Here’s a transcript of the July 2009 ComicCon panel in which David Tennant, Russell T. Davies, Julie Gardner and Euros Lyn discussed the show, with an emphasis on the then-upcoming End of Time finale for the Tenth Doctor.
Q: There have been a lot of rumours that there’s going to be an announcement about a Doctor Who movie. Is there any truth in that?
Julie Gardner: I’m going to start with the bad news. We’re not making any announcement about a Doctor Who movie. I don’t know where the rumours started. But it’s made us think, maybe it’d be a good thing to do at some point.
Q: Can you give us a sense of the cultural capital of the show in Britain, and the way it’s been treated – and the way it might not have been treated? Because here it’s something you go to a cable station for. In your country, it’s a Saturday night TV event.
David Tennant: Well it certainly was when we were all kids, as well, and it’s something that I grew up obsessed with, really. So it’s very strange to be sitting here, aged 38, in it. But yes, it’s part of the race memory in Britain, I think, and we all grew up with it.
Russell T. Davies: If you go to Britain, it’s Daleks in shops and people in T-shirts and people talking about it. They’re counting the Doctor Who references, and it’s at least four a day, in any show.
DT: It’s overwhelming. You go into a supermarket and your face is on a cake, and T-shirts, and childrens’ pants. Which isn’t something that they prepare you for at drama school. It’s difficult to get objective about, to feel how important it is for people, which is why it’s important to come here and show the trailer and get the response, because we love making the show so much.
Q: Euros and Julie, were you fans?
Euros Lyn: I was a huge fan. Watching the show in Wales, which is a quiet little corner of the United Kingdom, little did I imagine that I’d be turning Swansea and Cardiff into the rest of the universe!
JG: I didn’t really watch the show, but when I was fortunate enough to take over, Russell gave me a homework list. It was Russell’s favourite episodes. City of Death, for me, the Tom Baker story, I just loved it, and from the moment of watching that story, I thought there was so much we could do with it. It’s so fun, it’s so mad.
Q: Is the new show a fulfilment of the original, or is it a left turn from the original?
DT: It’s the same show! And the story continues, absolutely. I’m playing the same man that William Hartnell was playing. I just have a slightly different wig.
Q: Did you try to incorporate other Doctors into your performance?
DT: Not very consciously, but having grown up immersed in the show, I think there are elements in there. But there’s a responsibility to make the character new. It’s not like James Bond or Tarzan, reborn in the same mould. It’s beholden on you to break the mould (with Doctor Who) and make this a new man.
Q: Euros, can you address how you craft different approaches to different stories? You directed two consecutive episodes that went from millions of years in the future to Victorian England. How do you approach that?
EL: I think we set out to give different stories different looks, and we always start with the script. That’s our guiding light. Taking the stories in those radically different directions demands that you treat them in different ways. And yet, the adventures, the excitement, the humour, we hope each of the stories have. There’s a huge breadth in what we do.
Q: How do you make a show that looks so different every week?
JG: We go over budget. Russell’s a great writer, so he comes to me at the beginning of each season and plans out a range of stories, and part of that is a practical discussion as well as a creative discussion. We discuss how many stunts we can have, how many special effects, and we balance it. You’ll often see that in a run of thirteen episodes, there’ll be a smaller episode which helps us then pay for the Christmas special. So we do little tricky things like that, we double back so that we have two units working at the same time. We work very hard, we call in a lot of favours and a lot of love.
Q: I get the impression that there’s an incredible amount of dedication and love involved. You all seem to love each other immensely. Can you talk about that?
DT: It’s true. There’s a lot of passion. I think a lot of that’s because people grew up loving it, and now they find themselves working on it. We manage to expand our budget because of the goodwill of people working on it, and we benefit greatly from that legacy, I think.
Q: Was there a moment when you realised that you were on to something that was bigger than you expected it to be?
RTD: I suppose, I think when the history of Doctor Who is written, people will talk about Julie Gardner. We had an ambition. It’s not a bad budget, within the BBC, a Dickensian organisation, labyrinthine… Believe it or not, Julie has to raise the money from scratch every year. It comes from different sources all the time, and it’s so complicated I can barely begin to follow it. I thought we’d have a great big one year, then we’d collapse and be taken off the screen!
JG: Russell always thought big. From the moment it started, he was talking about the stories, about the big production team, and things like ‘We’re going to have blockbuster trailers’, and that was the key word, blockbuster. We were thinking about Saturday primetime, about how to make it mainstream.
RTD: We never, ever dreamt we’d be successful. I mean, this is gobsmacking.
Q: David, there’s a rumour that the reason you wear a brown coat in the show is that you’re a fan of Firefly.
DT: Well I’ve never heard that one before! There’s a new rumour every day at ComicCon. Apparently I’m playing the Hobbit! I love Firefly, I love Serenity, they’re excellent. That wasn’t the inspiration for the coat, if I’m honest. Russell and Julie will tell you that when I was first asked if I wanted to do it, the first thing I said was ‘Can I have a really long coat?’, so it was just as basic as that.
Q: If you could be any other Doctor, who would you choose to be?
DT: Splendid chaps, all of them. I think that’s the traditional answer to that question.
Q: What was the best part of working on Doctor Who?
DT: We get asked this all the time, and it genuinely feels wrong to choose, because each episode is such an individual thing, so unique, with a different cast and a different set-up, and a wonderful script each time, it just feels wrong to choose. For me, it’s been the most wonderful four years I’ll probably ever experience. I’ll take away so many wonderful memories. And that’s before I’ve even seen the final episode.
Q: They say you never forget your first Doctor. Who was your first Doctor? And give us some advice, how did you deal with the trauma of him being replaced, of him regenerating? Because that’s what we’re all going to go through.
RTD: I can actually remember William Hartnell changing into Patrick Troughton. I was just at the right age for Tom Baker, because I was eleven. We all love Tom Baker! But the change coming up is quite traumatic. When we showed the last episode to Murray Gold, our composer, about two days ago… Euros, over to you.
EL: We’d been music-spotting the last story, and we’d reached the last twenty minutes of the final episode, and Murray starts shaking and sobbing uncontrollably, which I think is what you’re all going to do when you see this episode. It’s overwhelming, get your tissues ready.
RTD: He will knock four times. That’s all we’re going to say. (laughs)
JG: There was a lot of crying when we shot the episodes. The crew were really, really moved by it. And there were so many goodbyes. Every day, you said goodbye to someone. It was weeks of goodbyes.
DT: I grew up with Tom Baker. I was obsessed with him and idolised him, and I couldn’t conceive of what it would be like when he moved on. And I never forgot him and I never stopped loving him, but then Peter Davison came along and within three weeks I thought he was the best, so I think it’s part of what makes this show go on forever, you know, that hopefully you’ll watch the final episodes, you’ll come on the journey with us, and then in a few weeks you’ll think Matt Smith’s the greatest thing there’s ever been, and that’s how it should be. Because he is! I think change is part of the show, and I’m very very proud to be part of the history, but I’m also very proud that we’re handing it over in rude health. And that it carries on!
Q: We heard that John Barrowman has stolen some things from the set of Doctor Who. We were wondering, what have you stolen from the set?
JG: I think John Barrowman just stole things from the set so he could be strip-searched on the way out.
RTD: Actually, funnily enough, something did go missing, because one of the Doctor’s jackets has gone. Someone took one of his jackets!
DT: There’s a sequence in one of the final episodes – am I giving too much away? – where one of the jackets gets slightly… compromised. And we were doing the before and after, we were swapping between the two jackets, it was the very last day, the very last thing we did. And in all the hoo-ha of the goodbyes, Barbara Harrington, who looks after my costumes with a passionate indefatigability, turned around and nearly had a heart attack because one of the jackets had disappeared! So eBay is being scoured. But it wasn’t me!
Q: David, is there any possibility that you’d come back for charity specials, or even a movie?
DT: Who knows? I mean, the dust has to settle, but… I don’t know, it’s the fiftieth anniversary in 2013, isn’t it? I don’t know. That’s not me making an announcement! There’s no plans! Don’t Twitter that! It’s not a thing. Yet.
Q: Do you all have a favourite assistant? Not an actress, but an assistant.
DT: Again, can you imagine if we… I have to say the one thing I leave the show with a slight sadness about is that I didn’t get to snog Bernard Cribbins. Or am I just winding you up? You haven’t seen the episode yet…
Q: I was just about to say, would you ever return as the other Doctor? The one who’s with Rose?
DT: There are no plans. Anything can happen.
Q: What was it like working with Nicholas Courtney in the Big Finish audio UNIT stories?
DT: Oh, yes, Nicholas Courtney. A legend. For anyone who’s not up to speed, I did a couple of audio stories with Nicholas Courtney long before I was in Doctor Who on television, and I was in awe, to be honest with you. He’s the nicest man you could hope to meet, and I just sort of sat there looking in awe at him, thinking ‘It’s the Brigadier!’, so I’m a huge fan of his, and what a wonderful man he is. Brilliant.
Q: I know you don’t want to pick favourites in Doctor Who, but as a fan, what was something that was really exciting for you? Either in the show, or other shows.
DT: (smiles) I’ll tell you what it was. When I first started, the read-through, we read three episodes, we read The Christmas Invasion, School Reunion and New Earth all at once. Terrifying. It seemed that everyone who had ever worked for the BBC turned up for that interview and sat there taking notes. I spent the first hour thinking ‘Clearly I’m going to be sacked any minute’. I kept thinking I caught Jimmy Nesbitt out of the corner of my eye, or Michael Sheen having a cup of coffee, the replacements lining up… So we read them, I think we read them out of order, we read ‘The Christmas Invasion’ first, then ‘School Reunion’, then ‘New Earth’, and halfway through, this voice from my childhood was calling me ‘Doctor’. Being called the Doctor by Sarah Jane, that was quite special.
JG: Can we do a quick plug at this point? Because David’s Doctor is coming up in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
RTD: And this is new: that episode is called The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith.
Q: David, how much fun was it to do the lap on Top Gear, and do you think you’ll always hold the title of the fastest Doctor on four wheels?
DT: It was fun. But. It’s forever blighted by the fact that I’m 0.2 of a second on that leaderboard behind Billie Piper, and the only reason I’m behind Billie Piper – who got a five second penalty – is that she was wearing a see-through top, so Jeremy Clarkson bumped her up the leaderboard. And if Billie Piper didn’t have such good breasts, I’d be higher up the leaderboard.
Q: I was lucky enough to see you on stage in Stratford-upon-Avon. I believe the recording is coming out on the BBC. As an alumnus of the Royal Shakespeare Company, has you experience in an Elizabethan role affected the way you approach playing the Doctor, and if so, in what ways?
JG: Well David, you did of course meet Shakespeare in an episode of Doctor Who. And I’m sure that informated your interpretation going on to Hamlet!
DT: I think it’s hard to know what kind of actor you are, and if I’d done different things prior to doing Doctor Who, would I have done it any differently? It’s difficult to be objective about it. I mean, there’s a great tradition of great Shakesperean actors playing the Doctor. Chris did Hamlet shortly before he did Doctor Who, I think. Tom Baker was a very fine Macbeth, Sylvester McCoy’s just played the Fool in Lear. I don’t know, maybe that’s just because we’re all hoary old luvvies. I have no conclusion to make, but I’m going to think about it, I’ll get back to you on that.
Q: David, I was wondering what sort of roles we can expect to see you in over the next few years in film and television?
DT: I don’t think I’m in Harry Potter any more. I think I dropped dead. I got my soul sucked out or something. Well apparently I’m playing the Hobbit! I haven’t had a phone call yet! I’ve no idea. I’m doing a film at the moment, playing a villain, in St. Trinians 2. Hamlet’s coming out. And beyond that, who knows? I think James Bond’s taken. He’s very good, and he’s very tough. He can take me.
Q: Prior to the new series, it was hard to find Americans who even knew what Doctor Who was. Were you surprised by the explosion in popularity in America when the new series came out?
JG: I think we’re still struggling to work out how big it is. I mean, Russell and David, you’ve done a lot of press in the last couple of days, how has it felt to you?
DT: Well, we went on Good Morning San Diego this morning. Is that what it was called? Something like that. We were met by a man in a T-shirt, with a TARDIS on the front. I don’t know, it’s hard to quantify it. It seems that the people who know it in America, really know it.
RTD: You get told it’s unknown here, but then you open up Entertainment Weekly and it’s show of the week.So it’s hard to tell.
DT: It feels like something is coming. It feels like we’re reaching America now. They’re going to show the episodes much more closely now. So yeah, I think we’re coming, but keep prosletysing!
Q: Russell, I know you’re leaving Doctor Who, but I was wondering if you have any future plans for Torchwood?
RTD: I hope so. We were astonished by the success of that last series, so I really really hope so. I can’t give you an answer, because we’re having meetings at the moment. We’re in the middle of a recession, but we really hope so. But maybe the ones you want won’t be back. If you’re dead, you’re dead.
Q: Mr. Davies, why did you cast Captain Jack as an American?
RTD: We really singled John out for that part, but we didn’t say it had to be American, we knew he can do a Scottish accent, and he can do an English accent, so he came in, we were really targeting him, he did it in an American accent, in a Scottish accent, in an English accent – we taped it, we should have kept it – and in the end it made it feel bigger to have an American accent, he would have done whatever we wanted. But we went with the American accent. It was World War Two when he was introduced, you had the American soldiers in Britain, it just felt right. Little knowing then, of course, that Captain Jack would then have his own show, Torchwood. And of course, having an American in the lead of a British show is very rare. They say not to do it, that we want British people in British parts, and John proved them all wrong because that’s how marvellous he is! Don’t tell him I said that.
Q: Is the difference between each Doctor more based on the actor’s perspective, or is it in the writing? Do you write each Doctor differently, or is it just played differently?
RTD: I don’t think I write them very differently, I think if you looked at a ninth Doctor script and a tenth Doctor script, the Doctor’s doing more or less the same thing. There are differences, but in a way, in some ways, when I’m writing I don’t even think of David. It’s been a joy, when you cast someone like David, Chris, Billie, Freema, Catherine… cast well, and your imagination goes to the horizon. So that’s been a great joy, the freedom to go anywhere, because the cast is so good.
Q: Is there any chance that River Song might come back?
DT: It’s not on our watch any more.
RTD: I think if you go online and do a little search for River Song, you might be very happy. Apparently.
Q: I was wondering if you could comment on the rumoured return of Gallifrey and the Time Lords, and would you consider coming to Gallifrey One?
RTD: Rumours… I don’t know what you mean. I will tell you, in the trailer you saw earlier, the voice at the beginning was Timothy Dalton. I really don’t know what you mean, you’ll just have to watch. And I’m sure one day we’ll get invited to conventions, when we have the time.
DT: John Simm’s coming back though, eh?
RTD: And Alexandra Moen as Lucy Saxon. She’s back.
Q: David, do you have any words of wisdom for Matt Smith about how much impact the role of the Doctor’s going to have on his personal life?
DT: I’ve chatted to Matt a couple of times, and he’s very enthused and full of energy, he’s quite clearly going to be brilliant, which is annoying – no it isn’t! No, it’s brilliant that Matt is doing it. There’s nobody in Britain who’s worked with Matt who doesn’t praise him. I don’t think he needs any advice from me. I mean, Doctor Who’s a big thing in Britain, it’s populist in a way that few shows are, so you do get a certain amount of attention, some of which is very nice and some of which is a little on the intrusive side. But he’ll cope, because he’s bright, he’s down to Earth, he doesn’t need any advice from me.
Q: David, in the episode where you play a teacher for the school, and you’re trying to defeat these kind of dinosaur creatures, if you were a real teacher, what would you teach and why?
DT: You save the hard ones for last, don’t you? I have absolutely no idea. The only subject I was really good at, at school was English, and my set texts would be anything by Russell T. Davies.