Next year will bring not only bring the 10th season of the revived “Doctor Who,” featuring the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and a new companion (Pearl Mackie), but also the final season led by showrunner/producer/writer Steven Moffat. So BBC America’s panel for the sci-fi series at New York Comic Con was immediately one to remember, marking the first appearance of Capaldi at the jam-packed convention, and the last for Moffat as an active participant in all things Whoniverse.
Capaldi, Moffat and Mackie took to the stage of Madison Square Garden’s sprawling theater with “Doctor Who” executive producer Brian Minchin, and actor-comedian Matt Lucas, who’s promoted from guest star to recurring role in Season 10. The audience, spotted with men in bow ties and fez hats, and women in TARDIS dresses, roared with each introduction, but absolutely howled as Capaldi strutted on stage with casual rock-star swagger.
Following the screening of a sizzle reel highlighting Capaldi’s previous exploits as the Doctor, the cast and crew dropped some details about what to expect for the upcoming season. This Christmas, BBC America will kick things off with a Christmas special called “The Return of Doctor Mysterio.” A behind-the-scenes look at the hotly anticipated yuletide treat played to an exhilarated audience.
While the plot of the special remains under wraps, the teaser revealed that our dear Doctor will cross paths with a superhero, played by “Orphan Black’s” Justin Chatwin. The episode will also reintroduce Lucas as Nardole, who worked for the Doctor’s dynamic bride in “The Husbands of River Song.” In “The Return of Doctor Mysterio,” Nardole is the Alfred to the Doctor’s Bruce Wayne, described by Moffat as “a valet or butler who wouldn’t be very polite.” A huge fan of “Doctor Who,” Lucas had told Moffat repeatedly he’d happily return to the show. “He just kept volunteering to do more,” the showrunner chuckled. “So, let’s take advantage of that!”
Lucas was clearly giddy to be a part of the panel, often being the first to respond to fan questions like which non-Doctor “Doctor Who” role would he play given the choice (The Meddling Monk or K9), and joking he was thrilled to join the cast because, “I was really excited about the prospect of tainting [Capaldi’s] career.”
But Pearl Mackie was the major focus of fan curiosity. Although images of her character Bill have been unveiled, we still know very little about the latest companion — and that didn’t change at the panel. Moffat teased fans that they don’t really want to know, but would prefer to be surprised about who Bill is and how she comes to cross paths with the Doctor in Season 10 (not in the Christmas special). Still Capaldi teased a bit saying, “The great thing about Bill is that she comes from the real world … she doesn’t come from the world of Doctor Who. So she has to be introduced to the world, and that refreshes and re-invigorates the whole thing.”
For here part, Mackie was happy to share how she came to join “Doctor Who.” “The audition process was way mad, actually,” she said. “First of all, my agent called to do an availability check for something called ‘Mean Town,’ which is an anagram of Women Ten, who is the 10th companion. So at the time when they first mentioned me for the job, I didn’t know it was to be a ‘Doctor Who’ companion. And then my agent called and says, ‘Oh, yeah, actually that thing we put you up for is the next companion in ‘Doctor Who,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m never going to get that, am I? But cool. Yeah, I’ll give it a go.”
Shortly thereafter, she received Moffat’s scripts, and felt an instant connection to Bill. From there, the audition was reading with a casting director in front of a camera. And a week and a half went by with no word, so she thought she’d lost the role. “After a week and a half in TV, you haven’t gotten the call, you haven’t got it,” Mackie said. But after that, she received a callback at a posh hotel, and was told, “You’re going to meet Brian Minchin, Steven Moffat … and you’re going to be reading with Peter Capaldi.”
She recounted the awe of the moment and how “lovely” everyone was from their first introduction. But the real thrill came from reading with Capaldi, who suggested they stand and then immediately leaped into character, darting around the room, miming hitting buttons and pulling levers as if they were already on the TARDIS set. “He’s running around pressing all these imaginary buttons, because it’s the TARDIS, and he knows where everything is!” she told a chuckling crowd. “I’m just standing there. This is the maddest thing that’s ever happened to me. I don’t know what’s going on here. Luckily, the character’s supposed to be thinking that too. Otherwise, (my audition) could have gone in a very different direction.”
Mackie later recalled how Capaldi cared for her on set. “There is a lot of pressure, coming into such an amazing TV show, such an amazing role,” she began, answering a question about the challenge of following in the footsteps of so many memorable companions. “Everyone was really supportive from day one.” She recalled how on the first day of shooting, “Peter gave me two cards and a little candle to welcome me to the show. And he was just like, ‘You’re really great. You were really great in the audition and I’m really glad that you’re here working with us. This world is mad. The show is amazing, but there’s a lot that goes with it that can feel a bit overwhelming. And if you do ever feel overwhelmed, here’s my home number. Don’t worry. You’re not in this by yourself.'”
With a broad smile, Capaldi also reveled in the joys of “Doctor Who,” saying of his experience, “It’s extraordinary privilege to be in this job that is just like playing. And then to have these wonderful actors.” He gestured toward Mackie and Lucas. “Pearl has come along with an absolutely individual take on the companion’s role, which is exciting to work with every day and see what’s going to unfold. Matt’s been extraordinary. He brings a strange and rather delicate alien-ness to the show…clearly he’s a comic genius and we’re all in awe of him. But to see him come along and come into the show! I saw a picture of us all together, the three of us, and I though, ‘Oh. I really want to watch that show.'”
The audience laughed as he continued, “It’s wonderful because it’s constantly new. What Brian and Steven do, it’s never resting. We’re all very lucky to be there. No one ever takes it easy. No one ever takes it for granted. It’s hard to be in “Doctor Who,” but wonderful too.”
“Doctor Who’s” Christmas special arrives in December, while Season Ten airs in 2017 on BBC and BBC America.
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