Midway through the new seventh season of "Doctor Who," the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companions, the married couple Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), will say their goodbyes in the fifth episode, "The Angels Take Manhattan."
For those of you wondering -- yes, it really was filmed in Manhattan; yes, the "angels" mentioned in the title refer to the Weeping Angels, which are, perhaps not so coincidentally, Gillan’s favorite villains on the show; and yes, the farewell to the Ponds will most likely make you cry. "They kept having to buy me more tissues," said the effervescent Gillan, when asked about shooting her final scenes during the Q&A that took place in New York this past weekend after an advance screening of "Asylum of the Daleks," the first episode of the seventh season. She added, "I am sad to be leaving, I mean, I was crying back there," in reference to what she was feeling while watching the episode along with the 1,100 Whovians (the name fans of Doctor Who have adopted for themselves) who paid the exceedingly economical price of $2.22 per ticket to attend the screening at the Ziegfeld Theater.
Though it was obvious that Gillan is emotional about leaving her break-out role as Amy Pond, it was also obvious that she is at peace with her decision, as she joked around with co-star Matt Smith and moderator Chris Hardwick from The Nerdist throughout the panel, never allowing the tone to become too teary.
"The show is all about change, and that’s what it’s been like for the past 50 years," Gillan said with a sense of finality that was more enthusiastic about what’s to come than sad about what she is leaving behind.
But just because Gillan feels a bittersweet sense of peace for her exit doesn’t mean everyone else does. "I don’t think anyone’s prepared to really get their heads around what it means for Arthur and Karen not to be in the TARDIS," said producer Caroline Skinner. And indeed, it seems that the "Doctor Who" Powers-That-Be are not ready to let the Ponds go quite yet. Beginning today, the web series “Pond Life,” a five-episode season prequel that showcases what the Ponds are up to when they’re not traversing space and time with The Doctor, will be released online daily leading up to the seventh season premiere on Saturday, September 1 at 9pm on BBC America.
When asked about the impetus behind "Pond Life," Skinner said, "We [Skinner and executive producer Steven Moffat] wanted to give insight of where [Amy and Rory] had been between series six and the first episode of the seventh season. We wanted fans to really enjoy Amy and Rory’s relationship from their point of view, and to see what it feels like for them as a married couple when the Doctor, who is kind of like their mischievous child who comes and throws everything up in the air, pops in." The five webisodes of "Pond Life" will also extend Amy and Rory’s visibility to fans, giving them a little more time with the beloved Ponds than they were expecting to have.
Although it's easy to focus on the impending departure of the Ponds and what that means for the fans, this also means that huge changes are in store for The Doctor, and for Matt Smith, who is changing companions for the first time since taking on the role of The Doctor in 2009. "I think if you look at the history and heritage of the show, it’s always changing, and as Steven [Moffat] always says, it can never be predictable. It can never be cozy on 'Doctor Who,' it’s got to feel like it's marking new territory every season,” said Smith, who, it should be noted, is a guy who wears black and white polka-dotted socks, and publicly announces things like, “Just adjusting my trousers!” in his boisterous, friendly voice as he, indeed, adjusts his trousers.
Though it's obvious that fans -- as well as Smith, who characterizes his personal relationship with Gillan and Arthur Darvill as "really great friends" -- are sad to see the Ponds leave, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a great curiosity about the Doctor’s new companion, who was announced earlier this year and is scheduled to be officially introduced in the Christmas episode. Though all parties are being tight-lipped about what’s in store for the Doctor and new companion Clara, played by Jenna Louise Coleman, Skinner did say that, "They’ve just got a really fresh dynamic between the two of them and they kind of dance around each other and outwit each other.”
Smith, on the other hand, was a little cheekier in his response. “If you look at the history of the man, he just picks up hot chicks over and over again.”
But before the Who-verse meets Clara, there are five episodes full of the Ponds still to come. “[These episodes] are five big blockbuster movies every week,” said Skinner. “Steven [Moffat] has always been incredibly clear that [this season] should always be coming back and feeling very different than the much more serialized stuff he did last year. He really gave every writer, and himself, the challenge of picking big genre pieces and then doing an enormous Doctor Who spin on that."
Aside from this Saturday's premiere, which features more Daleks than have ever been seen before on the show, the second episode will feature dinosaurs in space (Smith’s favorite dinosaur, in case you wondered, is the pterodactyl), the third is a Western, filmed in the same Spanish town as the Spaghetti Westerns of the mid-1960s, and the fourth and fifth episodes will be extremely Pond-centric, with their grand finale taking place in Manhattan.
"New York City," said Skinner, "is so perfect for a story that wanted that level of atmosphere and scale. I think once Steven decided that the Weeping Angels were the right monster for Arthur and Karen’s final story that it all came together really beautifully."
During the filming of "The Angels Take Manhattan," fans flocked to the locations in Tudor City and Central Park, a phenomenon that doesn’t always happen while on the typical set in Cardiff, Wales. "The enthusiasm and support is really amazing," said Smith, who later added, "I’d make every single episode here if I could."
It seems as if the actors aren’t the only ones who enjoy shooting in New York. Skinner noted that, while working with the New York crew, which boasted veterans from shows like "Sex and the City" and "Law & Order," even they were shocked at the amount of fans who arrived to spy on their favorite British show.
"Hey, 'Doctor Who' is bigger than Carrie Bradshaw!” Skinner exclaimed, before adding, "It’s not 'Doctor Who,' that-show-that’s-come-from-the-UK anymore. It’s just 'Doctor Who' over here, and that’s really fantastic. I just don’t think we could have picked a more beautiful or epic city to tell the story of Amy and Rory’s final adventure with the Doctor.”