On Saturday, November 23, 1963 a new science fiction series called Doctor Who premiered on BBC One, and 50 years later it’s still going strong. This fall Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman (the current doctor and his companion Clara Oswald) will be joined by David Tennant, Billie Piper and John Hurt to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the franchise.
Matt and Jenna came to the TV press tour to talk about their involvement in one of the most popular series in TV history. For Matt, it’s particularly emotional, as he will be leaving the role following the anniversary special.
Matt, why are you leaving?
Matt: Well, I’ve done it for four years, and we shoot nine, ten months a year. And I think the show has come to a natural tipping point, and it’s at the top of a cycle.
It’s a good time for me and for the show. But I’ve had a great time. I’ll miss it. It wasn’t an easy choice to make.
Speaking of the finale, you’ve cut your hair short.
Matt: Miracle Grow. We sprinkle it with fertilizer every morning.
Are you going to have long hair for the finale?
Matt: The coif will be there in some way, shape, or form. I think it could be quite funny to have the bald hair. I don’t know.
Steven (Moffat, the current writer/producer on the series) will come up with something clever.
Is it hard to turn over the role to someone else?
Yeah, I feel very proud to be part of such a wonderful legacy of actors. And I think, hopefully, we have the 50th coming up, and we honor the history and heritage of those who have gone before us. I think the thing about Doctor Who is that it always looks forward.
That’s the key. And the show will get bigger and better and carry on without me, and people will forget (pretending to cry).
Jenna, can you talk about your character Clara?
Jenna: She’s impossible. She can’t possibly exist. She was the one thing that the Doctor couldn’t understand and find an answer for and solve. And it kind of drove him mad.
It was just the quest to figure out how the same girl can pop up throughout time and space. And he keeps meeting the same girl, but she’s different, but she’s the same. So that was the kind of the story through last year.
Obviously, now we know that she is in fact shattered through all of time and space, and there’s potentially thousands of me running around.
Matt: God, that’s a worrying thought.
What are you favorite moments from your run as the Doctor and his companion?
Jenna: There’s a couple of key moments that I always refer back to last year. I think quite a special moment for me is the “TARDIS on the Cloud” sequence. It’s one of my favorite episodes, and there’s something quite fairytale about the whole thing, and first experiences with the Doctor.
Also, riding on a motorbike around London past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament with Doctor Who is pretty cool.
Matt: Yeah, that was brilliant. And I think in terms of the series this season, the opening of “In the Name of the Doctor,” the last episode when Clara goes and meets all the other Doctors, that’s a clever bit of telly. I know, for me, probably anything from “The Eleventh Hour,” which was my first episode.
I didn’t know what had hit me. And now I look back, and I think it’s just a really wonderful piece of writing. I just remember exactly how I felt when I made it.
Matt, if you can remember back four years ago, what was in your head the first time you stepped onto the set?
Matt: Panic. Just consistent panic and thinking, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know how to use this language. I don’t know how to control this language. I don’t know how I’m going to learn this language.’ I rang my dad and just said, ‘I’m screwed.’ But you just have to be true to your own instincts, I think, and give it a whirl.
Jenna: I’ve heard the story about your first day on the way for your regeneration scene. Apparently everybody was told to vacate the studios, and it was going to be a bit of a closed set. But Matt had walked out into a crowd full in the car park.
Matt: There’s loads of studios up in Wales. And everyone had come to watch. It was meant to be a closed set. And there was, like, 90 people there. It was ridiculous. And David (Tennant) walked out, and I walked in. It was bizarre.
Can you talk a little about your Comic Con experience? I hear that you walked around Comic Con with a Simpsons mask on so you wouldn’t be recognized.
Matt: Yeah, just to kind of go out on the floor. It was brilliant. It’s been really wonderful for us to see the progression of the show over the three years that we’ve been returning to Comic Con. And it gets bigger and bigger every year. And nowadays, Doctor Who has a real presence there.
It’s like, the closest you’ll ever get to being a rock star, I think.
What was it like working with David Tennant?
Matt: It was brilliant. He’s a fabulous Doctor, and he’s a great bloke. Great for the show. And also, Johnny Hurt. I mean, me and Dave would be climbing the walls and, just doing anything. And John just flicks his eyes, and the camera goes, ‘Yep, let’s watch John Hurt.’ I’ve never seen anything like it.