyone in Doctor Who it would have to be Eric Cantona. He's a legend and he dabbles in acting now so you never know, it could happen!"
There have been 10 previous incarnations of the Doctor, each with their own traits and quirks, but what can viewers expect from this bow-tie wearing Doctor?
"He is still the same man but I think my Doctor is a bit more reckless; he's a thrill seeker and addicted to time travel," reveals Matt.
"He is the mad buffoon genius who saves the world because he's got a great heart, spirit and soul but he also doesn't suffer fools. I hope all of these things come across but I think I've also injected a bit of my own personality into the role. I also helped choose the Doctor's costume which was great fun. Steven Moffat was very keen the outfit isn't seen as the overriding factor of the Doctor's personality but we still needed to find something that felt right. We tried on lots of things but kept reaching a dead end and we dismissed a number of items including a long leather coat, a long blue coat and some short punky stuff! But then one day I brought in my braces and a tweed jacket and it went from there. Soon we had the whole outfit although something still felt like it was missing and I asked if I could try on a bow tie – at that point the execs all bowed their heads in concern but luckily when I tried it on we agreed it worked and it has sort of become the signature of my Doctor now."
Joining the Doctor on his adventures throughout time and space is new Companion Amy Pond played by red-headed beauty Karen Gillan and Matt admits the pair of them found it difficult to remain serious when filming scenes together.
"I always used to look forward to us being in make-up together, we would just make each other crack up. I think that's important because it forms part of the energy of the show," explains Matt.
"I also think the Doctor and Amy share a slightly mad relationship; she's a handful and he likes the fact she challenges him and can sometimes act a bit bonkers. The way they are introduced to each other is truly magical and they form a deep affinity for one another."
Throughout this series Amy and the Doctor go on some truly extraordinary adventures including travelling to 16th century Venice, exploring France during the 1890s and visiting the United Kingdom in the far future, now an entire nation floating in space.
However, the Doctor's enemies are never far behind him, including old nemeses the Daleks and Weeping Angels, plus new monsters such as alien vampires, humanoid reptiles and a silent menace that follows the Doctor and Amy wherever they go.
"I loved filming the vampire stuff in Croatia which doubled up for Venice," reveals Matt.
"I had to climb a huge bell tower with a rain machine pummelling water at me. It was freezing cold but I absolutely loved it! I also enjoyed filming part of episode 10 when I was yanked through the air on a harness after being hit by an invisible monster. However, my favourite scene to film was in episode one when I ate fish fingers and custard with Amelia. Luckily they were actually breaded cakes so it wasn't quite as bad as it sounds. I had to eat a lot of them but it was an enchanting scene so it was worth it."
But what is it about Doctor Who that has turned it into a cultural phenomenon spanning five decades of British TV?
Matt thinks he has the answer: "The idea is magic. Time travel and the TARDIS are just brilliant concepts and within the context of television it gives writers the opportunity to pen amazing stories because they have the scope to go anywhere and do anything. Doctor Who is infinite in its orbit and imagination and so it has fulfilled audiences' desires throughout the decades and will hopefully continue to do so in the future."
Karen Gillan, Amy PondThe regenerations of the Doctor are a staple part of the mythology of Doctor Who, but across the past five decades there has been another constant in the series; the changing faces of his companion. Now, as Inverness-born Karen Gillan becomes the latest actress to join the Doctor in the TARDIS, we find out her thoughts on landing one of the most enviable roles in British television and making her mum cry...
"It was one of the strangest experiences ever; it was a really weird feeling!" exclaims Karen Gillan about her casting as Amy Pond.
"I found out on the day of my second audition with Matt, so at least I didn't have a really long wait. It just didn't feel real, and I couldn't believe it!"
But auditioning for Doctor Who is unlike any other audition for the excitable, down to earth actress: "I knew that the audition was for the part of the Companion, but I wasn't allowed to tell anyone about it. They even had a code name for the role because it was so top secret. The code name was 'Panic Moon'; an anagram of Companion which I thought was really clever."
Even after Karen discovered she had been cast as Amy Pond the veil of secrecy was not lifted: "I wasn't allowed to tell anyone that I got the part but my boyfriend was with me when I found out so there was rather a lot of screaming!
"I decided not to tell my parents as I didn't want to spoil the surprise but when I finally did tell them I made a special day of it and my mum took a day off work. She just couldn't believe it when I told her. She was doing the dishes and she literally stopped in her tracks and cried. She's a huge fan of the show, has been a fan for years. She even has Dalek bubble bath at home!"
However, when the BBC announced her casting Karen was just as curious as her parents to find out what reaction she's get from the fans.
"I couldn't resist it; I couldn't stop myself from having a look online to see what people thought," laughs Karen.
"Although after a while it all got a bit strange seeing people talking about me so I had to stop and I haven't looked since!"
Part of the interest in Karen was due to her being a relative newcomer to the industry, so how would she explain her life so far to the public?
"I'm from Inverness in Scotland, right up in the highlands. When I was 16 I moved to Edinburgh to study acting and I stayed there for a year, then at 17 I decided to move to London to continue my acting career," she reveals. "I also did a little bit of modelling for two years which I enjoyed. I met some great people and it was a really fantastic experience."
As the countdown to the new series starts, Karen is determined not to allow the intense interest in the show to distract her.
"There is no other show that brings the same level of interest and hype or frenzy around it. I don't think it's really registered with me yet although I'm sure it will do when it gets closer to transmission. But mainly it's just great to know there are loads of people that are interested in the show and care about it. I think the best thing for me is to concentrate on doing the job well."
Karen's first day of filming the series was made even more memorable by her first encounter with the one thing which, more than any other, represents the show.
"It was great having the TARDIS there. It felt quite strange to see it on a beach in Wales; it's such a beautiful and iconic thing."
But seeing the exterior of the TARDIS still couldn't prepare Karen for the moment when she first entered the blue box, as she explains: "I was in awe of the whole thing. I'd seen the old one so much on TV and then I walked into the new one and it was breathtaking; just the sheer scale of it. It was so exciting. I thought to myself that I had to remember that moment for when Amy walked into it for the first time."
Since Doctor Who's return in 2005, there have been a number of memorable Companions for the Doctor. How does Karen feel Amy compares to those that have gone before?
"Well, for a start Steven Moffat has written a brilliant character. I do think Amy is different from previous Companions because she's very equal to the Doctor. She doesn't take his word as gospel and she's always happy to challenge him. If he tells her to do something then she won't necessarily do it, she might go off and do her own thing which can sometimes create a rift between the two of them! They are best pals though and it's a very up and down relationship because they are both very passionate people."
So is it fair to say that we will see some conflict between Amy and The Doctor?
"The Doctor is definitely an alpha male and Amy is an alpha female, so when they meet, they combust. They have quite a turbulent relationship but it's also really passionate and they care about each other. Amy can really hold her own against him and Steven's written some great one-liners. It's a great relationship."
As soon as the series started filming and Karen was pictured in the media it became clear that Amy Pond has a very unique style. So how involved was Karen in the sartorial choices?
"I think it's quite important that I feel like her when I wear the clothes. So I worked quite closely with the costume designer, Ray and also the producers, to come up with the signature Amy look. They were generally vintage clothes, but we tried to incorporate high street styles as well because Amy is young. I think naturally there is going to be some of me in her style, as I relate to Amy and we are the same age as each other."
And Karen feels Matt Smith, as the youngest actor ever to play the Doctor, has risen to the challenge admirably.
"I think Steven said it perfectly; Matt manages to be old and young at the same time," explains Karen.
"That's the great thing about the Doctor; he has the energy and mischief of a young child as well as the wisdom, age and intelligence of someone a lot older. Also, with Matt's performance in particular, he's so believable that he isn't human. He has all these things that he does that make you really believe he is an alien or a Time Lord you're drawn in by that."
However, as well as working with Matt, the series has also given Karen the opportunity to work with a spectacular array of guest stars.
"That's the fantastic thing about Doctor Who, you get the most amazing people coming in as guest stars. I got to work with incredible actors; Alex Kingston is back as River Song and she's a legend! I'm managing to learn so much from all of these people. I feel privileged and I'm always trying to pick up tips from them."
Is there anyone who hasn't been in the series as yet that Karen would love to work with?
"As a Scot, I have to say that Billy Connolly would be really great and really funny. It would also be amazing to have someone like Judi Dench to come in and play a character. That would be mind blowing!"
If Karen were in Amy's place and could commandeer the TARDIS for a day, where would be her first stop?
"I would like to go millions of years into the future to see how people have changed and what technology we have come up with. Also, it would be really interesting to see how far humans have advanced physically. There is this theory that people are going to get really frail and skinny with big heads because they only use their brains and not their body. If I was going to go into the past then I think it would definitely be to see Elvis in concert or visit Gracelands."
There is one question which will be asked more than any other in the coming months and Karen is unequivocal in her answer; who is Karen's favourite Doctor?
"That's simple. Matt."
Steven Moffat, Head WriterSteven Moffat is a BAFTA-award winning writer whose career in television has spanned more than twenty years and produced some of the UK's best-loved television dramas in that time. But more than that, he is a Doctor Who fan who has just been handed his dream job: being in charge of the world's most iconic drama series.
"I suppose I could say the reason I started working in TV is because I was such a huge fan of Doctor Who," explains Steven.
"I was absolutely fascinated and thrilled by the show. I wanted to know how the TARDIS disappeared, how all the special effects worked and why the Doctor changed. As a viewer you want to know why he looks different; it's a show that compels you to look behind the scenes. In fact, over the years I think I've bought every single issue of Doctor Who Magazine since it launched."
But there was a long period when Doctor Who was not on screen; did Steven ever worry that he wouldn't get the opportunity to achieve his lifelong ambition and write for the show?
"I tumbled through the door of children's TV, became quite a cool children's TV writer for about 48 seconds in 1989 and they basically axed Doctor Who that day!" says Steven with a chuckle. "After 26 years, just when I thought I'd finally get to write for the show, I missed out by an afternoon."
However, fate was obviously on Steven's side and in 2005 Doctor Who was resurrected and has become one of the biggest shows on UK television under the guidance of Russell T Davies.
"The transition has been strange and has lasted a long time for me; since I first got an email from Russell about the job in fact," explains the Paisley born writer.
"We've been saying goodbye to each other for two and a half years now – we'd really better stop before one of us drops dead in a desperate bid for closure. I hugely enjoyed working with Russell and every time I came back to Doctor Who during those years it was an absolute treat. I knew this job was going to be difficult; I was never under any illusion about it. I could see that Russell was getting tired and he has acknowledged he is a workaholic. I've managed to take up workaholism, but it never sits quite as easy with me."
The actual moment of regeneration was, of course, the pinnacle of that transition and Steven's first chance to write for the new Doctor.
"It was Russell's courtesy to allow me to write Matt's first scene when the regeneration happened and he was adamant about that. He's a fan like I am and he'll always be motivated by that. He wouldn't like to think as a member of the audience that the old writer had written the new Doctor. In our heads that's where the new era begins, that's what matters to us."
Doctor Who has already had multiple incarnations on television, so casting the perfect actor for the lead role presented some interesting debates.
"I had a clear idea, which actually turned out to be the absolute opposite of what we ended up doing – which always happens when you get the casting right," reveals Steven.
"I actually remember at the beginning of the process when I got a little bit cross whilst looking at the list of actors as it was full of people in their twenties. I said to everyone that we couldn't have a Doctor who is 27. My idea was that the person was going to be between 30–40 years old, young enough to run but old enough to look wise. Then, of course, Matt Smith comes through the door and he's odd, angular and strange looking. He doesn't come across as being youthful at all, in the most wonderful way."
But alongside the new Doctor is a brand new Companion, played by Scottish actress Karen Gillan. What was it about her that made her perfect for the role?
"The challenge with casting the Companion is that there are only so many people that would actually go through those blue doors. It has to be someone that loves adventure and doesn't quite feel at home with where they are," explains Steven.
"They have to be a feisty, fun-loving and gutsy person – and now we've got Karen Gillan. She was just exactly right for the role despite inhabiting Amy Pond in a way that was quite different from how I originally wrote the part."
An inevitable question that will be asked of the new series is how it differs from those that have gone before.
"I've never done anything differently, at least not deliberately," says Steven. "I just try and think of all the best and maddest Doctor Who stories I want to watch, and get them made – there are worse ways to make a living. You could say that I'm more into the clever plots; I like the big twists and the sleight of hand. I like playing around with time-travel but I don't think it should be at the front of Doctor Who in every episode.
"However, I do think it should happen more often and reinforce the fact he has an odd relationship with time. For example, no one is ever dead to him. He can't say 'I knew Winston Churchill', he'd say 'I know Winston Churchill'. Everyone in the whole universe is still alive to him and he has no sense of time passing. I find that all fascinating. If you look at the stories I've written so far I suppose I might be slightly more at the fairytale and Tim Burton end of Doctor Who, whereas Russell is probably more at the blockbuster and Superman end of the show."
But what does Steven feel is the most important ingredient to Doctor Who?
"I think it is centrally vital for Doctor Who that at its heart and in its soul it is a children's programme. Not one that excludes adults, but one that welcomes them in. But when Doctor Who is really working, when it really delivers, the entire audience is eight years old – whatever age they started out!"
Despite the lengthy transition, there finally came the day when all of the hard work was realised; the first day of filming of the new series.
"By accident it was the most magical beginning. We went down onto this perfect, white beach," reveals Steven. "The TARDIS and our two main characters were there and we could just see that blue rectangle facing us. It was like a stamp stuck on a picture, it was so perfect! I remember walking down thinking this is properly magical; we're not starting with some secondary characters that end up getting killed by an electric slug, or something. We're actually starting with the Doctor and the Companion stepping out of the TARDIS talking to River Song."
Steven has, in the past, described the TARDIS as the best storytelling and plot device that there is. But if he had his own, where would he choose to go?
"I have no real desire to go anywhere else because I'm genuinely so happy with my life the way it is at the moment. I'd probably like to go to the future but stay away from libraries in case I found out when I died; that would be a bit miserable. I'd like to see what the toys and gadgets are in the future and all the fun I'm going to miss out on. But most of all, I'd like to know who's playing the Doctor!"
So, as a life-long Doctor Who fan, who is his favourite Doctor?
"The one with the two hearts that travels in the TARDIS... and word on the street is, he's never looked finer."
The Production TeamA new Doctor, Companion and Showrunner have heralded a year of changes for Doctor Who, but it doesn't end there. Piers Wenger and Beth Willis have taken on Executive Producer duties, alongside Steven Moffat, from the outgoing Doctor Who team of Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner. Here they reveal the challenges they have faced with taking on such a hugely successful series and why it's so important for Doctor Who to evolve.
"It has definitely been a big challenge taking on this show because we love it so much and why tinker with something that has been as popular, successful and brilliant as it has been?" says executive producer Beth Willis.
"But at the same time we are terribly aware we have to look forward and work out how the show is going to survive in the future. In 2005 the team looked at what was fresh and new then and we have to do a bit of that ourselves. Looking at the episodes we've filmed so far we're starting to see the impact of those changes; what the team has managed to achieve is pretty thrilling."
Fellow Executive Producer and Head of Drama for BBC Wales, Piers Wenger, agrees and adds: "The thing which is most important to us is telling a good story at the end of the day; that's always the thing the audience is going to be most demanding about. Beyond that, any changes we have made have been motivated by giving the show the best production values money can buy. It's the nation's favourite, and that means it deserves the best."
The advances in technology over the past five years have inevitably enabled the programme makers to use more sophisticated techniques and create awe-inspiring visual effects. However, a new lead writer and Doctor are undoubtedly what viewers will feel mark the dawn of a new era for the hit series.
"The fact we have Steven Moffat writing it and Matt Smith starring in it gives the show an inevitable element of change," explains Beth.
"However, the one thing that hasn't made us scared about this change was reading Steven's scripts. I felt deeply honoured and excited to be in a position to be working with such great scripts. It doesn't really matter what colour you use, where the camera is or how you position a light; Steven and Matt are brilliant which has made mine and Piers' job much easier."
However, production wasn't without its challenges as Piers points out: "It is the biggest show on British TV in terms of the level of technical expertise everyone has to be versed in. There were new challenges for Beth and I as we had limited experience in dealing with prosthetics and complex CGI. However, I think the biggest challenge was to move everything forward and making the right calls on what to change and what not to.
"Doctor Who's audience is an incredibly loyal and passionate one and one of the show's biggest advantages is that it takes you to new worlds every week. Bringing it back with a new writer and leading man after all its success so far, we couldn't be modest in our ambitions to find new ways for the show to thrill people."
Renowned as the most dedicated and passionate fans in the world, it seems Whovians certainly have a lot to look forward to in 2010. But would Piers and Beth consider themselves part of the loyal following?
"Steven, myself and Piers were some of the most excited people in the country when we found out Doctor Who was coming back in 2005. Well, in truth, Steven was probably the most excited, but Piers and I weren't that far behind him!" laughs Beth.
"I've always been a fan and I was even accused at the age of eight of shoplifting a copy of Doctor Who Magazine from my local newsagents – completely wrongly I hasten to add," confesses Piers. "I was accused of it probably because I was in there all the time reading them!"
But how would the duo sum up their experience of reinventing Doctor Who for 2010?
Beth simply states: "There have been loads of challenges, but let's face it, it's been a really exciting show to work on. We've got a fantastic cast, we're got a fantastic writer and a fantastic team and we've just kind of dived in at the deep end and had a ball!"