WONDERCON 2011: Neil Gaiman & More Lead DOCTOR WHO Panel



On Sunday morning at WonderCon, a Doctor Who panel was held featuring writer Neil Gaiman (Sandman, The Graveyard Book), director Toby Haynes (Doctor Who), actor Mark Sheppard (Supernatural, Leverage), and nerd-centric comedian/actor Chris Hardwick (The Batman, Lego: The Adventures of Clutch Powers).

After showing another trailer for the upcoming year, the panel discussed the experience of shooting this season’s first two-part story in Monument Valley, Utah. Director Toby Haynes commented, “You realize why wide lenses were invented for film-making. Over in the UK, we use wide lenses to make things look bigger, over [in the US] we use them just to get big things into shot... I needed to say in one shot we weren’t cheating. We weren’t somewhere in Spain pretending to be America. We were in America. And that’s Monument Valley.”


“America’s bigger on the inside,” Chris Hardwick realized.

Hardwick then asked if Mark Sheppard was determined to be on “every great show” he could find. Sheppard explained that he had long wanted to be involved with Doctor Who and had nearly not been able to do so due to commitments with Supernatural. But the production rearranged its schedule to accommodate Sheppard during an eleven day period when he was free. The actor then revealed that he plays an American agent called in by President Nixon.

“And Nixon is scary,” Mark Sheppard added. “Talk about Steven Moffat writing monsters.”


Hardwick then focused on discussing “The Doctor’s Wife,” scheduled as the fourth episode of the new season, written by Gaiman. Despite the title, River Song (the character whom some fans believe will become the Doctor’s spouse in the future) is not necessarily the focus of the story. According to Gaiman, it is “almost a River-free episode.”  Gaiman’s experience was extremely positive and he was very impressed with Matt Smith. “Matt is amazing,” Gaiman said. “To write stuff for Matt... he brought it in better and deeper, sometimes funnier, always odder, than you could have imagined.”

A clip shown from the story opened up with the Doctor exploring an alien world, accompanied by his friends Rory Williams and Amy Pond. The Doctor meets two people  called Auntie and Uncle who dress and speak as if they are native to late 19th century England and speak of a mysterious House. The Doctor quickly encounters a member of the Ood, a race featured in various episodes of the new series.


After greeting the Ood as a friend, the Doctor realizes its speech orb is malfunctioning and quickly fixes it. As soon as he does, the Doctor is shocked (and perhaps fearful) to hear a torrent of various voices that quickly shut off. He demands to know if anyone else is on the planet and seems very unsettled by this new mystery before him, demanding answers from Auntie and Uncle. The Doctor then explains to his friends that the voices he heard were not from the Ood but where from somewhere else on the planet, accidentally broadcast by the alien’s technology. The voices, he explains are... “Time Lords. Somewhere on this planet, there are lots and lots of Time Lords.”

The clip ended then and Chris Hardwick suggested tackling Neil Gaiman until he gave up the entirety of “The Doctor’s Wife.” Neil Gaiman gave no other hints concerning the plot of his story, other than to say that it would feature actress Suranne Jones as “Idris”, a woman who might be an old acquaintance of the Doctor’s but with a new face. Michael Sheen also appears in the episode as a mysterious enemy known as the House.


Originally, “The Doctor’s Wife” was planned to be the eleventh episode of the previous season, but the show’s budget ran tight and so “The Lodger” was shot instead since it required very few special effects and no alien or exotic environment. Neil was promised that it would be done in the next season, with proper money put into it.

“The biggest, strangest thing I had to do on the re-write,” Gaiman said, “was, of course, when it was going to be episode eleven, Rory didn’t exist... So suddenly getting Rory back meant I had to do a draft of the script which was actually so much more fun. One of my favorite bits... because it’s something that I’ve always wanted to say and couldn’t have done without Rory is a bit where Amy tells Rory off for leaving the Doctor on his own. And Rory says, ‘Well, he’s a Time Lord. He’ll be fine.’ And she looks at him with infinite compassion and she says, ‘Rory, it’s just what they’re called, it doesn’t mean he actually knows what he’s doing.”


When asked about their feelings about the Doctor Who program in general, Haynes, Gaiman and Sheppard all related childhood memories. Haynes explained that a novelization of one of the Fourth Doctor’s adventures (played by Tom Baker) was the first book he read without assistance.

Gaiman remarked, “When I saw my first episode of Doctor Who, I was three and a half and it was William Hartnell [the First Doctor]. And he wasn’t really my Doctor, I was sort of a bit scared of him... Patrick Troughton [the Second Doctor] was my Doctor. “But before I ever discovered the Egyptian or the Norse or the Aztec mythology, I knew what a Dalek was. I knew what the initials TARDIS stood for.“


“I remember really seeing [Third Doctor Jon Pertwee], but Tom Baker [the Fourth Doctor] was my Doctor,” Sheppard explained. “That was a great era of Doctor Who... I wanted to be a Dalek. I wanted to be Davros... I just remember being absolutely terrified of the [Classic Series Cybermen].” He later added that as far as he was now concerned, “Doctor Who is a work of love... And I gotta tell you, Matt Smith is my Doctor... He carries that weight [of being an ancient Time Lord] so superbly... He took me around the TARDIS and showed me how EVERY button and wheel works.”

Chris Hardwick and Neil Gaiman were quick to join in on praise for Matt Smith’s performance as the Eleventh Doctor. “Matt does this really amazing thing,” Hardwick began. “First of all, he looks like he’s in a new wave band. But he manages to strike this insane counterbalance between incredible boyish curiosity but then also you sense that he’s 900 years old inside.”

“He’s more valuable to use than any of the special effects we have,” Director Toby Haynes commented. “His eyes make us believe it.”


“That’s the most interesting thing about writing for Matt, in some ways,” Gaiman said. “He’s the first of the [new series] Doctors who actually feels vastly ancient. They all had these glorious different qualities... But with Matt, you actually feel his age all the way through, going all the way back. Almost for the first time since Tom Baker, the idea that the central entity and the body are two slightly different things. You know, this is an alien. This is not someone that you know. And it’s amazing.”

Gaiman also added that one of the strengths of Doctor Who was that, despite its long history and continuity, the basic premise is still very simple and this is a large reason why it still appeals to children and adults.

“People are intimidated,” Gaiman explained. “They think that there’s 47 years worth of stuff they need to know before they can enjoy anything. And what you want to say to them is no. There’s a blue box. It’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It can go anywhere in time and space, sometimes even where it’s meant to go. When it turns up, there’s this bloke in it called the Doctor. And there will be stuff wrong and he will do his best to sort it out and he will probably succeed because he’s awesome. That’s all. Now sit down, shut up and watch ‘Blink.’ ” 

The Sixth Season of Doctor Who premieres Easter weekend on April 23 on BBC America.


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