MATT Smith reflected: “To my mind, it’s the greatest part in British television.
“I’m fortunate to have it.”
With new executive producer and lead writer Steven Moffat describing the show as: “The most entertaining thing that British television has ever done.”
The world premiere in Cardiff last night of the latest Doctor Who series.
Featuring Matt in his full debut as the 11th Doctor and the Time Lord’s first meeting with new companion Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan.
Below is my transcript of the press conference that followed the screening of hour long The Eleventh Hour.
To be broadcast on BBC1 on Easter Saturday.
But first a quick review of some of what we saw without, hopefully, any major spoilers.
I travelled to Wales with high expectations of Matt in the role.
At 27, the youngest actor to take on the part.
Even so, I was astonished at how good he was in possibly the best “debut” episode in the long history of Doctor Who.
Some have already described it as a solid start and a building block for what is to come.
So perhaps I’m wrong. And it’s only one opinion after all.
We all see things in different ways.
But what I saw was a dazzling, magical performance.
And I wasn’t the only one with that opinion.
David Tennant was, rightly, voted the greatest screen Doctor of all time.
He remains a brilliant star in the Whovian universe.
Yet by deciding to quit the role he loved, David has given us the gift of Matt Smith.
A fresh, exciting, unpredictable and, yes, still mad Doctor.
Like trading in your old, much loved, first car for a shiny, yet classic, new model.
In odd moments, this Doctor’s voice reminded me of Oliver Postgate’s timeless audio commentaries for Noggin The Nog.
With Matt managing to look young and old all at the same time, even before he gets to his bow tie and tweed jacket.
Steven was responsible for some of the darker, creepier scripts during Russell T Davies’ time as showrunner.
Now that he’s taken on that role himself, you’d best have a sofa nearby to hide behind.
A crack in a child’s bedroom wall plays a crucial role in the first episode.
It’s a simple idea but so effective, playing with all our childhood fears.
The TARDIS has been spinning out of control.
In flames, it crashes into a garden.
Where we get our first proper look at the still regenerating new Doctor – staring into the face of a child.
Just as he will be doing in millions of homes.
“Who are you?” she asks.
“I don’t know yet. I’m still cooking,” he replies.
This new Doctor doesn’t know what he likes to eat – until he tastes fish fingers dipped in custard.
Later he meets a mini-skirted Amy Pond, beautifully played by the very sassy Karen Gillan, 22.
An actress who, as you’ll see from the transcript, is confident enough to take on board the mantle of possibly the sexiest companion of recent years.
The two actors spark off each other, with a more 2010, edgier feel to the way parts of the episode are shot.
“Why me?” asks Amy when the Doctor invites her to travel with him in the TARDIS, complete with its all new split-level interior.
“Why not?” he replies.
Parts of the opening hour will be scary for some younger viewers, not to mention adults of a nervous disposition.
There was just one moment in the 60 minutes where my attention wandered and I thought the story dragged a little.
But that’s a minor complaint bearing in mind the brilliance of the majority of the episode.
Including a poignant masterstroke near the end.
Steven had told the cast and crew: “This will be the most scrutinised hour of our television lives.”
You may disagree. But, for me, Matt, Karen, Steven and the hundreds of other people involved have given this show yet another lease of life.
As Matt’s Doctor says at one stage: “Everything’s going to be fine.”
Below is an edited transcript of the 32 minute post-screening press Q&A.
It contains around 95 per cent of the content, leaving out a few questions which didn’t really result in any meaningful answers:
At what point did you feel you were the Doctor?
Matt: “Well, we filmed it out of synch, so I filmed this three episodes in, as it were. I don’t know. Whether it was on that day, on that rooftop. Hopefully it was before then. There is not one definitive day where you go, ‘I am this man.’ I can tell you that in the first week, you’re sort of stood there going, ‘Am I this man?’ Because you’re on a beach and there’s the TARDIS, which is this wonderful icon of that sort of cultural history, if you will. And at least I didn’t know quite know how to digest it…and there’s paparazzi everywhere. It’s a different show to make.”
How important was it that Amy was Scottish?
Steven: “Well the Doctor can’t be Scottish, he’s from Gallifrey – there wasn’t a Scottish agenda. I think it works perfectly.”
Karen: “I actually auditioned in two different accents. I did English and Scottish. And I think it works with both, actually. But then we just decided to go with Scottish because that’s my natural accent, and why not?”
Do you have a message for your fans in your home town of Northampton?
Matt: “Yes. I hope they enjoy it. I’m proud to be representing you…although, apparently, the man who discovered DNA is from Northampton. So I feel my fame has been usurped.”
Steven (laughing): “Do you get why we cast him?”
Matt: “I’m looking forward to the press launch down there. At my old school, which will be cool.”
What do you think about Cardiff?
Matt: “I love Cardiff. I think it’s great. It’s very welcoming, it’s very green, it rains at lot. Great locations. You couldn’t make this in London. You wouldn’t have the scope or the variety of locations. And we’re blessed with the greatest crew that I’ve ever worked with in my short tenure as an actor. Bernard Cribbins was bang on the money. They’re extraordinary. So, yeah. Big up Wales.”
How did you get the chemistry right between the Doctor and Amy?
Matt: (smiling) “It’s been a real slog.”
Karen: “When I auditioned, I read with Matt and I think it was kind of there, somewhere, at the beginning.”
Matt: “It was. She gave us such a good audition.”
Karen: “It’s always developing throughout every day that we do.”
Matt: “We’re a real team. We’ve grown very fond of one another, haven’t we? (laughter) It’s something that we have to work at on screen and make sure it was well placed. What I’ve found so particular about making this show is the tone. And if the tone is off or on, you’re very aware of it. And I think, hopefully, the tone of our relationship is quite playful and mad. But I have to say a lot of that is down to this man (Steven), as it’s so well plotted and drawn out. We couldn’t ask for a greater captain.”
Do you think that Amy is the sexiest assistant of recent years?
Karen: (immediately): “Yes.”
And is he the sexiest Doctor of recent years?
Karen: “At times, maybe.”
Matt: “At times? Yes, I think that Karen is absolutely…I mean, look at her, she’s a remarkable specimen – I think categorically she is the sexiest companion that has ever lived.”
Matt – Doctor Who when you were growing up and your ambition now for how long you may be in it?
“Well, I was part of that barren spell when children weren’t given the joy of Doctor Who. So it wasn’t actually on television when I was growing up. I would like to continue being the Doctor. Absolutely. It’s a role that I enjoy thoroughly and I’ve made a lot of friends up here. To my mind, it’s the greatest part in British television. I’m fortunate enough to have it.”
How will you handle the fame and recognition that will come with these roles?
Matt: “We work nine months a year anyway, so we don’t have time to fall out of nightclubs. Work is my mistress.”
Karen: “I think I’m going to try and lay off falling out of the nightclubs.”
Who’s the most exciting guest star in new series?
Matt: “There are many. That’s part of the great joy of acting. It’s such an education. Great actors from Sophie Okonedo to Ian McNeice, Helen McCrory. James Corden is brilliant…it’s wonderful. And they’re great characters. Really rich, character episodes.”
I then got the chance to ask two questions:
1) Matt – could you sum up your personal take on your Doctor, how you view him?
“Do you know, that’s a difficult question…ask me in six months time when I’m sure we’ll meet again. But I hope, I hope, I don’t know because I haven’t seen everything, but I hope there’s a sort of madness and a tenderness and a recklessness there and a sense of adventure and risk. But I take it day by day and so I haven’t got a list of adjectives to describe it, I’m afraid.”
2) Steven – do you think that’s one of Doctor Who’s scariest episodes?
“No. We’ve got more even scarier. I’m not worried by that.”
Which scenes did you enjoy the most?
Karen: “For me, the most enjoyable would have to be the scenes with Amy and the Doctor. We were really establishing the relationship in that episode. They kind of bounce off each other. So that was fun. But, you know, with a Doctor Who episode, you’re always going to such extremes with every episode. You’re facing life-threatening situations every time, so that’s always fun because you can try and find new ways…ways that that sort of feeling would manifest itself. So that’s a challenge. But that’s part of Doctor Who.”
Which eras of the show’s history are your personal favourties?
Steven: “I think it was all brilliant. When I started watching it, I never stopped. And clearly I haven’t exactly given up on it now. I just love Doctor Who. I know you’re supposed to discriminate and say, ‘I like this bit better than the other bit.’ But it’s like James Bond films, I just like them all. Shut up about having opinions. It’s great. The most entertaining thing that British television has ever done. Full stop.”
Matt (agreeing): “I’m a particular fan of Patrick Troughton. I find him rather good. But, again, once you start to become part of the world and engage with it, it just sucks you up. That’s really what it’s done for me. We’re constantly in awe. I know it’s a cliche but we go, ‘This is what we do. This is work. It’s so mad and varied.’ It never gets dull because every month you’ve got a completely new world and a completely new story and a completely brilliant new actor coming in. But in terms of trying to emulate anything…I have my own path. And whether there are shades of past or present in there, I don’t know. But it’s never been conscious to me.”
What are you most hoping for from the reaction?
Matt: “Well, I guess, you don’t want tomatoes to be thrown at you in the street and you want people to enjoy it, in short. I hope people respond to it. I hope people engage in it in the ways that they have and find new ways to engage with it. I also hope it excites and I hope people come on the journey with us because I think we’ve got a brilliant journey to this new series. So I do hope that people are thrilled..”
Karen: “Me too.”
What’s the best advice you were given when you got these roles?
Karen: “Steven once said to me that I need to remember that Amy has never seen Doctor Who before. And then I thought more about that and, actually, it kind of changes your whole performance in a way, because she questions everything. The companion asks so many questions in an episode of Doctor Who…so that was really interesting that Steven said to me because that gave me this whole scope for being so questioning of the Doctor.”
Matt: “I’ve had so many moments that I’ve kept…Piers Wenger and Beth Willis (executive producers) who I just have to mention briefly to say how wonderful and supportive and bravely creative they are, and also Mr Mofatt, who has said that I should have complete courage and conviction in, I guess, my choices. So that.”
The Eleventh Hour wasn’t the first episode Matt and Karen actually filmed. What were the first scenes on the first day you had to shoot?
Karen: “We were on a beach outside of Cardiff. The tide was coming in, so it was a race against time…”
Matt: “…so we could shoot ‘til three. There was torrential rain, a TARDIS, Alex Kingston, paparazzi. It was a brilliant location. It was like the crater of a moon. It felt like the ground was a bit shaky under your feet. It was an odd experience. I’d been thinking about it for six months and then suddenly you’re there and there’s this blue box in front of you and you’re meant to have a relationship with it. And it’s this blue box that you’re turning up for work for and you know your lines…but, yeah, it was odd. But thrilling and challenging and mad. It’s a challenge to make the show anyway because it has the ambition of a film in every episode, really, with the budget of a TV show.”
Russell T Davies, when he was Doctor Who exec producer / showrunner, said he would often make changes to most scripts but never touched a word of yours?”
Steven: “I never touch a word of mine, either.”
With Richard Curtis, in particular, would you change a word of his?
Steven: “I’m not going to get into what I do with scripts, for heaven’s sake. That would be vulgar and wrong. But there’s no-one got a credit on this show for writing it, that didn’t write it. My role is making sure that every script is good and none of the writers are cross with me. We’re all very good friends. Now and then I might take a pass at some element of a script or I might suggest some plot or whatever. But the writer is fully involved at all times. No-one is upset, I promise you – you can ask them. That’s the job. It’s totally collaborative.”
What feedback have you had from the fans so far and have you had any unusual requests?
Matt: “It’s been very positive, actually. It’s been brilliant and supportive.”
Karen: “Lots of lovely letters from people. Weird requests.”
Matt: “There’s one mad, in inverted commas, fan who sometimes comes who compares me to a hedgehog a lot, which is puzzling. But, yeah, I’ve started having bizarre requests, whatever they may be. But everyone’s been very kind, really, and very generous. It seems like quite a generous world to get into, I think.”
Did you feel extra pressure writing the script for this opening episode?
Steven: “Yeah, that was quite a highly pressured script to write. Not so much the new era of Doctor Who as the new Doctor and the new companion. I had to find a way to make that work because it’s an entirely new cast. Any of those things that you call challenges are also rather good fun, to be honest. You become a writer because of those sort of things, don’t you? And you can’t be intimidated or worried by it. It’s hard work. That’s a hard working script. There’s a lot going on in it and you’ve got to make it fun and interesting. But, do you know, I’m not going to complain about that. Here’s a brand new Doctor, a brand new companion, a brand new TARDIS. That’s EXACTLY the job I wanted.”
What was more scary for you, Steven – watching Doctor Who as a kid or finally realising that you were the man in control?
Steven: “There is nothing scarier than watching Doctor Who as a child. Scarier than Tomb of the Cybermen or Terror of the Autons? Are you mad? No, those are truly terrifying. Look, I always say it was really scary taking on the job and doing the job. But, really, it’s just exciting. You can waste an awful lot of time being frightened and nervous of things like that. But if you do, you’ll never kiss the girl, will you? It just won’t happen. You cannot worry about things like that. It could all go to disaster but, you know, it won’t. It’ll be great.”
Have you had any conversations with your predecessors and, if not, is there anything you’d like to pick their brains on?
Matt: “I got a text off Billie (Piper) actually this evening, saying, ‘Good luck.'”
Steven: “You realise she’s not your predecessor.” (laughter)
Matt: “And yeah, I have with Mr Tennant as well, who is just a glorious man. I couldn’t have wished to inherit the role off someone more gracious and giving and kind. He was absolutely lovely. I’m full of respect of admiration for them both…I’ve never met Chris (Eccleston).”
Karen: “I haven’t spoken to any of the previous companions. Well, I’ve met Catherine Tate because I worked on an episode of Doctor Who before called the Fires Of Pompei. But obviously I wasn’t the companion then. But I would like to talk to Freema Agyeman because I think we sort of share a similar story, where she’s kind of come from, well, obscurity into the role. So that would be nice.”
Filming of this series ends of Saturday. What are your plans for the next few months?
Matt: “We have a wrap party, of course, at a top secret location. And for the future…gosh, it’s a day by day thing, that, really. There is no game plan but to try and do the most creative and challenging work that comes my way, really, that takes me into a breadth of different roles. Making more Doctor Who is, obviously, the immediate engagement.”
What did David Tennant actually advise you?
Matt: “Well, I think I’ll keep that, if you don’t mind, between me and David because I wouldn’t want to disclose a private conversation. But I will say that he was very gracious and very encouraging and has always said if I ever feel like phoning him, then he’ll pick it up and talk to me. And I couldn’t have asked for more than that.”
Steven has spoken of how he was originally looking to cast and older man and then you came in with this mix of old and young? Is that how you see yourself?
Matt: “As old? I don’t mind that, I take it as a compliment. Hopefully I’ve got a young face. I don’t know really, how do we see ourselves? It’s interesting. That’s written about me or described from someone else.”
Karen: “Your vocabulary is quite old. You sound like an old man.” (laughter)
Matt: (smiling) “Look, stop, it’s flattering, really. Well, thank you. I take it as a compliment, essentially.”
Do you worry that this iconic role might define your career and it might be hard for people to forget about you as the Doctor when you eventually move on?
Matt: “No, not one bit. Look at David and Chris. They both do extraordinary work either side…I think, if anything, it sets up the opportunity to do more varied work. So, no, I don’t.”
Do you actually believe in aliens yourself?
Karen: “Yeah, I do.”
Did you have any say in what your Doctor gets to wear? Is he part-librarian, part-member of JLS?
Matt: (laughing) “JLS?”
Steven: “A popular beat combo.”
Matt: “The day you see JLS in a tweed jacket, I will eat my hat. Yes I did, I have a very active role in it and we went through various stages of development with that. I’m very pleased with that. It feels like part of my identity and it has to feel like part of your body…but what I will say about the costume is, I think this particular Doctor’s costume will constantly evolve. And I think it will be varied.”