… Actors Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill chat about their roles in the new series of Doctor Who, while Lead Writer and Executive Producer Steven Moffat spills a few beans too. The Fez is out for the new Who, warns Matt Smith.
Doctor Who returns to UK screens later this month for a seven-episode run which opens with a two-parter set in the USA and penned by “Who supremo” Steven Moffat.
In the opening two episodes, co-produced with BBC America, key scenes have been filmed in Utah for a story set in the late Sixties in which the Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves on a secret summons that takes them on an adventure from the desert in Utah – right to the Oval Office itself. The new series follows on from the Doctor Who Christmas Special which featured guest stars Katherine Jenkins and Michael Gambon, and has been split into two blocks, with the second block to be shown in autumn 2011. By splitting the series Moffat plans to give viewers one of the most exciting Doctor Who cliff-hangers and plot twists ever, leaving them waiting, on the edge of their seats, until the autumn to find out what happens.
Matt Smith inhabited the role of the Doctor last year and instantly won a legion of fans with his kooky take on the iconic character. Here he reveals what lies in store for the Doctor and his fellow TARDIS travellers in 2011, and why the Fez is no longer his favourite hat.
“I think The Silence are one of the greatest monsters of recent years and certainly one of the scariest,” reveals Matt Smith. “They’re also very clever and I love the fact they’ve been silently working since the dawn of time to make The Doctor come unstuck.”
Matt is talking about the new breed of monster which viewers will be introduced to in the opening two episodes of the series. He is remaining tight-lipped about what viewers can expect but he does offer some insights into the story arc for this series. “Steven [Moffat, writer] has a grand plan and some of the seeds he planted in the last series start coming to fruition and affecting the characters in drastic ways,” explains Matt. “Every character is faced with the most seismic and high-stakes choices we’ve seen so far.”
Opening the new series is a special two-part story penned by Steven Moffat and set in America, marking the first time in its history that an episode of Doctor Who has been filmed there. The cast spent three days in the desert in Utah but that didn’t stop hardcore Doctor Who fans from tracking them down. “It was very strange,” laughs Matt. “We were in the middle of the desert and suddenly there was a lady with a campervan and deck chair, holding an iPad up with a moving screen which read ‘autograph please!’. I mean how on earth she knew we were in the middle of the desert I have no idea, but it certainly proved her dedication to the show!
“The landscape was incredible,” continues Matt, “and I think being in America, filming in that terrain, has definitely added a sense of scale and a filmic quality to this series of Doctor Who. It was an amazing experience and a brilliant laugh. I have to confess that I think the Stetson has been my favourite hat for the Doctor so far, 100 per cent. Viewers may well see more of the Stetson later in the series but I couldn’t possibly reveal when…”
Alex Kingston joined Matt, Karen and Arthur in Utah to reprise her role as River Song and Matt admits it was great to have her back. “I’m very fond of Alex and I simply love the part of River Song because it makes the Doctor come unstuck; she’s the one person in the world who knows more than him. I think Steven has written some really revelatory stuff about the character and she’s extremely important to this series,” teases Matt.
“We’ve also been incredibly lucky to welcome a number of fantastic guest stars including Hugh Bonneville, Suranne Jones and Lily Cole. James Corden also returns later in the series,” reveals Matt. “I’ve admired so many people who have been involved and all of them have brought a touch of quality.”
Matt also has high praise for his fellow co stars, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. “I think with Rory, Arthur has perfectly judged the humour and he’s got some fantastic storylines with Karen. I do think that Amy and Rory now being married has changed the dynamic in the TARDIS and in many ways it’s the Doctor who is perhaps the odd one out,” explains Matt. “However, Karen and Arthur are hilarious and together we are always mucking around between takes and telling silly jokes to annoy each other!”
Matt also reveals that his clumsy reputation is still fully justified! “I was chatting away to someone the other day on set and I had my hand on a lamp stand. Little did I know that as I was leaning it was actually turning and suddenly it came crashing down on my head!”
Perhaps it was lucky for the rest of the cast then that Matt wasn’t tasked with any sword fighting in episode three which is set on a pirate ship: “It was 4am and we had four huge rain machines making us soaking wet but we all loved it. Karen had to do the sword fighting though,” chuckles Matt, “I just had to walk round and act clever in the background!”
Karen Gillan burst onto TV screens last year as feisty companion, Amy Pond, and immediately secured her place in Doctor Who broadcasting history which has been an integral part of British culture since the Sixties. Returning for her second series aboard the TARDIS, Karen reveals what lies in store for Amy, the naughty tricks her co-stars play on her and why she has a newfound passion for fencing.
“There were clues planted in the last series that are going to become major storylines in this one,” divulges a conspiratorial Karen Gillan; a revelation which is bound to have all “Whovians” avidly watching Series Five to spot what the Inverness-born actress is referring to.
“There’s a really interesting arc in this series that involves all of the major characters and it’s evident from the first episode that everyone on the TARDIS is withholding secrets from one another,” continues Karen. “It makes for a fascinating dynamic between the characters and it’s incredibly important to the overall series.”
Karen also believes that Amy has more respect for her new husband Rory after his recent adventures. “I think Rory has perhaps developed the most out of all the characters,” explains Karen. “By the end of last series he became a Roman Centurion hero and he had changed a lot; it felt like he had earned his place in the TARDIS. In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine the TARDIS without him now!”
But has married life changed Amy Pond? Karen quickly sweeps that concern out of the way exclaiming: “if anything she is even more Amy Pondish! I don’t think it would work for Amy to completely change now that she’s a married woman and I certainly don’t think she should become a subdued version of herself. However, I do think being married has helped to define the Doctor and Amy’s relationship and I can reveal that something takes place this series which makes Amy see Rory in a new light…” teases the actress.
While the majority of filming for Doctor Who usually takes place in Cardiff, the cast found themselves in the middle of the desert in Utah last November to film scenes for the opening two-parter. “The new series starts with a real bang,” exclaims Karen. “Filming in Utah was so much fun and I spent a lot of time running around the desert; the scenery was amazing and simply wouldn’t have looked the same if we had filmed it in Cardiff against a green screen. The desert backdrop really gives the opening two episodes an epic feel.”
However, it wasn’t all fun for the actors as temperatures plunged below freezing at night and then they had to battle searing temperatures during the day. “We were all ‘thermaled’ up and I had on two pairs of trousers and four tops! Then the sun would come up making it blistering hot and we’d all peel off the layers,” laughs Karen.
But despite the elements, Karen enjoyed being reunited with Alex Kingston who plays enigma River Song. “Alex is so much fun to have around,” reveals Karen. “She makes the TARDIS team feel complete.”
But the question on viewers’ lips is: “will we find out who River Song actually is?”
“The ending of this first set of episodes has been hidden from everyone!” laughs Karen. “Even I got given a dummy ending to episode seven and it was only at the read-through that Steven Moffat took me, Matt and Arthur into the corridor to read the proper version on his laptop. We then all paced around going, ‘oh my God!’. It’s brilliant and viewers will just have to tune in to find out more. It certainly provides a fantastic cliff-hanger to see us through until the autumn.”
Karen also reveals that this series is set to be the scariest yet with the debut of a number of new monsters. “Ooh, in particular I think The Silence, which are the new monsters in the opening two episodes, actually rival the Weeping Angels in terms of scariness and they look disgusting!” says Karen, screwing up her face in revulsion. “The concept behind them is ingenious because it feels like they are undefeatable, and this series also sees the return of some of the Doctor’s oldest foes, but with an interesting twist…”
A new series of Doctor Who wouldn’t be complete without a number of well known guest stars; Hugh Bonneville, Lily Cole, Suranne Jones and Marshall Lancaster are all billed in upcoming episodes.
“The great thing about this show is that it attracts big names and everyone who comes on set is so excited to be part of the Doctor Who experience,” explains Karen. “These actors could all be off doing other things but they choose to come on the show because they are either fans or their kids are, so it makes the whole experience enjoyable. For me, it’s also a wonderful experience to watch these people at work – it’s like an acting masterclass every episode.”
With each story set at different points in time and occasionally on alien planets, Amy Pond has certainly experienced a lot in her relatively short time on the TARDIS. But for Karen the episode that really stands out for her this series features Hugh Bonneville as a Pirate Captain in the 1600s. “I had a brilliant time filming this episode,” reveals Karen. “Swinging across a pirate ship was a particular highlight and I loved doing the sword fight. I’d never done anything like that before so I literally picked up the sword and started learning moves with a stunt guy – in fact I loved it so much that I actually want to take it up as a hobby! Luckily I caused no major injuries on set, although I did collide with Arthur at one point but that was his fault.”
It is clear that Karen has become firm friends with her co stars Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill and their chemistry certainly translates on screen. “We genuinely mess around all day,” confesses Karen, “but I think that works because as a viewer I’d like to see the Doctor, Amy and Rory having fun. Of course we are serious when we need to be, but in general we clown around between takes and I think that helps to create chemistry on screen.
“Matt has also taken to hiding in my trailer and I’ll go in, humming to myself, and then he’ll just jump out at me and shout”, giggles Karen. “The first time he did it was hilarious because he scared me so much that I fell backwards against the wall and slid down it! He also has an annoying habit of filming me when I fall asleep, while in make-up in the mornings, and it’s a hideous sight – I’m not going to lie!” continues Karen. “Arthur eggs him on and the pair of them gang up but don’t worry, I give as good as I get. Although it’s brilliant when Alex Kingston is around because she knows how to handle them!”
So with two mischievous lads and a number of monsters to deal with, both Karen and Amy Pond have a lot to contend with, but where would Karen go if she had sole control of the TARDIS? “The tundra,” she says, “no reason why! Just go with it!”
Arthur Darvill won over Doctor Who fans last year playing Amy Pond’s devoted boyfriend, Rory Williams. The pair are now enjoying life as newlyweds aboard the TARDIS and returning for his second series, Arthur reveals how his character has grown, what being married to the feisty companion is really like and how filming on a pirate ship made his childhood dreams come true.
Out of all the characters, Rory has perhaps been on the biggest journey since stepping into the TARDIS. “Last series I think Rory felt like he was on the outside looking into this world he was desperately trying to save Amy from,” admits Arthur. “But he’s very much inside that world now and married life has stopped him feeling so unworthy. He feels that he’s proved himself.”
Arthur believes that Rory’s new-found confidence is all down to his exciting travels with the Doctor and Amy. “His sense of adventure has awoken,” reveals Arthur. “But he hasn’t become arrogant in any way, he’s just more comfortable.”
However, his new self belief hasn’t helped him shake the nickname “Mr Pond”. “I think Amy will always wear the trousers in the relationship. As much as Rory has proved himself, it’s Amy after all, and I dare any man to be in charge of that relationship. She’s a firecracker,” laughs Arthur.
It’s obvious that three isn’t a crowd when it comes to life in the TARDIS, but how does Arthur find working with Matt and Karen? “They’re brilliant, it’s lucky we all get on so well. The most fun I have is when all three of us are together; it’s a really good working relationship. It helps that we all came on board together because we’re growing as a unit and keeping each other on our toes.”
Doctor Who is known for its fantastic guest stars and the new series is no exception, featuring the likes of Hugh Bonneville as a Pirate Captain and David Walliams as a mole-like alien. Alex Kingston also makes a welcome return for Arthur, “Alex is back, which makes the team feel complete. She’s just a dream to work with and is hilarious on set.” But Arthur isn’t daunted at the prospect of working with such household names. “Funnily enough I get more nervous meeting writers than actors,” he recalls, “even more so with Neil Gaiman as he’s just brilliant.”
This year, the cast swapped Cardiff for Utah in the USA to film the epic opening two-parter set in the Sixties. “Filming in America was amazing, especially going to an area of America which I’ve seen in so many movies,” says Arthur.
Asked what his highlight of the series has been, Arthur excitedly reveals that it was filming on board a pirate ship for the third episode. “Going on a pirate ship was unbelievable; it felt like we were on a movie set.” But it wasn’t pirates that Arthur was worried about; instead it was clumsy Karen Gillan let loose with a sharp weapon. “Karen got to do a massive sword fight and I thought she was going to be a liability. Someone was going to have their eye out at the very least! But she was actually pretty good, I think she’d been practising secretly,” confides Arthur.
It appears Amy’s swashbuckling skills could come in useful this series as Arthur hints that the monsters are scarier than ever before. “The ambition of the show has grown, there are a lot of surprises this year,” hints Arthur. “It’s not necessarily a big monster on the screen, but ideas that are presented in episodes one and two that keep building throughout the series.” One monster stands out in particular for him. “I think The Silence are really going to blow people’s socks off. They’re terrifying,” exclaims Arthur.
Rory and Amy may be settling into the routine of married life, but the honeymoon period definitely isn’t over for Arthur when it comes to the show: “Everyone cares so much about it, which is what makes coming to work such a joy every day,” he says.
Steven Moffat is Lead Writer and Executive Producer. After taking over the reins on Doctor Who last year, Steven Moffat has certainly been kept busy. He’s answered seven quick-fire questions on what to look out for when the show returns at Easter.
How has this series evolved from last year?
Well we’ve moved through the funfair a bit – we’ve done the rollercoaster, now we’re on the ghost train. Last year, in a way, was all about saying, don’t worry, it’s still him, it’s still the same show, nothing’s really been lost. Losing a leading man like David Tennant is seismic – unless you gain a leading man like Matt Smith. It’s been the biggest joy to see him stride in and just claim that TARDIS for his own. But now he’s really here, and the part is his, and the bow tie is cool, he’s ready to lead us places we didn’t know existed. Last year we reassured you – this year, to hell with that, we’re going to worry the hell out of you. How well do we really know that man, or what he’s capable of? We’re putting the “who?” back in the Doctor.
Is there a major story arc to look out for?
Oh, there’s a big story being told this year, and major mysteries from the very off. As ever, in this show, the stories all stand alone, and every episode is a perfect jumping-on point for a new viewer. But at the same time the over-arching plot will be a bigger player this year. More than hints and whispers – we’re barely 10 minutes into episode one before our heroes face a dilemma that they’ll be staring at months from now. And there will be no easy answers.
Will there be new monsters?
They’re … scary. Very scary. And, ohh, I don’t want to say more – there’s the Silence in episodes one and two, the Siren, in episode three, the Gangers in five and six, all these are more than just freaky costumes and masks; there are SCARY ideas here. And just wait till you meet Idris in episode four.
Is this series scarier than the last one?
See above. Yes, I think so. But it’s not JUST scary – it’s funny and moving and revelling in its own insanity too.
How have the characters evolved?
The big difference, I suppose, is how long the Doctor is hanging around in the lives of his companions. His normal MO is get them while they’re young, and leave them while they’re young too. He’s careful to put them back where he found them, before he screws up their lives. But here he is, married couple on board – and much as he loves them both, he does wonder if it isn’t time he got out of the way; before something really BAD happens.
Did you always plan for Amy and Rory to get married?
Oh, always. Married couple on the TARDIS, that was the plan from the off.
What can you tell us about the cliff-hanger at the end of episode seven?
Normally our cliff-hangers are lives being threatened; with this one, three live are changed FOREVER.