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Geronimo! THN Talks Doctor Who With Matt Smith, Steven Moffat And Jenna-Louise Coleman

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THN was lucky enough to attend a special preview screening of the latest episode of DOCTOR WHO – THE BELLS OF ST. JOHN. And we can’t tell you anything about it. Honestly, we’re sworn to secrecy. No, don’t start begging, we can’t. If we do, it’ll ruin all the great surprises in store for you come March 30th.

But in the meantime, to satisfy your inner fanboy/fangirl (delete as appropriate), we were lucky enough to sit down with and chat to Head-Writer and Showrunner Steven Moffat, new companion Jenna Louise Coleman, and of course, the Doctor himself, Matt Smith! So, to whet your appetites for all things WHO, here’s what they had to say regarding Ice Warriors, 50th Anniversaries, and Matt’s distinctive walk:

Q: First of all, congratulations on a great opening Episode. It felt almost slightly James Bond-ish. Exciting, London-ey…was that a conscious thing?

Steven Moffat: “We were talking about the fact we were going to have to do a modern day story to introduce Jenna yet again. But this time not kill her. And Marcus Wilson, our producer, said, ‘Let’s do it as a proper London thriller.’ So as close as we can get – given that DOCTOR WHO is mad – to James Bond or Bourne or something like that.”

Q: Jenna – this is your proper introduction to the show. Obviously you’ve been in two episodes and you’ve had various deaths and personalities. We’re finally meeting you? Does it feel that way to you?

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “I suppose this is kind of take three. And then this is the Clara that we will be with for the next episodes. But with all of the Clara’s, there’s kind of an essence that’s the same running throughout. But this is the Clara that we will be with and know for the next…”

Steven Moffat: “Unless we kill her.” (laughter)

Q: Matt – how has it been dealing with a new companion who has so many different levels and personalities and deaths?

Matt Smith: “I think it’s quite nice for the Doctor because I think having got his grieving for the Ponds out of the way, I think she’s re-ignited his curiosity in the universe and given him his mojo back, for want of a better word. Yeah. And I just have to say that I think she’s done…I mean you see on the screen…I think she’s absolutely brilliant. It’s been a joy to work with Jenna and I’m really proud of the work we’ve done. And I think it’s exciting for the character. It gives him a new lease somehow.”

Q: How was riding a motorbike?

Matt Smith: “It was such a lovely day in London. We both went, ‘This isn’t a real job?’ It was great fun. That and just playing football…if I get to play football in the show. And I’d just like to say that I think the director Colm (McCarthy) has done the most fantastic job. I think he directed it with wit and verve and pace. I think it was brilliantly made.”

Q: Do you feel Steven these episodes you pack so much in then previous incarnations of the show. Is that a fair critique?

Steven Moffat: “Yes, of course it’s got faster down the years. But the truth is all television has. If you look at old DOCTOR WHO compared to other television shows at the time, it was faster. So, yes, you do try and go madly fast in DOCTOR WHO – more stuff, more color and more sooner all the time.”

Q: Can you tell us much about the rest of the series?

Steven Moffat: “Next week he’s in a cupboard. (Laughter) No, he’s not. Actually can I just tell you that I think what we’ve got, in effect, this year is we’ve got three opening episodes. The next two are fast-paced nail biters as well. So as normal we get one big, super-fast mad one at the beginning and settle down. But we don’t settle down for ages in this one. It’s like having three episode ones in a row.”

Q: And there’s an episode coming up where you journey into the centre of the TARDIS…

Steven Moffat: “Oh, you’re a fanboy at heart.”

Q: How much can you tell us about it? How much will we see of the TARDIS?

Steven Moffat: “You will go to the heart of the TARDIS. You will see more of the TARDIS more properly than you’ve ever seen it before. It’s all that stuff. The moment I got that title and gave it to Stephen Thompson, who wrote it, it was just the title alone gets…because I remember years ago…in the Radio Times there was a little article saying, ‘In this week’s episode the Doctor dodges the Sontarans through the many rooms of the TARDIS.’ I could not wait for Saturday. But there was a problem with the scenery or something and they shot it all in a disused hospital. And it was so disappointing. And I thought that day, ‘Some day! Somehow, I will do what I can to get into television and do that properly!’ (laughter) And that worked out. So Michael Pickwoad (production designer) goes mad and gives us the TARDIS and gives us all manner of things.”

Q: And apparently a swimming pool?

Steven Moffat: “Wait and see. There’s way more than a swimming pool. Wait ‘til you see what’s in there.”

Q: Jenna – how has the chemistry worked with Matt?

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “I think it’s a bit of both. Instantly from the first audition I definitely felt it. And it was a feeling of walking away from the audition room thinking…I kind of felt like I’d been knocked off my feet a bit, actually. It was a bit of a hurricane. But just the feeling of, ‘This is what I’d really like to do day in and day out.‘ Because every day really is so different and I really don’t know what he’s going to throw at me, which is great. It’s keeping that spontaneity. And then I suppose you get used to each other rhythms as well. They both feed into each other really.”

Matt Smith: “And I think that that’s something that you got so immediately. Jenna…with Steven’s writing there’s such rhythm to it. I think you were immediately inside it. And then we have fun, don’t we? That’s the main thing. It’s such a fun show to make. But it is something where you’re cast – and it was the same with Karen – and then it’s like, ‘Have chemistry!’ And acting chemistry, because you’re exposing yourself and all that…and this show, she’s done so brilliantly at jumping in and jumping on the train of it. But there’s always a sort of period of evolution with any characters. That’s the fun bit, I think.”

Q: You’ve already snogged, so we’ve got that out the way.

Steven Moffat: “In the show.” (laughter)

Q: Matt, you recently said that you’ve read the script for the 50th anniversary thing. You said, ‘You will not be disappointed.’

Steven Moffat: “That’s what we’ll put on the poster then.”

Q: What do you mean by that?

Matt Smith: “Well, it sort of does what it says on the tin. You won’t be disappointed. It’s my cryptic way of going…no, the thing is, much as we’d love to tell you everything, I read it and I clapped at the end. I think it’s hilarious and I think it’s epic and I think it’s vast. I’m telling you nothing more. But you will not be disappointed. I think it’s going to be the biggest, the best, the most inventive, the most exciting year for the show. And I think this script, it delivers on all those points that you want it to for where the show is at this time. It’s brilliant.”

Q: And how did you (Jenna) feel when you read it?

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “Exactly the same. How do I say without saying anything? This is a new skill that I’m learning. Reading especially the finale of this season as well, without giving too much away, it really is epic and I think it’s really a treat for the fans of the last 50 years.”

Matt Smith: “It somehow manages to pay homage to everything and look forward. And I think that’s the mark, the genius of it.”

Steven Moffat: “Information content of that – zero! You know less and less…we are subtracting information. That is my aim.”

Q: So the filming takes place soon, in April. And the filming of the new Sherlock…it’s all happening at the same time? How do you feel about that?

Steven Moffat: “Fresh and vigorous. Well, it’s very exciting. I always end up belly-aching about it because I think if I did anything other than belly-ache I’d sound like I was boasting a lot. But it’s absolutely brilliant, incredibly exciting. We’ve just had the read through for Sherlock, which was in storming form, and now we’re just embarking on the 50th (anniversary) DOCTOR WHO.”

Q: How do you both feel about being the Doctor and the companion, in the 50th anniversary year? When you got the role did it hit you that, ‘Actually, I’m going to be playing it in the 50th anniversary year?’

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “No, no, not immediately at all. The focus was on the story coming up and those things. But going to the stamp launch that we went to the other day and seeing the 11 Doctors on a stamp and it all gets signed off by the Queen…”

Matt Smith: “Does it?”

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “Yeah. You got signed off by the Queen.”

Matt Smith: “Cool.”

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “At 10 ‘o clock on a Saturday morning…”

Matt Smith: “That’s what she does?” (laughter)

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “It just makes you realise what you’re part of, things like that.”

Q: Matt – when did it strike you that you’re the incumbent?

Matt Smith: “Well it’s the show’s year. But to be the incumbent Doctor, it’s the most thrilling…it’s been the most thrilling ride anyway but to be part of it now is a huge privilege. I’m thrilled. And as I say, we’re upping the scale of everything. It’s 3D…I won’t say anything about the event but there’s just a bit more for your buck. There’s more bang for your buck.”

Q: It’s longer?

Steven Moffat: “46 minutes…I’ve just said that for the sheer hell of it. Someone is going to write that down and create a whole blog of that. ‘Moffat Says 46 Minutes.’”

 Q: Can I ask Jenna-Louise to talk a bit more about being blown away at that audition? What was so impressive about what you were seeing that made you feel it was like a hurricane?

Matt Smith: “Yeah, what was so impressive?” (laughter)

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “It was more because…obviously I had read the scenes and prepared them in a certain way. And then basically, as soon as you’re approached by Matt all of that goes out the window and you don’t quite know what’s going to happen or where it’s going to go. So it was that kind of spontaneity. We kind of just played around. And what was lovely as well is Matt made me feel like he was auditioning with me, which was really nice. So it was kind of like show and tell – all of the producers left the room and left me and Matt to just literally run around and play.”

Matt Smith: “We had team time, didn’t we?”

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “And then everyone came back in and then we got to do it. I just didn’t know where it was going to go. I just felt thrilled and excited by it. And, again, it was the idea of doing this day in, day out. It was cool.”

Q: Obviously you don’t want to give too much away. But can you talk us through some of your personal highlights of this series and the guest stars that you’ve got coming in?

Matt Smith: “Gosh, yeah. We’ve got Liam Cunningham, who is a personal favourite actor of mine. We’ve got a submarine. We’ve got the Ice Warriors, we’ve got the Cybermen back in new guise, we’ve got Neil Gaiman writing a script, we’ve got Diana Rigg playing an old hag (laughter) – but brilliantly with great charm and sexiness and grace. And her daughter (Rachael Stirling), who is also brilliant. And the scenes between them. That’s a Mark Gatiss script which is full of fanboy love.”

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “I’ve never seen you (Matt) as quiet on set, with Dame Diana and her daughter as well. Both of us were sat watching them both and watching the dynamic. We go to a big alien planet…”

Matt Smith: “And I think towards the end of the season – I don’t want to give too much away but I think we might have one of those clever Moffat creations. One of the new classic monsters. And they’ve got a great name and they are so brilliant.”

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “They are. They are absolutely brilliant. They’re a monster that…they don’t chase you, they just come at you slowly. And they’ve got a style which I find really quite terrifying. They’ve got a style to them. But I think that’s all we can probably say.”

Steven Moffat: “And the Doctor’s greatest secret will be revealed. And actually will. I’m not lying.”

Q: With this being the 50th year, has there been a bit more of a pressure to keep the balance between fanboy referencing and keeping it accessible to maybe first time viewers?

Steven Moffat: “It’s been a long time since we’ve bothered, really, hasn’t it? The thing about DOCTOR WHO…I think there was one problem within the first year…when it came back. Because I think everyone just became a fan. And the truth is people stop me in the street with the most abstruse questions. And they’re real people. They’re not fans like me. And I’m thinking, ‘You’re not supposed to know that stuff. That’s supposed to be mine…’ To be honest, it feels like everyone’s a fan. The level of knowledge is very intense. But it’s very, very easy to keep DOCTOR WHO accessible because it’s designed to be. The format can be summed up in such a short sentence, even after all this time. ‘It’s a man who can travel anywhere in time and space in a box that’s bigger on the inside.’ We’re done. That’s all you need to know. Everything else you can pick it up. People quite often ask me, usually Americans, ‘What’s a good jumping on point?’ And you say, ‘Well that’s like asking, what’s a good James Bond film to start with?’ They’re all fine. You’ll get it. I don’t think it’s difficult…and it’s not difficult to balance that. It’s surprising how much the general audience want the detail and the continuity and the call backs to their childhood…because we all remember it.”

Q: Steven – you talked about television has got faster over the years. The scale of intensity of what directors are doing with television at the moment has just been on a real roll for the last 10 years or so. I’m wondering where you’re finding your directors and what kind of things you’re looking for?

Steven Moffat: “It’s a very good question. I hope I can do it justice. Where do we find them? We find directors like Colm (McCarthy) there with ambition, not just to get the show made but to show off a bit. That’s what you’re looking for. Directors who – and the same with SHERLOCK – actually actively want to impress you. They’re not just there to get the show done in the time. Which is actually quite difficult in itself. But ones who are really ambitious – storytellers…and we make no demands on DOCTOR WHO for it to be the same every week. We are saying, ‘This one’s your one. Make it your one.’ We say that to every…the writers as well…treat it like you own it. And that’s really important. So there’s a category of writer and a category of director – and that category is called talented, I would say – where they leap at that. They say, ‘This is mine. Right now it belongs to me and I can do what I like with it.’ That’s what we want. People with authorial ambition.”

Q: With the 50th anniversary script now landing on people’s desks, what sort of lengths do you have to go through to protect the secrets of this episode (the 50th) in particular?

Steven Moffat: “Random execution…we’re just very, very careful and we kill people. Was I smiling? Look, it’s difficult. What can I say? I’ll tell you, one length I’ve gone to, which I think is a really, really good security measure – I make sure I don’t get a script. Because I will lose it. So I forbid people to hand me one. It’s just on my computer at home under lock and key.”

Q: Matt, let’s talk about the Doctor’s new clothes. Did you choose them yourself and what was the inspiration, because they’re quite Teddy Boy-ish, I thought?

Matt Smith: “Yeah. Well, they’re still tweed. I always wanted something purple. But it was perhaps too bold in season one. And if you look back at all the interviews that I’ve done previously, I’ve always said I thought the costume would continually evolve. We’ve got a wonderful costume designer Howard (Burden) and it was one of those things. The Ponds leaving and the Doctor’s mentality changing slightly and a new title sequence and a new beginning for a new era. We thought, ‘Why not give the Doctor a little revamp?’ And I think it really works. I like it.”

Q: Jenna, what reaction have you had from fans generally since you’ve started in Doctor Who? Any love letters, any marriage proposals, that kind of thing?

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “No. (laughter) No, not at all. I kind of feel slightly removed from it, really. I’ve had some lovely fan mail through but I think I’m just too short. I don’t get recognised….”

Steven Moffat: “That’ll change.”

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “You see Matt’s tall and he’s got quite a distinctive walk.” (laughter)

Steven Moffat: “Somebody stole his horse.”

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “Whereas I’m shorter and I’m honestly convinced that’s mainly part of the reason.”

Matt Smith: “What? So people recognise me because of my walk?”

Jenna-Louise Coleman: “Like you can see you from behind. In the same way you could recognise Ricky Gervais from behind…”

Steven Moffat: “You’re piling on the flattery now. It’s perfect chemistry.” (laughter)

Q: And finally, Steven, can you tell us a bit more about the return of the Ice Warriors?

Steven Moffat: “Oddly enough, I slightly resisted them. I was slightly worried that…well first of all, I don’t think we still have to go into the back catalogue of the old show any more. Originally we did that to affirm that this new thing really was that old thing. Now that both shows are merged together and nobody really bothers to make a distinction between them anymore, we don’t really need to do that. And I always slightly thought they’re slow moving and you can’t hear what they’re saying. Is that the archetypal slightly silly monster? But then Mark (Gatiss) had been going on and on about it during a phone call which was meant to be about SHERLOCK, he started pitching this idea…a couple of very, very clever ideas of what we could do with an Ice Warrior. And I went for it at that point. But we were very concerned, as you’ll have seen in the clips, that that design hasn’t been seen enough to be updated in a way. So it’s a super version of the original. Sometimes you think a design should be upgraded because it’s so familiar. That one is slightly less familiar so you will be seeing the Ice Warrior in a familar form but with at least one big surprise.”

Steven, Matt, and Jenna, thanks for talking to us. DOCTOR WHO returns to BBC One on Saturday March 30th.

Read our series 7 (Part 2) coverage so far, and keep an eye out for the coming Series 7, Part 2 Blog!

From an early age, Matt Dennis dreamt of one day becoming a Power Ranger. Having achieved that dream back in the noughties, he’s now turned his hand to journalism and broadcasting. Matt can often be found in front of a TV screen, watching his current favourite shows such as DOCTOR WHO, GAME OF THRONES, SHERLOCK, MISFITS, and THE WALKING DEAD, though he’s partial to a bit of vintage TV from yesteryear. Matt also co-presents the Geek Cubed podcast, which you can download from iTunes. It’s quite nice.