Comic-Con Sunday was undoubtedly a good day to be a fan of Doctor Who. (Maybe not as good as August 27, when the show returns.) The thousands of loyal fans, many of whom camped out overnight (my friends included), proudly showed off their enthusiasm while awaiting the start of the panel, filling Hall H with a sea of fezzes, clapping to the beat of a Timelord’s heart, and lighting up the room with their favorite type of sonic screwdriver.
And if I had a nickel for every time I saw a bow tie, a Dalek, or a Tardis dress, I’d probably be able to stay at the adjacent San Diego Marriott for next year’s con.
Needless to say, Hall H was overwhelmed with Doctor Who love by the time Karen Gillan and Matt Smith finally appeared onstage, with Smith greeting the masses with a simple, “Hello, Comic-Con! Having a good time?”
Joined by executive producers Piers Wenger and Beth Willis and writer Toby Whithouse ("Vampires of Venice"), the panel talked about what it is like to work on, and essentially be in control of, such a hugely popular and beloved television series.
Interestingly enough, Gillan and Smith didn’t actually grow up regularly watching Doctor Who because it wasn’t actually on television when they were young. “But obviously we knew what it was because everyone knows what it is in the UK,” said Gillan. Whithouse also commented on how closely tied Doctor Who really is to British history. “The thing about Doctor Who is that it’s so ingrained in the English consciousness, it’s part of the DNA of English Society. That’s genuinely no overstatement—it’s massively important. It’s a phenomenon in the UK.”
As for Doctor Who’s popularity in the US, Wenger and Smith couldn’t be more excited at how well the show is being received. “What the difference is that you guys here in the US—you really commit, to the cheering, especially,” said a very appreciative Smith. “And it’s wonderful to be a part of a legacy in Doctor Who, to be part of something that has such history. It’s remarkable.”
For the producers and writers who were actually old enough to have grown up following the Doctor’s adventures, working on Doctor Who fulfilled the biggest of their childhood dreams. And it was lovely to learn that the contributors to the show are just like the thousands of other fans, passionate and insanely giddy over all things Doctor Who.
Willis shared the glee of going to work and reading Moffat’s scripts—“it was like being in a toy shop every single day.” Wenger and Whithouse admitted to having spent the bulk of their formative years doing “research” for the show: “Yeah, we’ve spent all of our lives working towards this moment. It’s true—little did I know when I was child that I was essentially researching my future job.”
And according to Willis, not even the amazing Neil Gaiman could resist devolving into an excited little boy when he was finally given the chance to pen a script for Doctor Who. “When we first got Neil Gaiman’s first draft, it said on Scene Two, ‘INTERIOR: TARDIS’—and then the next line was, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life to write that. That felt amazing.’ He just had to pause for that moment. And I think that was still in there in the read-through. We couldn’t bear to lose that line.”
One panelist’s theory behind the secret to Doctor Who’s long-running success was the show’s ability to continually regenerate the lead part. “I think that’s why the show has been able to survive for so long because it can constantly be rebooted and updated,” said Willis. “And I think that’s definitely one of the reasons why people feel it’s so special and they love it so much.”
Because they’ve only worked on the series with the Eleventh Doctor, Wenger and Willis cited Matt Smith as their Doctor—which then prompted the other panelists to list their own favorite Doctors, excluding Smith’s Eleventh. Tom Baker was the favorite among the producers, for he was their first Doctor. Gillan chose Christopher Eccleston, while Smith showed love for Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker, too.
“But it’s so hard to choose, isn’t it?” admitted Smith. “What’s so wonderful about this show is that everyone has their own Doctor. And so hopefully, in twenty years time there will be five-year-olds, who’ll then be 25 and going, ‘Yeah, Matt Smith is my Doctor and Amy Pond is my companion.’ That’s the beauty of the show.”
As a testament to Matt Smith’s superb portrayal of the Doctor, Piers Wenger pointed out the fact that Smith is the first actor to be nominated for a BAFTA for his role in Doctor Who. Wenger also revealed that Smith’s casting was the easiest casting decision that any of them has ever been involved in. “It was just so bloody obvious from the moment Matt walked into the room,” he gushed.
“Quite often when you’re casting a big, important part, it can become very heated and everyone could have their own agendas and opinions—but it was just really simple. I remember the day after we’d met Matt for the second time, Steven just sent me an email that just said, ‘It’s him. Let’s face it. It’s always been him.”
“I wish I was as cool as the Doctor,” Smith joked. “Never gonna happen. It’s just like how Amy Pond is way cooler than Karen.” To which Gillan replied, “Yeah, that’s definitely true.”
The Q&A portion of the panel was filled with even more gushing for Matt Smith and Karen Gillan—even Arthur Darvill ("stuck" in England performing in Doctor Faustus at the Globe) was shown some love when a fan asked why the writers keep killing his character Rory. “At least he learns a lot every time he dies, right?” quipped Willis.
A little girl dressed as a Weeping Angel asked the ever present question of “Will there ever be a female Doctor?” Rather than being totally wishy-washy about the answer, Piers Wenger concluded that will probably not happen anymore because River Song stole the thunder of a possible female Doctor—“Could there ever be a female time traveler to match River, in terms of kickass alien-fighting brilliance?”
One man asked Smith if he knew that the Doctor’s short-lived fez would be something that would eventually sweep across Doctor Who fandom. “No, actually. That’s one of those things that you have no idea about,” said Smith.
He then revealed that the head piece was only added to the Doctor’s wardrobe because Steven Moffat got annoyed at him. “That’s just me bleating on to him about wanting to wear a hat. So he gave me the most stupid hat he could think of.” (Hmm… that’s probably why Moffat had River blow up the fez shortly after its debut.)
Surprisingly, the fez wasn’t Smith’s only contribution to the Eleventh Doctor’s iconic outfit. Smith had contributed the tweed jacket and the bowtie during the costume design process, although it took a few minutes for producer Beth Willis to warm up to the idea.
“When we saw the bowtie, we all went ‘Noooo!’ I went out of the room for a few minutes, but when I came back everyone was looking a bit anxious and saying ‘Show Beth, do it again, Matt.’ And he put the bowtie on and it just clicked. And that was Matt, he came up with it all.”
(Below -- the trailer for Series Six, Part 2, starting August 27, and a clip shown at the Con from Episode 11 "The God Complex" -- as always, "...don't talk to the clown!")