Just days before the new season of “Doctor Who” premiered on BBC America, the network held a screening for fans in New York City with a Q&A with the show’s new stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, along with new showrunner Steven Moffat, Who takes over the show from Russell T. Davies, Whose tenure ended at the end of last year along with David Tennent’s run as the last Doctor. The event took place at the Village East Cinema in Downtown New York City, in a screening room that used to be a Jewish theatre with the chandelier and decorations intact and restored.
BBC America stressed that this was an event for the fans rather than just another press junket, and opened the free screening on a first-come-first serve based. Some of them traveled from across the country and had been in line since 6:30 AM. When the doors finally opened, the BBC representatives were already turning people away. The auditorium was filled to capacity and the atmosphere took on that of a very condensed and well-behaved Who convention, complete with cosplayers: fans wearing long scarves after Tom Baker’s Doctor, fans Who dressed up as Captain Jack Harkness from “Torchwood,” a fan Who dressed in the policewoman uniform the Doctor’s new companion Amy Pond wore in this premiere, an 11th Doctor cosplayer, an even someone Who wore the tight leather jacket and jeans that Rose Tyler wore. There were a few kids under the age of 10 in the audience, and the most notable thing was that at least half the audience was female.
Without spoiling the story of the premiere, since the fun is in the discovery of the new Doctor, new companion and the twists in the plot, the episode was well received, drawing cheers, applause and laughter at the expected moments. The premiere was almost a pilot episode since it has to re-introduce the premise of the show and introduce a completely new cast. The premiere was followed by a trailer featuring the upcoming season: vampires, Daleks in World War II, Spitfires in orbit fighting flying saucers, Cybermen in dank underground caves, capped off by rapturous applause by an audience of hardcore fans.
“Big up, New York!” greeted Smith as he went on stage.
The Q&A was presided over by “USA Today’s” Whitney Matheson, author of the Pop Candy blog, herself a fangirl and major advocate of the show. The atmosphere was less formal and more cheerfully raucous than the Q&As held at the Apple Store in SoHo and the Paley Center days before. A fan let Smith try on his long multicolored scarf for size, and Smith let another fan hold and play with his new sonic screwdriver.
“We blew up the old one and we wanted a new, bigger cooler one. Just because we could.” Said Moffat. “Everyone in the universe has a slightly bigger one than David’s (The 10th Doctor)”
Moffat also pointed out that there are now people posting videos on YouTube of them eating fish fingers dipped in custard after the dish was served in the premiere in Britain. When asked about the humor in the show, Moffat replied, “Well, Doctor Who should be funny. After all the time he’s been around, he’s absolutely, genuinely, properly mad. He’s not eccentric. He’s off the scale. He’s a bloke Who could be defusing a bomb and forget he could be doing it. He could be your best pal, but you know he might just forget to come rescue you if something good came on the telly. Other than that, he’s a lovely man.”
When asked about how he went about preparing for the role, Smith said he started by using Moffat’s extensive knowledge of Who as a starting point, then “I just sort of looked at the human race to see Who was silly and clever, and as a life choice, you have Albert Einstein’s book of quotes. Read it on the toilet.”
Gillan was then asked to talk about what distinguished Amy Pond from the Doctor’s other companions.
“She is very different from previous companions. I like the fact that she will check out the Doctor without his shirt on and she doesn’t care that her boyfriend’s next to her. She’s funny, and quite feisty and almost as mad as the Doctor.”
“A lot of the storyline is about Amy and the Doctor.” Said Moffat. “And it does take unexpected turns. It already has in the first episode. I just don’t want to say anything because it’d spoil the surprises. People always want to spoil the surprise. People always ask what happens next, and I just go ‘Oh, watch the sodding bit. There ya go.'” Pay attention to everything. Once you get to episodes 12 and 13, you’ll discover you should’ve been paying attention to everything that you think you understood. In fact, I’d recommend watching it three or four times. And you should recommend it to all your friends.”
Then they opened the floor to the audience. A man holding a toddler asked Moffat if he agreed with “Father Ted” and “The IT Crowd” writer Graham Lineham comparing writing to taking a poo.
“That’s his stuff,” said Moffat.
On spoilers and leaks on the internet, Moffat just said, “It’s right and proper that fans speculate what’s going to happen in Doctor Who. It’s just right and proper I don’t ever tell you.”
A member of the fan podcast, The Happiness Patrol, called for a letter-writing campaign to have the new Doctor wear a hat. Smith was all for it. “You don’t know what you are dealing with,” muttered Moffat. “There will be a terrible and bitter man at the end of this.”
One fan asked about Moffat to elaborate on recurring themes and motifs, and Moffat’s reply was, “You know, I have it in common with Russell, where afterwards you go back and pretend you had it planned. ‘Theme’, by the way, is another word for ‘accidentally going back and repeating yourself ‘. Basically I just write cool monsters and explosions and spaceships and people running and going “Wuuuuh!” That is the honest truth. You come up with themes, make me look better.”
One fan asked Smith how he went about distinguishing his Doctor from his predecessors’, and how conscious he was about past Doctors.
“I’ll bore you with acting spiel now…” said Smith. “As an actor, you have to be in the moment. You can’t contemplate your past too much, you can’t contemplate your future too much. That said, you have to take each scene and each day as it comes, everything is an experiment. I never had a conscious plan, no.”
“Whether it’s Matt or Chris or David,” added Moffat. “You write The Doctor as well as you can, and they find their way through it. The writing on the page is each actor making radical, sometimes bonkers, decisions that define it. You write The Doctor, it’s the same man as it was all those years ago, you let a different actor to really make it work.”
One older fan asked, practically demanded, that the TARDIS’ chameleon circuit finally be fixed so that it could look like more than an old police box. This drew loud boos from the majority of the audience, and Matt Smith, Who also then had to explain to his sister and friends (Who flew in from Britain) what the chameleon circuit was: the technology that makes the TARDIS look like a police box and had been broken for ages.
“Let me be clear,” said Moffat. “The Doctor could have repaired it years ago. Of course he could repair it. He just likes the blue.”
A little kid from Britain asked what Smith’s favorite episode was, and he said it was “Blink” from the previous series, written by Moffat but his favorites were 12 and 13 of this upcoming series. Gillan agreed. “The angels were my favourite monsters.”
“He says different when I’m not in the room,” said Moffat.
One particularly rotund middle-aged man praised Gillan for her performance and asked if she was a chubby-chaser, and invited her to join him at the fancy sushi restaurant next door. It was unclear whether she did, but the signs suggested this outcome were unlikely.
The final question of the evening was to Moffat, Who was asked how he coped with writer’s block.
“How you get past it if you’re stuck is knowing that I absolutely have to finish this script. Writer’s block where you’re blocked for a long time is a luxury for playwrights.”
“Are you one of those writers that write 20 pages and then throw them out?” asked Smith.
“Oh, all the time, yeah. That’s the thing, you just keep at it.”
Moffat ended the talk with the hint that the premiere episode was filled with clues of things to come, and no one has worked out what the season-long arc twist is.
The new season of “Doctor Who” premieres tonight at 9pm on BBC America. All photos courtesy of BBC America.