Observing Matt Smith as he throws shapes for the RT photographer, it’s clear there’s something different about the Doctor. It’s not just the wind machine rearranging his floppy locks nor comely new co-star Jenna-Louise Coleman at his side, but rather that he appears to have bulked up and broadened out. Once the photos are finished, he concedes, “Since I’ve been back in London, I’ve been going to the gym three times a week. It makes me feel much better about my life, I have to say. It’s just good for my mind.”
Could it also be on his mind that he’ll soon be starring in the US movie How to Catch a Monster, directed by Ryan Gosling, renowned for his chiselled physique? Has he seen Gosling’s celebrated six-pack? “No, I haven’t seen his abs yet,” he laughs, “but as soon as I do, Radio Times will be first to know.” Surely, they’re both in competition for the hearts of teens around the world? “Oh, he wins, he totally wins, mate.”
Smith completed filming series seven of Who last year, but soon he’ll be back in Cardiff to shoot the 50th anniversary special, about which he is customarily tight-lipped. He’s spent the hiatus directing a Sky Arts drama, Cargese, which suggests he’s keeping at least one eye on a future beyond the Tardis. The question, as always, is how long can he go on as the Doctor? “For ever! I came back and put the costume on for the photoshoot today. At the risk of sounding self-indulgent and cheesy, it really does make you want to go back and start shooting. I’m attached to the show for the next year and I take it year by year. I think that’s the only way you can take it.”
Amid signs of spring outside, renewal is in the air with newcomer Coleman. In a bid to understand the dynamic between the pair, I ask Smith who would drive if they were to take a hypothetical car journey together. “I’d definitely drive,” he laughs. “Can she even drive? She can ride shotgun. Happy days! Plus the fact is, I get to choose what’s on the radio. The music this one listens to… No, no, no, no, no. She doesn’t share my musical tastes. She’ll hate me for saying that. That will really annoy her.” In the past he’s dismissed her tastes as “low-level pop” while his iPod features Alt-J and Jessie Ware.
Smith and Coleman were head boy and girl in their schooldays. Jenna got better A-levels than Matt – straight As. “Exams just tell you how good you are at passing exams,” says Smith. But does this disparity extend to their characters? Could Clara, a bona fide genius, be more intelligent than the Doctor. “No. I mean, no,” he laughs. “There’d be no show. He’s cleverer. He allows her to think she’s really clever all the time. But this is a man of over a thousand years with a complex neurostructure, two hearts and the mind of a robot dog.”
Confronted with recent criticism that the Whoniverse is dishing out short rations in this golden anniversary year, he replies, as if personally wounded, “But I think there’s only so much you can shoot. There’s a Christmas special and eight episodes, there’s the 50th anniversary, and on top of that you’ve got Mark Gatiss writing a script [An Adventure in Space and Time about Who’s origins], plus you’ve got live events, things taking place around the world simultaneously. There’s only so many you can make each year without compromising the quality. It will be everything that it needs to be, the anniversary. And in November there will be a right old party.”
He’s similarly engaged when confronted with another recent criticism that the show has become too complex for children. “No, I think we have to give children more credit. Children are always going to engage with the story in a slightly different way to adults, but I tell you this, I bet you they pay more attention. What are we meant to do? Just dumb everything down? The science is mad and complicated and brilliant. It’s Doctor Who! If it’s too easy, what’s the point?”
Having said that, Smith’s summary of the new episodes is admirably straightforward: “A load of new places to explode things, new places to visit and people we may or may not have seen before.” Simple enough for any adult.
Doctor Who returns with The Bells of Saint John - Saturday at 6:15pm on BBC1
Read Steven Moffat's episode guide here