DOCTOR WHO: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Toby Whithouse Interviews (2011)

While at Comic-Con in San Diego last month, stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, along with writer Toby Whithouse happily shared with press a few teasers on what to expect when DOCTOR WHO returns for the second half of its sixth season and what they love about the show.

Matt Smith of "Doctor Who" (Photo credit: Jennifer Schadel)

Matt Smith

How was it dying and then coming back on a television show, like in “The Impossible Astronaut”?
MATT:  Only in DOCTOR WHO can you make that possible!  I just love the way that Steven [Moffat] plays with time and structure in WHO — and in the next half of the series we really get into the crux of what that is all about and it’s pretty interesting.

How would you describe The Doctor?
MATT:  I think I’m very fortunate to have Steven Moffat as a writer.  He’s very inventive. That’s quite a tricky question because I try not to consider it too much.  I just try to do it.  Maybe in a few years I’ll have more of a perspective on it.  But I think The Doctor should be funny and brilliant and ridiculous — all of those things are in there somewhere.

He seems like such a bundle of energy.  Is that part of the character or something you bring to the role?
MATT:  I think it is just what the actors have gone for.  What’s great is, when I first came, people said, ‘He’s too young.’ But tell me someone who isn’t too young to play a 900 year old time lord?!  You know what I mean?  We’re talking about 20 years difference, but The Doctor’s 900 years old.  No one is that old!  And I think it’s interesting to have someone young play someone old, physically — and that depiction is actually really interesting.

Underneath all those layers of The Doctor, what is the core motivation that he grabs onto?
MATT:  I think humanity.  I think that’s the one thing he cannot ever be is human and he loves them.  He finds it cute that they get married and have Sunday dinner and celebrate Christmas together and all that sort of things.

That sounds a bit more like envy.
MATT:  Yeah.  Kind of.

So The Doctor wants to be human?
MATT.  Yeah, yeah.  I mean yes and no.  But he admires the human nature.  But he’s also a maverick.  He’s a time-traveler — and he’s an addict.  I mean it’s so hard to define him as one thing.  I think you do so at your peril.

You think he’s an addict?
MATT:  Yeah, his addiction is time-traveling.  He’s saving the world!

So he’s more like an adrenaline-junkie?
MATT:  Yeah.  Absolutely!  That’s the great thing.  You can look at him in many, many different ways, and we all have our own opinion on The Doctor and that’s all sort of wonderful.  But he’s never one thing — ever.

In the mid-season finale, we saw as River showed The Doctor that he is seen as a warrior and that people are afraid of him.  Thus, will we see him change as a result of that revelation?
MATT:  Absolutely!  There is a real journey for The Doctor to go on — there’s the journey with River and there’s the one about himself — you know, he dies.  So we’ve got to figure that one out.  I hope there’s been a progression from where we started this year and that there’s a progression from this year to next year going into the 50th Anniversary.  That’s sort of one of the wonders of the part that it’s constantly evolving.

For the 50th Anniversary, John Barrowman said that he would love to be there. Would you like to have him appear for that?
MATT:  Yeah, hey, well the door’s always open.

And the rest of the TORCHWOOD cast said they’d love to come as well.
MATT:  The rest of the cast?

Absolutely!  They are incredibly excited.  They were like, ‘Can we come too?!’
MATT:  Excellent!

Have you enjoyed all the new villains on the show?
MATT:  That’s the great thing about DOCTOR WHO – that is if you look at every villain that comes back, they’re always slightly evolving.  They are always improved a little bit.  And that’s what’s great about WHO monsters, I think — you’ve got to bring them back with something extra.  So they are always getting better and The Doctor has to get better at the same time.

What’s been your favorite monster from DOCTOR WHO?
MATT:  The weeping angels, I think.  They are my favorite.  I love them.  Such a clever monster.  Such a great idea.  ‘Blink’ — what an episode!  It’s just the classic WHO episode.  It’s maybe one of my favorites of all time.

I heard you didn’t watch any DOCTOR WHO before auditioning.  Thus, I was curious when you did start watching?
MATT:  Well, the thing is with me — Karen, she watched more than me — but it wasn’t on TV when I was a kid, which is a shame.  So I read the script; I got the part; I watched the episodes — not all the episodes.  But I watched a hell of a lot of The Doctors.  I started with Tennant then worked backwards.

Of the classic Doctors, do you have a favorite?
MATT:  Troughton is my favorite.  “The Tomb of the Cybermen” is one of my favorites.  The Cybermen are so creepy in it.  What’s wonderful about Troughton is that he is weird and peculiar.  It’s a wonderful performance.  I think the Cybermen were the scariest they’ve ever been in that.

Maybe you could talk about what we should be excited about watching this next part of the season.
MATT:  Well, we start with “Let’s Kill Hitler” and the title does not let the episode down.  It’s a barn-stormer and Alex Kingston is just remarkably brilliant in it.  Then we’ve got these weird creepy dolls coming up in a doll’s house episode.  And Karen gives the performance of the lifetime in Episode 10 — I can’t actually tell you much about it — but it’s so clever and so tricky and so weird.  Toby’s episode “God Complex” feels like cupid does DOCTOR WHO.  It’s so odd.  And there’s a big soundtrack.  Very scary. Craig Owens is back.  James Corden is back in Episode 12 and that’s a good adventure.  I think we’ve got a good double-act near the end.  I like to think so.  Steven [Moffat] doing his brilliant finale writing, but that’s it.  I think it’s a strong half of the season and we’re really pleased that it seems to be gathering up pace in America.

What do you think about getting multiple Doctors back for the anniversary?
MATT:  I think it’s a good idea.  But getting it to happen? That’s tricky.  But how amazing would it be to see Tom Baker?!  Can you imagine just seeing him back in the scarf? That would be amazing! It would be so cool.  He’s a great actor and a good guy.  What an episode!  There could be 5 or 6 Doctors — and all in a room just going ‘Who?’

How was it working with Neil Gaiman for “The Doctor’s Wife”?
MATT:  It was a wonderful episode.  He’s like sanctified royalty, so again, it was one of the greatest experiences that you only really get on DOCTOR WHO. I’m sure we’d love to have Neil back.

Is there any direction you’d like to see The Doctor go in?
MATT:  Well, you know, I kind of leave that to Steven [Moffat] ’cause he’s better at that.  He does that and then I try to come in and articulate that with my version.  So I leave that unto him and then I have the anticipation like the fans do to see what happens.

In the episode “A Good Man Goes To War,” and The Doctor figures out who River Song is and goes dancing around, which was very funny, how many takes did that actually take to do?
MATT:  We actually didn’t have much time.  We were running out of time.  So not very many.  Time was a real issue that day.  That’s a great DOCTOR WHO moment, isn’t it?  When River Song says, “I am your daughter.”

Why do you think Americans are now just catching on to the show?
MATT:  I think doing episodes in America and things like that are good.  What’s interesting is that there’s always been a core audience here.  It’s always been here.  It’s just with accessibility, the Internet, and stuff like that, it’s easier to let people know — and that’s what we’re trying to do.

In fact, there are billboards all over L.A.
MATT:  That’s great!  It’s great to hear that.  Very cool!

Karen Gillan of "Doctor Who" (Photo credit: Jennifer Schadel)

Karen Gillan

So we’re in the midst of the 6th season, which is very exciting, and when we last left off, there had just been the big reveal that River Song is Amy and Rory’s daughter and that she had been kidnapped again.  Is there anything you can share about what to expect for the second half of the 6th season?
KAREN:  Well, after that massive revelation of the last series — that relationship between Amy and River is definitely going to be explored  — a lot!  So that’s been really fun actually.  That relationship really, really develops and it changes the dynamic for everyone in the cast.  So that’s really big.  And also “Let’s Kill Hitler.”  What a title?!  It’s amazing and it’s such a good episode.  I think that you’ll like it.  It’s really cool.  It’s got a cool robot villain called the Teselecta, which is really snazzy.

So more gizmos for Rory to play with? That’s going to be a lot of fun!
KAREN:  Yes. Totally!

Will there be any more historical figures, like Van Gogh who appeared last season, upcoming in the 2nd half of the season?
KAREN:  What do we have in the next series? We don’t really have any well-known historical figures coming in — and, actually, that’s a total lie!  Their always popping up, and there’s a return of someone.  [laughter]  And also Episode 11 is quite interesting.  The monster, it’s call the minotaur, and its quite historical.

Do you know anything historically about the character?
KAREN:  No, actually, I don’t.  My knowledge is not up to scratch with Greek mythology, I have to confess!  But the minotaur as a monster is so, so scary.  I mean, we actually had a real guy as the minotaur chasing us down corridors, which is really exciting.  It is something like 7 foot tall and it was really exciting to have a monster that actually, physically kind of chases you.  There is a physical threat and not just a psychological one.  So it’s a nice thing.

Do you think Amy and Rory are ready to be parents of an adult child?
KAREN:  Not really.  How do you deal with that?!  I think Amy definitely wants her baby back because she missed a big chunk of her life. So, yeah, that’s something that she has to deal with.  She has to trust The Doctor to make it happen — trust has always been such a big issue between those two characters.  It is quite interesting.

Will we see a bit the rebelliousness in River’s relationship with Amy because she’s an adult and will that cause friction in their relationship?
KAREN:  There’s definitely some parental issues coming with their relationship now.  Trying to control River is not an easy because she is far more rebellious than Amy.  You can start to see a few similarities between them and I sort of get it now.  But she is obviously more extreme.

Will any of those parental instincts start to come out now that The Doctor has kissed River?
KAREN:  Oh yeah, definitely!

Did you know all along that Amy had been kidnapped and replaced with a Ganger, or were your completely surprised?
KAREN:  No, I did not know that.  I did not know that until I read the script.  So that whole time, I did not know.  I did not even know ’til I think we filmed that episode.  So I played all those episodes with no clue that I was not me.  That was the purpose basically.  They did not want there to be any hints or anything like that.

Was it actually identified when Amy was taken?
KAREN:  I think it was said that it was sometime when they were America.

Karen Gillan and Matt Smith (Photo credit: Jennifer Schadel)

Now that Amy has been through these latest trials, such as having her baby taken, does that take the shine off traveling with The Doctor?
KAREN:  Yeah, that’s really interesting.  Many things are happening to this girl that could really damage her.  Well, basically, she kind of really idolized The Doctor in the last series and many things have happened that could damage that.  But for some reason, there’s this kind of undying faith in him. In fact, it is something they explore with the minotaur and it’s really, really interesting.  And something happens that changes that completely — oh, I can’t tell you any of this!  [laughter]  It’s really, really exquisite and it’s really explored in Episode 11.

Will the upcoming episodes touch back upon The Doctor’s death again, or will it be more monster-of-the-week stories?
KAREN:  There’s a few sort of stand-alone adventures, but The Doctor’s death is always prevalent in all of the episodes.  It is definitely still going to happen.

Are you happy with the action figure of Amy?
KAREN:  I’m really happy!  It’s so cool! It’s a doll of me. I don’t believe that.  I really never thought that would happen.  It’s not the sort of thing you expect to happen.  I saw the dolls in the convention hall and it was really cool.

When you were growing up, did you watch DOCTOR WHO and, if so, did you have a favorite companion?
KAREN:  Well, growing up, it wasn’t on television.  But I knew what it was ’cause everyone’s heard of it in Britain.  But I never actually watched it. And then I watched a bit of it when it came back in 2005.  So I have to say my favorite companion has got to be Rose.  I love Rose.  Yeah, and I thought Billie did such a great job.  I just really related to her as a young girl.  So, yeah, she’s my favorite.

Can you talk a little about what it is like working with Steven Moffat?  He’s now known as such an iconic science fiction writer and creator.
KAREN:  It’s amazing ’cause we get just the best scripts!  You know what I mean?  I feel so honored to be delivering the lines that he’s written — and, you know, you can never predict what he’s going to write either.  You think you’ve got it sussed, and then he’ll do something completely different.  I don’t know what his brain is made of! He’s got to be approaching on genius.

Steven’s on Twitter now and it’s very funny the way he talks to the public.  He seems like a brilliant, mad genius in his writing style and he seems to have almost a flirtatious humor about him.
KAREN:  Oh, yes!  He’s actually hilarious!  He’s so good with groups of people as well, and just kind of chats.

What’s your favorite episode, from those that you’ve worked on?
KAREN:  I think my favorite episode would be the first one we did, which was “The Eleventh Hour.”  Just because I think there’s something just tragic about that episode.  We met Amy as a little girl and see that relationship form, and then its turned on its head because he doesn’t come back and she’s just really angry.  You also really see who these people are to each other and I felt that it kind of bursts off the screen.  So that’s my favorite episode  — and it was possibly my favorite one to shoot as well.

Karen Gillan and Matt Smith (Photo credit: Jennifer Schadel)

In that episode there was a very funny scene where Amy grabs The Doctor by his full-length tie and sticks it in the car door, so he can’t get away.  It was only after that he decides to wear a bow tie. And I always thought that was what was instrumental in that change because Amy had grabbed him and held onto him because of it.  So he changed his tie.
KAREN:  Oh my gosh!  You’re right!  That’s brilliant.  Oh my god, that’s so good!

So it is actually like he thought, ‘I’ve got to get something she can’t hold onto’ when he chose the bow tie.
KAREN:   Okay, maybe bow ties are quite cool.  [laughter]

I watched that scene over and over again because Amy is so assertive in that scene and it is very rare for a companion to really put her hands on The Doctor and manhandle him.
KAREN:  She’s actually like that.  Feisty is the word that is commonly used for DOCTOR WHO companions, and I remember the British press asked about it and they were like, ‘what else?’ and I’m like, ‘No, she really is!’

Amy is one of the few companions that puts her hands on The Doctor and moves him.  Even River doesn’t actually put her hands physically on him very often, so Amy is the one person who has the freedom to touch him.
KAREN:  He’s sort of an untouchable character in a weird way.

He doesn’t have a lot of physical contact with other characters.  So it seems she has a privilege there, which is unique in that relationship.
KAREN:  No.  And yeah, that’s really interesting.

Are you worried about being type-cast?
KAREN:  No, I’m not actually.  Because, well I hadn’t thought about it!  [laughter]  I really hope to do a variety of things after DOCTOR WHO.  For instance, we have a bit of a break now, so I’m doing a play in London which is set in the ’60’s and it’s going to be on in the West End.  I’m really excited about it. It’s just really completely different.  So already it’s kind of looking good.  So I’m not worried about being type-cast. Actually, I think there’s a lot of variety in the show DOCTOR WHO.  So you get to show a lot of different aspects.

How do you find the energy to do it all?
KAREN:  It’s quite tiring.  But I’ve just got no social life pretty much. [laughter]

What was it like going to New York City for the Season 6 premiere with the fans?
KAREN:  That was amazing!  Seriously, amazing.  At the first ever screening we did in New York, we all couldn’t believe it and we will always remember it because the audience was so expressive.  It’s amazing.  They applauded, whistled and the cheering.

Did you like visiting New York?
KAREN:  Oh yeah.  I’ve fallen in love with that city, I have to say!  Oh my god, it’s magic — actual magic in the city.

Karen Gillan and Matt Smith (Photo credit: Jennifer Schadel)

You said you were surprised by the cheering and whooping during the screening.  Is there a difference between British and American audience reactions?
KAREN:  Oh, it’s really different.  Just in terms British people are really reserved.  And I actually remember when they were cheering that it felt quite shocking.  Like, why are they making noise?  But they were really, really excited.  With the British, there is maybe applause at the beginning and applause at the end; but not during it.

Can you talk about what it is like working with Arthur Darvill?
KAREN:  He’s brilliant!  He’s adorable.  He could not be here because he’s working at The Globe Theater in London.  But he’s great to work with.  There’s actually been a lot of Amy/Rory stuff in the next half of the series that’s coming up.  I feel like we’re a real team now.  He’s one of my really good friends.

What is he like off set, is he still really funny, vivacious and energized?
KAREN:  Yeah, we’re all a little like that.  It carries on from filming.  But it’s funny, when we’re off set — we’re quite different when we’re off set as people.  We chill out a bit more and talk to each other as people, more as human beings.

But then you’re not running from mad machines.
KAREN:  That’s true!  We’re not really running from machines or monsters then.  Even between takes on set, we’re pretty mental, but then we get off set and then its kind of back to being normal human beings.

Has there been a favorite outfit that you’ve worn as Amy?  It seems like she has worn some outrageous outfits.
KAREN:  Yeah, yeah, she really has.  Actually, I think it’s sort of funny.  I think that I like the police outfit ’cause it is sort of like her outfit.  I remember them choosing that and they tried to put me in these big trousers and I’m like, ‘No, you’re not!  She’s a kiss-o-gram!’  So, yeah, that’s kind of perfect.

Will we be seeing that outfit again?
KAREN:  Maybe.  It popped up in the Christmas Special, so you never know!

Toby Whithouse (Photo credit: Jennifer Schadel)

Toby Whithouse

We understand that you’ve written an upcoming episode that we’re looking forward to.
TOBY:  Yes. But that’s all done, dusted and filmed.  It’s going to be ‘The God Complex” (Episode 11).  It’s my third episode of DOCTOR WHO and by far my favorite.  It’s the scariest episode I’ve done and the darkest.

So is it like a psychological thriller or is there a monster involved?
TOBY:  Both.  The Doctor, Amy and Rory are trapped in a creepy hotel that’s populated with other people’s nightmares. Nick, the director, has done a fantastic job.  The performances are terrific.  So I’m really pleased.

Addressing the continuity of the timeline and the timeline reboot at the end of Series 5, does River Song’s death in “The Forest of the Dead” still occur?
TOBY:  Oh god, you’ll have to ask Steven [Moffat].  I would assume that it all still does.  Ask Steven and he’ll give you a 25-minute answer, which will probably just mean, ‘yes.’

How did you feel about being asked to write the episode reintroducing Elizabeth Sladden as Sarah Jane in “School Reunion”?
TOBY:  The era I grew up in was the Tom Baker/Elizabeth Sladden era and so it was very daunting — the notion of bringing her back.  But it were, I absolutely loved it.  It was an honor to do it and Elizabeth Sladden — god bless her — she was that confident.  So I was nervous, but I loved it.

Is it intimidating writing for a show that has been on for over 30 years?
TOBY:  The thing about DOCTOR WHO is that it is the perfect format.  You can travel to anywhere in the universe, any time, and so a lesser or great extent, it’s inexhaustible. He can meet anyone and do anything.  It’s wonderful.  You’re never short for an idea. When I come onto DOCTOR WHO, Steven will give me a very short one or two line brief for what he wants to happen in the episode — and thank god he does or otherwise the possibilities are so limitless that you’d kind of get overwhelmed and befuddled.  So he gives me a little kind of brief and I’ll go and expand on that.

Has there ever been a character or story that you wanted to explore, but couldn’t?
TOBY:  No, to be honest, I think Steven [Moffat] has very rarely gone backwards.  He’s very creative.  You’ve had the Daleks — you’re contractually obliged to have the Daleks and the Silurians, but apart from that in a way you kind of — it’s more interesting to create something new.  It’s more liberating to invent a new monster and a new world and a new villain.  That’s the fun thing, rather than be kind of constrained by something that’s already happened.

You also wrote “The Vampires of Venice.”  Can you talk a bit about that episode?
TOBY:  For that episode, Steven wanted a big, bold, romantic episode and when he said he wanted romance and ‘where do we set it?’ I said, ‘well, Venice is the most romantic city in the world, can we set it there?’ and he said, ‘yeah.’ So we did.

What inspired you to create creatures who are fish from space as villains?
TOBY:  Fish from space, well, I don’t know.  It’s weird.  The development process of that episode was bizarrely brief actually and I think — and maybe because I was immersed in BEING HUMAN — I would have put vampires in anything.  Even if I were doing a medical show, I’d put a vampire in it.  So then obviously the reveal is that they’re not.  It’s sort of embarrassing actually.  I was worried all my friends would be like, ‘Can you write nothing else? What is the thing with him and vampires?  It’s creepy.’

Well, there is a certain sensuality to vampires that makes it fun.
TOBY:  Exactly! What you said!

Do you find yourself tending to write more about the characters and not about the big special-effects scenes?
TOBY:  Absolutely!  The foundation of the show from the starting point is always going to be character.  And to be honest, that’s something I try to do on BEING HUMAN as well.  Regardless of what this person is, what is their underlying humanity?  And so, with The Doctor — and actually more so with the monsters, the villains in DOCTOR WHO — all you have to do is find their motivation and find their moments of sympathy as well, and find out their sympathetic characteristics.  For example, for Rosanna Calvierri in “The Vampires of Venice,” arguably her motivation was quite practical and almost benign in that all she wanted was a tiny bit of Earth — a tiny bit of our planet in order to save her entire race.  And there’s an argument: is that really so bad?  To surrender to it and save an entire race.  And so I thin that is where the interest is.  To find those moments of sympathetic complexity are what makes the drama and that’s something I try to do.  The monsters in “School Reunion” were much more straightforward down the line — they just want to take over the universe because they can.  In “The Vampires of Venice” and “The God Complex,” the antagonist — like I said, it is a question of finding their motivation and making that interesting and complex.

Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Toby Whithouse (Photo credit: Jennifer Schadel)

Will there be that kind of complexity with the monster in “The God Complex”?
TOBY:  That’s the fun part. There will be an elaborate explanation, which they ignore — which at the time, it will be used to kind of as a starting point.

How do you come up with the visual look of the monsters you create?
TOBY:  With the fish from space in “The Vampires of Venice,” the notion was that I wanted them to have needle like teeth and look quite horrific in a way.  Then you have the lovely kind of visual contrast when they are human and quite beautiful.  I think the design of the monsters is amazing.  I’d love to have seen more of them.

What is your favorite kind of scene to write about in DOCTOR WHO?  Is it the excitement of the adventure or something closer to the heart?
TOBY:  I think when The Doctor becomes either compromised or when The Doctor is lost, when he is bewildered or helpless or lost.  I think those are the moments that are really interesting to write.  To kind of take The Doctor to a point where he’s thinking, ‘I don’t know how to get out of this.  I don’t know what do to.’  So the kind of triumph of the spirit over moments of helplessness.  I think that’s when The Doctor is at his best and I think that’s much more exciting and dramatic.

To find out what is next for Amy and The Doctor and what extraordinary adventures they embark upon, tune in for the return of DOCTOR WHO on Saturday, August 27th at 9:00 p.m. on BBC America.

LINK to more fun candid photos from these interviews is HERE.

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