For the 6,500 people in the San Diego Comic-Con Hall H for Sunday’s “Doctor Who” panel, there wasn’t enough time in the universe to talk about Matt Smith’s departure, the 50th Anniversary Special or David Tennant’s return.
Moderated by “The Late Late Show” host Craig Ferguson – who greeted the sonic-waving audience with “Hello, sweeties” -- the panel featured “Who” stars Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman, showrunner Steven Moffat and producer Marcus Wilson. Also in attendance was Mark Gatiss, writer/director for the upcoming documdrama “An Adventure in Space in Time” about the making of the show with the first Doctor William Hartnell, played by David Bradley, who was on the panel as well. Not on the panel: David Tennant, Billie Piper, Christopher Eccleston, Karen Gillan or any other surprise guests that the hall audience wished for.
Still, though Tennant wasn’t physically present, he was there in spirit – especially when the exclusive Comic-Con trailer for the Nov. 23 50th Anniversary Special played that showed the meeting of the two doctors.
After Moffat – introduced by Ferguson as the bastard who killed Amy and Rory -- warned that any audio or visual leaks of the trailer would result in no future reveals at the con , the hall was treated to two Time Lords (or reallone with two bodies) bantering, comparing sonic screwdrivers and interacting with John Hurt’s Doctor, introduced at the end of Season Seven. Tennant got a “Allons-y” moment to pair with Smith’s “Geronimo,” and Tennant also sized up the new look of Smith’s Time Lord body, along with the “redecorated” TARDIS.
But with three Doctors sharing the screen, all is not necessarily well. While Daleks and Zygons, and maybe the Time War itself, play a part in the story, the tagline promised: “This fall, the Doctor will face his darkest day: Himself.”
The panel additionally showed the “An Adventure” trailer featuring Bradley – who is Walder Frey in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and joked his wedding invitations have dried up – as Hartnell. Gatiss, a writer on “Doctor Who” as well as Mycroft on Moffat’s “Sherlock,” presents a dramatized look at the behind-the-scenes world of the show’s early days.
Gatiss said the film is really about “an unlikely group of people” in “unlikely circumstances” that joined together to create a show that remains beloved.
When asked about the 20-something viewership of American fans, Moffat mentioned that, in the United Kingdom, it is a show that draws children, loses them in their 20s and regains them later.
Bradley, however, said he remembered watching Hartnell when he was that age.
“It was every Sunday evening, what you did and I wasn’t in my teens, I was in my 20s. The pub will have to wait.”
As with most panels at Comic-Con, dedicated fans, many in costumes, asked questions of the celebs and shared stories about how “Who” had changed their life. However, this panel was particularly emotional because it signaled Smith’s final Comic-Con as the Doctor. Smith, who announced his departure from the show in June, will be passing the torch to a new actor in December’s Christmas Special – which Moffat said he’s only on Page 22 of, and that he hasn’t cast for Smith’s replacement.
Speaking more of the Christmas Special, Moffat promised a fan, “you will cry!” when Smith departs, and that he was determined to make the episode a “real belter.” Meanwhile, Smith lobbied Moffat on stage to shoot it in America.
Smith’s tenure on the show has been aligned with the show’s ascendancy in American pop culture, and he has said its Comic-Con presence was part of that. He also thanked the audience multiple times.
Smith said, “It changed everything; It changed my life and my family’s life, and I’m proud and grateful to be part of it.”
He also shared that he and Coleman had been spending the con shouting out to cosplayers dressed at his Doctor and Coleman’s companion. He said they did this from their car to one couple, and the man didn’t realize it was Smith until they’d passed.
Moffat complimented Smith for being the best actor, to date, to “be every age at once.”
“He’s a child, he’s a stroppy teenager, he’s a middle-aged bore, he’s a grumpy old man … all those things at the same time.”
For her part, Coleman called Smith’s Doctor asexual, which was especially exciting when his character kissed hers last season.
“Dave was sort of more swashbuckling with the ladies,” said Smith about his Doctor’s romantic inclinations. “Whereas mine is often sort of flummoxed and River is the ultimate alien to him.”
And speaking of flirtations in time and space, Moffat told a fan asking about the character Captain Jack Harkness’ absence from the anniversary special that, “You can’t put everybody in the 50th, and he’s been gone a very long time.”
But he did add, “how do you know what is and is not in the anniversary? I’ve been lying my arse off for months — you know nothing!”
Ferguson brought the panel to a close with the video of the “Doctor Who” song he aired on his show some time back. And the audience watched their Doctor check out for a final time from San Diego Comic-Con.