David Tennant, Matt Smith, Jodie Whittaker Unite to Talk 'Doctor Who' - Rolling Stone
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‘Doctor Who’ Stars David Tennant, Matt Smith, Jodie Whittaker Unite for Digital Panel

The three Time Lords discuss the historical heft and responsibility that comes with taking on the iconic role

Three of the most recent actors to portray Doctor Who — David Tennant, Matt Smith and the current Time Lord, Jodie Whittaker — gathered for a special online panel to coincide with the arrival of Doctor Who’s last 11 seasons on HBO Max.

The panel, which was moderated by IGN’s Terri Schwartz, marked the first time that Tennant, Smith and Whittaker had participated in such an event together. The 20-minute conversation touched on Doctor Who’s legacy and the challenges of taking on such a storied role, as well as an array of other topics.

Tennant noted the immediate pressure and weight that comes with being cast as Doctor Who, saying, “When you realize it’s your turn, you’re getting a go at it, you do kind of know what it means in terms of a loss of anonymity — and the fact that the first line of your obituary has almost certainly been written… It feels very precious because people love it so much and it means so much to people all through their lives. To be the custodian of that for a while, you just don’t want to break it.”

Smith then added, “I once had someone shout, when I was walking down the street — and I hadn’t shot a single frame — ‘Don’t break Doctor Who!’”

Later, Whitaker — who made history as the first woman to play Doctor Who — spoke about how the heft of that legacy can disappear the moment shooting actually starts. “The pressure of the history of the show is totally made up in your own head,” she said. “On set, all the crew that have transitioned, they’re kind of excited, and with you, to bring something new, because that is the beauty of this as a role — that you’re not supposed to be recreating what someone did. You’re supposed to take it. But there’s a lot of pressure in the kind of actor inner monologue that is there for a long time, but once you’re in your costume and you’re in your own Doctor’s clothes, and you’ve got your own friends in it, in a weird way all that pressure disappears because it’s yours to play with.”

The 12th and most recent season of Doctor Who finished airing in August; it’s not yet available on HBO Max. A new holiday special will air on BBC America later this year.

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