SDCC 2011: Doctor Who Panel Recap

This was the big one, for Who fans, as Hall H – the biggest room in San Diego Comic-Con 2011 – welcomed a “sold out” crowd of over 6,000 people, excited to see the Doctor (Matt Smith), and his companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) in their first ever Comic-Con appearance. Also on tap for the panel were writer Toby Whithouse (who, fun fact, also created Being Human), Piers Wenger (Executive Producer), Beth Willis (Producer), and moderator Adam Rogers.

…And you knew you were in for a good panel when – about three minutes from start time – hundreds of fans started clapping a familiar rhythm, the four finger taps at the beginning of time that played heavily into David Tennant’s final season as the Doctor. Yeah, we were getting reeeeal nerdy up in here.

The panel kicked off with an INCREDIBLE recap of the previous season, showing off all the twists and turns, which may have gotten one MTV Geek blogger totally choked up. Wasn’t me though. I think it was Lemonjuice McGee, probably.

Anyway, then the cast and crew was brought out, and the whole crowd went insane. Once things had settled down (slightly), Rogers asked Gillan how it felt to be Alex Kingston’s Mom, as revealed in the last episode. “I never thought that would happen, but that’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” said Gillan. “My Mom’s probably pretty excited that she’s Alex Kingston’s grandmom.”

“We had a dummy ending on the actual script,” continued Gillan. “We did the readthrough, and then Steven Moffat took me, Matt, and Arthur [Darvill] out into a corridor and showed us the ending. We just started running up and down the hallway.”

On the other hand, Alex Kingston knew all along, but wouldn’t tell the other cast. “How do you give River Song MORE power?” quipped Smith.

Moving on to talk about what it’s like to work on the show, Smith talked about the table reads, saying, “It’s like watching an episode. You’re as excited as when you watch it on the telly. We’ve got coming up, some really great cliffhangers that are going to be resolved.”

“I’ve spent my whole life working towards this moment,” said Whithouse. “Little did I know when I was a child that I’d have this job.”

“It’s incredible to be part of a legacy, isn’t it?” agreed Smith.

For Gillan, “It’s like being in a toy shop every day, going to work and seeing the Doctor and The TARDIS.” Added Whithouse, “For a man of a certain age, there’s no greater thrill than seeing the inside of the TARDIS.”

Willis then told a story about Neil Gaiman’s script (naturally, cheers from the audience for that), which included a note next to his first reference to the TARDIS that read, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to write that.”

Next up, they showed off a clip from episode eleven (number four of the second half of the season, called, “The God Complex.” Written by Whithouse, the clip started with The Doctor saying, “We’re going to catch us a monster.” There were glimpses of arch villains The Silence, a minotaur type monster, a clown (“Don’t talk to the clown,” quips Pond), and a man who seems to be preaching about the minotaur creature.

After cheers for the clip died down, discussion turned to whether we’d find out more about the Astronaut who “kills” the Doctor. “Yeah, I’ll imagine they’ll probably address that at some point,” joked Whithouse. “The downside of working on Doctor Who is that you know things in months in advance.” He talked about knowing River Song’s identity before anyone else, because it ties into a line in “God Complex…” Though he’s refrained from finding out how the series ends, so it can enjoy it as a fan.

Smith then announced that the next episode will be August 27th at 9/8 Central on BBC America, and then segued into a Series 7.5 teaser. A couple of quick impressions (and it was shown a second time at the end), but: Cybermen; The Silence; River Song with an imposing eyepatch. Oh, and Hitler. Lots and lots of Hitler.

Then it was time for questions! Here’s some highlights:

- On the topic of Daleks in the new season, Wenger said, “There’s only one word that can answer that. Spoilers.”

- Asked what scares them as actors, Gillan said, “You know, Matt’s taken to hiding in my trailer, with a massive shoehorn, and he’ll jump out and scare me. I literally slid down the wall, laughing and crying.”

- After applause for a mention of Cardiff, Smith said, “I love that Cardiff gets a whoop. You guys have never been, but…”

- No word on whether all the Doctors would come back on a special.

- On whether the Doctor’s daughter would be coming back (which got HUGE applause from the audience), Smith said that the door is open, but it’s up to Steven Moffat. “Didn’t she die?” said Gillan. “No, she survived,” answered Smith. “And then she married the Doctor!”

- More Dream Lord? “Well, he’s one of my favorite actors, I’d love to get him back. With a bigger army, with a huge army behind him,” said Smith. “I think the concept of the Doctor’s alter ego is a powerful one.”

- Asked whether Smith actually knows how to drive the TARDIS, Smith said, “Can you believe, when I turned up on my first day, they gave me a manual… I swear to god, a manual. I taught Karen how to fly it, we just spent hours fiddling around. If you look at the takes of taking off and landing, it’s always the same thing.”

- Asked about “I really liked the Sisters of Plentitude. You know, the cats? The nurse cats?” Smith, “Yeah, I like the Sisters of Plentitude. But I like the Angels.”

- Favorite Doctor except Matt? Wegner: “Tom Baker”; Willis, “Tom Baker”; Whithouse, “Tom Baker, or David Tennant”; Gillan, “I like Chris Eccleston”; Smith, “The nice thing is that everyone has their Doctor, and in twenty years, someone will say Matt Smith and Karen Gillan.” Gillan: “That’s quite nice!”

- Then an adorable tiny little Weeping Angel asked whether the Doctor could regenerate into a woman. Willis answered, “I think that’s possible, but that’s always led by the actor or actress who is right at the time. Whenever the Doctor regenerates, there’s always going to be the thought of a female Doctor that will cross their mind.

- The discussion then turned to how much of The Doctor is in Matt, and vice versa, to which Wegner said, “Matt is The Doctor. What you see on screen is pretty bloody close to what you see in real life. But he’s a little less competent in real life.” Added Smith, “It’s just like Amy Pond is way cooler than Karen.” When the audience booed, Gillan said with a laugh, “No, it’s definitely true!”

Continuing on, the Producers talked for a while about how Gillan and Smith were both perfect for their roles, and they knew they were right for the parts the second they left the audition room.

- Asked if Gillan and Smith had any advice on acting school, Gillan quipped, “Well, show up, for one.”

- The next question was about research, and whether they look into a lot of science for the show. Willis, turning to Whithouse, said, “Checking out sexy vampire films?” Whithouse quipped back, “Yeah, watching lots of Hammer horror films as a kid.” But more seriously, Whithouse says he tries to divorce it from science, because the show is fantasy.

- Chatting about the costumes, Smith expressed dismay that his Fez was destroyed so quickly, and Willis said that Smith’s signature bowtie initially sounded horrible – Smith suggested it – but then when she saw him in it, the costume just clicked.

- On to the subject of secrets, Smith teased, “Steven’s told Karen something…” Gillan interrupted, saying, “It’s so good!” And Smith, shaking his fists, said, “She won’t tell me!”

- On their relationship to props, Smith said, “There’s a box… There are five sonic screwdrivers in it. And I break them all, every day.”

- Asked about crossovers, Smith said, “True Blood.” Gillan continued, “Star Trek: Next Generation. I met Brent Spiner. Data. The other day, I took a picture, or it was so exciting.” Smith continued, “I keep hearing we’re referenced in the Big Bang Theory. It would be cool if we turned up in a shop somewhere.”

- Asked about the Doctor’s dark side, Smith said, “I hope so, because I think there’s a lot of blood on the Doctor’s hands. And I think that’s why he’s so bubbly, so effervescent, why he keeps going, if he stopped… He’d have to deal with losing. So I think there’ll be a lot more.” Gillan then said we’ll see more of that in episode 10. “Rule number one: The Doctor

- On who they’d like to see write an episode, Smith said, “Edgar Wright. J.J. Abrams, or Edgar Wright.” Gillan: “Roald Dahl. That would be brilliant.” Wegner: “This is a bit of a cop out, but I’d love to see Russell come back and do an episode.”

Smith then asked if the crowd could cheer for Wegner and Willis, who are moving on from the show. The crowd was happy to oblige. And then it was time for a second viewing of the trailer, which is now live on the web! On second look? “Something has happened to time.” And Weeping Angels!

And that was it! Doctor Who returns on August 27th.

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