Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Back in 1989, Leonard Nimoy showed up at a Q&A after the 'Star Trek' stage show at Universal Studios as part of that year's events marking the 20th anniversary since 'Star Trek' went off the air. I was lucky enough to be in the audience for that. (At the time I thought it was luck; I know now that it was my own serendipiteevee.)

I had a question to ask Mr. Nimoy: I wanted to know if he felt he could have gained the directorial assignments he got in the movies had it not been for 'Star Trek' in his life. (After all, he wasn't coming back for "The Search For Spock" unless he got the chance to direct it as well.)

But it didn't look like I was ever going to get that chance - not with nerdiots in the audience asking questions like: "How many toes does a Klingon have?"

I did get to ask that question though. (His answer: Yes, he felt he would have eventually been given the chance to direct if 'Star Trek' had never entered his life. Personally, I'm not so sure on that score. I wonder if he would still have had an acting career by that point in time, had it not been for Spock becoming such an iconic role.)

I mention that anecdote in the (boring) life of one Toby O'B because I got the chance to go to an event at the Paley Center for Media to promote the arrival of the new season (series for the UK crowd) of 'Doctor Who', with an all-new cast and a new showrunner.

We got to see the first episode, "Eleventh Hour", which won't be hitting the BBC-America airwaves until this coming Saturday night. (It aired in the UK on Easter Saturday.) Fear not, Toob Believers - I won't be talking about the episode here except for a few generalities so that you won't be spoiled early. I'll just say that it confirmed my faith in the mantra "Trust In Moffat." And seen on a big screen in HD? I'll admit it was a bit of a rush to see those little golden blonde hairs on Amy's arm as she reached for a doorknob. Just imagine the effect the rest of her had on me then. Ahem - as well as everything else in the episode, of course.
Afterwards, Clarke Collis moderated the Q&A session, greeting all of us with the talking Dalek head toy he got for his 40th birthday. (Collis is a senior writer for the magazine Entertainment Weekly.) He only asked a few questions of his own to kick it off, and used the opportunity to cover the basics for the rest of us. He wanted to know about the casting process from their various viewpoints.

Most of that has been covered many times over elsewhere, so I'll just give you the basics:

Matt Smith auditioned on the first day, and Steven Moffat and the others involved in the process couldn't believe that casting for the role could be this easy. But they continued on with the search for several more days, just in case there was still somebody out there even better - but basically Matt had it from day one.

For three months Matt Smith couldn't tell anybody, not even his Dad, that he had the role. He spent that time immersed in Frank Sinatra, which I found to be a curious musical choice for hm. But it also made me think that Matt Smith had the makings of an Iddiot - a follower of the Idiot's Delight Digest, for those unversed in the work of legendary free-form deejay Vin Scelsa.

Moffat could still remember what Karen Gillan, who plays Amy, was wearing (a red coat), and yet Matt and Karen couldn't remember much of their callback audition time together, very vague memories of which scenes they acted out. (But for her solo audition before the callback, Karen said she was allowed to pick the scene she would do.)
I should point out at this stage that I think the audience would have been perfectly entertained if Steven Moffat was the only one on the stage to promote the show. He was very funny and animated, and quick-witted, with a very engaging meter to his speaking voice. (In fact, after listening to him a bit, I wondered if perhaps Matt Smith might not be aping some of his inflections and the way he voice rises and falls at the strangest moments. The one line that made me think of this possibility was when the Doctor asked about the need for a duck pond if there were no ducks.)

After Matt talked about how the show can really charge up an actor because every week is a different format thanks to its ability to go anywhere in time or space, Moffat said, "Every other TV format can go home and hang its head in shame."

Matt was very well-spoken, already comfortable in discussing the ramifications of his casting and the legacy he now shoulders. Karen, at least to my perception, seemed a bit shy up on the stage and was perfectly willing to let Steven and Matt helm the answers.

Anyhoo, Moffat joked that he was worried about casting Karen after looking at her audition tape. He claimed that he thought she was small and dumpy; only to discover that she was really six foot eight! And of course, the fact that she was Scottish was "an obvious improvement".

Now this was news to me, although apparently many others already knew it - Karen is cousins with Caitlin Blackwood, who plays Amelia (Amy) Pond as a seven year old, when she first meets the Doctor. And yet, filming this episode was the first time that Karen and Caitlin actually met! (She claims to have a very weird family.)

Throughout the episode there were scenes in which you could spot influences, and as my blogging buddy Joe Bua pointed out, many of those were taken from the best - from Moffat's own previous efforts on the show, like "The Girl In The Fireplace". (My example would be the relationship between Sally Sparrow and Lawrence Nightingale in "Blink".) But Moffat made an interesting revelation on the inspiration for what is called "the fish custard scene" (you'll know it when you see it). This was basically Amy's introduction to the Doctor. It turns out that Moffat based that on the oldest literary reference he can remember - when Winnie the Pooh first met Tigger!

Moffat said that in five hundred years, when 'Doctor Who' is still going strong, the show will have inserted the Doctor into every single event in history and made him responsible for most of them having occurred. (Moffat joked that basically the Doctor was the original Prometheus, bringing fire to the humans.) He also joked that the Doctor was responsible for the creation of sea monkeys, those disgusting little things you could order from the back of a comic book. And then he apologized for coming up with such an idea. (I thought it might make for a cute mention on the show, however.)

Karen said she hopes they'll be able to do a show about Woodstock. And as the Toobworld caretaker, I'd like to see this happen as well since the 1969 weekend of peace, love, and understanding is turning out to be a central time travel location (thanks to episodes of 'Star Trek: Voyager' and 'Stargate: SG-1').

Matt's choice for a moment in history to visit? He wants to do an episode set in Atlantis. Nobody pointed out that there already was an episode from back in the day, but Matt's vision is of an episode set in Atlantis after it already sank. But he figured that it would be cost prohibitive.

(Matt also wanted to film in America, but Steven pointed out that they could achieve the same effect with a green screen.)

Now hereof comes it that I was reminded of that 1989 Q&A with Leonard Nimoy......

The Q&A segment of the evening was limited timewise, and there was no way to find out in advance what someone might ask, but it was odd that two people who had never seen 'Doctor Who' before (and in one case, never even heard of it before!) were chosen to ask questions.

A lady wanted to know what the history of 'Doctor Who' was, and she was greeted by howls of laughter. Steven asked her if she remembered the assassination of President Kennedy, because the show has been around since the following day and therefore there was too much history to go through. But all she needed to know was right there on the screen in that episode, he told her, with the usual story about how the Doctor changes his body and personality whenever near death - which helped splain away recasting. "Putting on a new body is going to change your day a bit," said Moffat.

The guy who never saw 'Doctor Who' before at least had heard of the show and he thanked those concerned for taking away his virginity in this regard. When he said he knew how the 50 year old virgin must have felt, Moffat exclaimed, "What are you doing up there?"

Matt was asked by a fellow alumnus of his college what his favorite pub was in Norwich, but I didn't catch his answer. Apparently the place has great pub food....

If I had been chosen, I planned on asking about the perceived suggestions of Patrick Troughton's performances in the way Matt was playing the Doctor. And if this was deliberate, might we hope to see aliens and storylines from Troughton's era to re-emerge. So much of Troughton's work as the Doctor is lost forever because the BBC in their infinite wisdom wiped the master tapes clean to use them again, and I'd like to see some of what was lost be resurrected and burnished for the new age. (Troughton is my favorite of the Doctors.)

Another questioner asked something along similar lines about future storylines (specifically the story which Neil Gaiman is doing for the second season), and Moffat said there was no way he'd discuss what was coming up in the show. Although he did allow that he had a few ideas already in mind for next year. When they were asked if the Eleventh incarnation of the Doctor would have aliens of his own (rather than just re-using the way overused Daleks again and again), Matt interjected that they were resurrecting an alien race from the original run of the series; and if we were paying attention to "Eleventh Hour", those aliens made an appearance. (I know who they are, and they do show up in a sort of video presentation near the end.)

So I did have a back-up question, more of a comment, about the casting of Annette Crosbie in the episode. When it was first announced that Matt Smith would be the Doctor, the youngest ever to assume the role, I suggested that his new Companion should be a grandmotherly type with a bit of piss and vinegar to her, just to offset his "youth" (or youthful appearance at any rate). And I suggested Ms. Crosbie, thinking of her role in 'An Unsuitable Job For A Woman'.

Like I said, that probably would have been just a comment; I really couldn't think of a question to go with it without it looking like I believed Moffat read my suggestion and that's why Ms. Crosbie was hired. (Even if I am that paranoid and self-centered, I'm not about to admit it! LOL!)

Actually, if I was going to ask anybody a question, it would have been for any of the BBC-America people there. I'd want to know why there is still too much of a lag behind the British telecast of the show and the American broadcast. Even at two weeks it's still too long a wait, and the network is going to lose viewers as more people decide to skip them altogether and resort to the bit torrents. But I think most of the people there from BBC-A were just the handlers for the participants, responsible for hustling them out of the building as soon as possible after the meet & greet part afterwards was underway.

As the Q&A segment ended, Matt spoke up to make sure somebody in the audience got the recognition he deserved for his contributions to the show - composer Murray Gold. He got a rousing ovation as he stood up and surprisingly, based on comments I've seen online, nobody booed. (I like his quieter moments - the music which underlies Amelia's wait for the Doctor to return in five minutes was very moving - but mostly it overpowers and drowns out too many scenes, sometimes to the detriment of the dialogue.)

[Murray Gold & Karen Gillan]

As you can see from the pictures on this post, I did get some shots of Matt and Karen. I tried to take one of Steven Moffat, but he took one look at me with the camera and turned away. Oh well.

At least three times I had a great opportunity to snap Karen outside the building as she signed autographs, where she actually looked up, but then another fan bolted into the shot and O'Bscured the view. And when the window of opportunity to get my picture taken with her arose, we weren't ready and it was too late - the BBC-America underling took her by the arm and they bolted quickly through the museum's lobby.

This last picture I took is of Matt Smith with my friend and fellow "Iddiot", Jennie from Britain. And I just want to take this opportunity to thank her for inviting me along. My own attempts to get a ticket as a member of the Paley Center on April 1st failed, so I was happy my serendipiteevee kicked in.

Thanks, Jennie!

One last personal note: as I got ready for the night, I pondered which of my many TV T-shirts I should wear to mark the occasion. And when I saw it hanging in the closet, I knew there could be no other choice that would be so perfect:



1 comment:

Jennie from Britain said...

you missed a comment i heard after you left - one person says to another, something about david tennant. and the other person says, "who's david tennant?" who ARE these people and how did they get in?????!!