If you thought Doctor Who was out of surprises, today's panel at San Diego Comic Con would change your mind. We saw two clips from the upcoming seventh season of the British time-travel classic — and one of them contained something we've never, ever, seen before. Let's just say it's Doctor Who's answer to Snakes on a Plane.
So the first clip we saw was just from the third episode, tentatively called "The Gunslinger," where the Doctor visits the Old West. (We already saw footage from that episode a while back.) The Doctor, Amy and Rory walk into a saloon in the Old West town of Mercy — and it looks like the usual bit where everybody stops playing cards and the piano stops playing, as everyone stares. The Doctor bellies up to the bar and asks for a tea — the strongest possible, with the teabag still in there. The undertaker comes and starts measuring him for a coffin — and then something truly surprising happens. Someone asks the Doctor if he's an alien.
The Doctor says that it's all a matter of perspective — from his standpoint, all of them are aliens. But yes, as far as they're concerned, he is an alien. And they all mob him.
But the second clip was a lot more exciting — because it was from an episode called "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship," the season's second episode, written by Chris Chibnall. It was one of those "the Doctor rounds up a bunch of allies" things the show has made its trademark lately. We start out with the Doctor in Ancient Egypt, where Nefertiti has fallen in love with him and doesn't want to let him leave. Then the Doctor gets a sudden alert (like a car horn honking) and so he takes Nefertiti with him — to the future, where a mysterious spaceship is going to crash into Earth.
The Earth defense leader tells the Doctor that if the ship comes within 10,000 kilometers of Earth, they're going to have to shoot it down — and that's six hours from now. So the Doctor decides to round up a gang to investigate it.
FIrst, he lands in 1901, where Riddell, a big game hunter on Safari has been waiting ten months for the Doctor to return with some sweets. The big game hunter (played by Rupert Graves from Sherlock) hears that the Doctor has a big adventure afoot, and at first pretends not to be interested in getting dragged in again — but then he quickly relents and goes with the Doctor.
Then we look in on the Ponds, where Rory's father Brian (played by Mark Williams, aka Arthur Weasley) is fixing a light socket. And then the TARDIS materializes at the worst possible moment — right around Amy, Rory and Brian. The Doctor doesn't even notice that he's taken Rory's dad along for the ride... until they've materialized on the mysterious spaceship, and then he yells at Rory for bringing his father without asking first. Because the TARDIS is not a taxi service, etc. etc. Until Rory finally explains that the Doctor materialized around his father, and the Doctor sort of apologizes. And then Rory's left to explain to his dad that he and Amy didn't go traveling in Thailand after all... it was a bit further than that.
And then we're investigating the spaceship, and there are spider webs everywhere — which, as the Doctor says, is unusual in space. Eventually, the Doctor and his "gang" (Riddell, Nefertiti, Rory, Amy and Brian) come to a huge ominous door... which slowly opens, revealing two huge, massive dinosaurs. They look huge and spiky, possibly like stegosauruses. The Doctor tells everybody to run — and they do. But he doesn't, because he's too busy staring excitedly at the dinosaurs on a spaceship.
As showrunner Steven Moffat explained happily, the secret to success on television isn't really a mystery, as he's claimed in the past. The secret is to put dinosaurs on a spaceship.
What to expect from season seven
Moffat promises "more Daleks than you've ever seen in one place — and every generation of Dalek." And it looks fantastic, now that the visual effects are just being completed. "Lots and lots and lots of Daleks. All the things you see when you close your eyes," Moffat exults. And there's tragedy, comedy, a Western, adventures and more variety of adventures than you've ever seen before.
Matt Smith talks up the Ponds' farewell episode, featuring the Weeping Angels. Moffat has "done a great job, it's a climactic, and fitting — and I think a brilliant end to what have been my favorite companions ever."
Producer Caroline Skinner says the new season is "absolutely incredible," with more variety of episodes than ever, and the biggest episodes yet. "We've had Daleks. We've had Weeping Angels. We've shot episodes in New York and in Spain." (The aforementioned gunfighting episode was shot in Spain, in the great tradition of Westerns shot in Europe.)
As for the Ponds' farewell, Moffat says, "that episode was a tough one to write. I think I was relieved when I finished writing it, and it kind of made sense. I've written my last words ever for Amy and Rory. Of course I hadn't, there's always something else. But it was genuinely very sad."
But later, when moderator Chris Hardwick says there's no way to write the Ponds out permanently, Moffat hints he may have done just that. Hardwick, in turn, says we all trust Moffat not to break our hearts for too long, and he replies: "Why did you trust me? What have I ever done to earn that?"
The cast is joking about how good friends they've become. "We've gotten to the point where don't have conversations," says Darvill. "Just noises and silly phrases," says Smith. "We like to call them episodes," jokes Moffat. Later, Darvill and Gillan do impressions of each other, and it's supercute.
Someone brings up the idea that the Doctor leaves the brakes (the "blue boringers") on when he flies the TARDIS — and Moffat notes that River Song was probably winding the Doctor up about that — because you might notice that when she flies the TARDIS, it still makes that same wheezing, groaning materialization noise.
Someone in a cute shiny Dalek costume asks if there will be a multi-Doctor episode. "I'm not going to tell you," says Moffat.
How did Moffat come up with the idea that the Doctor's name was "the first question?" someone asks. "To be honest, it's been there from a start. He never gives his name. Other Time Lords do, but he doesn't. Clearly, his name is very important. Only I know why. We actually find out the truth" about the importance of the Doctor's name.
"Have I found out the Doctor's real name? Yes." Moffat says. He won't say what it is, but he jokes that it's "Patrick" or "Jeff."
Dame Diana Rigg is "totally wonderful" in Doctor Who, says Smith.
Someone asks if there will be another villain alliance, like in "The Pandorica Opens." Absolutely not. "Can you imagine how long the meeting must have been to get the Pandorica alliance together?" Moffat says. The Weeping Angels would have refused to come in to the conference room because the lights were on. "I think such a useless alliance of readily defeatable foes will be repeated. And what was the end result? They blew up the universe!"
Someone asks what sort of stories the cast would like to do. Smith says he'd like to see an episode about Atlantis, but he's not sure they can afford it. "Tragically, there have been at least three versions of Atlantis in Doctor Who," says Moffat. "We could do it again. To hell with continuity."
And Gillan says she really likes pianos, so maybe something about a piano that shrinks people and they get trapped inside the piano and have to dodge the hammers.
Smith mentions that they "sang" their way through "Bohemian Rhapsody" last night. Or rather, they shouted it. Or maybe barked it. (Check out the video at left!)
Smith says his trademark "flicking" open of the sonic screwdriver happened by accident — it was designed just to be opened normally, but he was playing around with it and found that he could open it by flicking it. And he thought it looked cool, so he went with it.