The Doctor talks about milkshakes – and warns against Facebook’s “surrogate” world
Matt Smith, the current incarnation of the time-travelling alien in the BBC’s cult sci-fi show Doctor Who, has serious doubts about Facebook, but he is no Luddite. Last week, he played host to some of the most inventive young minds in the world, at the finals of the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2013 in St Petersburg.
The actor was in Russia to introduce student teams from 71 countries, all competing for finance for their projects. First prize – a $50,000 Microsoft grant – went to the team Colinked from Britain, whose application streams music over a Bluetooth-connected mesh of devices.
Smith, aged 30, is the eleventh actor to play the Doctor. He has piloted the Tardis since 2010 and is due to leave the show at the end of 2013. His previous work includes a number of West End plays, television roles in two of Philip Pullman’s novel adaptations and the political drama Party Animals.
But what does he think about technology? Despite Smith’s status on screen as a geek icon, he describes himself as a bit of a traditionalist, who likes to read his news printed on paper, and prefers physical letters to emails. TechWeekEurope had a chance to chat to Smith – and found out why the TV star doesn’t maintain a Twitter or Facebook account.
“Everything’s a dichotomy”
What are your impressions of the Imagine Cup?
I was completely astounded by the level of some of these projects. I was expecting, you know, volcanoes that blow up. And then these kids come to the stage, and it’s like “woah, man!” It makes me want to invest into technology, and get really rich. If we can develop some of these ideas, some of the minds that are here, I think the world is going to be a very exciting place, because these guys are really thinking ten, twenty years ahead.
How would you describe your relationship with technology?
I’m not actually great with technology. I can pick up a phone and answer it, and put it down. I can send an email, do the basic things. But I’m fascinated by it.
I use my smartphone a lot, own a laptop. Being an actor I read a lot of scripts, so I also use tablets. But I love my blender! In the morning, I am lost without it. I put a little bit of a protein shake in there, an avocado, a few berries – blueberries, raspberries, whatever takes your fancy – a bit of coconut oil, maybe some kale, if you really want to be healthy.
What’s your favourite electronic gadget ever?
Music players. I just love music, love travelling to music, moving around to music. But recently, the blender has been a big part of my life.
I also have to say the Internet and BBC Sport has saved my life in many a lonely country.
Do you think technology will save us or destroy us?
I think it’s going to do both. I think at times it will destroy us and at times it will save us. Everything’s a dichotomy.
What do you think about “digital natives”, the kids that have grown up with the Internet?
I kind of like that ten-year olds are more proficient at the computer and type faster than me, know more about how to attach and send a file. I’ve been known to stumble at that hurdle. But it worries me that nowadays kids go home from school and socialise on Facebook. I think we create these surrogate versions of ourselves on Facebook, the celebrity versions with the best pictures, and the best comments, and the best friends.
And that weird thing on Twitter, comparing follower numbers. It’s like you’re quantified by the number. Both Twitter and Facebook can be very useful and practical. I see their value, but it’s just not for me.
On being a Time Lord
How has technology changed the way you work?
We just shot the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who in 3D. The way you work, the time it takes to change a lens, is different, and the cameras are much bigger. It was a really fascinating experience, because you learn how the depth of the shot changes, and the whole structure around the idea of the shot changes too. I think in two to three years, we will not need glasses to experience 3D television.
The way actors get scripts, they all read them on tablets now. You can rehearse, and there are apps that will read the other lines back to you, so you can learn your own lines.
What are you planning to do once your turn as the Doctor is over?
I return and shoot my last episode in September. Then, it’s back to the drawing board – being unemployed as an actor. I’d love to do a play again, if it’s the right play. But you know, I like making television, and I like directing.
First, I’d really like a couple of months off, because I’ve been working pretty solidly for about four years. It’s important to rest.
Do you think in 50 years we will be able to build a time machine?
Professor Brian Cox was explaining to me that theoretically, travelling forward in time is possible, it is travelling back in time which is the difficult part. I like to hold on to the idea that yes, we could potentially time-travel.
What would you do if you could travel in time?
I’d go pick up Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, go back to the Jurassic Era, hang out in a tree, watch a few dinosaurs, get Frank to sing. Then I would swing back and watch England win the World Cup in ’66. And then I would come here and prove time-travel was absolutely real.
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