“Doctor Who” returns to BBC America on Saturday, April 23, but for the first time in the exceedingly long history of the franchise, the emphasis will be on the “America.” Not only does a portion of the season take place in the US of A, but, indeed, some of it was actually filmed here in the States. Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Arthur Darvill – he plays Rory, in case you didn’t know – about the new season, but since the thought of accidentally revealing anything of importance about the goings-on in the new season clearly petrified him, the majority of our conversation actually ended up being about last season. Still, he was willing to offer up a few teasing comments here and there, as you’ll see.
Stay tuned for…
Bullz-Eye: Well, I’m a big “Doctor Who” fan, so I followed your exploits all last season, and I’m sure you’re as excited as I am for these new episodes to hit the air, since you worked on them awhile back now.
Arthur Darvill: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, we’re really excited about it coming out. The scale of it has gone up, and it’s bigger and better and more exciting. Yeah, I just can’t wait for people to see it, really.
Plus, of course, you’re in the States, which really ups the ante.
Now, obviously, we’re excited about you guys having filmed here, but do you have a sense for how folks back home feel about you making your American debut?
I mean, it’s quite cool, I think, because “Doctor Who” is such a British institution, and it will always be quintessentially English, but to do an episode in America…? You know, we have so many… (Hesitates) All my old favorite films are American movies, and I think our cultures are very much linked, so to have an episode in America, yeah, I think everyone’s really excited about it.
I’d think that, at least to a certain extent, people would be, “Well, it’s about time you guys came around.”
Yeah, exactly! It’s, like, “Why hasn’t this been done on this scale before?” So, yeah, it’s great. It’s really good.
There are actually a lot of things about this season that I’m excited about. In addition to being in America, you had Neil Gaiman writing an episode of the show. Were you a Gaiman fan prior to him coming aboard?
Yeah, I mean, well, again, he’s just one of those people who’s…he’s brilliant, and his stuff’s everywhere, so, yeah, it was such an honor to have him on. I can’t really talk about the episode, because there’s so much secrecy involved in that, but, yeah, we’ve been so lucky with all the writers, and I think Steven (Moffatt) is such a brilliant puppet master of the show. I don’t know how he fits it all into his brain! But we get these world-class writers in, and they’re given as much free reign as they want under this umbrella Steven’s got crafted for the whole story arc. It must be an almost impossible job to kind of keep it all together, but he’s so brilliant at it and surprises us all with what he writes. Yeah, it’s great.
Was Neil actually on set during the filming of the episode?
Yeah, Neil came down for a couple of days. It’s always funny when writers are on set. It kind of makes you slightly nervous! But he seemed to really enjoy it.
So you get to be the Doctor’s first male companion in almost 30 years. Are you prepared for that kind of responsibility?
The pressure’s on! (Laughs) I suppose I am. I mean, it’s such a… (Hesitates) Actually, I don’t know! I don’t really think about it. You’ll drive yourself mad if…if I really started delving into that. I’m just kind of trying to do my job. But it feels great, actually. I mean, I work with such great people. Me and Karen are such good chums that it just feels kind of natural and cool to be doing it.
Now, are you learned enough in the “Who” mythos that you know who the Doctor’s last male companion was?
(Hesitates) Now, I did look this up the other day. Who was it?
Vislor Turlough. Right.
Traveled with the Fifth Doctor.
Brilliant. I need to go and check out some of the old episodes. I think…I kind of feel like if I watch too much, I’ll kind of start copying stuff. I just need to kind of wait ‘til we’re finished filming, and then I can start watching other things.
So how quickly did you and Karen find a chemistry as a couple?
I don’t really know! It’s, like, it’s a funny thing we have to do as actors, isn’t it? You turn up and you’re playing… (Hesitates) I suppose you try and forge a relationship that you think is believable and real, but…I don’t know. I suppose…we got on immediately, and it’s a really good bunch of people, everyone working on it. I don’t know, I don’t think we consciously were, like, “Right, we need to sort some chemistry out.” I think that would’ve blown it. We just kind of did our job and hoped for the best, really.
You had a unique situation last series where you had to do a death scene which, at the time you were filming it, you already knew wasn’t truly a death scene. What was that challenge like?
Yeah, that was really interesting. Um…yeah, I think I actually died quite a lot last series. (Laughs) Yeah, I mean, you just…I don’t know. Again, if you overthink these things, you won’t be able to do it, you know? It was just…a scene that you just try and invest all of what you’re doing. But I think to try and unravel it would be foolish of me. But, yeah, I mean, it was a great challenge to do stuff like that. But every day’s an exciting challenge, I suppose.
I was talking to my wife about the fact that I was going to be chatting with you today, and she said, “It was very sad when Rory died, but somehow it was even more sad when Amy forgot him.”
Yeah, completely. Oh, wow, thank you. Yeah, that is it. It really tugs at the heartstrings, that bit with Rory, doesn’t it? That was…I mean, those episodes, “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang,” were such epic episodes for us to film. It was really good stuff.
Are we going to see the Centurion apparel making a reappearance at any point?
I’m not going to deny or confirm any rumors or bits of speculation. (Laughs) You’ll just have to wait and see. You’ll just have to wait and see what Rory’s going to be wearing!
I’ll just ask this, then: at the end of the last series, were you hopeful at that time that it would make a reappearance?
Was I hopeful? Hmmm…
I didn’t know how much fun it was to wear.
It was modified by the end of filming those episodes, ‘cause at first it was really heavy. (Laughs) D’you know? It’s like wearing a one-man band. You just kind of clank around. Yeah, every day was like a bit of a workout. But that was fun as well. I got a cape!
Do you tire of the jokes about your nose?
Oh, look, it’s funny, you know? I’m 28. I’ll get over it.
I didn’t know if this was a case where you walked onto the show and, when they started writing those jokes into the show, you were, like, “Wait, what’s this about my nose?”
(Laughs) Yeah. “Hold on a minute!” No, I think it’s all done with affection. Well, I hope it is!
So what was your “Who” knowledge prior to coming aboard the series? Had you been a fan?
Well, it’s one of those things that’s part of British culture. It’s so sort of deep in there that, yeah, it’s kind of unavoidable. You can’t really get away from it, and it’s always been since I was a kid. It wasn’t really on when I was younger, but, still, I seem to know about it, and have watched reruns and a few episodes and thought it was great.
I mentioned the chemistry aspect, but I would think that all three of you – including Matt – would’ve formed a bond simply by virtue of having a similar learning curve on the show.
Yeah, it really has been a massive learning curve for us.
What’s it like working with the green screen?
Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. To be honest, they’re so good at building sets and taking us to amazing locations that they try and minimize the number of green screen stuff that we do. Or we’ll be in kind of a set where most of it’s there, and they’ll add on bits after. But it’s very rare that we come up against just…nothing. They’re very good at having things there for us to react to. But when you do have to do that stuff, it’s always a worry that you’re pitching it wrong. But the directors are great, so they really take us through it.
Obviously, you’ve got a very strong writer working behind you at all times, but what have you yourself been able to bring to the character of Rory?
Well, I don’t know! It was so funny when I went for the job that I didn’t really…I had no idea what he was like. I was given such a small amount of script, and with no real clues as to what his personality was. I just got that first scene from Episode 1, from “The Eleventh Hour,” on the village green, when Rory first meets the Doctor. And then a little speech from “Vampires in Venice.” But it was, like, three pages. So I think in that situation, I just went, “Right, I just have to make a few decisions and go with them.” So, yeah, I don’t know. I mean, it’s obviously kind of very well crafted by Steven, but, yeah, we see it, at least, that we’re given a certain amount of freedom, and whether or not that’s just to make us feel good, I don’t know! (Laughs) But it feels like they trust us to go where we want to go with it. But he’s definitely at the helm of it all. But I think you have to, as an actor, just go for it and make decisions and hope that they’re the right ones.
I just wanted to touch on a couple of other roles that you’ve played over the years. First of all, did you get any opportunity to meet with Mickey Gallagher before you did “Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll”?
Yes, I did! Oh, Mickey’s a dear, dear man, and a brilliant musician. Yeah, I mean, that film was really funny, ‘cause we were basically just in the band. We didn’t really…we just had to have a laugh and play some gigs. And I’d worked with Andy Serkis a couple of times before, and he’s so easy to get on with. Yeah, we just played a load of music. But, yeah, we went and met the Blockheads at their rehearsal rooms and went to see them play a gig and stuff. Yeah, I mean, they’re great.
Were you an Ian Dury fan prior to that?
Yeah, yeah, completely. He’s just a brilliant lyricist, and that music…I’m a big fan of soul music, and I think they’ve got real funk-based music, done in a really English way. I really like it.
Having done “Little Shop of Horrors” in the London theater, is there any chance that we’re going to see you singing on “Doctor Who”?
I don’t think they’d let me! (Laughs) They keep threatening to do a musical episode, but I don’t think they’re going to go with that.
So can you tell me anything at all, really, about the upcoming season? I mean, I know you’ve got to play it pretty close to the chest, but…
I’m going to play it close to the chest, but the scale’s bigger, it’s scarier but funnier, and it’s… (Hesitates) I think it’s become more magical and more psychological. I think it’s really going to surprise people with how good it is. And I’m not just saying that ‘cause I work on it. I’ve been so…it’s funny when you film stuff and you have an idea in your head what it’s going to look like, and then every time we’ve sat down to watch one of the episodes, it’s always surpassed what we think it’s going to be. We’re getting really excited about it, and I just can’t wait for people to see it. Because they’re going to like it, but also because I can finally talk about it! (Laughs)
My only real question is whether or not the estate of Richard Nixon will approve of the episodes.
You’ll just have to wait and see.
I love it when there’s real people in “Doctor Who” as well. The Nixon stuff…I can’t wait to watch it with an American audience. You guys are much more vocal and responsive than a lot of the UK audiences, and there’s so many America references in it that I think it’s going to be…well, I just can’t wait to see what people think about it.
Just this one phrase in within the episode synopses – “Aided by President Nixon and Neil Armstrong’s foot…” – is more than sufficient to pique my curiosity.
(Laughs) Yes. It’s official: “Doctor Who” has hit America!