This Saturday, the new season of cult British sci-fi show Doctor Who debuts on BBC America. The premiere is the first half of a two-part story in which the titular time lord (Matt Smith) travels back to 1969 America and battles an alien menace known as The Silence, with help from Richard Nixon.
As a self-confessed Whovian, I have of course marked this momentous occasion by placing a four foot tall inflatable Dalek outside my office door. Also, over the next few days I will be posting interviews with cast members Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, and Alex Kingston. But first up, it’s Mr. Gallifrey himself: Matt Smith.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How would you compare the new season with the previous one, which was your first as the Doctor?
MATT SMITH: I think Steven [Moffat, Doctor Who head writer and executive producer] is really pushing the form in terms of writing the show. He’s tailoring his writing more specifically than ever for me and Karen and Arthur, so that’s quite exciting. What’s great about this season is that we learn so much narratively about the characters we’ve invested in — River Song and the Doctor and Amy Pond. And that’s always good TV, isn’t it?
You and the rest of the cast received a genuinely Beatlemania-esque reception at the recent New York screening of the first two episodes.
I know. It’s so overwhelming. There’s something wonderful about the way Americans communicate their enthusiasm for the show. It’s overpoweringly wonderful.
One woman who asked a question was actually moved to tears.
It’s mad isn’t it? But I guess that’s the power of the show. It has nothing to do with me or Karen or Arthur or anyone. It’s the Doctor. It’s that character who is the star.
Why do think Doctor Who connects so well with Americans?
It seems like there’s a real appetite for science fiction in the States. The storytelling in Doctor Who is quite universal. I think there will always be stories that are interesting about this mad man who turns up and saves the universe with a cricket bat and piece of string and a toaster. There’s something interestingly ridiculous about it. It’s a wonderful televisual conceit. One of the greatest. But we really want to push it in the States and we want it to reach a wider audience.
Is that why you shot parts of the opening episodes in America?
That’s probably a producer question. I think Steven’s quite interested in that period, in the ‘60s, and probably just wanted to write about a president. I don’t know if there was any other motive other than it was a good story. There’s something great about having Nixon in it, isn’t there? It’s just cool to see a lot of American actors in Doctor Who. I find it totally intriguing. And then to come to Utah and film in those locations that have such filmic history. Those locations are vast and sprawling and epic and that’s everything that you want Doctor Who to be.
Would you like to film more in America?
Oh, yeah. I would love to come back next year. I’d love to film one in New York. That would be great.
One of the episodes in the new season was written by comics legend Neil Gaiman. What can you tell us about that?
Well, um, not a great deal, as always. Sorry to be a pain! But we were thrilled to get a writer of his sci-fi stature and magnitude on board. And he’s applied his rather brilliant and mad brain to a brilliant and mad idea. All I can say is that the Doctor spends a lot of time with the Tardis.
Michael Sheen is in that episode. What was it like acting with him?
I didn’t, actually. Because he came in and did a voice for it. So I didn’t get any actual scenes with him. Which is a shame. But, god, it’s a real coup to get an actor of his quality.
You’ve said that there’s a cliffhanger at the end of episode 6 that is going to flip people’s wigs.
Yeah. Totally. And seven as well. But it all starts kicking off in six. This year, there’s some really great cliffhangers. It’s quite a dramatic season and, as I said, big and sprawling and quite cinematic.
Is it strange playing a role that you know one day you’ll hand off to somebody else?
No, because I think [it’s the same] if you play Hamlet or Macbeth or Lear or any of these character. But it’s certainly a role that’s the greatest challenge of my career to date. He’s the most exciting and brilliant character that I’ve ever played, absolutely.
Do you know how long you will be playing him for? Or is that information which resides solely in the mind of Steven Moffat?
That kind of is, I’m afraid. As are most things that are Doctor-related. But it’s a job I love and not one that I want to give up any time soon.
Recite one line of your dialogue from this season.
“I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool.”
You can check out the trailer for the new season of Doctor Who below.
More from EW.com:
‘Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol’ review