Matt Smith vividly recalls Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill’s last day on set. “We were filming in a hospital in Cardiff and were all a bit giddy,” he says. “It was a bit like being on holiday. You’re having a lovely time, thinking it will never end – or at least you’ve another week before you have to go home or back to school. Then suddenly the last day has arrived and it really hits you – 'oh God, this is it'."
So when the last scenes were shot on that final day, were speeches made, presents exchanged, bouquets presented and tears shed? Smith seems bewildered by the notion.
“We’re not really like that,” he replies, deadpan. “It was moving to see them go, of course it was, but it’s par for the course in the show. In fact, it’s almost the nature of the show.”
He has a point: in Doctor Who there are few constants. Whether companions leave under their own volition or, rarely, die in the line of duty (1980s companion Adric, for example, though if rumours are to be believed, at least one of the Ponds will perish), one thing is certain: they all leave in the end. Some may pop back – notably all of David Tennant’s Doctor’s companions from Billie Piper’s Rose to Catherine Tate’s Donna appeared in his final episode – but these are eye-catching exceptions. Once the Doctor moves on, he moves on, and finds another companion, in this case played by Jenna-Louise Coleman.
So what of Smith, Gillan and Darvill? Do they have a future together? “I’m very, very fond of Arthur and Karen and there’s no way we’ll lose touch,” Smith says firmly. “We’ve been texting and we’ll always see each other when we can. Being on this show together was a bit like university. It’s been three years and we’ve spent practically every day of those three years together. Being in Cardiff means you’re removed from the rest of your life and friends in London so inevitably you develop strong bonds in what is an intense time. I can’t imagine us ever losing touch. We’re simply too close for that.”
If Smith feels bereft at not seeing his chums every day at work, he doesn’t show it. “I honestly don’t have time,” he says. “We’ve hit the ground running with Jenna and it’s been non-stop. I’ve got ten more weeks filming before the end of the season and with the 50th anniversary coming up, it’s not as if I don’t have a lot to think about.”
But has Gillan and Darvill’s departure given him something else to think about – his own time on the show, his tenure as the Time Lord? With Gillan off to make a movie (Oculus) in America and Darvill returning to the stage in London’s West End (where he and Smith first met, on the play Swimming with Sharks), does Smith nurse a pang of envy as they embark on new projects?
“There are absolutely things I’d like to do. I’d love to go to the States and do a film, but for the moment, I’ve more than enough to keep me busy, and it’s work I love. I don’t think there’s any point in concerning yourself with what you might be doing if you weren’t doing this. This is an amazing, extraordinary job and it would be madness – total madness – to be wishing it away when it’s such a gift.”
His friends’ departure has made Smith evaluate the past three years. When I ask about the first RT photoshoot he did with Gillan back in 2010 (left), in which she dressed as a kissogram police officer, and how he’s changed since, he chuckles.
“If nothing else, I’m older and I’m definitely looking older,” he says. “I started when I was 26 and I’m going to be 30 next month and I still can’t quite believe I’m saying that. 30! That’s another reason that Karen, Arthur and myself got so close, I suppose: your 20s are incredibly formative years. Just as Amy, Rory and the Doctor evolved, so did we.
“Always dearly beloved by many fans, Rory has really come into his own in these last five episodes. He’s Action Rory now. His relationship with the Doctor has always been different from Amy’s relationship with the Doctor, for obvious reasons, and the exploration of that has been really interesting. Rory’s an Everyman in extraordinary circumstances and while he may be an unassuming hero, he’s a hero nevertheless. Calling him a space gooseberry is just unfair.”
That they evolved together in the peculiar hothouse conditions that fame brings has also cemented their friendship. “A job like this changes your life in a number of ways,” Smith says. “I’m lucky enough to still have the same friends I did before and I have a strong family unit, so having great friends like Karen and Arthur to go through it with is a bonus.”
So whether it’s been getting mobbed on the streets of New York or London or being star attractions at Comic-Con San Diego, the ultimate showcase for sci-fi/fantasy pop culture, Smith, Darvill and Gillan have weathered the weirdness together. In a recent interview, Gillan compared being in Doctor Who with Smith and Darvill as being in a band, and it’s an analogy that Smith leaps on.
“It is! You travel everywhere together. You stay in the same hotel and in next-door rooms. You get the same car to the same place to sit in the same room and do press or meet the fans. You’re together 24/7 and it’s really exciting.” Smith pauses. “But there comes a time when the band goes its separate ways.”
So is Smith Diana Ross after the Supremes skedaddled? “Ha!” he exclaims, mock-indignant. “Actually, I’m one half of Wham!” Which half? “George!” Smith pauses. "Oh, I don’t know…"
Looking back on the Doctor’s time with the Ponds, and Smith’s time with Gillan and Darvill, what lessons has he learnt?
“Arthur taught me songs on the piano and that was wonderful, and Karen taught me how not to behave in certain situations – specifically swimming pools, because she can’t swim. And all three of us have cultivated our poses: ‘hands out, I’m afraid/intrigued’ being one of the most popular.”
As for what the Ponds taught the Doctor, Smith ponders. “The Doctor needs companions for a number of reasons but I’d like to think that it’s a lot to do with wanting other people to enjoy the wonders he sees, that way you do when you want a friend to see something you think is brilliant. They’re also there to provide a moral compass – though sometimes that bounces around between them, and isn’t always as clearcut. And I suppose they’re his family. Well, they are his in-laws. (His Teselecta double married their daughter River in the last series.)
With our oh-so-linear time together coming to an end, I ask Smith if he’ll miss the Ponds and Darvill and Gillan. “Immensely!” he says. “But you have to embrace the changes that come. If there’s one thing that the show has taught me, it’s that you can’t live life again.”
Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan is shown tonight at 7:20pm on BBC1.
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