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Young folks take charge on Doctor Who

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2011-07-30 Times Colonist.jpg


Everyone's favourite Time Lord is back with a new season and looking younger than ever

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Doctor Who, BBC's cult science-fiction drama about a time-travelling humanoid alien known as the Doctor, is 48-years old.

Matt Smith, the Doctor's latest physical incarnation is 28. And a youthful 28 at that. In person, the one-time English football prospect — he's a supporter of Blackburn Rovers — is high-energy and affable, with a tendency to bounce up and down with impulsive excitement, as though, like the character he plays on television, each thought comes hurtling at him out of the blue.

He's tall, too. The TV screen often masks actors' real height. Smith's acting partner in Doctor Who, Inverness, Scotland born-and-bred Karen Gillan, is tall, too. Together, the two have a way of commanding any room they walk into or even an open-air Los Angeles rooftop, as they did last month at a West Hollywood restaurant called, wait for it, The Rooftop by Gordon Ramsay at the London.

Gillan, just 23, grew up in a Doctor Who household. That's how Gillan was introduced to the strange, wonderful universe of .time lords, daleks, oods, cybermen and gastropods.

(Gastropods, for the uninitiated, are a race of giant slugs who once kidnapped two math geniuses to pilot their planet into a dying sun, creating an explosion that would scatter their eggs across the universe. Now you know.)

"I was quite a bit younger," Gillan recalled, "and my dad was, like, 'Doctor Who is coming back! They should do a story about the Loch Ness monster.' "

Gillan wanted to be an actor from the time she was a toddler. She cut her teeth in community theatre in the Scottish Highlands, but she could never have imagined that one day she would be playing one of Doctor Who's companions on a resurrected Doctor Who that has defied expectations and taken U.K. ratings by storm, winning several BAFTA awards along the way.

In Canada, the show airs on Space. New episodes return Aug. 27, starting with the breezily titled Let's Kill Hitler!

On this night, Smith and Gillan, looking visibly relaxed, were basking in the afterglow of their recent appearance at ComicCon in San Diego where, Smith admitted, he was almost mauled alive by rabid fans.

"It was wonderful, actually," Smith said. "The spirit of the place, and for the show to have such impact for us to fill that hall, was remarkable."

"We did a panel," Gillan said, "and six and a half thousand people were there, all waving sonic screwdrivers in the air." Much has been made of Smith's youthful age: Not only was Doctor Who already on the air for 20 years the day he was born, but he's the youngest of the 11 actors to have played the Doctor so far.

"I think the whole issue of me being the youngest has worked in my favour," Smith said. "I think there's an interesting contradiction of having a young face and an old soul. There's something very funny about it, and it also allows you to reinvent being old. Its interesting because, when I first took the part on, obviously that was a bone of contention for some of the diehard fans.

"And, yes, I do have a favourite Doctor. Patrick Troughton. Because what's sort of wonderful about him is he's weird and peculiar, without ever asking you to find him weird or peculiar. And I think that's quite a feat when you're playing the Doctor.

"As a character, the Doctor is excited and fascinated by the tiniest of things. By everything. By every single thing. That's what's wonderful about him as a character. Its why children like him, I think. Because he doesn't dismiss anything. He's not cynical. He's open to every single facet of the universe."

Gillan does have a favourite companion, as it turns out.

"I remember watching Billie Piper play Rose. She's my favourite because she was brilliant with Chris Eccleston and she was brilliant with David Tennant. That made me realize just how important it is to have that chemistry between the Doctor and companion. That's the heart of the show. So, yeah, it has to be Rose."

As for the new episodes, Gillan promises a short and trippy road, with a lot of hairpin turns.

"The whole dynamic changed after the revelation at the end of the last (group of episodes). I had some fun with Alex Kingston with that."

"Yeah," Smith chimed in. "And, you know, of course there's the great revelation, probably the biggest of the series. I think, in all honesty, that Let's Kill Hitler! maybe my favourite episode to date. It just rockets along, and the payoff is exactly what you would want it to be. It doesn't disappoint."

Still to be resolved: Gillan's character Amy Pond has kissed the Doctor, and so has her daughter. Which is, well, quite weird.

"Awkward," Gillan said.

"No," Smith said.

And they all laughed.

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  • Title: Young folks take charge on Doctor Who
  • Publication: Times Colonist
  • Date: 2011-07-30

  • Title: Paging (a youthful) Doctor Who
  • Publication: The Vancouver Sun
  • Date: 2011-08-24