Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

“HALF way out of the dark…”

The BFI Southbank in London tonight for a preview screening of the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas Special – A Christmas Carol.

Followed by a Q&A – chaired by journalist Caitlin Moran – with Matt Smith, who plays the 11th Doctor, Katherine Jenkins, who guest stars as Abigail Pettigrew, plus lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat.

Which was later thrown open to the audience, including a fishy question from Karen Gillan (Amy Pond) in the stalls.

First the hour-long festive special.

If you’re avoiding ALL spoilers, then best go elsewhere.

It’s a totally bonkers episode but probably a perfect fit for 6pm Christmas Day on BBC1.

As many fans will already know, this adventure is set on Christmas Eve and features newlyweds Amy and Rory (Arthur Darvill) on a stricken space liner heading for disaster.

With mayhem up on the Star Trek-style flight deck, Amy emerges from the Honeymoon Suite dressed in the police uniform from her very first episode.

And Rory is back in his Roman centurion outfit.

A nice opening visual joke from Mr Moffat, who was placed in seat K9 for the screening.

He weaves Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol into this tale from a strange yet still familiar world.

High above, the Galaxy class ship is plummeting through banks of thick icy fog towards the surface of the planet.

Only rich and bitter old miser Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) can save the lives of the 4003 people on board.

He controls the skies, despises Christmas and doesn’t care if they all die.

Kazran already keeps some residents of Sardicktown frozen in ice, including Abigail.

And appears to have lost every shred of goodness that might ever have been in his heart.

Which is when the Doctor, covered in soot, comes tumbling down the chimney.

Can he bring this old man out of the dark and into the light?

Older viewers may have to stay off the Christmas sherry to keep track of all the details in this hour.

Matt Smith, Katherine Jenkins, Caitlin Moran and Steven Moffat tonight

Including sharks out of water, a nod to Jaws and the Doctor’s trips to the 1950s to hang with Frank Sinatra and The Rat Pack.

Not to mention Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein and Santa.

All contrasting with the bleak midwinter under the dark skies of Sardicktown.

We also get more information about the Doctor and girls.

A younger Kazran asks him: “When girls are crying, are you supposed to talk to them?”

To which the Doctor replies: “I’ve absolutely no idea.”

There are crackers, a kiss (not involving the Doctor) and photographic evidence of trips around the globe.

We also hear Katherine Jenkins – making her acting debut – sing a new Christmas carol, among other vocal performances.

The screening was followed by a trailer for the 2011 series, which included Nazis, The Oval Office, a spaceman, various monsters, the Doctor in a Stetson and River Song in cowgirl mode.

Plus a line from the Doctor: “The one thing I can tell you – monsters are real.”

Edited highlights of the Q&A

Warning – The below contains spoilers. So if you are avoiding, read after you’ve seen the episode:

Caitlin: “That was very emotional. I don’t think I was the only person who was crying in the audience. Karen Gillan was crying…you dampened a tissue there. So it’s very sad. But also completely barking. That is the most nuts episode I’ve seen yet.”

Was there a point where you were just going, ‘Christmas shark, yes? Christmas shark, no? Christmas shark yes.’

Steven Moffat: “Well, the base line of Doctor Who is a man who lives in a telephone box and saves the universe in a bow tie. So you have to go some to up that. And if you’re going to do a Christmas Day episode, which is basically the principle that the audience have had a selection box for breakfast and are probably drunk, then you actually have to sort of move it on a bit. Because, actually, a normal episode of Doctor Who wouldn’t be enough at that point.”

Do you think the circumstances that you wrote it contributed to it being quite so nuts?

Steven Moffat: “No, I was in LA, which is the dullest, dullest place in the world. It’s the opposite of nuts. It’s completely boring – I hate LA. I just made it cold (with air-con) and played lots of Christmas music – I think you can probably tell. I love Christmas specials. Not only because they’re Christmassy but because they’re special and particular to Christmas and shouldn’t really be watched at any other time. It should be on that day when you’re prepared to believe in any amount of magic. Which does, of course, as I say, up the ante for Doctor Who. Because it’s already insane, so what do you do on Christmas Day.”

Do you think Christmas specials have to be sad and funny at the same time?

Steven Moffat: “I don’t know. I think you have to be emotional. I think you have to go on the whole journey, don’t you? You have to laugh and cry a bit. A Christmas Carol, oddly enough, the original, is sort of the whole package. It’s A Wonderful Life, which is kind of in a way a variant of A Christmas Carol, is the same. Yes, I think you should be…as I say, you’re full of sugar and alcohol, you’re going to be tripped off into any place at any time.”

Kazran, the Doctor and young Kazran (Laurence Belcher)

So aside from being nuts, it’s also a love story, which is where Katherine comes in. You were so nervous about watching this tonight?

Katherine Jenkins: “Gosh, I watched that and my heart, I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. It was the most – apart from turning up on the first day, which was pretty nerve-wracking – just watching it now was amazing, but very, very frightening all in one.”

(Matt then called for a round of applause from the audience)

In your career, you’ve done quite a lot of nerve-wracking things. You’ve sung in front of the Pope, you’ve opened the Rugby World Cup, you’ve sung at the Nobel Peace Prize concert, which I didn’t even know existed. Is that the most nerve-wracking thing that you’ve done?

Katherine Jenkins: “By far the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve done. The first day that I was filming for Doctor Who, we did a night shoot. And I’m normally the chattiest person going but you know I’m nervous when I cannot speak. And I spent the entire day so, so quiet. But I shouldn’t have worried, really, because everyone in the Doctor Who family, they just made me feel so welcome. I have to thank Matt. Because from the moment I walked on set, they just made me feel like it was something I could do. So I couldn’t have done it without them. Thank you.”

Matt Smith: “I have to say all I was struck by was…it never seemed for a moment that you hadn’t acted before. You were completely well prepared. Because on the one hand, you’ve got Katherine being very diligent and accessing real emotion and really getting in there. Then me and Michael (Gambon) just sort of dossing down. And so I was utterly impressed and she was thoroughly prepared and I’m convinced that she’ll go on and do other parts.”

Steven Moffat: “Forget that Nobel Peace Prize thing. You could be a bit-part actress. Get a bit in Casualty or something? You could be an injured person.” (laughter)

Katherine: “I’d love that.” (laughing)

Steven: “Do you know, you could probably bag it.”

What was it like when you found out you got the role?

Katherine Jenkins: “Well, I had been to read the part the day before my 30th birthday. So I had been in to see everyone but was told I couldn’t tell anyone. I signed the confidentiality agreement. Had then gone to spend my 30th with my family and got the call on the day of my 30th to tell me I had the part, but I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. So it was like the best present but so hard not to say anything. And I thought that I had to keep it a secret right up until Christmas Day and just put the telly on and say, ‘Mum…’ But in fact, as soon as we started filming they put a press release out and I could let it all slip.”

Could you cry for real?

“They put a little bit of balm to start you going. But I’m actually a real cry baby anyway. So once I got into it, I quite enjoyed having a good old cry. And I cried a lot.”

An amazing year for you, Matt? This time last year you were about to sit down and watch the Christmas Day Doctor Who like everybody else. What was your last Christmas Day like?

Matt Smith: “I watched it with my mum and dad, my sister and that and I was just sort of going, ‘Oh dear Lord, I’m going to turn into Doctor Who.’ It was quite an odd experience…it was exciting, though. But I have to say, I’ve always really wanted to do a Christmas special. It’s always been something that I wanted…a Doctor Who Christmas special is wonderful. It’s been wonderful.”

Were you thinking about your own Christmas special last Christmas?

Matt Smith: “No, I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. I was just thinking, ‘Please don’t hate me.’ It’s one scene at a time, really, with Doctor Who. One day at a time, always.”

Does it ruin Christmas Day that Doctor Who is the big show. Are you nervous?

Steven Moffat: “Thinking of you (Matt) watching it last year is brilliant, though, because there’s this huge tragedy of the Doctor and his ultimate fate is to turn into you.” (laughter)

What has been the most surreal point of this year? Because you’re instantly famous?

Matt Smith: “I don’t know that you’re instantly famous. But you’re immediately more recognisable and that represents a transition in your life, definitely. But it’s only as drastic as you make it, I think. You can still go about all the things you do quite happily, I think. You’ve just got to wear more hoods.”

How do kids react when they see you?

Matt Smith: “I guess that’s actually the true virtue of being the Doctor and of this part. It’s nothing to do with me, it’s a part. That’s where the heartbeat is, I think. So therefore you meet children…it’s just cool. They’re just fun and honest and really frank and articulate about it. And they see it quite astutely, actually. There’s no fluff and they have no concept of anything else. It’s nothing to do with fame or celebrity or anything like that. The only inter-action is them and the Doctor because that’s where they look at it from. So it’s cool.”

Presumably it means you have to behave quite well in public. You can’t now go out and fall over and get drunk or shout and swear?

Matt Smith: “Because everyone immediately assumes that that’s how I live! ‘Hi mum, I’m just going to shout and swear.’ Hey, look, with great responsibility comes great power.’ What can I say? (laughter) Hey, I’m on set most of the time anyway.”

Working with Sir Michael Gambon. He has a lot of stories to tell?

Matt Smith: “He’s worked with them all.”

Katherine Jenkins: “We harrassed him. At every opportunity we’d sidle up and say, ‘Tell us more stories.’ He had the best stories. He’s a bit naughty as well. He’s very cheeky.”

Matt Smith: “Tell us more stories about really famous people. Cool famous people, like old school. It was really interesting. I asked him about Laurence Olivier…and Gielgud and all that. Because I was just puzzled. Everyone bangs on about Olivier and I never saw him. I would go, ‘But why was he so good? Why?’ And Michael Gambon said that the one commonality that they all was that they were all really naughty. Isn’t that interesting? He was wonderful. And then he just switches it on. It was an education.”

Steven Moffat (and friend)

Did you visit the set?

Steven Moffat: “I never turned up on the set one single time. I kept meaning to. I never quite got there. I was busy writing other stuff. I do turn up now and then. Not very often. And I’m completely redundant when I do. I just stand there. I do. I think it’s great. They have biscuits and people fetch me tea. If I spent every day like that, nothing would ever get written.”

In this episode you particularly realise how rubbish the Doctor is with girls and just how nervous he is around them. Or is he pretending?

Steven Moffat: “I think all men are, actually, secretly, properly rubbish with girls. And the Doctor…there is no pause button with the Doctor. He just says it. ‘I’m really terrified, oh I’m shy, oh my goodness, you’re smiling at me, what do I do now?’ And he’s got this young body but he’s actually 900 years old. It’s been a while, frankly. It’s been an epic amount of time. Civilisations have risen and fallen since the last time he did anything interesting. So it’s hard work for him. But because his particular notion of cool, or charisma, doesn’t involve pretending or putting anything on, he just likes to, ‘Oh you’re pretty, that’s brilliant…’ He’s not cool in that way.”

Matt Smith: “No, I don’t think he is very good with girls. I think it’s ‘funner’ if he’s not, as well, to be honest. But then…he ‘married’ Marilyn Monroe, you know. (laughter) He does all right in his spare time. It’s just, you don’t want to see adventures about the Doctor with girls. I think it’s interesting the fact he finds human relationships…I think that’s the muddle that he can’t quite understand. Marriage? Marriage? It’s those things. It’s seeing people fall in love with one person forever, because he constantly moves.”

Katherine Jenkins as Abigail Pettigrew

What would you get the Doctor for Christmas, after 900 Christmases?

Matt Smith: “I don’t know. Maybe a pet. An owl or something. (Told he can’t have an owl because of Harry Potter he continued) An otter…Oswald the otter.”

Steven Moffat: “He’s got a Tardis! He’s got all of time and space. You really don’t have to give him anything. He just larks about. He’s got the ideal life. He’s got it sorted. He’s got a space-time machine. He would like a hat. He’s not getting one.”

Focus this year on bow-ties and the fez, with Stetson next year. Anything Matt can’t go out in?

Matt Smith: “I guess tweed and bow ties. But it’s a small price to pay.”

Has anyone yet come up to you, Katherine, and gone, ‘You’re the girl off Doctor Who?’

Katherine Jenkins: “No, I haven’t had that yet. It’s actually been an experience understanding and meeting all the Doctor Who fans. I’ve never had it where I’ve turned up to so many different things and already being asked questions about it. It’s been brilliant.”

Any historical periods you’ve not done yet that you’d like to have a go at?

Steven Moffat: “No. I haven’t really thought about it. I’ve got some notions, but I wouldn’t give them away, would I? I don’t really think of it that way. I just try and think of a really cool monster and some explosions and running, and then maybe some pillars. I’ve got one in my head right now but I’m not going to tell you what it is. Sorry.”

Matt Smith: “I’d quite like to go and see the dinosaurs. It would be really, really expensive. That would be cool. I’d like to go under the sea, that would be fun.”


*Matt also revealed that he sang “a bit of bass” on set. Katherine said: “He’s got a good voice, let me tell you. If it all goes wrong, I think there’s a singing career for you somewhere.”

*The shark was codenamed “Clive” on set to keep it a secret.

*Steven said he has an even bigger idea for next Christmas. But would give no details.

Katherine said her screen kiss was “the most stressful part” of the filming.


The Q&A was then thrown open to the audience, made up of a mixture of adults and children:

How does Matt feel being such a gay icon? “And I love your sexy (green) socks.”

Matt Smith: “Flattery will get you everywhere. Suddenly it’s become awkward, hasn’t it?’ (laughter) “I’ve got a cool story about my socks, actually. They go all the way up. I’m at the National Theatre and I’m doing a play and Michael Gambon is doing Falstaff in Henry V. So he’s there and he would drink tea in his breaks. So I used to think, ‘He’s mightily relaxed if he’s playing Falstaff.’ But every day he would have the most brightly coloured socks. And he is the reason I wear brightly coloured socks. And I told him that at the readthrough. So, in a roundabout way, that was interesting.” (laughter)

The new Christmas carol? Is that going to be released and who wrote it?

Steven Moffat: “Murray Gold wrote it and I don’t think we’ve got any current plans. Unless we do. In which case…”

Katherine Jenkins: (looking towards her record company representative in the audience) “Is it now going to be available to download? I’m looking at the record company…I think it will be available to download, yeah.”

Christmas number one?

Katherine Jenkins: “Oh gosh, no.”

Matt – what was your most embarrassing moment?

“It’s quite a strange thing when you watch yourself, particularly in a room full of people. A lot of moments become embarrassing because…a face like mine on camera can look really odd, sometimes. So you’re kind of squirming a bit. But I haven’t really got a very interesting answer, I’m afraid. Maybe I’m just too vain, I don’t have an embarrassing moment. I really do, actually, I’ve gone red now. This is an embarrassing moment.”

Not often do you get to hear an audience reaction?

Matt Smith: “That’s great. It’s a close as you get to a theatrical experience, being on film, which I like. You can never ask for the laugh. You see yourself trying to be funny. And I know the moments where I haven’t tried to be funny at all and it’s funny. That’s the great dilemma of being funny. But I thought you were a very good house.”

Steven – what line was your favourite?

Steven Moffat: “Oh, probably the one about stay off the naughty list – when he says here’s me and Santa and Albert Einstein and Frank Sinatra. I loved that idea. That not only does he hang out with Santa Claus and Frank Sinatra, he carries a photograph to prove it. I’m pretty sure when Santa Claus meets people and they don’t believe in the Doctor, he says, ‘Aha, yeah, actually he is real.’ No, it’s not very cool, is it? I think that’s probably my favourite I love right now. And the whole idea of him coming down the chimney. I liked that idea.”

What were your favourite moments?

Matt Smith: “Gambon throughout the whole thing, frankly. He has this wonderful ability to look like a little boy, doesn’t he?”

Katherine Jenkins: “I loved the whole opening. I felt like I laughed out loud for the first part of the show. It was brilliant. So anything from there.”

Matt – what was the most exciting part in the film?

Matt Smith: “I really loved the sleigh ride. I think that’s rather brilliant. And I like it when it starts to snow and the music comes up. That’s rather brilliant. And I loved the first CGI shot of the town…and I just want to give a shout out to Toby Haynes, the director…”

A playful Karen Gillan then stood up to ask a question from her seat in the stalls: “Steven, you seem to really like fish because in episode one, I can’t help but notice that little Amelia got a fish for Christmas. So do you have an obsession with fish. And what was your inspiration for putting them into this episode? And Matt and Katherine, what are your favourite fishes?” (laughter)

Steven Moffat: “I don’t even really like fish, to be honest. I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll be horribly honest, I think it’s a funny word – ‘fish’. You can make any sentence more funny if you just put ‘fish’ in it. That’s why, I think.”

Matt Smith: “I quite like Great White Sharks.”

Katherine Jenkins: “I go for little Nemo.”

Karen: (shouting) “I like Blowfish.”

Does the (sonic) screwdriver do actually all the things it does in the movie?

Matt Smith: “Yes! Every single thing. Apart from wood. It doesn’t work on wood. Good question and well asked.”

Steven Moffat: “Most importantly, there are three screwdrivers on constant standby at the side of the set because Matt keeps breaking them.”

Matt Smith: “It’s true.”

*Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol is on BBC1 at 6pm on Christmas Day.

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