David Tennant and Matt Smith Interview: Doctor Who

Interview Simon Brew 11/12/2013 at 8:12AM

We caught up with two Doctors for a chat about the upcoming 50th anniversary special, The Day Of The Doctor...

Earlier this year, we were invited to the top secret set of Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor. We weren't allowed to see anything spoiler-y or anything like that, but we did get the pleasure of a round table interview (shared with the likes of SFX, Gay Times, The Guardian and a few others) with David Tennant and Matt Smith.

We can't describe what a nerdy feeling it was to see the two of them walk from the set, in full costume, into our otherwise stale and boring room. And it's clear that the pair had been having a whale of a time. Here's what happened...

So, how's your day going?

David Tennant: Good, good. We've just finished a very long scene, and it's now complete, which is a good feeling!

Matt Smith: Yeah! We've had John [Hurt], Billie [Piper], Ingrid's in as well today. Jenna of course. All in!

What can you tell us about the dynamic between you two Doctors?

DT: In the script? Well, how would you describe it? They're slightly competitive.

MS: Yeah!

DT: But I think they quite enjoy being in each other's presence as well.

MS: They get on, and then they don't get on. And then they get on. It's like two brothers who are evenly matched, fencing a lot...

DT: ... or a conversation with your own conscious. You swing from being quite pleased with yourself to being infuriated with your own inadequacies, so I guess that's kind of writ large!

MS: What I thought last night as well was our brains tick, in scenes, at quite similar speeds.

You're doing different portrayals of the same character. But do you find that while your appearance is different, you end up reacting to things in the same way?

DT: I think that's been quite interesting, to find the moments when our two Doctors intersect, and then when they do things rather differently. I think the fun is in the gap between the two. We've been finding joy in recognising the same thing, or having the same thought...

MS: ... or having a completely opposite thought. You know, why are you reacting like that...?

DT: And they switch between praising each other's ingenuity, to try to undermine each other at every possibility.

Do they argue?

MS: Of course!

DT: They bicker a little, yes. But they quite like each other!

MS: Yeah. If you look back at other episodes, the other Doctors have got on quite well, and had their moments. And felt very different I think. I described it as having Stan Laurel and Stan Laurel, and not having Hardy anywhere!

David, did you ever think you'd be back?

DT: Well, there's precedent for it I suppose! I was aware when I left that the 50th anniversary wasn't that far away. You can speculate by putting two and two together. And also that thing with Doctor Who, the moment you get the job, people are asking you when you're leaving. The moment you leave, they're asking when are you coming back. So the possibility of it is always being visited on you by other people, even if not by yourself. It was always, I suppose, something that might happen.

[To Matt] That's what you'll get asked!

So there were never any doubts about doing it?

DT: Well, I had a wonderful time. I left this very happy. It's not whether you have a doubt, it's the other 500 things that you have to work out to make this possible. So I was always up for the notion of it, it was just finding the space and the opportunity.

What was the starting point? A call from Steven Moffat?

DT: The very first conversation I had was a very casual one at a social event with Steven. He said that, you know, the 50th is rumbling around, there might be an idea. But at that point it was very speculative. The actual 'this is definitely happening' wasn't really nailed down until relatively recently.

MS: Weeks.

DT: So people seem to think I've been lying for months if not years about knowing whether this was happening or not. But it's genuinely been quite last minute coming together.

How has it actually felt being back now that it has come together?

DT: It's been really good fun, actually. I sort of thought this will be great, I'll say yes to this. Then of course as the day approaches, it's a slightly odd sensation. What if it feels like I'm stepping on Matt's toes? Or what if I can't remember how to do it? There are lots of things you become slightly nervous about. But because you [beckons to Matt] and Jenna have been so up for it and so welcoming and so generous, it's been a really nice experience.

As a fan, how does this compare to previous anniversary specials?

DT: Er, well it's different in that I'm in this one, so I'm coming at it from a slightly different perspective I suppose! I remember The Five Doctors when I was 12 being about the most exciting thing that had ever happened. So to be part of something that will have the same excitement for a new generation is a thrill.

Did they have to dig your costume out of a crate?!

DT: I had one, and I think they got one from an exhibition, because the costumes are farmed out across the country. So I think we've only got two. And I think they found a stunt man one! So we've got two and a big one! It's slightly alarming. If they get ripped there are not a lot of replacements!

So what was it like the first time you stepped on set wearing the costume again?

DT: Peculiar because it's completely familiar. Because you do it every day for years, there's a sort of muscle memory to it. And yet there's a 'surely I'm too old to be doing this'. A weird mix of sensations. But the first day, Matt wasn't there. The first day it was just me, and I was like oh yes, I remember this. The next day it becomes something different again.

MS: We were on the TARDIS weren't we?

Is there TARDIS etiquette?

[Laughs]

MS: There may or may not be more than one TARDIS!

DT: That's true. I'm not saying which TARDIS we were on!

MS: And therefore what laws apply depends on which TARDIS you're on!

DT: Actually, the first day on the TARDIS we were greeted by the new Director General of the BBC, so maybe that's what always happens! A Doctor Who anniversary thing.

What are you most excited about seeing on screen?

MS: I think Doctor Who was born to be 3D on some level, that's really exciting. The Zygons are back. I think for me it's about the meeting. It's about the meeting, the it's you, and it's you. That's the bit of the script that I really loved doing. But there's loads! There are all sorts of things that are going to look great in 3D I think. Trafalgar Square, dangling down. You've got a great entrance.

DT: Thanks very much, love!

How was Trafalgar Square and the dangling? Were you scared at all?

MS: No, it was great! I loved it. I had to persuade them to let me go up.

DT: I'm quite jealous that you got to do that.

MS: Yeah. People have reported that I did not go the whole way up, FYI!

How does the scale and ambition of this story compare to some of the other biggies that you've been in? The Big Bang, or The End Of Time?

DT: I think what really works with this is that the script is really story led. Rather than going let's fill it with things that make people go 'oh it's a special anniversary lovely birthday thing'... That's all in there, but actually what Steven has come up with is a way of moving the story on, and changing, changing the Doctor's very journey. And that's in a way not quite what you might expect. It could just be a celebration, but it's a lot more than that.

MS: And I think the scale of it is one of the biggest we've ever done. Having David back, having Billie back. It sprinkles a bit of fairy dust on it just for that. But also the 3D, the cinema release, it's as big as we've gone in a number of directions really.

How do you react to the return of Rose Tyler?

MS: Obviously I can't tell you a thing, can I! But Rose Tyler is around. I'm great friends with Billie so it's lovely to have her here. We said let's just make five a year each! Get a big gang, the workload will be 50% less...

DT: There won't be as many lines to learn!

MS: But obviously I don't want to give too much away about narrative, and reactions to people. We should save that for the day.

Did she know she was going to be back when she went on the Graham Norton Show and said she wasn't?

MS: No, she didn't. Definitely. Because I didn't even know that they were going to ask her.

DT: Billie and I have both been accused of being lying. I think I lied once, quite recently, but basically it has all come together recently.

MS: And also, we would tell you, but if we did tell you, you would never see us again, that would be it. We would be cooped up, locked up somewhere!

Was it quite key do you think that Billie had to come back?

DT: Again, that's story-led, so I never presume to tell Steven or Russell before him how the story should be or something like. That has to come from them.

MS: They're cleverer than us!

DT: Us providing a wishlist of things we'd like at work wouldn't necessarily make the best story choices! I'm thrilled that she's around.

Could you talk about the unique qualities that Jenna and Billie bring to the companion roles?

MS: Each Doctor has a very individual relationship with their own companion. I can speak on behalf of Jenna because obviously I haven't worked with Billie in quite the same way. But I think Jenna brings real diligence, intelligence and tenacity to her companion, that challenges the Doctor in a slightly different way. She refuses to go on trips with him, which is bizarre, but I think intrigues him. And she's quite forthright with her opinions and her mind, and I think Jenna works very hard bringing all that to life.

DT: Well, Billie I think is one of the country's great actors. And I think it's always a joy to work with her and I think she gives and has given Rose Tyler a humanity that captured a nation's heart.

MS: And she's left a legacy with Rose. I think Rose is one of the great companions, you know?

DT: I think that was one of the things that Russell did very cleverly when he rebooted the whole show. It was Rose's point of view, the Doctor was a secondary character. Which is kind of how it was back in 1963. She was the audience's way in, but also she was written in a very three dimensional way, which perhaps wasn't always the tradition back in the day. And I think Billie embodied that and I think that has then carried on through Freema and Catherine, then Karen and now Jenna. I think though the centrality of that relationship has been key to the show.

Doctor Who has been bouncing around lots of different genres, particularly in the series just gone. Would you say this one has shades of a mismatched buddy cop thing?

MS: There are moments, yeah. And I think our Doctors quite like each other. On occasion.

DT: And then get surprised at how little they like each other!

MS: But they're sort of more evenly matched than buddy cops as well. But there's a bit of that. And also there's a great big alien plot in the middle of it.

DT: And it slips in and out of the epic, effortlessly. So you have those brief, fun enjoyable moments, when they're bickering, or working together. And then it'll go somewhere much bigger, and grander and scarier.

The Zygons were always a favourite of yours weren't they David?

DT: They're a design classic the Zygons, aren't they? I mean, they've hardly been touched since the 1970s design. And yeah, they're great to have around. They're great to squeeze! That big head of latex! You could sink your teeth into!

MS: The suckers!

DT: Yeah! Chew on a sucker!

What's the campest thing about working on Doctor Who?

MS: The campest thing? Probably us two. [Laughs]

DT: Yeah, out-camping each other.

MS: With John Hurt just moving his eyes.

DT: When we do scenes with John, I look at him and I'm pulling the biggest faces... [Laughs]

Doctor Who is ludicrously camp, but it has a tone like nothing else. It has a scope that's camp, then melodramatic...

MS: John Barrowman's up there though, isn't he?

DT: Yeah, but Captain Jack himself isn't that camp.

MS: That's true.

DT: Doctor Who, I suppose there's something camp about it. But it doesn't feel entirely... you can invest in it... well, that's why it's survived 50 years, because it's not like anything else.

MS: It has weight and gravitas.

David, you've proven there's a lot of life after the Doctor. Matt, is that reassuring?

MS: Obviously, one hopes for a career into one's 30s and 40s! Of course I want to do different stuff, challenging stuff, plays, films and, you know, a bit of directing, a bit of everything really. But at the moment, this is the all-consuming thing. So this is the focus. But yet, I would like a career after Doctor Who!

DT: I think the way the show is now, and the level of success it's enjoying, I think it opens more doors than it closes. I think you'll be alright!

David and Matt, thank you very much!

 

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