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'Doctor Who' Star Matt Smith Previews New Episodes, Plus Lots of Intel on What's to Come

by Maureen Ryan, posted Aug 24th 2011 11:30AM
'Doctor Who' returns 9PM ET Saturday on BBC America. Finally.

It feels as though we've had to wait an eternity for the show's sixth season to recommence, and there were dozens of unanswered questions floating around by the end of 'A Good Man Goes to War,' the ripping mid-season finale that aired in June. The good news is, the show's executive producer, Steven Moffat, and star, Matt Smith, both said in recent interviews that all those big questions will be answered by the time the seventh season wraps up Oct. 1. My interview with Smith is below, and I'll post the interview with Moffat soon.

Many of the biggest 'Doctor Who' questions revolve around River Song, a.k.a. Melody Pond, who, it emerged in 'A Good Man Goes to War,' is the daughter of the Doctor's companions, Rory and Amy. Be assured that the interview with Matt Smith below doesn't contain any specific intel about what's to come. But after the interview with Smith, you'll get a River Song-style warning about "Spoilers!" which include the very interesting (and River-centric) title of the upcoming season finale.

This post also contains several images from the next few episodes of the BBC America program, including Saturday's outing, 'Let's Kill Hitler.' There are a few photos that might be considered spoilery, but they're at the very end of the post.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Maureen Ryan: I was really interested in something you said near the end of the Comic-Con panel, which is that the Doctor is so haunted by the things that he's done and the people he's put in danger that he kind of keeps spinning like a top. Was that always your conception of the character?
Matt Smith: Yeah, I mean just when you sort of look into his history, I think it's there. There's been a lot of blood on his hands -- it's there to be seen, really. I think it's just quite an interesting reason to make someone be quite bright [behaviorally]. Because it's a contradiction and it's dramatic – the contradictions are the bits you try and unfold and you look for.

There are many things that make him distinctively a UK or British icon, but there's very much a mode or a thread in British culture to cover up pain with a laugh or with bright cleverness. Of course, people do that everywhere. But I think especially in English culture, there's this element of not wanting to reveal too much to people. You want to keep things on the surface, because you want to control who knows about your pain or your personal baggage. Do you think that that's at all fair?
Yeah. I think that's a fair assumption. It's a general one, but there's a degree of truth about Britain. Whether you could apply that to do the Doctor, I don't know. But I haven't thought, "Oh he's British, therefore ..."

"He's like this." I can see that. My husband's British so I spend a certain amount of time there. It just strikes me that that's a very...
It's a very British trait.

To be very witty and clever...
Yeah, with your pain.

And then you can control it in some way, you can keep a lid on it. It seems like this season, all the Doctor's sins are coming home to roost. And there's this interesting idea that 'A Good Man Goes to War' explored, the idea that whether he's a good guy or bad guy depends on your perspective. Do you think it's debatable or do you think he's a good guy?
Well, I think fundamentally he's a good guy. But I think it's a very interesting situation for the Doctor, because this Doctor, particularly, lies quite a lot, which I think is really interesting. "Rule 1: The Doctor lies." There's greater good that he's fighting for. Actually, he makes very tough decisions. Often very selfish decisions, but unselfish as well, because it's often for the good of the universe or the whole, as opposed to [the good of] the isolated group. But it all ties in, that's why it's been very difficult for him -- there is a lot of blood on his hands, absolutely.

In that sense, the best thing the Doctor could do for Rory and Amy is park them on a nice street in Surrey in front of a nice little house and say, "Go live your life."
Well, that's not a bad theory. You watch [the show].

Oh, interesting. But that must be a source of pain for him, that he has to continually do that with his companions.
Yeah, yeah. It really is. And so therefore, in the face of pain or an alien or whatever, he laughs. Because what else can he do?

The way you and Steven have talked about the Doctor has made me reconsider him. He could be viewed as a destructive force in the lives of people he comes across.
Yeah, absolutely. He probably – he is. But whilst he's destructive, he's bloody good fun. It shows a part of the universe that they can't touch, they can't even fathom. And he can put you in touch with that. So there's a risk with being with him. But I think if you're a go-getter, it's a risk that's definitely worth taking.

And his companions are making this choice.
Yeah, absolutely. And he's going "You want to go home? I'll drop you off anytime." He's said that to Amy many, many times. But he's very fond of Amy and Rory. He loves his companions.

I really enjoy this new wrinkle of having a married couple in the TARDIS. I think on some level, the Doctor knows he can't have that kind or relationship, or he can't sustain that in the long term. But he can live vicariously through them.
I think that's exactly [right]. I think that's one of the most interesting things about the Doctor is that he sort of envies the human race. He finds it weird and peculiar that people get married to each other and spend their whole life with one person, because he keeps springing about. I think he does play vicariously through [others], in a way. But also, he finds it odd. He would never settle down. He'll move on and have a different companion someday. He'll move on and be a different Doctor someday.

This was always a kids' show -- at least it's seen that way in the UK -- but I'm really intrigued by how the show has been introducing really grown-up ideas, especially Steven introducing these complex nuances in the relationships among the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River.
Yeah, I think Steven's writing is so detailed and so layered and it plays into the hands of science fiction in a wonderful way, because [science fiction is] all about layers. That said, the Doctor can sort of operate in a similar way to 'The Simpsons,' because kids can laugh at him tripping up, and adults can laugh at River flirting with him or the Doctor saying some sort of weird sexual innuendo that he doesn't really understand. It operates on so many levels. Steven writes with children in mind all the time. He just never patronizes them, which is his great virtue, I think.

I watch it with my eight-year-old. And by the way you're his favorite Doctor. He will not even have that discussion. You're it, as far as he's concerned.
Really? That's what's so exciting for me -- that hopefully one day, when he's, like, 25, people will say, "Who is your Doctor?" and he'll go, "Matt Smith."

When you have that formative Doctor experience, that's it. There's no going back.
Who is your Doctor?

Well, Tom Baker.
Yeah. [Note: Smith said at Comic-Con that Patrick Troughton and Baker were his favorite Doctors.]

And you're absolutely doing your own thing with the role. But it's great that you're bringing forward that thread of the Doctor that Baker had -- the Doctor who's just a little bit mad [Note: I meant "mad" as in crazy or unpredictable, not angry].
I hope so, because that's the bit that interests me the most.

As I re-watched 'A Good Man Goes to War' recently, I really appreciate the way that you modulated the performance -- the Doctor has to be quite calm in some moments, commanding at others, and spinning like a top at various times. I think that modulation is key, because if it was all him being so bright and mad, we might not empathize with the Doctor as much. But is that modulation something you really have to work at, or does it just comes naturally?
I think with any performance you have to color it. That's the clever thing about Troughton -- he never asks you to find him peculiar. And if you just look at how mad I am, I look ridiculous -- we'd cease to believe it. But it's got to be based in his truth. [When it comes to] his madness, nothing is faked. It's just the way that he sniffs something. He's different to another way a human being sniffs something.

Do you feel like you've changed your approach between your first season and the second? Was there a settling-in process?
I don't know if that's a conscious thing. I hope there's an evolution in my performance. And I hope that I've gained confidence, and I hope that has, in turn, affected the way in which he's gained a new confidence and has a new perspective. You know, it's a "backs against the wall" show to make. It's not an easy show to make. There's nine months to get 13 episodes done, which is a lot.

There are a lot of dangling plot points at the midpoint of the season. I know you can't address them individually, but do they all get addressed?

Yeah, it's all resolved. And that's the weird thing about people saying "It's too complicated," because you've got to [watch] the whole season to judge that question.

There are people like me who are terrible at math.
Yeah, I'm terrible at math.

There's a Doctor who is 200 years older and then he dies and there's this girl in the spacesuit...
And it all makes sense.

Somehow. In these next six episodes, will there be a bunch of standalone episodes with some bigger ones towards the end?
Yeah, there's a couple of standalones in there, but actually in every episode, you're learning something about our four central characters' fates, which I think is really great. And we're building towards a huge climax, which is tied in of course to episodes one and two [of the sixth season, 'The Impossible Astronaut' and 'Day of the Moon'].

At this stage, do you ever think to the next stage of your career? Do you ever have the thought of when you might want to do other things?
Yeah, I'm gonna shoot the next season [season 7, part of which airs next year] and then see where I end up after that. Of course you do [think about the future], but by the same token I think there's a skill in focusing on the task in hand, which is what I try to do. But of course I want to have a film career eventually. And I'd love to get back into theater. But I love making this show. I love watching it, I love talking about it and being part of it. I love working with Steven. I feel very privileged to be a part of it.

You love Cardiff [where 'Doctor Who' is filmed] best of all.
I love Cardiff best of all. I've grown to love Cardiff. But it's pretty tough up there for nine months. It rains a lot.

As promised, here is the extra information on the remainder 'Doctor Who's' sixth season Spoilers, sweetie! But they're not serious spoilers. What follows are mostly episode titles and such.

• I spent my recent vacation in England, and one of the many things that makes it a great nation is that it has not just one but two 'Doctor Who' magazines (one of them, 'Doctor Who Adventures,' is aimed at kids but you'd better believe that I have worn the Ood mask that was enclosed in the most recent issue). But by reading both magazines obsessively and also checking fan sites and the BBC's site for the show, as well as reading stories in the U.K. media, I was able to cobble together this roster of info on the second half of season 6. And of course we've got our own 'Doctor Who' stories here, and my review of the season 6 premiere is here.

• So, without further ado, the returning characters in the second half of the season include the Silence, the Weeping Angels, "exploding Cybermen," creepy dolls (see the photo at left from 'Night Terrors') and a "huge, hairy beastie," according to Doctor Who Adventures magazine.

• Here's an interesting tidbit: In a photo on the BBC's 'Doctor Who' web site, River Song is wearing a black eyepatch, very similar to the one worn by Madame Kovarian, the woman who took Amy and Rory's baby, Melody. Dun-dun-dun!

Here are episode titles for the next six outings:

* 'Let's Kill Hitler': The official description of Saturday's episode: "'In the desperate search for Melody Pond, the TARDIS crash lands in 1930s Berlin, bringing the Doctor face to face with the greatest war criminal in the Universe. And Hitler. The Doctor must teach his adversaries that time travel has responsibilities -- and in so doing, learns a harsh lesson in the cruelest warfare of all." Check out a clip from the episode here and there's more on the BBC site.

* 'Night Terrors' by Mark Gatiss: A little boy is afraid of something... really afraid (with good reason, judging by the photo above). In a couple of interviews (and in this preview of the second half of the season), Moffat has said this is the episode that parents of young 'Who' viewers will curse him for. Update: Here's the official description: "The Doctor receives a distress call from the scariest place in the Universe. A child's bedroom. Terrified of the monsters in his cupboard, George's pleas for help break through the barriers of all time and space. But allaying his fears won't be easy, even for the Doctor, because George's monsters are real."

* 'The Girl Who Waited' by Tom MacRae. An Amy-centric episode in which Karen Gillan plays a 57-year old version of Amy Pond. "Generally, we see her really evolving through motherhood," Gillan told the Times of London. "Wait til you see Karen Gillan in this episode," Moffat wrote in Doctor Who Magazine. "She'll break your heart. Twice." (Interestingly enough, the Amy photo at right is from 'Let's Kill Hitler,' not from 'The Girl Who Waited.')

* 'The God Complex' by Toby Whithouse. This one features David Walliams from 'Little Britain' as a giant beast stomping around a hotel.

* 'Closing Time' by Gareth Roberts: The penultimate episode of the season has the much-anticipated return of James Corden as the Doctor's former roommate, Craig Owens, whom you'll recall from the delightful season 5 episode 'The Lodger.'

* 'The Wedding of River Song' by Steven Moffat is the season 6 finale. (The photo at left is not from that episode, it's from 'Let's Kill Hitler.')

• There will also be a Christmas special later this year. The title and the guest stars for that have not been announced yet.

• Final thought: Another reason England rules: You can buy 'Doctor Who' socks at a leading department store! And if you're anywhere near London, you can visit the very fun 'Doctor Who Experience,' which my family and I greatly enjoyed. You better believe I cleaned out that gift shop to the best of my ability. Look for some fun 'Doctor Who' swag in my holiday charity auction this December!

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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I have been a Dr. Who fan for years and many doctors. Saturdays cant go by fast enough. I think the Doctor should have a companion to love for awhile (Like River Song) and the two of them should go on adventures together and argue and love

August 29 2011 at 5:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Fabulous! Sounds like you had a wonderful (and expensive!) vacation! Have you watched the clip shows BBCAmerica has been running as a lead-up to the series' return? They've been quite entertaining. I can't wait for Saturday night!

August 24 2011 at 5:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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