With only three specials left before David Tennant’s iconic Doctor Who regenerates into the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, Tennant met with TV critics at the Langham Hotel in Los Angeles to speak about his departure from the role he loves dearly … and his future.
The pictures here are from the first of those three specials The Waters of Mars. This is due for transmission in the UK on Sunday November 15 2009 and here in US on Saturday December 19, 2009.
What is the tone of the Doctor Who specials?
I think Planet of the Dead that has been screened was probably the last hurrah for the tenth doctor. He was in mortal danger, but he was loving it. From The Waters of Mars and heading into that final story, the sword of Damocles is dangling and that informs everything that goes on. Whereas The Waters of Mars takes place in a very small location in Doctor Who terms, the final story is epic, almost like a fairytale.
Why walk away from the show now when it’s so big?
I think sometimes you have to take a deep breath and make a difficult decision, and I like the fact that I stand a chance of leaving an audience and myself wanting more rather than people asking when I’m leaving. I never had a stepping-off point, but when Russell (T. Davies, Executive Producer and writer) and Julie (Gardner, Executive Producer) were moving on, it seemed like the obvious time. It seemed like a natural end for all of us.
I know you went to Comic-Con down in San Diego, what was that experience like?
It was great fun. It was such an extraordinary experience. I wanted to crowd dive, but they were all sitting down. It was a bit disappointing for me. I figured that was probably the only opportunity in my life I’m going to get to do it.
At Comic-Con you famously kiss John Barrowman good-bye.
The moment was right. It just felt appropriate at the time and you know you’ll get a headline in The Sun back home as soon as you do that. So it was worth it just for that.
Can you talk about playing Hamlet recently?
Hamlet was always something I fantasized about. It felt like something to work toward, and I suppose in more extravagant fantasies, I imagined doing it with the Royal Shakespeare Company. It never felt like something that I would actually achieve, so it felt like a hugely exciting thing to be a part of.
With something like the Doctor, you’re kind of expected to create him afresh. I suppose there are similar challenges in playing Hamlet in that you’re trying to leave history behind you and find your own way through it and trying to make it relevant and contemporary. Because Hamlet is 400 years old, and unless it’s speaking to a modern audience, it should be in a museum rather than on the stage. We set out to rediscover the play for 2009.
Here in America you’re the new host for Masterpiece Theatre. Have you ever hosted anything before? Do you consider that it’s like playing another role or are you just being yourself?
It is a bit tricky. The closest thing I did to this is we have a thing called Comic Relief in Britain, and I presented an hour of that with Davina McCall, who is a very famous host in Britain. I basically stood behind her and let her do the hard stuff, and I just waved at the camera now and again. It’s odd.
It’s representing a version of yourself, I suppose. It’s possibly more difficult to be a truthful version of yourself than it is to be a truthful version of a fictional character. I will leave that up to you to judge how successful it is. I enjoyed myself.
What’s next for you?
Long term, I don’t really know. I’ve just done the television version of Hamlet which is broadcasting soon. And I’m doing a film called St. Trinians 2 at the moment. But I don’t know after that.
Knowing it’s the end for you as Doctor Who, is it bittersweet?
It’s so many things, actually. It’s very exciting, but it’s also very sad. It’s thrilling to be handing over the show in such good health. And that we’re all leaving together, we’ve all had this journey together, and it feels like we’re coming to the end of something very special.
So it’s a mixture of emotions, and probably until they actually transmit, I won’t quite know how it feels. I don’t think any of us really will because we’re still clinging on in there until the shows go out.