With Doctor Who returning to our screens this Saturday, SFX reached for the trusty space-time telephone and buzzed the Doctor himself, Matt Smith. We're talking Ice Warriors, Neil Gaiman, the big five-o and what it's like to be a first class kind of chap...
This is a question I’ve never had a chance to ask anybody before: what’s it like being on a stamp?
It’s a great privilege that the nation will be licking the backs of our heads. It’s an amazing thing – I’m really proud to be part of it. It’s cool. it’s something that I can show my grandkids.
Would you feel a bit self-conscious, sticking it on a gas bill?
No, absolutely not. Take that, gas man! And give me some money off!
So the new series – we’ve seen the promo poster of you riding that great big bike. Are you good with bikes or was it a world of terror for you?
It was very exciting. I am innately very clumsy, and my mother has always forbidden me from getting a motorbike. I’ve driven mopeds before, abroad and stuff, without her knowing – well, now she knows. But that’s like a big old Harley looking bike, and I wouldn’t know where to begin... It was amazing filming those scenes. It was on a rig, and we got to sort of travel round London. Car rigs are different because you’re in a car, but being on a bike it’s like you’re on a sort of fairground ride. It was a really crisp, sunny day and we kept going around Waterloo Bridge and Westminster Bridge and Waterloo Bridge and Westminster Bridge and it was just one of those days where you think ‘This is a very privileged place to be for a day at work.’
You’ve got Jenna joining as Clara. What new colours does she bring out of your Doctor?
I think that essentially she allows him to complete his grieving period, as it were, over the Ponds. Not that he’ll ever forget the Ponds but she gives him his mojo back somehow, and his spirit of adventure, and allows him to go right, you’ve got to look forward. Importantly, she gives him something to be curious about, because she is this impossible girl and he doesn’t really understand how or why or what context she exists in. I think she ignites his curiosity. And with the Doctor that’s the thing that keeps him flying around.
Jenna told us you recommended some Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn films for her to watch. Do you see the relationship in that kind of screwball comedy tradition?
If you look at those movies you get a real sense of teamwork on screen, and chemistry, and so much of the show is about teamwork that leads to chemistry. I just thought it was a good point of reference, really. Yeah, I think there is a degree of that screwbally thing – we flirt, we don’t flirt, we love each other, we don’t love each other, I’m strange, you’re in control, actually I’m really in control… it flips and flops around all the time, and I think those movies really land and deliver on the double act thing, and obviously that’s where we needed to get to. It’s a strange process, the whole Doctor/companion thing. Everyone expects you to have this immediate firework chemistry but that wasn’t the case with me and Karen – you work at these things, and it’s the same with me and Jenna. You have to work at these chemistries, and the detail and the layers and everything. And that’s what we did, and it was an enjoyable process. She’s cracking.
Was there a specific moment when the two of you clicked and you found that rhythm?
You might find it twice in a day, you might find it ten times in a day, you might find it fifteen times in a day, you might find it once in a day. It’s the nature of making this show; so much of it moves so quickly, and you just keep trying to prepare as thoroughly and in as much detail that you find the moments of magic. If you take an instance like the kiss at Christmas – there’s a good chemistry to that scene, it has balance and it has an interesting point of view for both of us. It’s just about understanding the story and where you fit into it.
Your costume’s had a bit of a shake-up. There’s a bit of a teddy boy vibe going on there…
Is there? I don’t know… Well, I always said that the costume would evolve, and I always wanted something purple, a la Pertwee. And so now I’ve got purple tweed, and cool purpley boots and a cool purpley waistcoat and a purple bowtie and purple lining. I’ve got my purple wish.
[Not quite catching] Sorry, your purple what?
My purple wish!
I thought you said whisk…
A purple whisk would be even more exciting! Yeah, I’m going to ask for one of those!
That would be brilliant. A sonic whisk…
Yes, a sonic whisk! That’d be great, wouldn’t it? That’s it – chocolate and Guinness cake in a second! Butterfly cakes from space!
So the costume’s evolved…
If you look at it, it has sort of slightly evolved, bits and bobs, each year. With the departure of the Ponds and the new title sequence and all that, we thought why not, let’s shake it up a little. And here we are. Do you like it?
I do like it – I quite like the teddy boy thing. It’s a different silhouette with the longer coat.
Yeah, it is a slightly different silhouette, isn’t it? My big concern with changing the costume is that I didn’t want him to lose the sense of the silly. There’s something silly about tweed and a bow-tie, so I was keen that it never dipped into trying to be too cool. I don’t think he’s someone who dresses to be cool. I think he dresses practically and he just happens to think bow-ties are cool.
Rematerialise on the next page for Matt's thoughts on Ice Warriors, Neil Gaiman, the 50th anniversary special and which old monster he wants his Doctor to meet...
The Ice Warriors are back in episode three. What did you make of them?
Well, I was very excited, of course. Being a useless… I don’t even know how to pronounce it… a Whohistorian, or a Whostorian… I hadn’t come across them. I mean I knew what they were, but I hadn’t come across them in any detail.
Did you go back to the original Patrick Troughton stories?
Yeah, yeah, of course – which is great, as always with Troughton. And because it was a Troughton monster I was kind of excited, because I really love Troughton. And then Mark [Gatiss, writer of episode three] was really excited about them because I think Mark really loves Troughton as well. I think it’s always great to get the monsters that the fans love and can hark back to from the classic Who series. It’s always nice to see them have a little revamp. It’s like seeing the car in James Bond. When it comes up you go “Ah, there she is – there’s the Aston!” We meet them on a submarine, which is even more exciting for the five year old in you, because they built the submarine, and they just literally flood it and fill it with water. It was great fun to film.
And quite claustrophobic, I imagine…
It’s a full length submarine, so it was really claustrophobic – and bearing in mind there’s a film crew in there, and an Ice Warrior, played by a guy who’s nearly seven foot tall! You couldn’t swing a cat in there, let alone Jenna-Louise Coleman. And it was filled with water up to your knees, sometimes up to your chest. It was great fun, though. It was a right old laugh.
Is there one monster from the show’s past that you’d like your Doctor to fight?
I tell you what I quite like – I like that sort of big, huge robot. I think it was in a Tom Baker episode. He’s kind of fun. I’d like to meet him. There’s a new monster at the end of this season which I think will be a real classic. I’m always quite excited by the new monsters as well. They always tickle me.
You’ve got Neil Gaiman back, writing episode seven.
What do you respond to in Neil’s writing?
His head! The idea. It’s always the central idea which is mad and inventive and brilliant, and you go oh, of course, that’s why he did American Gods and Coraline and all this stuff, and there’s a central idea that is undeniably only ever his. And that’s just wonderful. He’s just got a vast, vivid imagination and it fits the notion of the show and it fits the idea of the character in the show. Yeah, I’m thrilled to work with Neil – and you know what, I really like him. He’s a real good guy. He’s a funny dude. He makes me laugh. I see him in America sometimes. I like Neil, he’s cool.
So, the 50 th anniversary special, then. Is Steven still locked in a room writing it? Is he still sane?
Yes, he is still sane – well, as sane as the Moff is, generally. I’ve read the first draft. I think the whole of this season leads brilliantly up to what will be the biggest event in the history of the show. I say that with no hesitation, really. He’s on top form and has delivered a thoroughly exciting, epic, vast science fiction script. It’s really exciting. We start shooting that very soon, and there’ll be a lot of surprises coming your way, let me tell you. A lot. It’s one of those scripts that you read and you go “Whoa, here we go… what’s he done? What has he done with it?” You wouldn’t really want anyone else writing it, would you? He’s a proper fan, and, to my mind, one of the greatest science fiction writers around.
How does it feel to be celebrating the big 50th on your watch as the Doctor?
I feel very proud, actually. It’s about looking back and forward at the same time, a bit like the Doctor does. It’s about celebrating everyone that’s been involved with it, all the wonderful actors that have taken part before me, and it’s also about looking forward and saying “What can we do next? Where can we take it?” I feel in a very privileged position, having had people like David and Chris, Tom, Patrick, Jon, William Hartnell… great, great actors behind me. And to be part of a show that’s still going, that has an audience of about 77 million now worldwide. I love this show, and I’m really honoured, actually, without sounding too [luvvie voice] ‘Oh, how important, what an amazing thing, I am the incumbent Doctor, what a privilege, rah!’ I mean it genuinely. It inspires a humility, I suppose, because it’s about all of us who got it here, do you know what I mean? Yes! Fifty years!
Doctor Who returns to BBC One on Saturday 30 March