Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

The First Eleven

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  • Publication: SFX
  • Date: May 2010
  • Author: Nick Setchfield
  • Page: 50
  • Language: English

Back for its first full series in two years, Doctor Who is returning with two new leads and a new head writer. Nick Setchfield talks to Moffat, Smith and Gillan, the people who'll make your Saturday nights

One of the eternal struggles of the cosmos is playing out in a cigar factory in Cardiff.

As ever, Doctor Who is hiding the unearthly in plain sight, like a timeship concealed in a phone box. It's a bright Welsh autumn day and a corner of this anonymous building has been drafted by the BBC to double for the interior of an alien craft. Outside lies the industrial emptiness of Penarth Road with its oblivious sweep of morning traffic. Inside, the bemused; boilersuited workforce of J R Freeman & Son stand and watch as a gleaming swarm of Daleks emerge to confront their perennial nemesis.

"Behold the restoration of the ii Daleks!" bark the tyrants of Skaro, as pyrotechnics flash and dazzle.

But it's a stranger's face that opposes them, filling the monitor before us. A face not so much loved by the camera as one that intrigues, enchants and perplexes it. Does it belong to an indie kid scenester or a dashing English air ace? A Bletchley Park boffin or a punch-nosed Walthamstow boxer? It belongs to all of them and more. The camera probes and prowls, uncovering new and contradictory facets with each change of angle. It's a face that's simultaneously handsome, strange, haunted, mischievous, innocent and ancient. A paradox of a face, beneath a Brideshead flop of a fringe.

Then the eyes meet the blank gaze of a Dalek eyestalk and give a familiar look of wary defiance. And as they lock into the lens you realise that this is a defining TV moment, one that time-ripples all the way back to William Hartnell standing in Lime Grove studios in smokily distant 1963.

It's Doctor Who. And he's fighting the Daleks, as he always must.

The director cuts. The workforce chatters again. The cigar machine returns to life with an antiquated chug. The real world is back in the room.

"Get this," says Matt Smith, strolling over to greet SFX. "The new Dalek eyestalks are designed to meet the level of my own eyes. They made them from my measurements. That's a bit of trivia for you!"

Stick-lean and charming, he's dressed like a Hoxton Quatermass in tweeds, jeans and bow-tie. He's also obssessively tossing a small, circular prop in the air. Closer inspection reveals that it's a plastic Jammie Dodger. Well, naturally.

"Tom Baker had his jelly babies. And I've got Jammie Dodgers!" Again the Dodger spins.

You could be the new face of Jammie Dodgers, we suggest.

"What, like this?" he smiles, slapping the prop to his forehead. "I'm all about the Jammie Dodger. I just imagine the Doctor in the TARDIS with Amy. Cup of tea and a Jammie Dodger!"

He twirls it again, higher still. "I'm getting good at this," he shares, just before it escapes his catch and rolls into the far shadows. SFX is witness to the precious sight of an embarrassed Time Lord chasing after a makebelieve biscuit. We like him already.

"There's just something about him," says new Doctor Who tsar Steven Moffat, whose retooled, Smith-fronted vision of the show launches this Easter. "I don't think it's very hard to see, to be honest. 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..."

Can we quote him on that?

"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.'

"Matt famously on set is the clumsiest human being you will ever meet," adds the briskly witty, Paisley-born writer. "He just knocks things over the entire time, falls over, permanently. You veer away from him if you see him carrying a coffee, because you're going to wear it. He's quite an athlete, though. He was a great footballer when he was young so he can do the action stuff, but there's something quite shambling about him, with his bandy legs — sorry, Matt — and his wee short jacket. He can go from being quite a cool action hero to being really quite Stan Laurel, which is adorable."

GOOD PEDIGREE

As the writer of such New Who touchstones as "The Empty Child", "The Girl In The Fireplace" and the spooksome, generation-scarring "Blink", Moffat was always heir apparent to the show's creative hotseat. But inheriting the key to the TARDIS wasn't the obvious act of destiny you might imagine. In fact Moffat gnawed at the decision.

"I took a long time to say yes," he reveals. "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. I remember my dad phoned me and asked me what I was up to, and I said 'Oh, I've just been offered Doctor Who.' And he said 'Well, of course you have!' said, don't know what I'm going to do...' He said, 'You're going to do it! Of course you are! Everyone knows you're going to do it!' And I suppose at that point I said yeah, I probably am..."

Moffat knows he's in a different position to when Russell T Davies resurrected the show in 2005. Then it was an abandoned, antique brand, left to gather dust and fond mockery. Now it's an ITV-slamming colossus. Just how radical can he be with the BBC's flagship Saturday night show?

"What, as radical as recasting it and changing all the music and all the other things?" he counters. "What else could we do? We could change him into a woman, I suppose... well, we haven't done that! You have to be radical. Doctor Who demands it of you. When Doctor Who changes it changes completely. Not only do you recast the lead, you change the lead character a bit too. That's a total no-brainer and it doesn't make me nervous at all. It really, properly doesn't. You have to make good Doctor Who. And that's not the same thing as making the same Doctor Who.

"It's just Doctor Who as I always saw it. It's not nostalgic, it's not backward looking, but it is reproducing the thrill that I always got from Who. I think I've got a very good ear for what's Who and what's not Who."

The choice of 26-year-old Smith as the Eleventh Doctor remains Moffat's most conspicuous creative choice. Did he have a particular kind of actor in mind for a particular kind of Doctor, or was he prepared to be surprised?

"You're always prepared to be surprised," he maintains. "If you've done this before you realise you will be. But I said, and I said it repeatedly, and I've kept emails of me saying it, 'I think he'll be between 35 and 45, and I think most of the actors who can play this part are in that age group.' I was getting quite irritable at one point, saying, 'Everyone on this list is in their twenties, and there aren't enough people in their twenties who can play this part!' And I stand by that. It's absolutely true. It's just not always true, and it wasn't true in the case of Matt. Matt was pretty much the exact opposite of who I thought we would cast as Doctor Who. Except he's not. He plays the Doctor the way I saw it. He is the man. And he happened to be 26 at the time, which makes no difference.

"It seemed so effortless for him, even though he didn't really know the show at the time. We were auditioning people at a very, very high level, and in a way you can't get it wrong because everyone who comes through the door is brilliant. Tonally, he has never ever been wrong. Even on his worst day he can't be — he absolutely gets the playfulness, the nuttiness, the loveableness. He's note perfect. Born that way, hardwired that way, about how Doctor Who should be. Even though, of all the people who came through the door he knew it the least well."

It's a brave thing to take on, isn't it?

"I think brave should be saved for abseiling," smiles Moffat. "Is it brave? What are you going to do, once you're offered it? Say no? Is that what you became an actor to do? Get offered a really, really big part to say no? Yes, it's nerve-wracking, but this is the thing that you wanted, so you do it. Of course you do."

COSTUME DRAMA

Smith's fogeyish togs may be the latest in fourth-dimensional chic — expect an influx of tweedy wannabes at the next convention — but as Moffat reveals, the Eleventh Doctor almost made some radically different fashion choices.

"We were way, way, way down a different road with the costume, and I was very much driving it, saying he should be sort of piratey and a little bit Captain Jack Sparrow, wilder and with big coats and all that. And we had stuff made and Matt wore it, and I was absolutely ready to sign off on it. But Matt hated it! I've still got photos of him standing there, chewing his lip. And he looks fantastic, because frankly Matt would look good in a nightie. But he didn't like it. And the line he came up with was, 'I think this is how other people would dress the Doctor, I don't think the Doctor would ever dress like this himself, because that's not who he thinks he is.' He actually is an adventurer and a swashbuckler, but he thinks he's a really, really clever bloke on his way to a museum or a concert or something, somewhere he can show off... he's always getting distracted by fighting monsters.

"And we're talking 20 minutes before the end of the day," Moffat continues, "on the final day before we had to unveil something. And he asked if he could put his braces on, so he put the braces on, and I think the jacket is either one of his or one very like his, with the elbow patches, and I was thinking, Well, it's alright [not convinced]...' And then he said — and I knew this was coming, because he'd become so obsessed with Patrick Troughton and "Tomb Of The Cybermen" when he'd seen it... he spent 20 minutes on the phone to me... — he said, 'Can I try a bow tie?' And I said, 'No, no, that's just the most ridiculously retro, child's eye view of what Doctor Who wears!' But still he put on the bow tie he'd brought with him, and he did look really good."

Moffat gives a wry smile at the memory. "And without a song in my heart, we signed off on it, mainly because Matt was now leaping around the room with a pen, pretending it was a sonic screwdriver, saying, 'I'm Doctor Who!' In a way it's so wrong that costume — it's made of wrong! — but then you see him standing there and you think well, that's the point. The Doctor is the man who dressed wrongly. It almost says it's the Doctor — a totally inappropriately dressed man who probably thinks he's a bit cooler than he is. I think that's him!"

Pick-pocketing every historical strand of British fantasy, the show's genetic mix has embraced everything from Quatermass to The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. What inspired Moffat's vision of Doctor Who?

"Principally Doctor Who, I imagine! Because I mainly came to things like Quatermass and The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe through Doctor Who. We just nick stuff all the time. It's an absolute feature of the show that if you see a good idea that someone else has had then you just steal it and put it in Doctor Who. And there's nothing wrong with that. If it's good enough for Hamlet then it's good enough for us. But even if you imitate something else then you make it Doctor Who style, whatever that is. You're kind of doing Hammer Horror in the Generation Game slot, you're doing thrillers opposite Ant and Dec... it's a weird, almost unique flavour. It's a little bit Hammer Horror, it's a little bit showbiz, too, a little bit gameshow, a little bit Strictly. Early evening on a Saturday, that's where it belongs. And part of what makes it belong there is that still to this day it's slightly surprising that we kill all those people and have monsters attacking at 7 o'clock in the evening!"

DON'T BLINK

Moffat's previous tales have famously traded in intricate, time-tangling plots but that won't be the case every Saturday, he says.

"If you did every episode like 'Blink' then you'd go mad. But at the same time I think it's a central part of the show that he not only travels in time but he actually lives inside in a time machine. That's where he lives, so the whole world, the whole universe, is alive to him. It's a very different perspective. The thing I keep banging on about is that he doesn't know what age he is. He's lying. How could he know, unless he's marking it on a wall? He could be 8,000 years old, he could be a million. He has no clue. The calendar will give him no clues. So yes, intricately plotted is good, and something I can bring to it. We've got some intricate shows but also some that are quite simple and epic and big.

They're not all the same — they're not all written by me! 'Blink' is still probably the most complicated one that I've done but then intricate is what I default to if I haven't got time, and that was in a hurry. Since I've been permanently in a hurry this series then obviously all the episodes will be as good as 'Blink'!"

He laughs, but there's an uneasy truth in there. Doctor Who does tend to trigger a giddy level of expectation. And often an ego-savaging amount of post-match analysis, too. Moffat tasted fan love for the likes of "Blink" but swore off online forums when he won the showrunner's role. Surely he'll crack once his first episode is broadcast?

"No, I won't," he insists. "Nobody can avoid it completely — I see bits and people send me things, usually vicious things. I'm not swearing off the forums because I think they're stupid — I actually don't — or because they're vicious, because for the most part they're not. They're mostly wildly positive, with a few lonely people kicking up a stink. That's the absolute reality. It's just that I don't need any more of that fan voice in my head than I was born with. It's going on in here all the time anyway, like a fire alarm. I have to drown that out and make the show for the other 100% of the audience, because they're a statistically negligible amount, just a few people whose mysterious hobby is to decry endlessly a series they've ceased to enjoy watching. Whereas the correct response to ceasing to enjoy watching a series — which is fine — is to stop watching it."

Moffat knows who he's making this show for. And here, perhaps, is his mission statement.

"I think children will always need a hero who fights monsters but never becomes one," he tells us. "I think that's such an important story for children. And when I say children I mean children of 48. That's very central. As a myth, that's really important."

SFX takes a final peep behind the black drapes that surround the makeshift spaceship interior. We see a jacketless Matt Smith, rehearsing with the men who will soon step inside the Dalek casings. They block their moves with easy laughter, trading lines about cosmic domination and death, for all the world like eternal kids at breaktime, playing Doctor Who and The Daleks.

Best job in the universe, really, isn't it? SFX

Doctor Who returns to BBC One on Saturday 3 April.


Captions:

Showrunner Steven Moffat - the man with the best job in TV?

Ones Moffat made earlier "The Empty Child".

The Hugo-winning "The Girl In The Fireplace".

And "Blink", which also won a Hugo.

The Doctor meets Rory (Arthur Darvill), but what's his connection to Amy?

Still dressed as his morning and wears the new Doctor crashlands on Earth.

Only a few more weeks till we find out about that uniform...

The Doctor is hungry, so very hungry...

10 October 2009: filming continues on season opener "The Eleventh Hour".

On set for episodes 4 and 5, which see the Weeping Angels return.

Scenes from the fantastic series trailer, shown in 3D in cinemas.

Mysterious children from the series opener - could be spooky...

Amy and Rory check out a strange new patient In the hospital.

Behind the scenes at the shoot, and Jon Coates' original cover sketch.


HE'S CHANGING EVERY DAY FOR ME..."

Matt Smith

So what sort of Doctor will you give us?

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.


Are you enjoying it?

God, yeah. It's thrilling. It's hard work - he says so much! I can't really tell you what I was doing yesterday but it was brilliant, just brilliant - it involved a monster and me and... something brilliant. And you go, "God, this is my job, this is what I do!" You see the TARDIS there and it's just the most beautiful thing to look at. You can place it in any location and it looks like it's been painted by Picasso or Van Gogh. I'm constantly aware that it's a privilege and I feel very fortunate to have such great scripts and such a brilliant show.


Did you have much of a say in the costume?

I did actually, yeah. What's interesting about this particular ono Doctor's look is that it's going to constantly evolve. Steven is very keen that he's a man who gets up in the morning and wears clothes because it's cold. He's not only defined by one thing. If you look at every Doctor, every Doctor has something, and I have a bow tie. As always with this show you're dealing with history, and you go, "Oh, I can't have a scarf because Tom Baker had a scarf, I can't have a pair of Converse..." But I'm pleased, because the costume has come out of my personality, and it feels right on my body and my frame.


So what's the Doctor's relationship like with Amy?

Steven, in my opinion, has written the best companion. I think she's brilliant. She's a real challenge for the Doctor. The way they meet is just rather magical.


Is there any hint of a romance between them?

I don't know... I've only read six episodes. There might be!


What can you tell us about your first story?

I think there's a magic to it. Steven has written a rather brilliant fairytale, in such a magical way. The Doctor's getting to know his new body, which is just brilliant, all the great stuff that Steven's done with that. What's interesting about this particular series is that it has a thread twining through it. And you learn about that in episode one. And the Doctor's scoping it out. It's quite important for the rest of the tale.


It's your birthday tomorrow!

It is! 27! Oh, cracking on, aren't I! Blimey. God, another 900 years and I'm there...


"I SHOULDN'T GOOGLE MYSELF... IT'S TOO WEIRD FOR THE HEAD!'

Karen Gillan


What can you tell us about Amy?

Amy is an incredibly sassy young lady. She's not just the Doctor's companion, she's a person in her own right. She's Amy Pond, and she doesn't always take the Doctor's word as gospel. She's very sceptical of him and doesn't trust everything he says. She's kind of this alpha female and the Doctor's the ultimate alpha male, so together they have this interesting dynamic where they're on a par and they really bounce off each other. So yeah, it's an interesting pairing.

He likes feisty redheads, doesn't he? Yeah! There's a bit of a theme...


We can't help but notice that you're wearing a microscopic skirt in your first episode. Is that conventional policewoman's uniform, then?

Probably not, no! The thing about Amy and the Doctor's companions in general is that they have to do things in order to ensure that they're successful in their missions. And that possibly may have been one of the things she had to do...


Did you Google yourself when you were first announced as the new companion?

Yes, I totally did! I just started to read a few things, like articles that people had written, and then I started to read a couple of the comments and thought, "Right, I shouldn't do this, it's too weird for the head!" And then I stopped! People talking about you and projecting all these things on you... it was like, "Whoa, okay!" It's also really nice, on the other hand, because people care, and they're interested.


Does it help that you and Matt are new to the show at the same time?

Yeah, I feel really lucky to be going through this with someone who's also going through it at the same time. And we've kind of got this bond now, because we're sharing this amazing experience together, and hopefully that shows on screen with the characters we're playing. We're good friends.


What was it like stepping into the TARDIS for the first time?

The first time I walked into the inside of the TARDIS I was actually like, "Whoa...!" It was just incredible, it really was, the scale of it. And it's beautiful. I thought, "Right, this is a bit of what Amy must feel when she first walks onto it." So I just tried to call on that, really, and just exaggerate it a little bit.


You've done comedy with The Kevin Bishop Show. Is Amy going to be funny?

Amy is very, very witty. I think that's one of the big things about her, actually. And Steven is a really incredibly funny writer and he's given her some great one-liners, and she can really reel them off.


And are you anxious about how it's all going to be received?

I'm trying not to think about that, but obviously I can't help but think that the show is under so much scrutiny because it's so loved, and it's done so well before, been loved by so many. I can't help but think, "God, I hope this goes well." But we're doing our best, and I really believe that the show is good. And I hope other people do.


BEHIND THE COVER!

Wondering how we scored this issue's exclusive reality-warping 3D cover? SFX art bods Jon and Catherine headed to BBC Wales In Cardiff for a very special photoshoot with new Doctor Who stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan.

"It's the first 3D Doctor Who cover," Jon tells us. "It's new technology, and the new Doctor seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it out."

"Matt bounced in," adds Catherine. "He really got into it. So much energy. He wouldn't stop moving. He kept fencing with the Sonic into the lens and shouting!"

And Karen? "There was a trampoline at the side, and between shots she couldn't resist having a bit of a bounce!"

Now there's an idea for our next 3D cover...

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Setchfield, Nick (May 2010). The First Eleven. SFX p. 50.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Setchfield, Nick. "The First Eleven." SFX [add city] May 2010, 50. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Setchfield, Nick. "The First Eleven." SFX, edition, sec., May 2010
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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The First Eleven | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_First_Eleven | work=SFX | pages=50 | date=May 2010 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=12 April 2024 }}</ref>
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