It was a starry, saucy night at the BFI on London’s South Bank.
To whoops from the audience, on a high from the episode we’d just witnessed (all Doctor Who deserves to be seen on a big screen!), Steven Moffat and fellow executive producer Caroline Skinner took to the stage together with all three stars of Doctor Who. Matt Smith was suave and saturnine in black suit, red tie and stripey socks; Karen Gillan, radiant in a glittery, peach strappy top, floral miniskirt and black tights; and Arthur Darvill looking cool with dishevelled hair, tufty beard, black shirt and jeans torn at the knee.
Ex-Blue Peter man and Radio 5 Live host Richard Bacon fielded a lively panel with many questions coming, refreshingly, from the programme’s younger fans (and I mean children).
But Moffat led the way with his Big Surprise: “This room froze in a strange way when…” something strange and unexpected happened on screen. “I know it’s a big ask, and I know it might make you feel a bit silly – not as silly as I feel right now – but I know it will be a better show for keeping that one piece of information back. Please. Just. DON’T!” Everyone in the room clapped. So that’s that sorted, Steven.
He confirmed that there’ll be five new episodes this autumn, the Christmas special is being filmed now (“It’s a heatwave so we must be filming Christmas!”), with eight new episodes next spring. Did he mind the way this seventh series was being split up, asked Bacon. Not at all, said Moffat. “It means more first nights! And if we get more Radio Times covers, that’s useful.” We’ll do our best, Mr Moffat.
Bacon cheekily, and relentlessly, quizzed Moffat about his plans for a “multiple Doctor episode” for the 50th anniversary, claiming the exec had recently been spotted dining out with David Tennant. Had he been schmoozing Christopher Eccleston and Sylvester McCoy, too? “Are you asking if I’ve eaten in the presence of any previous Doctors? Would you like me to give you a list?” joked Moffat. “I’ve had Sunday lunch many times with Peter Davison!”
Caroline Skinner, who joined the series last year, intimated that there’s nothing “pinned down” for the anniversary but they have “huge ideas for live events” and that 2013 “will be the biggest year for Doctor Who across the board”. And she knows her Doctor Who: “My dad was massively into all sci-fi/fantasy stuff, so I sat down and watched a lot of the early episodes with him when I was far, far too young and far too scared.”
Matt Smith confirmed that he’s signed to play the Time Lord until 2014 and that this has always been the case. “I was always going to be around. It’s going to be exciting next year.” He also revealed he never looks at online forums: “That was the first thing Steven said to me. Never, ever to go on the internet… So, BBC Sport website, and that’s kind of it really.”
Naughty Bacon also asked, “Did you and Karen ever come close to, um, like, having a thing?” “Absolutely not!” huffed Matt, once the laughter died down. “That was another conversation with Steven… No, we’re professionals!” “This is so embarrassing,” laughed Karen, blushing.
An audience member wanted to know why Matt is the only panellist yet to be seduced by Twitter. “It’s just not my cuppa tea. I don’t see it happening any time soon,” he said. “I figure who cares what I’m doing?” Only millions, possibly..? And then Moffat revealed that in episode four, The Power of Three, “the Doctor just says the word ‘Twitter!’ – into which Matt puts his entire disgust. It’s rather magnificent.”
Significantly, these five adventures build up to the departure of Amy and Rory, and Matt is already missing his co-stars. “This Dalek episode is about marking what brilliant companions these two are, and they’re both spellbinding in it, and they get better throughout the five. In the last episode it’s heart-wrenching to see them go.”
Arthur Darvill said their final scenes are “emotion-led” and that for ages “Karen wouldn’t read the script. I’d read it and really wanted someone to talk to.” “I didn’t want to make it real,” Gillan explained. “I’m going to miss these guys. We’re good friends now. I’m also gonna miss just running down corridors away from monsters, because that’s the most fun, and now I’m going to do TV shows where I’m just talking at people.”
Darvill admitted that Doctor Who “will never leave us. There’s a huge network of people who’ve been involved in the show. It will follow us for the rest of our lives.”
At the glittering after-show bash, I congratulated Steven Moffat on a spectacular episode and he told me he hopes each episode will come across like a mini-blockbuster. He confirmed there’ll be a different look to each title sequence and logo across the next five episodes: “Daleky, dinosaurs, cowboy-western…”
In a packed room I spotted Nicola Bryant, who played 1980s companion Peri, lending some glamour and having her photo taken with Karen and Arthur. I met Doctor Who’s casting agent Andy Pryor who said to expect some further major guest-star coups imminently. I bumped into actor Nicholas Briggs again after many years. He does all the Dalek voices (and there are so many in Asylum!) and proved yet again he’s an authority on all things Dalek.
Mark Gatiss spoke excitedly about his forthcoming drama on the early days of Doctor Who, which has a particular focus on its complex original star, William Hartnell. “I’ve been thinking about it for nearly 12 years, ever since reading his granddaughter Jessica Carney’s wonderful biography [Who’s There?].” It’s too early to go into detail about the project, but it’s clear it will feature many key personnel and re-create special moments from the programme’s 1963 inception.
I met writer Chris Chibnall for the first time, and we found ourselves chatting about 1980s Who, which RT is now covering in our Doctor Who Story Guide. It’s an era he loves and is currently exposing his kids to. He’s holding back the pleasures of the 1982 Peter Davison classic, Earthshock. He promises his two coming episodes, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and The Power of Three, are very different stories. One is finished, the other is still having final edits. Expect a full interview with Chris on radiotimes.com very soon.
Caroline Skinner, who joined Who hot from BBC3’s award-winning but dropped series The Fades, is always interesting and I’d like to speak to her in greater depth about the influence she’s having on the new series. Without realising (as no one introduced us), I was standing right next to Asylum director Nick Hurran; I’d really wanted to congratulate this man. Better luck next time.
I expect the party went on into the night, but I had to catch a tube train and put on my reporter’s cap for RT.