It may be the eleventh time an actor has taken on the iconic role of the Doctor but Matt Smith hasn’t let that stand in his way of creating his very own vision for the world-famous character. Here the star of Party Animals and Moses Jones explains what it was like to land one of the biggest roles in television and talks about his dream trip in the TARDIS.
“It was quite weird news to receive” says Matt Smith, the youngest actor to play the title role of hit sci-fi show Doctor Who.
“I mean at that point it was a piece of information I couldn’t share with anyone so it didn’t feel tangible, but needless to say I was very pleased.
“I actually ended up walking around London listening to Sinatra on my iPod,” laughs the 27-year-old as he tries to explain the moment he found out he had won the much-coveted role of the Doctor.
“Funnily enough my mum had texted me to say she thought I should play the Doctor a week before my agent asked me to audition so she was delighted I got the part. I was also abroad when it was announced on the BBC and my phone went mad – the bill was enormous!”
Spanning five decades, Doctor Who has been a part of British culture for nearly 50 years. Since its successful return in 2005 both Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant have played the title role and made their own mark on the eccentric Time Lord. Now it’s Matt’s turn to give his own portrayal of the iconic character; a challenge which some young actors may have shied away from.
“I think these things are only as intimidating as you allow them to be,” explains Matt.
“It’s a real privilege to join such a successful show; it’s a bit like joining Man Utd. It’s good to be part of something strong and long may it continue. Plus, I couldn’t have inherited the role from a nicer man. I guess it’s like anything really, the more you do something the less daunting and intimidating it becomes.”
However, Matt admits his first day of filming, which took place on a beach in wet and windy conditions, was both daunting and challenging.
“It was very tough because we were up against the tide and could only film until 3.00pm,” reveals Matt.
“It felt like being in a twilight zone because there were so many people watching and dozens of paparazzi around! It was nice that Karen was there as well though,” he continues, “because we were both going through the same experience. We were also surrounded by Doctor Who fans and every time I had to nip to the toilet they followed me. I’ve now learnt this is the norm on Doctor Who!”
Central to the story is the TARDIS which transports The Doctor across time and space to a wonderful array of worlds and universes. The TARDIS is a living creature and regenerates along with the Doctor in the opening episode of the new series. The details of the new TARDIS will remain an on-screen surprise for viewers but Matt confesses he was like a boy in a sweet shop when he first set foot in it.
“It’s like a Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche all moulded into one!” exclaims the excited actor.
“It’s so incredible because the TARDIS is an icon of our cultural history and suddenly I’m the one who’s flying it. I am quite clumsy though so I kept breaking parts of the console and the poor production team had to keep fixing it,” chuckles Matt.
“But the TARDIS is a magic concept and it provides a constant source of wonderment and adventure for both the Doctor and the viewers.”
But where would he like the TARDIS to take him if he could go anywhere?
“I would definitely travel back in time to see the dinosaurs and then I’d get the TARDIS to take me to the bottom of the sea to the lost city of Atlantis,” says Matt.
“I’d also like to go back in time and hang out with Sinatra for a bit but if I could star alongside anyone in Doctor Who it would have to be Eric Cantona. He’s a legend and he dabbles in acting now so you never know, it could happen!”
There have been 10 previous incarnations of the Doctor, each with their own traits and quirks, but what can viewers expect from this bow-tie wearing Doctor?
“He is still the same man but I think my Doctor is a bit more reckless; he’s a thrill-seeker and addicted to time travel,” reveals Matt.
“He is the mad buffoon genius who saves the world because he’s got a great heart, spirit and soul but he also doesn’t suffer fools. I hope all of these things come across but I think I’ve also injected a bit of my own personality into the role. I also helped choose the Doctor’s costume which was great fun. Steven Moffat was very keen the outfit isn’t seen as the overriding factor of the Doctor’s personality but we still needed to find something that felt right. We tried on lots of things but kept reaching a dead end and we dismissed a number of items including a long leather coat, a long blue coat and some short punky stuff! But then one day I brought in my braces and a tweed jacket and it went from there. Soon we had the whole outfit although something still felt like it was missing and I asked if I could try on a bow tie – at that point the execs all bowed their heads in concern but luckily when I tried it on we agreed it worked and it has sort of become the signature of my Doctor now.”
Joining the Doctor on his adventures throughout time and space is new Companion Amy Pond, played by red-headed beauty Karen Gillan and Matt admits the pair of them found it difficult to remain serious when filming scenes together.
“I always used to look forward to us being in make-up together, we would just make each other crack up. I think that’s important because it forms part of the energy of the show,” explains Matt.
“I also think the Doctor and Amy share a slightly mad relationship; she’s a handful and he likes the fact she challenges him and can sometimes act a bit bonkers. The way they are introduced to each other is truly magical and they form a deep affinity for one another.”
Throughout this series Amy and the Doctor go on some truly extraordinary adventures including travelling to 16th-century Venice, exploring France during the 1890s and visiting the United Kingdom in the far future, now an entire nation floating in space.
However, the Doctor’s enemies are never far behind him, including old nemeses the Daleks and Weeping Angels, plus new monsters such as alien vampires, humanoid reptiles and a silent menace that follows the Doctor and Amy wherever they go.
“I loved filming the vampire stuff in Croatia which doubled up for Venice,” reveals Matt.
“I had to climb a huge bell tower with a rain machine pummelling water at me. It was freezing cold but I absolutely loved it! I also enjoyed filming part of episode 10 when I was yanked through the air on a harness after being hit by an invisible monster. However, my favourite scene to film was in episode one when I ate fish fingers and custard with Amelia. Luckily they were actually breaded cakes so it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds. I had to eat a lot of them but it was an enchanting scene so it was worth it.”
But what is it about Doctor Who that has turned it into a cultural phenomenon spanning five decades of British TV?
Matt thinks he has the answer: “The idea is magic. Time travel and the TARDIS are just brilliant concepts and within the context of television it gives writers the opportunity to pen amazing stories because they have the scope to go anywhere and do anything. Doctor Who is infinite in its orbit and imagination and so it has fulfilled audiences’ desires throughout the decades and will hopefully continue to do so in the future.”