“NOT my problem.”
Doctor Who: The Snowmen finds an apathetic and reclusive Time Lord (Matt Smith) living in Victorian isolation.
On a cloud, to be precise.
Still mourning the loss of Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), he has given up on helping anyone who might need him.
“The universe doesn’t care,” he maintains.
“Those were the days,” he tells Clara, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, when they first meet outside The Rose & Crown pub.
Having forgotten that they met once before…
Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to a preview screening of the 2012 festive special, written by Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat.
The venue was studio TC8 at BBC TV Centre, the historic west London building enjoying its last Christmas before refurbishment and a BBC return in 2015.
Steven began with the usual plea not to reveal what happens, with particular scorn reserved for Twitter.
Many of you will know that he deleted his own Twitter account after being subjected to the sort of peculiar online nonsense that sadly rears its head from time to time.
You’ll certainly get only the mildest of spoilers below.
Acting BBC director general Tim Davie introduced the hour-long episode, shown on a big screen:
“This time you’re going to see a new companion, Clara, played by the wonderful Jenna-Louise Coleman, who’s brilliant in it, a new TARDIS, a new monster, a new costume and new titles and new music.”
The episode was followed by a showreel of what is to come in some of the eight new episodes next spring.
Then a post-screening Q&A involved Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman and “The Moff”.
It was chaired by Boyd Hilton who was given just 20 minutes to ask both his own questions and take others from the audience.
Quite rightly, all of the latter came from the younger age range among those packed into the studio.
An audience including The Hobbit director Peter Jackson, Culture Secretary Maria Miller and former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.
My full transcript of the Q&A is below this report – edited to remove any potential spoilers.
We have, of course, met the Doctor’s new companion before in Asylum Of The Daleks, the first episode of this seventh series screened back on September 1.
In a surprise early appearance when she was called Oswin Oswald.
Set way into the future, it saw her as the sole survivor of a crashed spaceship and eventually revealed that she was trapped inside her own prison, having been converted into a Dalek.
One member of the audience asked last night: “How did Clara get out of the Dalek?”
Steven replied: “You will know eventually – you are going to get the answer but as ever on Doctor Who, we make you wait a little bit longer.”
Her formal introduction – BBC1 5:15pm Christmas Day – comes in a story set around Christmas Eve 1892.
She’s helping out as a barmaid at the pub but also has another job as a governess.
You will already know that this story involves killer snowmen.
Plus a guest appearance from Richard E Grant as Dr Simeon, who is as chilling a villain as you could wish to meet.
There’s been plenty of pre-publicity about the Doctor kissing Clara.
Or rather the other way around.
“It’s a hard life,” joked Matt Smith last night.
“It’s quite nice to see him on the backfoot.”
Clara’s “official” Doctor Who debut reveals some serious chemistry between the two, even at this early stage in their screen partnership.
Matt reflected: “I likened it to an arranged mariage – not that I know what an arranged marriage is like. But it’s like, ‘You’re married, have chemistry!’”
To which Jenna said: “I likened it to a blind date. I felt like I was on a blind date…”
Although some grown ups might quibble about a few points here and there, it’s a magical hour which will delight a family audience on Christmas Day.
The children in the studio audience laughed in all the right places and were also suitably scared in a tale to engage young minds of all ages.
Also featuring some typically clever and self-depreceating writing from Mr Moffat, including a nod to his other current series – Sherlock.
The new TARDIS interior will be a welcome change for some.
Explained Steven: “I thought we’d been getting progressively whimsical with the interior of the TARDIS. And I started to think, ‘Well, why is that? It’s not a magical place. It’s actually a machine.’
“And actually potentially, as you’ll see more spectacularly later, quite a scary place sometimes. We make a lot of use of that.”
I think the majority of fans will like the new opening titles and version of the classic theme, just in time for next year’s 50th anniversary.
Steven was not being drawn on questions about the plans.
“They are immense, they are considerable. They will be full of tremendous surprises. But they wouldn’t be surprises if I accidentally said them now, would they?
“No, we’re not telling you. But I promise you, we’re going to take over television. Trust me.”
There was the usual question asking Matt how long he thought he’d play the Doctor for.
He replied: “For a infinity number of years…I can’t at this point see…we head into next year, into the 50th anniversary. So I’m coming back. Which is exciting.”
One of the questions of the night came from a young fan who asked: “Why does River and the Doctor have babies?”
To which Steven said: “Why don’t they? Well, who’s to say what goes on? We don’t see very chapter of the Doctor’s life.”
And another young viewer asked which companion Matt preferred between Amy and Clara?
“Both equally more than each other,” smiled the ever-diplomatic Mr Smith.
Jenna is exceptional in her new high profile role, with one scene in particular proving the perfect pairing of her acting talent and Steven’s words.
It’s always dangerous to judge something you see on a big screen with an enthsiastic preview audience.
But I reckon most will love Doctor Who: The Snowmen.
Proving yet again that there’s no business like snow business.
Q&A transcript – edited to remove spoilers – with Boyd Hilton in the chair:
Q: I thought I’d start, Matt, by saying, a lot of kissing in that episode? I haven’t seen so much kissing with a Doctor Who companion…
Matt Smith: “It’s a hard life.”
Q: Are you happy with the kissing?
Matt Smith: “Yeah. I’m great friends with Richard, so…”
Boyd Hilton: “That’s Jemma-Louise’s partner…”
Matt Smith: “I think in the episode it’s quite a fun beat. Because it’s quite nice to see him on the backfoot, you know?”
Q: And Jenna-Louise, welcome to the world of Doctor Who, first of all… (applause). Steven sneaked you brilliantly into Asylum Of The Daleks, which is one of the great coups of recent TV history, I think. Now we all know, you don’t have to keep it a secret, now you’re here as the companion officially, how does it feel?
Jenna-Louise Coleman: “There’s always secrets in Doctor Who. I have millions of secrets. I always have a secret since I started this show. It’s great. It’s wonderful. And by the way, anybody who did see Asylum Of The Daleks, it was brilliant that we could keep it a surprise. So thank you. But yes, this is the first proper introduction to Clara, as opposed to Oswin.”
Q: Steven – when you first found Jenna-Louise for the role, did you come up with a character and then you found Jenna-Louise and you thought, right, perfect. Or have you changed the character – has it evolved since she got the role?
Steven Moffat: “It always changes a lot once you’ve got the actor acting in front of you. At the beginning, in theory, and usually not very clearly, you’re telling them what the part is. But when you cast successfully, they just start telling you and you start writing what they’re bringing. It happened with Matt, it’s happened with Jenna. Until you can’t really remember what you had in mind in the first place. So, yeah, absolutely. I’m completely writing as Jenna now. I don’t mean Jenna as she is in real life. I mean Jenna, the part she plays.”
Q: In terms of the chemistry between you two (Matt and Jenna)…that chemistry, does that take a while to work on or is it just there?
Matt Smith: “I think always with this show and always with this relationship in this show, it will constantly evolve. And it should. And hopefully over the course of the next eight or nine episodes that we see subsequently to this it will evolve even further. We’re excited about next year now and getting into that and actually going, ‘Well now we know what we know about each other and the way we work and who we are and all the rest of it…’ I kind of likened it, Steven, earlier, in an interview, to an arranged marriage. Not that I know what an arranged marriage is like. But it’s like, ‘You’re married, have chemistry.’ Do you know what I mean?”
Jenna-Louise Coleman: “I likened it to a blind date. I felt like I was on a blind date…”
Matt Smith: “I’ve never been on a blind date, so…”
Jenna-Louise Coleman: “It’s like putting two people together. Like, ‘Oh I know someone you’ll really get on with.’ And then go in to save the world.’”
Matt Smith: “And we’d met. So how was it a blind date? Like we’ve met twice.”
Jenna-Louise Coleman: “Not like…OK…”
Matt Smith: “The families would have met and all that…anyway.”
Q: The Sherlock reference in this episode..?
Steven Moffat: “You can’t have a Sherlock and Doctor Who crossover just because the Doctor has always known about Sherlock Holmes as a fictional character. He can’t turn up as a real person. Also the Doctor would just be furious, because there would be somebody else cleverer and taller in the room. And that’s his job. Can you imagine it? They’d just stand there and sulk at each other.”
Q: Is there anything you can tell us about the 50th anniversary coming up? The plans?
Steven Moffat: “No.” (laughter) “They are immense, they are considerable, they will be full of tremendous surprises. But they wouldn’t be surprises if I accidentally said them now, would they? No, we’ve got big stuff coming.”
Q: I’m not asking you to give away surprises. But anything at all? Any hint about what’s going to happen?
Steven Moffat: “No, we’re not telling you. But I promise you, we’re going to take over television, trust me…”
Q: At what point do you (Matt and Jenna) get to find out what’s going to happen?
Matt Smith: (Playfully) “We have a sort of vague inkling as to what may or may not be happening…we’re the most boring people to interview, ever. This is the problem with us.”
Q: Do you (Jenna) get a talk about keeping secrets and advice on how to do all that?
Jenna-Louise Coleman: “No. It’s just in my contract.” (laughter)
Boyd then opened questions to the audience and, appropriately, in the face of a limited time period, chose those from younger members:
Q: “How do you get into a role? How do you get to understand it and become it?”
Matt Smith: “How old are you?”
Matt Smith: “Ten. What’s your name?”
Q: “Jed” (or Ged)
Matt Smith: “Jed, Ten. Good question. Well, you…”
Jenna-Louise Coleman: “I like to think around the scenes a lot. So I like to pretend…if I’ve just walked out of a door, like what I’ve been doing inside the door. And fill it out that way. I like to think around it a lot.”
Q: “So you never go out of character…?”
Jenna-Louise Coleman: “Oh yes, I do. I just like to think – say I’m coming out of the door with some glasses, I like to think what I’ve been doing inside the door with the glasses.”
Matt Smith: “You do a lot of research, you do a lot of practice on your lines and then you turn up on the day and you’re as courageous as possible. And you take a risk.”
Q: “How much say do you get for your costume and make-up?”
Matt Smith: “Well, it’s quite a collaborative experience. I just have to say, if you look at the costume on this…Howard Burden who is the new costume designer from The Asylum Of The Daleks onwards has done really marvellous work. So he brings you great fabrics and textures…”
Jenna-Louise Coleman: “He made everything from scratch and cheese-grated everything down…he was brilliant.”
Q: (Boyd Hilton): Do you like the top hat?
Matt Smith: “It’s nice, isn’t it? And that purple. I’ve been hankering for something purple for a while.”
Q: (Boyd Hilton): Did you say how you want the new TARDIS look to be, or..?
Steven Moffat: “It was mainly saying to Michael Pickwoad (production designer), ‘What would you do with the TARDIS?’ But we had a notion because I thought we’d been getting progressively whimsical with the interior of the TARDIS. And I started to think, ‘Well, why is that? It’s not a magical place, it’s actually a machine.’ So we did say ‘machine’ and actually, potentially, as you’ll see more spectacularly later, quite a scary place sometimes. We make a lot of use of that. And it’s also a lot easier to shoot, I have to say.”
Q: “How long do you think you’ll play the role of the Doctor?”
Steven Moffat: “Forever.”
Matt Smith: “For a infinity number of years. I can’t at this point see…we head into next year, into the 50th anniversary. So I’m coming back. Which is exciting. Why? Do you want to be the Doctor?”
Q: “Maybe.” (laughter)
Q: “How long does it take to film one episode?”
Matt Smith: “That one’s a bit longer, the Christmas one. So that’s about three weeks. But generally anywhere from about 12 to 14 – 14 more likely – days. And that’s about an episode on your telly. And then you go straight into the next one.”
Q: “Why does River and the Doctor have babies?” (laughter)
Matt Smith: “That’s a very good question.”
Steven Moffat: “Why don’t they? Well, who’s to say what goes on? We don’t see every chapter of the Doctor’s life. But heaven knows what they’d be like. Can you imagine those two as parents?”
Q: “How did Clara get out of the Dalek?” (laughter)
Steven Moffat: “You will know eventually. You are going to get the answer. But as ever on Doctor Who, we make you wait a little bit longer.”
Q: “Doctor, which companion do you prefer, Clara or Amy?” (laughter)
Matt Smith: “I like them both equally more than each other.”
Q: “If the TARDIS was real and you could have one trip, where would you go?”
Matt Smith: “Moff, where would you go?”
Steven Moffat: “I’m a perfectly happy man. I’d go right here. I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m having too much fun to leave. I’d be terrified. Wouldn’t you? I mean, everyone runs in there and he says, ‘I’ll show you the wonder of the universe.’ And he sets them down a tunnel and they get attacked by mutant slugs. It would be terrifying out there. I was just say, no thanks. OK? I’m probably not his type, though.”
Matt Smith: “I’d do a few things. I’d go and pick up Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. I’d try and marry one of them. Get them to sing to me. And maybe one of them could do both. And then I’d go and see England win the World Cup in ’66. And I’d go and visit some sort of Jurassic age, I think.”
Jenna-Louise Coleman: “I’d go back to ancient Egypt. I was watching a TV programme – where did the pyramids come from? I’d go find out where they came from. I’d go find out how they were built. And then other than that, maybe New York in the Twenties.”
Matt Smith: “Where would you (questioner) go?”
Q: “I’d probably want to go in the future, actually.”
Matt Smith: “Yeah. I mean, I’d do that as well…” (laughter)