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Tardis turns half a ton ; Five decades on, Dr Who remains cult viewing with legions of loyal fans the world over. As the BBC unveils its special 50th...

November 23, 2013

YellowBrix

Tardis turns half a ton ; Five decades on, Dr Who remains cult viewing with legions of loyal fans the world over. As the BBC unveils its special 50th anniversary episode tonight, SARAH MORGAN visited the famous set in Cardiff and attempts to uncover some of the best-kept secrets in television

On November 23, 1963, a TV legend was born - without fanfare or celebration.

That was partly due to the fact that US President John F Kennedy had been assassinated the day before, so most people's thoughts were, understandably, concentrating on that tragedy, rather than grainy, black and white flickering images of a so-called Time Lord and his adventures through space. Not to mention a blue police box that was bigger on the inside than the exterior suggested.

Fast forward half a century, and how things have changed. In fact, the only aspect that remains exactly the same is the famous police box, now better known as the Tardis.

The central character has altered his appearance 10 times, had various different companions, and the series is now broadcast in glorious HD.

What's more, Doctor Who has become a global phenomenon, with millions of loyal fans who for months have been desperate to know how the 50th anniversary of their favourite show would be marked.

The trouble is, nobody involved in making the 75-minute celebratory episode, entitled The Day Of The Doctor, has been willing to spill the beans. And today, on the set in Cardiff, that remains the case...

"It's very frustrating, isn't it?" says Ingrid Oliver, who's playing a character who may (or may not) be a UNIT scientist called Osgood.

She has, however, been spotted wearing a scarf resembling that worn by Tom Baker's fourth Time Lord, back in the Seventies. "I can't tell you why I've been wearing it," she declares, smiling.

In the 'Whoniverse', it seems even scarves are sacred. At least Oliver's suitably thrilled about being part of it all.

"I was in a hotel in Cardiff, and all these kids were there with their Doctor Who T-shirts. They'd all been to the museum, and I wanted to stand on the table and go, 'I'm in it!'" she recalls, laughing.

"It feels like such a big deal. My friends are more excited about me being in this, than if I was in a James Bond film! They call me a Doctor Who girl, and I'm thrilled with that."

In fact, everybody involved is excited about the programme, but they've been sworn to secrecy - even about the handful of facts already known, such as that John Hurt is in it as 'The Other Doctor', a dark soul who was revealed in the seventh season finale back in May.

Jenna Coleman, who's now established as current companion Clara, won't be tricked into revealing any more either. When questioned about Hurt's character, all she says is: "He's got really good hair and a nice leather jacket."

Another aspect that has been made public is that action takes place in modern-day Trafalgar Square where, during filming, Matt Smith was photographed dangling from the Tardis 90ft in the air.

There are also scenes in Elizabethan England (with Joanna Page as Elizabeth I), and a battle somewhere in space. Jemma Redgrave is back too, as Kate Stewart, daughter of classic series character The Brigadier.

But, of course, the biggest draw involves the return of David Tennant as the 10th Doctor, and Billie Piper as his companion Rose.

Doctor Who has a tradition of bringing back previous Tardis residents for special editions. Jon Pertwee was joined by both Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell in the 10th season adventure The Three Doctors, while The Five Doctors, made to celebrate the 20th anniversary in 1983, featured - you guessed it - five Doctors.

"Since I left, the expectation has been that I'd end up in this special," says Tennant, 42.

"I was thrilled because it's a huge thing for Doctor Who, and it's a huge thing for television in general. So few shows run beyond a few series, and 50 years' worth is quite a legacy, so I'm very honoured to be part of that."

Coleman says it was exciting to see Smith and Tennant together. "You can't help but watch. They're both playing the same part, but they're so different, and yet they work together so well."

Showrunner Steven Moffat, who's written the episode, agrees. "David and Matt together are phenomenal; 50% of the time they're sort of the same, but then they'll go spinning off in completely different ways," says the Scottish writer and producer who's been in charge of the 'Whoniverse' since taking over from Russell T Davies in 2009.

"Matt keeps saying it's like Laurel and Laurel, and that Hardy didn't turn up. It's really engaging and funny, and they just adore each other."

Moffat's been a fan of the show for as long as he can remember. There's nobody more steeped in its lore, so he's the perfect person to reveal a few more hints about the plot.

"It's to do with the most important day of the Doctor's life," he says.

"He usually runs around after everyone, causes epiphanies in everybody he meets, then goes back to the Tardis and forgets about it.

That's the kind of character he is. He's Teflon man; nothing seems to affect him or change him.

"But this adventure changes him and the course of his life. That makes it sound very dark and dour, and it's not at all like that - there are lots of spaceships whizzing about as well."

That's all Moffat will say, though he is happy to explain the programme's secrecy.

"It's not because I'm super-secret or evil, but purely because surprise drives drama. If you can give people a spine-tingling moment that they didn't see coming, then you should," he says.

"Every time something leaks, I get very angry about it. Not because it matters on a level of national security, but because the show just got less good."

So, fans will simply have to wait and watch and find out what happens - whether at home on TV, or at one of its cinema broadcasts, where viewers will be able to see it in 3D.

Wherever they are, they'll no doubt be raising a glass to the sci- fi classic. But where will Moffat himself be when it's on? "I'll be watching it from behind the sofa, like everyone else," he says, grinning.

. ? Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor is on BBC1 tonight at 7.50pm.

Extra time? The Daleks are back in the 50th anniversary episode, as are whispering, shape-shifting aliens the Zygons. Not seen since Tom Baker's era in 1976, they're David Tennant's favourite monsters.

. ? Doctor Who was the brainchild of Canadian TV executive Sydney Newman, who was then the BBC's head of drama. He also created The Avengers, Armchair Theatre, The Wednesday Play and Adam Adamant Lives!

? Doctor Who was originally meant to fill a scheduling gap between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury and was supposed to be fun but educational.

. ? Newman insisted that despite its sci-fi elements, the show shouldn't contain 'bug-eyed monsters'. He backed down after the massive success of the Daleks, who featured in the Doctor's second adventure. ? The original show, now dubbed the 'classic' series, ran for 26 years before being controversially axed in 1989. A TV film followed in 1996 before the series returned in 2005.

. ? There have been various attempts to launch the Doctor onto the big screen. So far, only two - made in the Sixties starring Peter Cushing and based on William Hartnell adventures - have actually made it.

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