Friday, August 15, 2014

The Doctor will see me now

Earlier this week, I spent 20 minutes in a one-on-one interview with Jenna Coleman about her role as Doctor Who's latest lovely companion, and even got a grin out of Peter Capaldi when he overheard me saying how brilliant and experienced he was. I also got to see the two of them talk at length about the new series and their roles in two separate Q and A sessions, and saw the first new episode twice on a cinema screen.

I'm not saying it was the greatest day of my life,  but it was almost certainly the greatest Tuesday afternoon ever.

When he was asked about the Doctor being trapped on Earth, Jon Pertwee always liked to point out that seeing a monster wander around some alien world wasn't nearly as interesting as finding a Yeti on the loo in Tooting Bec. The unreal and the real, colliding in CSO-scalding brilliance.

The Third Doctor had a point - bringing that alien weirdness into our mundane reality is always pretty effective  - but as somebody who lived on the arse end of the world, it was an analogy that never really worked for me.

Because even though the Doctor Who production team would occasionally throw in a taste of the real world to contrast with all the weird stuff, that real world was still half a world away from where I was, and places like Tooting Bec, Perivale or the Home Counties could be just as exotic and alien as Skaro, Dido or Metebelis III.

There was always this incredible disconnection, all my life. New Zealand is an isolated country, cut off from the rest of the world by the prejudices of geography, and while this has been heavily eroded in this age of internet connections and cheap global air travel, it remains a big part of our culture and attitude.

And even with our strong British-based heritage, things like movies, TV shows, books and comics that come from the UK still have the whiff of the exotic. They came from far away, and Doctor Who was no exception.

It didn't stop the programme building up a passionate audience, half a world away, and I was one of them. But growing up, I never thought I'd ever really see these places, or meet the creators or the actors who played the Doctor and their companion. They didn't come to my corner of the world, unless cloaked in fictions.

And then I grew up, and while I never grew out of Doctor Who, that sense of UK otherworldliness slowly eroded. I got to go to London several times and see where the Cybermen stalked the streets beneath St Paul's, and follow the Daleks' path across Westminster Bridge.

I actually got pretty bloody emotional when I saw the 1980s TARDIS console, (along with a shedload of other props and costumes) at the Doctor Who exhibit in Cardiff, and some of the primary people involved with the show were suddenly a single tweet away.

And then, four previous Doctors were on a stage in Auckland last year, down to celebrate the 50th anniversary and they were just a few metres away, and they were all inordinately charming, and so polished at running a room. I've now seen McCoy and McGann speak multiple times, and it's always been a joy, and it's always felt a little unreal seeing them close-up, and I can't ever think of anything to say to them that they haven't heard a million times before, so I don't bother.

And then, one day the Eleventh Doctor rang my house to talk to the wife. She was interviewing Matt Smith for the local TV Guide, and I was freaked out a bit, and had to go for a walk around the block, until she'd finished.

We're both journalists, and that fact that she has interviewed Doctor Who has been brought up in arguments over who is more awesome in our household – I tell her I influence the national discourse and have personally pissed off the most powerful politicians in the country, and she tells me she's interviewed Matt Smith and Bryan Cranston. She usually wins that argument.

But it also meant that I might end up with a similar opportunity, and that's exactly what happened, as they flew me out to Sydney to cover the Doctor Who 2014 World Tour. I got to a couple of Q + A sessions with Capaldi and Coleman, (the main things I remember are that both actors genuinely love what they do, and that Capaldi has excellent boots), and I got a ten-minute interview with Coleman.

At first I thought I was going to have to interview Capaldi, and I was massively intimidated, after overdosing on Malcolm Tucker over the past decade, I even had an awful nightmare about it, where the interview went horribly, horribly wrong.

But it was also because I hadn't seen his take on the Doctor, so really wasn't sure what I could ask him about it. Even seeing his first episode never helps – you can't trust a Doctor's personality on their first appearance, because he always rooted from his regeneration.

And my favourite Doctor has always, always been the current Doctor, and there he was, being all charming and Scottish, and right there, talking passionately about the show.

When it turned out I was interviewing his loyal companion instead, I was actually a bit relieved. If I'd interviewed the Doctor, it might have got messy.

Jenna Coleman was, of course, incredibly nice and passionate about the show and her character, and the 10 minutes I had allocated blew out to 20 minutes, which is always a good sign. And I got that grin out of an eavesdropping Capaldi, so I got the Doctor to smile, which was the most geekily gratifying moment ever.

I'm such a goddamn professional, I didn't ask for an autograph or a selfie or anything like that (like I'd need such a memento to remember hanging out with the Doctor and his companion), and I don't think I asked Jenna anything she had heard a hundred times before, but she was a splendid interview subject.

I only showed my inner dork once, when I admitted just how much I'd always loved Doctor Who, but that was more than enough. I still walked out there feeling like I was floating two inches off the ground.

It's no spoiler to say that Capaldi makes a fantastic Doctor – mature, unpredictable and biting, but still compassionate and moral – and I have no doubts the immediate future of the greatest TV show ever is in exceedingly safe hands.

There can be no better way to spend a Tuesday, than having the Doctor crash into my world like that. I know they're only actors, doing their job, and I can still talk to them like they're proper human beings, but they're also living, breathing symbols of everything I really love about Doctor Who – the cleverness, the passion and the beautiful sarcasm.

Thirty years ago, I was wandering the banks of the Opihi River, wishing beyond hope that the TARDIS would be around the next bend in the track. If I did have a time machine, I would go back to that moment and let myself know that one day he'll be sitting in the same room as the current Doctor Who, and talking to his companion about him, and watching the latest episode of the greatest show in the galaxy before everybody else in the world.

I'm fairly sure I wouldn't believe myself.

1 comment:

Alfie Gallagher said...

If your passions and your work intersect then you've done something right, kudos.