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Matt Smith – a k a The Doctor – is on his way to Utah's Monument Valley today, and he's really thrilled about it.
"It's an iconic piece of America – I'm thinking John Ford and 'Forrest Gump,'" Smith said Tuesday over the phone.
Smith has experience with iconic, since he portrays one of the most iconic characters in British TV – and all science fiction, for that matter. Smith is The Doctor on the BBC series "Doctor Who," which is filming in America this week for the first time in the show's 47-year history.
For the uninitiated, "Doctor Who" centers on The Doctor, who is a Time Lord, a renegade time traveler who hops about the universe in a TARDIS (which stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, if you must know), a time machine that's shaped like an old-style British police phone box. The Doctor and his companion (there have been many over the decades) go into the past and future, getting into scrapes, battling evil aliens and consistently saving the universe.
"Doctor Who" premiered on the BBC in 1963, and ran as a serialized daytime series for kids (and discerning adults) until 1989. The BBC revived the series in 2005 as a nighttime drama, and it has been a rousing success worldwide and has spawned two spinoffs, the edgier "Torchwood" and the kid-friendly "The Sarah Jane Adventures."
"Doctor Who" has a growing fan base in the United States, thanks in large part to the BBC America cable channel (where "Doctor Who" is consistently the network's No. 1 show). But Smith still finds walking around in the States is "much more incognito than it is in England … where it's not as easy to be anonymous."
This is Smith's second season playing The Doctor. He is the 11th actor – and, at 28, the youngest – to take on the role. (The Doctor regenerates a new body whenever he is near death, a neat screenwriting trick devised when the first Doctor, William Hartnell, became too sick to carry on. Since then, each actor has been able to put his own stamp on the role.)
The current series usually films in and around Cardiff, Wales, but for the new season (which will begin airing next spring), producer Steven Moffat and his crew are filming two episodes in the United States. Shooting starts today in Monument Valley.
"It says a lot for the scope and ambition of this particular [season] that we're doing," Smith said Tuesday, on his way , as to a taping of CBS's "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" (where Ferguson threw a big "Doctor Who" themed episode). "It lays down our mark about how epic we want this particular [season] to feel."
Smith (pictured above, in a scene from last season's cliffhanger at Stonehenge) won't divulge why The Doctor would go to Monument Valley – "My lips are sealed, I'm afraid" – but said "he's there for a very important reason, and the universe depends on him making the right choice."
What we do know is that The Doctor will be traveling with his current companion, the feisty Scotswoman Amy Pond (played by Karen Gillan) and her new husband Rory (Arthur Darvill), who proved his valor at the end of last season.
Also involved is a recurring character, archeologist and interstellar bandit Dr. River Song (played by "ER" star Alex Kingston). The Doctor and River share a n unusual relationship: They keep running into each other across time and space, but on opposite timelines – her past is his future, and vice versa.
"I hope The Doctor does actually discover who this lady is," Smith said of River. "Steven [Moffat] has told Alex everything about the whole next season's plotline and story, and he's told me nothing because narratively, I'm meant to know less than her. …
"[Moffat] tells us it's all on a need-to-know basis. He wants us to find out like fans. He said to me about the Episode 7 cliffhanger, 'I want you to drop your script when you're reading it.' "