We've been having Doctor Who withdrawal symptoms for months — but the return of the Time Lord is almost here. We traveled deep inside the corridors of San Diego Comic Con to speak to stars Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. Plus producers Steven Moffat and Caroline Skinner.
Check out our exclusive video interviews with the Doctor Who crew — and discover just how much Doctor Who season seven will thrill you and crush your soul. Minor spoilers ahead...
Top image: Hedghog Beeblebrox on Deviant Art.
Matt Smith has been playing the Doctor for over two years, and his performance seems to have changed a lot in that time. His early performances reminded everyone of Charlie Chaplin, but he seems to have gotten darker as he went along. We asked Smith about this, and he seemed happy with the Chaplin comparison, but also the notion that he's gotten darker and more brooding as he's gone along. "Nicest compliment I've received all day."
I think inevitably the more time you spend with a character, the more that side of them has to be revealed. But also, the Doctor has a brilliant ability to remain happy-go-lucky about the world. Because if he wasn't, that brooding side would take over his soul and he'd hang himself. So it's a wonderful sort of dichotomy to have in any character, but great to have in an alien who has a time machine.
And Smith has gone out of his way to let the audience — but not other characters — see the moments where the Doctor is seized by sadness, before snapping out of it and getting manic again. "As an audience, we get to glimpse it. But he very rarely tells other people when he's sad. He's not a great communicator of emotions. He doesn't really understand them in quite the same way that a human would."
We start asking Matt Smith about the Doctor's anger at injustice — which he's shown in a few stories, like "The Beast Below." But we're interrupted by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill making noise at another interview nearby, and Smith chiding them. Picking up again, Smith hints that "the imminent fall of the Ponds" will include something that will make the Doctor very, very angry indeed. "It's going to leave the Doctor in a very particular place."
We asked Smith if it was selfish of the Doctor to choose to escape his own death, and thus cause whatever terrible thing is going to happen at the Fields of Trenzalore. Smith responds:
Yes, it was a very selfish thing to do. But actually, it's a very selfless thing to do. Because he's saying he caused too much trouble in people's lives. He was taking the Ponds on adventures and getting them into situations where every time, they were nearly dying. And you know, he wants to give them a chance at having some sort of life. As he says, he got too big. He got too loud in the universe. And he needed to step back and be a kind of silent superhero. A silly superhero.
At the same time, these sorts of choices "generally come back to haunt the Doctor."
As for how much longer Smith will be playing the role, he says he hopes to be still playing the role at the end of 2013. "I don't have any plans to quit any any time soon." He's certainly looking forward to be part of the 50th anniversary, "and after that, I take it year by year."
The Ponds' farewell to Doctor Who is "really, really sad," says Arthur Darvill, who plays Rory Williams. And it was sad filming that episode, adds Karen Gillan, who plays Amy Pond.
So why do the Ponds keep getting pulled back into the Doctor's world, after they've fully escaped and managed to start living a normal life again? It's partly because Amy can't say no, says Darvill. And also, it's because after traveling with the Doctor for a while, "even if you do manage to have a normal life, you can't turn it down" when the Doctor offers you another trip. Plus, there's also the fact that the Ponds are the Doctor's in-laws and "there's a family connection."
Darvill's arc, from bumbling suitor to a strong hero, is one of the most dramatic transformations a companion has ever had on Doctor Who. We asked Darvill how he went about trying to sell that change, and he says: "I was very conscious of that, want to make a real progression. It's all in the scripts. They wanted him to become more of a hero. I'm quite a hero in real life."
We asked if there's any place left for Rory to go after blowing up the Cyber-fleet — prompting Gillan to do an imitation of Rory's "Where is my wife?" line. And Darvill says there are definitely still places left for Rory to go — he still gets to be quite a hero in his final episodes. Meanwhile, Rory still continues to be the audience surrogate, who asks the questions nobody else will ask.
Finally, we asked Gillan if Amy ever stops drinking the Doctor's Kool-Aid quite so much. She responds: "I think actually, deep down, it's always there... but that's definitely diminished, over time, and that's what I wanted her story arc to be. And also, her main story arc for me was the relationship between Rory and Amy, where she kind of wasn't willing to settle down, and now she — through the Doctor — has realized how much she loves him." But even though Amy's childlike faith in the Doctor has diminished, but Gillan doesn't want Amy to lose it entirely, because "it's the beautiful thing of when she's a little kid looking up in this magic man. It's embedded in her." If she loses that, she loses "a little bit of the magic."
The previous showrunner Russell T. Davies created the Time War, which is now at the center of Doctor Who's mythology. So we were wondering if the stuff about the Fields of Trenzalore, the event at which the significance of the Doctor's name would be revealed, was producer Steven Moffat's bid to put his own indelible stamp on the show's mythos.
"You mean I haven't already?" laughs Moffat. He refuses to give any hints about what's coming — or whether the Fields of Trenzalore and the Fall of the Eleventh will happen in the 50th anniversary episode.
But Moffat adds that he's not doing anything with the mystery of the Doctor's name that wasn't already there. "This is the man who never gives his name. That's always been true, from the start of the show. When they finally get to Gallifrey and we meet the other Time Lords, you realize that is not normal. It's not typical of everybody who lives there. They all give their names. So it's there from the beginning, from the very first episode of the show. If a mate of yours did that — declined to give their name — you'd eventually get curious."
We asked Moffat if he felt it was true that his era of Doctor Who is more intimate than previous eras — so much of the action, especially in his two season finales, consists of just the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River Song with no other characters present. But Moffat says this has been true in every era, including Russell T. Davies', because that's just how drama works:
A comic strip is blowing up the universe. That's mad nonsense. You can't really emotionally invest in the universe blowing up. Or Daleks. You emotionally invest in the relationships between people. Like the ending of "Doomsday" is about the Doctor not seeing Rose again. It's not about vacuuming Daleks out of the sky. You're laughing at it and going hooray. They're always intimate. That's the thing that Doctor Who does bet — amidst all the epic nonsense, there's always real emotion and real domestic-scale intimacy.
We also asked Moffat if there's any place left for River Song to go — we've seen her "birth, marriage and death," as Moffat puts it. "There's also just having River turn up and have fun on an adventure, which is fun too," he says. "She's one of the people who can draw the Doctor into a mad adventure very, very quickly and very, very easily. That's a different way of doing it. Sometimes you'll just see her phoning the Doctor up and saying, 'Let's go see that.' There's that part of the relationship too, which is big bonafide adventure."
And finally, we wanted to know if the Weeping Angels were going to feel more consistent in their third outing — given how different they seemed in "Blink" versus "Flesh and Stone." Would we ever get a clear sense of what the Angels are about? Says Moffat, "I think they are definitively enigmatic, and they sort of have to be. And as them being different each time, have you met people? If the Doctor met four people, you wouldn't expect them to be the same as the next four people."
Caroline Skinner, who produced The Fades and now is executive producer of Doctor Who, says there will definitely not be any more of The Fades. We wondered whether Jack Thorne, creator of The Fades, would ever write for Doctor Who, and Moffat says, "Possibly, you never know." Skinner adds that Thorne is a busy man, who's got two movies in production and just won two BAFTA awards.