Can you describe your emotions on the first day when you stepped on set as the Doctor?
I was frightened and excited. My first proper day was stepping out of the TARDIS into a brand new world, which was exactly what was happening to me.
Of course being inside the TARDIS you’re just inside a big box really. It’s not bigger on the inside, it’s just a prop and you’re in there with Jenna and a prop man who you’ve never met before. It was all a bit cozy. But it is frightening because you have to take on the challenge of this role, but at the same time it’s exhilarating because you are getting to step out the TARDIS as Doctor Who, and that’s an iconic role and a great position to be in.
Since the show returned in 2005 have you always hoped the role would come your way?
I was always interested but I never thought they’d come to me. So I was always interested because I liked the show very much, and I loved Chris (Eccleston), David (Tennant) and Matt (Smith). All of them I think have been fabulous. But I was always interested in being in it. I was always hoping someone would call me and say ‘What do you think of coming and being in an episode?’ – but I never thought they would think of me as Doctor Who.
You are a big Doctor Who fan. Is that an added pressure or an advantage?
Both. It does add to the pressure because you’re hugely aware of how well the role has been played by previous incumbents, but at the same time you have a sort of relationship with it that that doesn’t have to be acted. It’s a knowledge and a closeness to it that takes you a long way down the road. You almost instinctively know what it is. You can recognize what it is and what it should be, because it’s in your DNA.
What has been the best thing so far about being the Doctor?
It’s working with all of these gifted people, because the crew, the designers and the cast are all so good at what they do. To be working with people who are so great at their jobs is a wonderful thing, and it’s a highly imaginative place to be in the studio when this is all going on. It’s fabulous from the point of view that you’re doing things you would never have done in other television shows. There isn’t another television show like it, where the central character can be blown up, or materialized underneath the sea or be in outer space. So to turn up every time you start a new episode and be submerged in a totally new world is certainly one of the best things about it. To be able to have the privilege of looking after this character for a while is the best thing about it for me. It’s that you’ve been given this very precious thing, and it’s your responsibility to try and keep him aflame until the next person comes along. You’re looking after the character and it looks after you too.
How do you feel about being the joint oldest Doctor?
I think you learn to pace yourself and you recognize the dangers. Everybody counselled me about how physical the role is, but that’s great! It’s like exercise, you don’t have to go to the gym. You just come and play Doctor Who and run up and down corridors being chased by monsters, and run away from explosions. It keeps you fit, but obviously when you’ve been around the block a little bit like I have, you can actually say ‘I’m not running over that thing over there, that looks too dangerous.’ You can pace yourself more, and that’s what I’ve done. So touch wood we’re nearly there, and I’m surrounded by a great team who look after me. I think too much is made of my age, who cares? Doctor Who is over 2000 years old…
How has it been having Jenna on set to share the experience with?
She’s great. Jenna has been absolutely brilliant. I think she’s wonderful in the show, and she’s my favorite companion. She’s been so welcoming to me and so warm. I couldn’t have wished for anyone better to welcome me to the show. She’s just been delightful to work with, so I hope we can carry on doing that.