10 years of new Doctor Who... in the words of the cast and creators

“D’you want to come with me?”

It’s exactly a decade since a crop-haired man in a battered leather jacket demanded an answer to that question. A decade since Doctor Who reclaimed its status as the star player of British SF, reborn as appointment television after years of culty oblivion. A decade in which Saturdays finally made sense again.

Ten years. Four (five? Six?) Doctors. Six (seven? Eight? Nine?) companions. 117 episodes. 5661 minutes (give or take Tardisodes, minisodes, Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Doctor Who Confidentials, the occasional Proms and the odd wobble in the space-time continuum). SFX has been there all the way, from a thrillingly unexpected email from Russell T Davies, the day before the official announcement of the show’s return – "Doctor Who. It's coming back! It's me!" – to the moment we stepped through the battered blue doors of the Twelfth Doctor’s TARDIS (it’s Welsher on the inside…)

We’ve plundered our archive of interviews to present this, the story of Doctor Who’s second chance: the gambles, the victories, the bruises. It’s told by the people who made it, at the time they made it, before it all fossilised into history. They’re clearly making it up as they go along, in the best, most exciting way possible. Some of it’s surprisingly unguarded. All of it’s honest. These are despatches from the TV frontline.

As the Ninth Doctor promised us, it’s “The trip of a lifetime…”

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “I don’t want to do a send-up. A real, full-blooded drama, that’s what I want to do. Make you laugh, make you cry… It’s got to be well-written, it’s got to be fun, it’s got to be exciting, it’s got to be accessible.” (SFX 111 DEC 2003)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “I doubt it’s going to be a Year Zero. No one’s even mentioned that. I don’t see the need for a complete reboot. However, the marvelous thing is that anything can happen. I might write that first script and decide that Year Zero is the only thing that can make a new series work. Right now, every option is open.” (SFX 111 DEC 2003)

JULIE GARDNER, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: “I’m thrilled Christopher [Eccleston] will be the new Doctor. Christopher is, first and foremost, a wonderful actor. He’s energetic, passionate, professional and instinctive. And there’s an added bonus now the news is out – I’ll be able to go to parties again without being chased around the room for a casting scoop!” (SFX 117 MAY 2004)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “Looking back it seems as though Billie (Piper) was the obvious choice right from the start. Let’s face it, if you’re casting a young British woman in a lead role then Billie’s the hottest name around. And Doctor Who got her! But none of us would ever cast someone simply because of hype – and I’m sure Billie would’ve seen through us in a second. In fact, it was odd, meeting Billie for the first time; the tabloids had already touted her name but we were all strangers to each other!” (SFX 120 AUGUST 2004)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “In the very first draft of the script, I made reference to a leather jacket, just as a vague suggestion, but after that I just left it to Lucinda Wright, our costume designer, and Doctor Who himself. And I love it – that jacket looks battered, lived-in, comfortable, and a bit sexy too. I gather some fans are up in arms about this. Bless. Tell them to put their arms down. Too late.” (SFX 122 OCTOBER 2004)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “You can’t fall into the trap of thinking the whole nation opens its arms to science fiction. You automatically know the first episode is going to be about Rose and how she meets the Doctor. So you know that in the first 30 seconds she’s going to get a scare and something science fictiony is going to happen. But I know that if the science fiction thing had been a tentacle there would have been people thinking ‘Oh, that’s daft’, and turn over. So there was no choice about it being the Autons. You look round and think oh, I could invent something like that, but it wouldn’t be as good. You don’t have to have seen Doctor Who before but everyone looks at a china doll and finds it creepy.” (SFX 128 MARCH 2005)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “Christopher Eccleston watched ‘The Talons Of Weng-Chiang’ and he came back and said ‘Wow, Tom Baker’s so brilliant!’” (SFX 129 APRIL 2005)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “You’re not going to be scared by an alien face anymore because they’re on at five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon on Andromeda or Stargate. There are a million of them. In the old days of Doctor Who, that was it.” (SFX 129 APRIL 2005)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “It’s going out on a Saturday night and that is a lively, fast, colourful slot. That’s why I don’t give a f--- what anyone thinks about the logo, it’s brilliant when it’s flying at the screen. It’s big and bold and huge dramatically. It’s almost over the top. That’s where we’re playing. We’re not 9pm on BBC Two.” (SFX 129 APRIL 2005)

CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON: “There were thousands of texts and emails between myself and Russell T Davies during the making of it. In an early one, Russell said ‘How are you getting on playing this? Because I’m finding it very difficult to write.’ Then he said ‘…because he’s just in the moment, isn’t he?’ And I thought: ‘That’s what I’m gonna be: eternally in the moment.” (SFX 131 JUNE 2005)

CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON: “You cannot have a life. You can’t socialise. It’s like having a TARDIS in your skull and every time you open your mouth you see a TARDIS. There were days when I got psoriasis, I got eczema. My face blew up in the Dalek episode – I looked literally disfigured with tiredness.” (SFX 131 JUNE 2005)

SIMON PEGG: “Chris is a particular kind of actor and perhaps the full implications of the role didn’t hit him until after the fact and it freaked him out. It’s understandable.” (SFX 131 JUNE 2005)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “Isn’t it lovely? To see it working? Did you ever think you’d see the day? How many people were expecting it to fail? We need to hold on to that new audience and not take them for granted. Let’s face it, if they introduce a Saturday Coronation Street, and that’s not such a mad idea, then we’re in trouble.” (SFX 132 JULY 2005)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “What type of stories do we want to tell in the second series? Big lesbian mime stories.” (SFX 132 JULY 2005)

STEVEN MOFFAT: “First time I saw [David Tennant] was in Blackpool. Emailed Russell, said ‘There’s Doctor Ten’. Before you think I’m clever, Russell replied – wearily, I think – ‘You’re not the first person to say that. In fact, you’re the fourth.’” (SFX 132 JULY 2005)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “We never would have brought back Sarah Jane and K-9 in the first year. It would have sent out the wrong signals, saying this is a nostalgia piece. But since we had a second season that was the one thing I had the absolute confidence to do.” (SFX 142 APRIL 2006)

DAVID TENNANT: “What I realised when I came to do this was that any sort of fantastic notions one might have had about this were just that – fantastic notions. When you have to come and make real decisions about it, it’s a different thing. Actors often say that the best bit about getting a job is the phone call that says you’ve got it, because at that moment it is all potential, and it could be anything.” (SFX 143 MAY 2006)

DAVID TENNANT: “Is thin in? Well, that’s what I bring so they were kind of stuck with that. So we thought we might as well make a virtue of it rather than fight against it. I’ve always been a skinny streak of piss so we might as well accept that. Certainly wearing the Converse with [the suit] was something I was adamant on since day one. Lots of people thought it was a terrible idea but I thought it would take the curse off wearing a suit. It stops it looking like ‘man in suit’, which can be a bit imposing. The thing about the Doctor is that flash of anarchy that goes through him.” (SFX 143 MAY 2006)

DAVID TENNANT: “[The Doctor and Rose] is a love story without the shagging!” (SFX 143 MAY 2006)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “I’d done a lot of juggling in my head, thinking ‘Beware of the path you’re going down that wanders away from the path you should be on’, which is to get darker; look at the end of Doomsday, which is the saddest scene ever, or the Doctor murdering the children of the Rachnoss, which is very, very dark. But you can exclude viewers if you don’t remember the original path you were on. So I lightened it a bit. I said ‘Let’s not keep going down that tragic hero path.’” (SFX 155 APRIL 2007)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “I could have made [the new companion] an alien, or another Time Lady but for now – while I’m here, I suspect – the format is: modern day woman. There was half a day when Martha could have been a Victorian lady, because I loved the way that Madame de Pompadour [from series 2’s “The Girl In The Fireplace] understood the Doctor’s world. [BBC Head of Fiction] Jane Tranter’s face when I ran that past her! ‘No,’ she said, and she’s right. We’ve got all these little girls watching who are hooked on it, so hopefully they’ll be the same with Martha.” (SFX 155 APRIL 2007)

FREEMA AGYEMAN: “When I found out that I’d got the job I thought ‘Right, I’d better get up to speed with my Doctor Who knowledge. I just remember putting it into the internet and it all went BANG! There’s no way you can cram all that!” (SFX 156 MAY 2007)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “The doubts about [Catherine Tate], as far as I can see, are fundamentally stupid. They say she’s going to shout her way through the whole thing. They say she shouted her way through ‘The Runaway Bride’. No, she didn’t. Literally, factually, no matter of opinion, no, she did not. And it ended with what I think is one of the most beautiful scenes we’ve ever shot, with the two of them in the snow outside the TARDIS. So how do I even begin to engage with that? I’m all for opinions, and I don’t mind when people don’t like stuff, but you’re talking about opinions that are literally, factually wrong. It’s grist for the mill for the tabloids. But they’ve gone into that knocking Doctor Who phase anyway, which is completely natural. It’s what happens when you’re successful.” (SFX 168 APRIL 2008)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “You’re heading towards death, actually. Does [the Doctor] want to die? No one wants to die. Outside the show the viewers all know that he’s going to die. So that’s rather marvelous, actually, to be able to feed that in. I can’t wait to see David act some of that stuff; I haven’t seen it before and I don’t know how it’s going to work, because it’s brand new. Oh god, I can’t wait to write it! I’ll be so happy!” (SFX 181 APRIL 2009)

DAVID TENNANT: “I was determined not to get upset. But I cried a little bit against all expectations [laughs]. (SFX 189 DECEMBER 2009)

RUSSELL T DAVIES: “Writing’s always hard, let’s be honest, but when it came to the final moments, the final scenes, I was flying. In my head I had it all planned, the food I’d eat and the music I’d play. I thought I’d be dancing on my balcony. And then when it gets to it, it’s not like that at all. You finish it, you send it off, there’s some problem at work that day, something else happens, you watch Coronation Street, everything’s normal. I’d really built it up for years in my head, thinking how exciting that day would be, but life just carries on, doesn’t it? [laughs]. Does 2005 feel like a long time ago for me? It feels like a million years.” (SFX 191 FEBRUARY 2010)

STEVEN MOFFAT: “”One of the things that Doctor Who has done throughout its life is to periodically, and with no particular reason other than the sheer hell of it, completely renew itself. It’s not a coincidence that a show that’s done that has lasted for 40 odd years, because that’s how you survive. You survive by change for change’s sake.” (SFX 193 APRIL 2010)

STEVEN MOFFAT: “I took a long time to say yes. I’ve got things I will now never, ever write because Doctor Who is such a blizzard. I think it would have been a very, very difficult thing to say no to, and you would worry when you were an old man, wouldn’t you? You might think that you’d accidentally lived somebody else’s life if you’d said no.” (SFX 194 MAY 2010)

MATT SMITH: “The fact that I’m younger, the fact that my soul is different, my energy’s different, my history’s different, will all add to a different sort of Doctor. It’s a part that allows for everything, every facet of you to be revealed. I hope it’ll be rich and plentiful, but it’s not something that I have analysed enough to have a definitive ‘He’s this or that or the other’. Because he’s changing every day for me.” (SFX 194 MAY 2010)

STEVEN MOFFAT: “You just think ‘Yes, he’s going to be one of the people that get to play Doctor Who, isn’t he? I always think he’s a kind of Bo’ Selecta caricature of a handsome man – we insult each other all the time, it’s fine! He’s strikingly handsome but he’s like a cartoon of handsome with his big sweep of hair! The first time he came in, that’s what he looked like, and you just think ‘You’re the Doctor, you are.’” (SFX 194 MAY 2010)

KAREN GILLAN: “[Amy and the Doctor] have this really strong, dynamic relationship, these two people who really combust when they meet. A romantic side of it is really not the driving force of their relationship, and that would never be the main reason that they’re together. I think ultimately they’re just these two people of the same kind, who are both adventurers and lost souls who find each other.” (SFX 196 JULY 2010)

MATT SMITH: “The Doctor is a constant reference, every day. When I’m getting stressed about something, about a phonecall or an email or whatever, I think ‘God, just try and be more like him… Try and approach your life like him.’ And try to be kind to people, be nice to people. He always gives people a chance. And I really have learnt a lot about myself from playing him, because when you spend time with someone who’s so good, and thinking in those patterns and those ways – because that’s what you do as an actor – eventually you start to develop thoughts and that’s when you know it’s working, because the thoughts start to occur of their own accord. So I’ll be doing a scene on set, and I’ll be learning my lines, and I’ll be having thoughts that I’m not controlling, that are just happening… Doctor-thoughts… and it’s cooking. That’s when you know.” (SFX 203 JANUARY 2011)

MATT SMITH: “There’s no other job in the world, no other part, where you get to walk into a room like you’re a piece of velvet. Or Mr Soft or something. Everyone else would go ‘Why is James Bond walking like he’s nuts?’ But the Doctor gets away with it, because his energy’s so mad and manic, and anything goes. How wonderful it is to be able to go into the middle of a room and walk quite oddly. It’s such a privilege to play him.” (SFX 208 JUNE 2011)

STEVEN MOFFAT: “Don’t you think it’s quite good that television forces you to shut up and pay attention? And no, you shouldn’t be bloody tweeting during it…” SFX 213 OCTOBER 2011

STEVEN MOFFAT: “Any of the companions must have a finite life within Doctor Who. They can’t become part of it. I miss the fact that Karen and Arthur aren’t around, that just feels strange. When we all started on it together it felt like the future had finally arrived. You don’t expect the future to become the past, you don’t expect it to become something that you’re now nostalgic about.” (SFX 226 OCTOBER 2012)

JENNA COLEMAN: “Matt always said it’s about physically finding our rhythm. It’s a more choreographed show than anything I’ve ever worked on. In a way the whole thing is like a dance, and the moment we started dancing together and finding that rhythm is when it worked.” (SFX 233 MAY 2013)

STEVEN MOFFAT: “It’s very rare in Doctor Who that the story happens to the Doctor. It happens to people around him, and he helps out – he’s the hero figure who rides in and saves everybody from the story of the week. He is not the story of the week. In this, he is the story of the week. This is The Day Of The Doctor. This is his most important day. His most important moment. This is the one he’ll remember.” (SFX 241 DECEMBER 2013)

STEVEN MOFFAT: “Peter [Capaldi] said: “This is all I’ve ever wanted, this is huge for me. I just want to be Doctor Who.” You need someone who cherishes it, who loves it and will take it as seriously, if not more seriously, than anything else.” (SFX 243 FEBRUARY 2014)

PETER CAPALDI: “Sometimes I can’t get to sleep at night because I’m excited about what I’m going to do! I always feel slightly guilty that I’m allowed so much fun at this point in my life. It’s very challenging – there’s a lot of it to do, but it’s the best gig in the world.” (SFX 252 OCTOBER 2014)

For more on top sci-fi TV shows like Doctor Who, subscribe to SFX

Nick Setchfield
Editor-at-Large, SFX Magazine

Nick Setchfield is the Editor-at-Large for SFX Magazine, writing features, reviews, interviews, and more for the monthly issues. However, he is also a freelance journalist and author with Titan Books. His original novels are called The War in the Dark, and The Spider Dance. He's also written a book on James Bond called Mission Statements.