On a drizzly April morning in Trafalgar Square, after seeing the TARDIS suspended ninety feet up and dangling next to Nelson’s column, a group of us were ushered through some underground doors to speak to Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman then filming 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor.
To get our bearings, let’s do diaries. The following took place on the 9th of April, days after The Rings of Akhaten had aired, months before the news of Smith leaving the show broke. It was back when John Hurt was just a guest star, Clara Oswald was still an enigma, Jenna Coleman still had her Louise, Matt Smith still had his natural hair, and Peter Capaldi was still just a humble Pompeian merchant. How tempus fugit.
Embargo lifted then, let’s travel back to a Tuesday morning six months ago, when we met the Eleventh Doctor and Clara in costume and fine fettle, full of beans and excited about the day’s stunt…
Lovely weather we’re having…
Matt Smith: I know! What we’re cutting this with, we shot on Saturday when it was really sunny, like proper sunny, blue skies. I’ve got it on my phone, I’ll show you. (Brings out a picture of a small dot hanging off the bottom of the TARDIS) That’s me. Yeah, yeah, honestly it is, yeah. Hopefully I’m going to go up in this one today.
Jenna Coleman: I reckon it’s just as high. We’re both basically angling at doing it.
MS: We’re trying to do it.
What are the legal limits of the point you have to step away from a stunt?
MS & JC: We don’t know.
MS: I don’t think there is a limit. I think ninety feet they’re panicking about, but I’m harnessed in, and we’re sort of up for it aren’t we?
JC: I am.
What can you tell us about what’s happening here today?
MS: Not much as always… we can tell you what you can see. It’s the 50th anniversary obviously, and the TARDIS is being flown in by something and attached to the bottom of it is the Doctor and inside it is… (gestures to Coleman)
MS: Miss Oswald
JC: And we’re meeting Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and a bit of the UNIT army. So that’s quite a bit of detail actually, that’s what we’ve been doing.
MS: And then we’re walking into the National Gallery.
JC: We’re on a mission.
And is the 50th anniversary story going to be set in London, or does it take place somewhere else, too?
MS: Well, as always with Doctor Who, there are many, varied locations, but some of it is in London. It’s great to actually get Nelson and the National Gallery.
JC: We were at the Tower of London yesterday, I think the pictures came out didn’t they? So we’ve got all these landmarks.
MS: And to actually have it makes a real difference I think, as opposed to just ‘Cut to exterior’, that, and it’s nice to film in London.
How is it filming in 3D, has it made any difference on set?
JC: It is pretty different.
MS: Yeah, it is. Because you all stand around, like now for instance, you can put on the glasses and watch it in 3D straight away.
JC: It’s pretty weird. On the first day I saw Matt in 3D, which was quite an unusual…
JC: You were coming right out of the screen.
MS: Handsomeness popping out everywhere! My chin in 3D!
How does filming in 3D change what you do in front of the camera?
JC: It changes the framing of things and it does take more time, but also little differences which Nick [Hurran], our director, is really great at is like when the Doctor points, because his hand on the screen is coming right out at you, you can kind of react more to things like that because on the screen it’s coming right at you.
There’s going to be more pointing in the anniversary special then?
JC: Not necessarily.
MS: [laughing] What’s the 50th anniversary about? Well, it’s full of pointing!
Will you be waving your sonic at the viewers?
MS: Yeah. But Sonic in 3D. Imagine more than one sonic in 3D though.
For the anniversary special read-through, what sort of seating plan was it? Were the two Doctors sat together or at opposite ends?
MS: [placing it out with his hands on the table] Me and Dave [David Tennant] were next to each other, Jenna was here.
JC: Joanna Page
MS: Joanna Page was on the left of David, and it was very exciting, it was a very exciting read-through.
Was that a read-through with John Hurt?
MS: No, John was doing Krapp’s Last Take over in Ireland, but it’s amazing to have an actor of his calibre around and just a sort of guy like, he really sort of ticks every box. He’s brilliant, and really kind.
JC: He’s very funny.
MS: He’s really witty and funny and he can make moments out of nothing, it’s extraordinary. He’s doing proper acting. I’m just sort of waving my hands a lot, you know what I mean? He’s really good.
How do you feel about the guest list? Because the cast for the 50th is incredible.
MS: It’s exciting.
JC: It was really great. What I loved about the read-through was hearing the two Doctors together as well. You read it on the page and you know it’s going to be something special, but it just really came to life, as you can imagine, so all of that stuff is great.
MS: It’s wonderful having David back. I had a very immediate reaction to his Doctor being back. It’s like ‘Wow! He’s back’. It’s exciting, it is. And I’ve got to say, those days are quite exciting aren’t they?
JC: They are. It’s like the Doctor meeting somebody as fast as himself. You can just imagine what happens.
MS: And it’s just funny.
How do they get on? Because historically, when the Doctors meet they don’t really like each other. Is there a bit of that element to it?
MS: I think there’ll always be a bit of that. They’ve got to size each other up. You’ll all have to wait and see how they get on but I think, I don’t know really, maybe it depends on the actors. [Everyone laughs]. I mean, I heard a couple of them didn’t get on… but me and David get on really well so on-screen…
I think there’s always got to be a sense of ‘mine’s bigger than yours’, do you know what I mean? Whose TARDIS is faster? Whose is the better blue, whose costume? And Steven [Moffat] is so good at plucking all of those details out of each Doctor and of your own personality as well, cue the chin jokes. [Laughter].
And it’s not weird having the old guy back?
But you took his job, Matt.
MS: Well that’s the nature of the show isn’t it? And this is about celebrating the show, it’s about celebrating the 50th.
JC: They’re such different Doctors as well.
MS: But the same person.
JC: Exactly. So you’ve kind of got the Doctor having an argument with himself, but completely different sides of the Doctor so that’s what’s great about it.
MS: And they react completely differently to the same situation. They react differently to women, they react differently to certain aliens, but for the show and everything, you put your egos to one side and you celebrate the show. That’s what the fans want, and that’s what it’s about and so there were no problems at all.
JC: You said as well about the fact that your Doctor is actually the oldest Doctor.
MS: But looks the youngest. I can say that without that feeling like an insult can’t I? [All agree]
Is there a certain amount of possessiveness over the companions?
MS: Yes. A lot. A lot, which again, is very funny, and of course, a certain Billie Piper is coming back as well, so there’s a lot of fun to be had. And that’s what it should be, shouldn’t it? It should be fun. I mean, I’ve known for ages it was multiple Doctors, I just didn’t tell you guys. [laughter].
When did you know? So we can go back and root through all the lies?
MS: Ages ago. I knew, like, months ago, we all did. We always know really far in advance… no, no we don’t [laughter]. But I knew that last year.
Are you sad that Christopher Eccleston decided he didn’t want to? I guess you can respect his decision?
MS: I absolutely respect it, that’s his decision and as a fan, yes. But I wouldn’t want to comment too much on that because there’s absolutely no pressure for anyone to do anything. He was a wonderful Doctor, he’s a brilliant actor and this wasn’t the right thing, so that’s fine and onward you go. No hard feelings whatsoever. I have the greatest respect for Chris and I’ve always admired him as an actor. I’d have liked to have done something with him, but hey-ho, you know, it becomes something else and here we are.
When you say multiple Doctors, how many are you talking?
MS: Just the two.
Have you acted alongside the Zygons yet?
MS: No, I haven’t acted alongside them.
JC: But we know them really well.
MS: Yeah, he’s such a nice guy – Aidan [Cook].
JC: He plays loads of the aliens.
MS: And he’s really posh, it’s like [adopts very posh voice] ‘Hello, how are you! Good morning!’ from every monster! You know the one in The Rings of Akhaten, the grandfather-y one, Aidan played him and he’d be in there going ‘Well hello!’ ‘How are you’?’ ‘I’m all very well thank you, marvellous’ then it’s ‘Rrrrggggngh!’
Have you seen the classic episodes with the Zygons?
MS: Yeah, I’ve YouTubed it actually. I’ve never seen the actual ep. That’s good as well, having a classic monster, because it’s totally about old and new. I think whilst it’s about celebrating the heritage of it, it’s also about reminding people that this show is going to continue moving forward with great momentum, and so it’s good, I think you’ve got a bit of everything in there.
What do you think about Doctor Who being shown in cinemas?
MS: I think it’s about time, frankly. I think it’s exciting, in 3D. This show was born for 3D. It looks brilliant.
JC: It really lends itself. It’s so dynamic anyway as a show, so as soon as you do put it in 3D with the colours, it really comes alive. So I think it’s going to lend itself really well, and to cinema as well.
MS: I’m very excited about that, and it’s good that it’s going to be hopefully a simultaneous thing so even if you’re in America or Australia, you can watch it at whatever o’clock, do you know what I mean? It will hopefully feel like a collaborative Who experience for everyone, as much as possible.
Has the atmosphere on set felt different because it’s been a bit more cinematic than for TV?
JC: It has been a buzz. Is that how you mean, because we’re filming the 50th?
Yeah, and because it’s more feature-length.
MS: We hope so, I hope it’s more feature-length. It depends what slot they give us, but for my money I want it to be feature-length. Whether the guys upstairs do I don’t know, but I think it should be.
Depending on the timeslot the episode is shown, is it going to be scarier than usual?
MS: I think it will absolutely feel like an episode of Doctor Who, but in 3D, with more jazz.
JC: What Nick our director is really trying to make sure of is that the 2D is protected as well
MS: And it works.
JC: So for anybody watching it at home on the telly, it feels like Doctor Who episode and none of that’s compromised for the 3D, so it’s basically finding a way for it to work with both.
And Matt, where will you be when it is broadcast?
MS: I’ll be sat in a cinema with you lot. I’ll be with you.
Have you ever watched The Five Doctors?
MS: I think it’s a fabulous episode. I haven’t seen The Three Doctors. There’s the three of them with Pertwee, Troughton and Hartnell, but The Five Doctors I really like that episode. I think that and Tomb [of the Cybermen] are sort of two of my favourites, and The City of Death I like as well.
Because of The Five Doctors, I think there’s an expectation from fans that this anniversary episode should be like that but bigger?
MS: Yeah. I know, but we don’t have five.
JC: It would be too busy with five. At the moment, it’s quite a surreal thing to be on set as it is.
MS: Can you imagine? It’s quite bizarre. You’ve already got two Sonics, two TARDISes…
Is it odd in a way? Because you’re used to carrying the show and you’re used to having all the crazy dialogue, and now there’s someone else who’s also…
MS: Who’s used to that as well.
That must be great mustn’t it?
MS: Yeah. To be honest with you, I quite like working every day, I quite like the rhythm of that, but there’s more days off on this. I had a day off yesterday [sense of wonder in his voice].
What did you do with it?
MS: I went to the gym, and learnt my lines.
Was it interesting to see how David does it? Because you’ve been doing it for four years, and you must look at him and think, ‘that’s interesting’.
MS: I think we both sort of look at each other. We had this conversation, and we’re like ‘Oh no, I should be doing it like that [laughter] why am I not doing it like that? And he said ‘I was thinking the same thing’, so I said ‘Oh good!’.
I just think you’ve got to put your ego about your performance away because clearly it’s such a sort of showman’s part that there is a degree of possession and one can see why there were frictions in the past between the boys, but also, it’s just a job and we’re actors so we act. And it’s fun.
JC: You kind of feed off each other, and then that kind of takes over more than anything.
MS: Yeah, and we’re really developing a sort of… I’m really enjoying it and I think he’s a fabulous Doctor, so I sort of go, ‘Oh my God, it’s Doctor Who’ and I’m Doctor Who, so I’m having a laugh with it.
Ten years from now, will you be back for the 60th anniversary special to be someone else’s Doctor?
MS: If they ask me, yeah. I’d come back, why not.
Assuming you’re not still there.
MS: Assuming I’m not still here in ten years. Listen, if I’m here in ten years, then, God, I won’t be here in ten years.
JC: You’ll be completely grey.
MS: Alright, alright. That’s like you admitting that there is a bit of grey there!
JC: I’m saying in ten years, you’ll be…
Jenna, have you met Billie Piper?
JC: I haven’t. Matt is good friends with Billie, they have mutual friends but I haven’t yet.
I was wondering if there’d been any companion-to-companion advice, but obviously not.
JC: No, but this is what happened with Karen. We’ve both kind of played it cool, but in a way you want to be like ‘tell me everything that I need to know’, that’s what you want to do.
MS: But you do play it cool, because it’s such a weird thing, because you’re so aware that you’re taking over, so it’s quite a strange transaction isn’t it?
MS: Because often, even if you are leaving, I think it’s a sense of ‘I’m leaving, I don’t really want to leave, but, good luck’ and then you’re coming in and it’s a weird thing isn’t it, and you’ve got to make it your own and do it your own way. You’ll get on really well with her though.
JS: We’ve got a couple of mutual friends so…
How does Clara respond to David Tennant’s Doctor?
JC: I don’t kind of want to say, because that’s the exciting thing about all of it, the direction that Steven’s gone in how everybody relates to each other in it so I don’t want to say really.
Will she be explained by the 50th special?
JC: We get the pay-off at the end of series seven.
So everyone’s fully aware of who she is?
MS: She is a Zygon [laughter].
Now that the first two episodes with you as a bonafide companion have gone out, how do you feel the reaction’s been?
MS: It’s been brilliant, by the way.
JC: It’s strange because I suppose there’s been so many introductions, and each time it’s like ‘Oh thank God, that was a good reaction and it went down really well’ but then each time it’s really felt like a new start, like we’re starting from scratch again with each Clara that we’ve met.
MS: It’s such a weird experience again, because each episode – I remember after The Eleventh Hour, you’re going [wipes forehead] Phew, one down. No-one’s tried to punch me in the street yet!
JC: The public and people do have such a possession over…
MS: An ownership.
JC: An ownership, yeah so I suppose you can’t help but want to please them really.
What do you think of your action figure, Jenna?
JC: I saw a template of one, and then the leg and the arm fell off. I’m yet to see the new version. [To Matt] Yours looks really like you though.
MS: Yours will look like you.
JC: Somebody handed it to me and asked, what do you think, and you kind of had to take notes on the action figure. It’s weird.
MS: I have quite a strange relationship with it I realise, because you can’t have it in your house. Where do you put it? I just give them to my mum. It’s strange.
JC: Have you got any?
MS: Not in the house, no. But I’ve got them in boxes, but I don’t know why. I think maybe I’ll sign them and they’ll be worth something one day, and I think, but what am I going to do – sign it and give it away? It’s a weird thing. A pension plan!
Do you give Doctor Who presents to family and friends?
JC: I’ve started doing that!
MS: You cheapskate! [laughter]
JC: Not as a birthday present, but I got sent a box of stuff, so my Grandad has a TARDIS dressing gown.
MS: Wow, really? Oh classic.
JC: Have you not seen them?
MS: One of those blue ones?
JC: Yeah, with the windows on and everything.
MS: It’s wrong, but I want one. They’re brilliant. I gave Rich [Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden, and Jenna Coleman’s other half].
JC: [laughing] Oh yeah.
MS: A Tom Baker dressing gown, which I was given, by Matt at Worldwide. I thought again, I thought I can’t wear this, I mean, what are people going to think?
JC: [laughing] When you open the door to the postman!
MS: Like ‘Hello! Look who I am!’, so I gave it to Rich, who liked it.
JC: He loves it.
MS: Does he wear that? He doesn’t wear it, does he?
JC shakes head.
MS: He doesn’t wear it? He was all like ‘I’m so going to wear this’
JC: It’s like a memento!
Tom Baker made it onto underpants, so you’ve still got that to come…
JC: There’s everything. There’s babygrows…
MS: Are there babygrows?
JC: Yep. I just got given some babygrows. I’m getting all the merchandise.
MS: Really? Why didn’t I get any babygrows? I know babies!
Has Richard [Madden] got a Game of Thrones figure?
JC: Yeah, he has. Although their heads are really… they’ve got like really square heads. Have you seen them?
MS: No. Someone’s not doing their job properly then are they?
Is it weird seeing your face everywhere Matt? You must be used to it by now?
MS: I thought about that the other day in the Co-Op. You know they have those Doctor Who sticker books? And yeah, it is quite weird. It doesn’t stop feeling bizarre, because it is quite bizarre.
JC: Because I was used to seeing pictures of you with the sonic and Karen [Gillan] and Arthur [Darvill], what was weird was – because you know that image so well – to suddenly see yourself put in it, and it’s the same watching the episodes now.
MS: I think it feels really settled though that you’re in those images. I think it looks really Doctory-y, Companion-y. I think it feels really familiar now.
We know two Doctors and the Zygons, but presumably, there’s going to be loads of other surprises in the 50th?
MS: Yeah, you’ve got John in it of course, and I think there’ll be a lot of clever nods, and things that are familiar to each character. As I say, it’s a bit of old, bit of new, something borrowed, something blue… Hopefully it will be like the best wedding you’ve ever been to. But with a Doctor Who episode in the cinema and a big party afterwards, what more could you want?
Because you have the old family coming back?
JC: David and Billie are like the classic Doctor and companion and then the new as well.
MS: And Steven, being very clever as always and funny, and Jemma [Redgrave] and Ingrid [Oliver] are brilliant, they’re really good.
Do you get strange reactions Matt, when you and David are seen together. Do people freak out?
MS: Some people freak out. Steven Moffat mainly. Whenever I see him, he’s like this [huge grin], he’s like a boy, like a child, and that’s what’s exciting. And that is what exciting. It’s fun, it’s fun.
JC: The head turns doesn’t it? It took me a day or so to stop being like [giggles] about the two Doctors.
It must be doubly weird for both of you to be in costume again.
MS: It feels quite natural. It feels like he’s back and it feels like a celebration of his Doctor absolutely, so it won’t disappoint.
Are you filming the Christmas episode afterwards, then do you go on a break?
MS: Go on a break for a few months, then we come back and we shoot Christmas, then we go on to the new series that winter basically, I think. I mean, we definitely get Christmas done this year, then the series, I don’t know, it either starts end of this year or start of next.
Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman, thank you very much!
The Day of the Doctor airs at 7.50pm on Saturday the 23rd of November on BBC One, in selected cinemas, and around the world.
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