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July 24, 2011

Comic-Con 2011: Matt Smith was meant to be Doctor Who

Posted in: Comic-Con,TV

A scene from "Doctor Who." (BBC)

The long-running British time travel TV series “Doctor Who” has seen nearly a dozen actors take on the titular role since the 1960s, but the casting the 11th and latest Doctor — Matt Smith — was surprisingly simple, the show’s producers told a capacity crowd of Comic-Con attendees Sunday afternoon, many of whom had waited in a line that wrapped around the Convention Center and along the waterfront.

“It was the easiest casting decision out of any I’ve been involved in, because it was so bloody obvious from the moment he walked in to the room,” executive producer Piers Wenger said. “The day after we’d met Matt for the second time, [showrunner Steven Moffat] sent me an e-mail that just said, “It’s him. Let’s face this. It’s always been him.”

Wenger, producer Beth Willis and writer Toby Whithouse joined Smith and Karen Gillan, who plays the Doctor’s traveling companion Amy Pond, onstage Sunday afternoon to answer questions from fans. The Hall H crowd of 6,500 included numerous Dalek, Tardis and Weeping Angel costumes, as well as various incarnations of the Doctor and his companions, and fans raised their sonic screwdrivers — the Doctor’s go-to gadget — in the air appreciatively before and during the panel.

“It’s really exciting for us to see that it’s growing in America, and that it’s being more widely received,” Smith said. “It’s kind of wonderful to be part of a legacy in ‘Doctor Who’ and to be part of something that has such history. It’s remarkable.”

Smith and Gillan talked about the current season, saying they were kept in the dark about many of the surprises and cliffhangers until the last moment. They also debuted a trailer (see above) for the upcoming episodes this season, which resumes Aug. 27 on BBC America, as well as some footage of an upcoming episode written by Whithouse, who said his lifelong fandom serves as research for his writing job on the show now.

“Writing good television is incredibly exhausting and hard and time-consuming, but it’s something that we love,” Whithouse said. “We genuinely love this show, and our passion and love and enthusiasm for the show — it’s really difficult because sometimes you feel as if you’re slightly in a vacuum. So coming to events like this and realizing that the audience feels just as enthusiastic and passionate about it is wonderful.”

"Doctor Who" (BBC)

Wenger said Smith did “a brilliant job coming in a redefining a role” on the heels of David Tennant’s widely beloved performance, and that his onscreen character — who is smart, exuberant, impulsive and funny — echoes his real-life personality.

“Matt is the Doctor,” Wenger said. “I mean, what you see on screen is pretty bloody close to how he is in real life, apart from maybe he’s a bit less competent in real life.”

Willis said even the Doctor’s costume was influenced by Smith, who argued for his own tweed jacket and bow tie, despite initial groans from the producers. Now, the costume is his trademark, and “Bow ties are cool” is his catchphrase.

“I wish I was as cool as him,” Smith said. “As an actor, that’s what you do. You spend time with a character in quite an interesting way, and to do it with a man like him, he’s such a benchmark for everything, for how to live your life. He’s such a maverick, and he always makes choices independently for himself.”

Matt Smith plays the Doctor in "Doctor Who." (BBC)

The panelists praised performances by previous Doctors, including Tom Baker, but Wenger noted that Smith is the first to be nominated for a BAFTA for the role.

“What’s so wonderful about this show is that everyone has their Doctor,” Smith said. “And so hopefully in like 20 years’ time, there’ll be 5-year-olds, and 25, going, ‘Yeah, Matt Smith is my Doctor, and Amy Pond my companion.’ “

– Noelene Clark

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