As the Mona Lisa is to art lovers and the Stanley Cup is to hockey nuts, so the TARDIS is to fans of the long-running science-fiction show Doctor Who. Since Who debuted on the U.K.’s BBC network in the fall of 1963, this time-traveling spaceship — which is, famously, bigger on the inside than its exterior would suggest — has transported the series’ alien hero to a vast array of locales where he has battled a variety of monsters. While the Doctor’s ability to physically regenerate has allowed 11 actors of different shapes and sizes to play the part on TV, the TARDIS still resembles a blue, ’50s-era British police phone box. Over time it has become a bona fide sci-fi icon, with its distinctive design replicated on toys, T-shirts, towels, and even teapots (did we mention this is a British show?). Alas, in real life, and specifically on this overcast morning in the summer of 2012, the TARDIS looks rather, well, crappy. Situated at the end of an alley in the small Welsh village of Llantrisant, the ship is — predictably, yet still somehow disappointingly — the same size inside that its outward dimensions indicate. And as the interior walls of this clearly made-from-wood prop haven’t even been painted, the structure seems more toolshed than time-travel vehicle. Also: It’s missing one of its door handles. Which is why the current Doctor, Matt Smith, and his Who costar Jenna-Louise Coleman have stopped shooting as various crew members shout out the same refrain: ”The handle came off the TARDIS!” ”The handle came off the TARDIS!” ”The handle came off the TARDIS!”
Ultimately, the case of the TARDIS’ unglued handle proves to be one of the Doctor’s less incident-packed adventures, and Smith and Coleman are soon back at work. They’re in the midst of filming the second half of the 2012–13 season, which premieres on BBC America March 30 at 8 p.m. and kicks off Doctor Who‘s 50th-anniversary year. Expectations are high among fans around the world that the show will commemorate this milestone in momentous style. In short, the Who crew has bigger things to worry about than errant handles — not least of which is ensuring the time traveler has a future as well as a storied past. ”I think Doctor Who can do another 50 years,” says executive producer Steven Moffat. ”But I’m very, very concerned about not ending it.”
At a Manhattan restaurant, five months after EW’s visit to the Doctor Who set, Matt Smith is looking a little like one of his Time Lord character’s many monstery foes, the lizardlike Sea Devils. Which is to say, he’s green around the gills. You could blame his sickly pallor on jet lag, as Smith flew into New York a couple of days ago, after wrapping the 2012–13 season. Or you could blame it on the previous night’s party at the BBC America offices, during which Smith, Coleman, Moffat, and Moffat’s fellow exec producer Caroline Skinner delighted the troops by forming a conga line on the dance floor. Regardless, Smith’s worse-for-wearness is not preventing him from attacking a filet mignon as plump as the actor is willowy while enthusing about the eight upcoming episodes of Doctor Who. ”We’ve got a great alien-planet episode,” he reveals. ”We’ve got a great horror-movie episode, and we have an episode set on a submarine, which I think is really exciting.”
Given Smith’s exhilaration about the season, and the continuing popularity of Who (the premiere of the current season was BBC America’s highest-rated telecast ever, with 1.6 million viewers), Moffat’s worry that Who could end on his watch might sound like usual showrunner paranoia. However, he is well aware that the show’s future is not guaranteed. In 1989, falling ratings prompted the BBC to put the show on hiatus. With the exception of a 1996 TV movie, that break in production would last a decade and a half, until executive producer Russell T Davies successfully relaunched Who in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston piloting the TARDIS. Moffat, who replaced Davies in 2009, says he is making every effort to prevent that from happening again and is keen to use the platform of the show’s 50th year as a way to attract new viewers in addition to pleasing die-hard fans. ”It’s important you don’t turn it into a fanfest,” he says. ”We can’t make this all about looking backwards. It’s actually got to be the start of a new story.”
There is plenty new about the show already. Last year’s Christmas special revealed that the interior of the TARDIS had undergone a spiffy makeover, and fans were allowed a peek at Coleman, who plays the Doctor’s newest traveling buddy, or ”companion,” the mysterious Clara. But it wasn’t the first time they’d seen her. Though Moffat had announced that Coleman’s character would debut in the Christmas episode, the actress shocked viewers by appearing in the season premiere last September. In the episode, she played Oswin Oswald, a starship crash survivor who had been transformed into one of the dreaded Daleks — a race of genocidal, metal-encased mutants — and died at the end of the adventure. Coleman’s reappearance in the Christmas episode merely deepened the ”What the hell?” aura surrounding her character — or should that be characters? This time the actress played a Victorian-era nanny named Clara Oswin Oswald, who also died toward the end of the show and whose gravestone was then visited in a present-day-set epilogue by yet another character played by Coleman. Moffat says the conundrum of Clara will occupy much of the Doctor’s considerable brainpower in the new episodes. ”He is going to meet her again and she won’t remember him,” says the exec producer. ”He’s got to work out the biggest mystery in the universe: Who is she and how did this happen?”
Not that the Doctor’s interest in Clara will be entirely intellectual. Moffat says the Time Lord is definitely ”smitten” with his new companion, and Coleman’s Victorian nanny did give the Doctor a decidedly unchaste smooch in the Christmas show. ”Actually, we did a lot of kissing,” says Coleman. ”We tried a couple of different versions. All in a day’s work!” What would the Doctor’s longtime paramour River Song have to say about this? It looks like we’ll find out. Moffat confirms that Alex Kingston’s character will return at some point in the new episodes and that the show ”makes some mileage” out of the love triangle-y situation, but ”not in the ways you’ll think.”
Who fans tend to be very wary of new Doctors and companions. The Time Lord’s most recent TARDIS cohabitants, married couple Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), held a particularly special place in the hearts of many Whovians, not to mention the two hearts of the Doctor, with the discovery last season that Rory and Amy were actually River Song’s parents (we could fill the rest of this magazine explaining that temporal head-scratcher). But the enigmatic nature of Coleman’s character — and her pixieish beauty — has piqued fans’ interest. Following her first appearance, Coleman was voted ”the Time Lord’s sexiest-ever sidekick” by readers of the British newspaper The Sun. Meanwhile, the 2012 Christmas episode was watched by 1.4 million people in the U.S., a remarkable 54 percent increase over the 2011 yuletide extravaganza. Coleman says that being hidden away in Wales for much of the past year filming the show has limited the amount she’s been recognized in public, and believes she’ll be able to maintain her anonymity going forward. ”Because I’m short, I think I’m going to be able to get around very easily,” she explains. ”But Matt’s already bet me 10 pounds my life’s going to change a lot.”
Something else that has gotten Whovians excited? The announcement in November that one of the upcoming episodes would feature the return of the Cybermen, another race of metallic maniacs the Doctor has been battling almost since the start of the show. Just as thrillingly, the installment has been penned by sci-fi icon Neil Gaiman. Moffat tends to either write the Who scripts himself or entrust them to one of his showrunner peers, such as Neil Cross, creator of Luther. ”Other showrunners, by a mile, are the easiest people to deal with,” says Moffat. However, a couple of years back, the executive producer made an exception for Gaiman, who rewarded that leap of faith by writing the Hugo-award-winning 2011 episode ”The Doctor’s Wife,” in which the consciousness of the TARDIS was placed in the body of a flesh-and-blood woman. While Moffat is clearly pleased that Gaiman has written another episode, he admits the scribe is still adjusting to the unfamiliar world of TV. ”With him you’ve got this fabulous imagination and a great love of Doctor Who, but he found it tougher than he expected,” says Moffat. ”I know there was a lot of difference between his first draft for the last one and the first draft of his new one. You know: ‘Stop putting the jokes in the stage directions, Neil, it really doesn’t help!’ I’m not kidding. I’d say, ‘That’s a really good line, Neil — [”but”] it’s in the f—ing stage directions!”’ Smith, meanwhile, says the 2013 class of Cybermen proves a worthy adversary for his character: ”They’re slightly reinvented, slightly better, slightly meaner, slightly quicker.”
Between the mysterious new companion, the return of the Cybermen, and the scripting contribution of a fantasy legend, the Doctor’s 50th year looks like it’s getting off to a good start. But the eight new episodes are just the beginning of the year’s celebrations. Later this year, BBC America will broadcast a new TV movie, An Adventure in Space and Time, which details the creation of the show and stars Harry Potter actor David Bradley as First Doctor William Hartnell. Caroline Skinner, who is leaving Who at the end of this season but will continue to oversee the film with Moffat, says the movie ”will be a lovely companion piece with a lot of heart and will sit very nicely alongside all of the more obviously Doctor Who-y things that Steven is planning.”
The vagueness of the phrase ”Doctor Who-y things” is no accident. In November, BBC One issued a statement in which it detailed a number of forthcoming ”event dramas,” including what was described as ”the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special.” Beyond that, nothing has been publicly disclosed except that the special will be shot in 3-D and broadcast in the fall. Moffat says he can’t offer further illumination. ”Well, I could,” he deadpans, ”but I’m not going to.”
Given this information vacuum, it is no surprise that the Who rumor mill (the Whomor mill?) has been working overtime. The most repeated piece of scuttlebutt is that the anniversary special will find the current Doctor joined by some or all of his former incarnations and, when possible, the actors who played them (including Smith, there are currently eight living actors who have had the role). The show has previously featured multi-Doctor adventures, but with the exception of a for-charity sketch, the latest iteration of Who has shied away from that particular trope. Regardless, in October at New York Comic Con, Fifth Doctor Peter Davison made clear that he was very interested in donning his own Doctor’s togs for the anniversary. ”Every day I check the phone to see if Steven Moffat has called me,” the actor said. ”I think if [the classic Doctors] aren’t invited, I’m going to make my own rival video.”
When EW informs Moffat of Davison’s threat, he bursts out laughing. ”Well, I know Peter very well,” says the exec producer. ”He makes some very good videos. He had to cancel going to a Doctor Who convention, so he made them a very, very funny little film. It was hilarious.” So will previous Doctors return at any point this year? ”You’ll have to wait and see, won’t you?” Fair enough. Who fans may be interested to note that Moffat recently dined with David Tennant, the most beloved of the post-relaunch Doctors. ”I was showing him photographs of the new series and of the new monsters,” reveals Moffat. ”He was thrilling away like a fanboy.”
In Manhattan, Matt Smith has finished his steak and is contemplating his future, both immediate — ”I’m going to use the restroom. If I don’t come back, call the ambulance” — and longer-term. Over the decades, actors have played the Doctor for varying amounts of time: In the ’70s and early ’80s, Tom Baker occupied the TARDIS for seven seasons, while Christopher Eccleston left the show after just one. But on average the Doctor’s incarnations have lasted around three years — at least in Earth time — and Smith will achieve that milestone at the end of the current season. The actor says he’ll return to Who duties in April to film the 50th-anniversary spectacular and will also appear in this year’s special Christmas show. But while Coleman will definitely be back for the next full season of Doctor Who, Smith is vague about whether he will be joining her. ”Who knows?” he says. ”It’s one of those jobs that I take moment by moment.” Last month it was announced that Ryan Gosling had cast Smith alongside Christina Hendricks in his directorial debut, How to Catch a Monster. Is the Drive star a big Doctor Who fan? ”He mentioned in the audition a speech where I’m getting cross with all these Dalek spaceships,” says Smith. ”I don’t know to what extent he’s seen anything else, but I know he’s seen that.”
Moffat, who also heads up the BBC’s wildly popular Sherlock, admits that, statistically speaking, he himself is more likely nearer the end of his Who tenure than the beginning. ”I just take it a year at a time,” he says. ”It is knackering work. I think the feeling of it being done for you is quite unambiguous when it suddenly arrives. I’ve stopped writing other shows before, and you just want to leave — not that you hate it, but just ‘I’m done.”’
For now, however, Moffat seems more than happy plotting new adventures for the Doctor — and trying to avoid even more disappointing TARDIS encounters than the one endured by EW. ”There’s a worse thing you can see, which I really can’t bear,” he sighs. ”When the TARDIS is in the storeroom, it’s not kept as a police box, it’s kept as a series of panels. It’s stacked. I’ve almost given an order that this shouldn’t happen. You think, ‘I don’t want to see that.”’
The Good Doctors
WIlliam Hartnell 1963-66
Doctor data Hartnell was 55 when he first played the Time Lord and is still the oldest actor to be cast in the role. Most memorable companion The Doctor’s ”granddaughter” Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford), although Whovians still debate whether she really was related to the Time Lord. New monsters battled The extermination-crazed Daleks and the Cybermen. Best adventure Series debut ”An Unearthly Child”: the Doctor, the TARDIS, the Stone Age. A legend is born. Did you know? Future Blade Runner director Ridley Scott was tasked with designing the Daleks until a scheduling conflict prevented him from doing so.
Patrick Troughton 1966-69
Doctor data A seemingly absentminded bumbler, Troughton’s Doc enjoyed wearing a variety of hats and, more irritatingly, playing the recorder. Most memorable companion Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), an 18th-century Scottish piper. New monsters battled The Ice Warriors and the robot Yeti. Best adventure ”The Mind Robber”: The Doctor finds himself in the Land of Fiction. Inhabitants include Rapunzel and Gulliver. Did you know? Troughton died of a heart attack in 1987 in Columbus, Ga., where he was attending a Doctor Who convention.
Jon Pertwee 1970-1974
Doctor data The Third Doctor was an all-around man of action. Much of that action took place on planet Earth because that’s where his fellow Time Lords banished him to…and because production decided that creating alien worlds was too expensive. Most memorable companions Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and journalist Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). New monsters battled The Silurians and the Sea Devils; the Satan-resembling Azal and the storeroom-dummy-resembling Autons; the Sontarans and the evil Time Lord the Master (Roger Delgado). Best adventure ”The Green Death”: giant maggots!!! Did you know? In 1972, Pertwee released a spoken-word version of the show’s theme song called ”Who Is the Doctor.” It was not a hit.
Tom Baker 1974-81
Doctor data Once more a planet-hopping traveler, Baker’s long-scarfed Doctor beguiled a generation of young sci-fi fans for reasons that included his frequent proffering of ”jelly babies” candies. Most memorable companions Sarah Jane Smith again, the primitive Leela (Louise Jameson), and K-9, which was a robot shaped like (you guessed it!) a dog. New monsters battled The Dalek-creating Davros and the Loch Ness monster-controlling Zygons. Best adventure ”The Ark in Space”: The Doctor battles an egg-laying alien in a tale that proved that when you’re a kid hiding behind a couch, everyone can hear you scream.Did you know? Before he was cast as the Doctor, Baker was working in construction.
Peter Davison 1981-84
Doctor data Davison, whose big break had been on the BBC veterinarian drama All Creatures Great and Small, portrayed the Doctor as compassionate and patient. Most memorable companion The at-times rather scantily clad Peri Brown (Nicola Bryant). New monsters battled The reptilian Terileptils, the similarly reptilian Mara, and the sluglike Tractators. Best adventure ”The Caves of Androzani”: a Phantom of the Opera-inspired saga of an age-halting drug, and Davison’s last adventure. Did you know? In 2011 the Fifth Doctor became the father-in-law of the Tenth Doctor when Davison’s daughter, Georgia, married David Tennant.
Colin Baker 1984-86
Doctor data Despite sharing a surname with the Fourth Doctor (no relation), Baker’s Time Lord did not win over viewers and was replaced after two seasons. Most memorable companion Fitness nut Mel Bush (Bonnie Langford). New monster battled The giant gastropod Mestor. Best adventure ”Revelation of the Daleks”: We discover that Daleks can levitate. Did you know? Last year, Baker appeared on the U.K. reality show I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!
Sylvester McCoy 1987-89
Doctor data McCoy played the Doctor for three seasons before the show was placed on hiatus. (He also appeared in the 1996 TV movie.) Most memorable companion Teenage tearaway Ace (Sophie Aldred). New monster battled The ludicrous Kandy Man — a robot made out of, yes, candy. Best adventure ”The Curse of Fenric”: a yarn of ancient evil and the penultimate ”old” Time Lord tale before the show went off the air. Did you know? While performing with an avant-garde theater troupe in his pre-Who years, McCoy entertained crowds by stuffing ferrets down his pants.
Paul McGann 1996
Doctor data Many fans warmed to McGann’s human-seeming Time Lord in the 1996 TV movie Doctor Who. But the actor proved to be a one-off after the movie’s broadcast on Fox was crushed in the ratings by an episode of Roseanne. McGann’s Doctor would continue in a series of audio-only adventures, however. Did you know? The other actors considered to lead the TV movie included Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Anthony Head, Monty Python‘s Michael Palin, and comedian Billy Connolly.
Christopher Eccleston 2005
Doctor data When Eccleston signed on for the relaunched Who, he’d already made a name for himself in film (28 Days Later, The Others). Most memorable companions Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and the omnisexual Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). New monsters battled Criminal clan the Slitheen. Best adventure ”The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”: Kids’ faces grow gas masks in a chilling World War II-set two-parter. Did you know? As a kid, Eccleston was not a fan of the show. ”He seemed like an authority figure,” he said in 2005. ”I felt a bit patronized by him.”
David Tennant 2005-10
Doctor data While Whovians liked Eccleston just fine, they loved Tennant’s cheeky yet steely depiction of the Doctor. Most memorable companions Rose and Jack, Donna Noble (future Office star Catherine Tate), and Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman). It was also Tennant’s Doctor who first met the mysterious River Song (Alex Kingston). New monsters battled Fanged living statues the Weeping Angels. Best adventure ”Blink”: Did we mention the fanged living statues? Did you know? Born David McDonald, the actor chose ”Tennant” after reading an article about the Neil Tennant-fronted Pet Shop Boys.
Matt Smith 2010-present
Doctor data At 27, Smith was the youngest actor to debut in the role. Most memorable companions The feisty Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), her beau Rory (Arthur Darvill), and newbie Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman). New monsters battled The (deliberately) unmemorable the Silence. Best adventure ”The Doctor’s Wife”: The TARDIS’ consciousness is placed in the body of a woman in this instant classic penned by Neil Gaiman. Did you know? Smith was on course to become a professional soccer player before a back injury set him on the path to Who-ville.
Doctor Who Preview: 5 Tantalizing Teases
Exec producer Steven Moffat says the March 30 episode concerns ”something in the Wi-Fi.” So…wireless routers attack? Says Moffat, ”It’s a new thing to make scary.”
An Ice Warrior
The Doctor also deals with a member of the Ice Warrior race (far right), reptilian humanoids who debuted on the show back in 1967. ”Of course, we’re locked in a submarine with one,” says star Matt Smith with a laugh.
The TARDIS Takes Center Stage
Another episode will focus on the Doctor’s incredible time-traveling spaceship. ”They journey to the center of the TARDIS,” says Moffat, adding, ”in, of course, circumstances of great terror and fear.”
Cybermen and (Maybe) Daleks
While the Doctor’s second-most famous metallic foes, the Cybermen, will appear this season, Moffat is cagier about whether the Daleks will also return: ”Wait and see” is all he’ll say.
Whatever This Thing Is!
Below, you can see one of the season’s new beasts. Uh, what exactly is it? ”It’s a scary monster,” says Moffat. ”That’s all you’re getting from me!”