DOCTOR WHO goes Wild West for its new series – and Scots star Karen Gillan says viewers are in for a major shock.
Karen, 23, was even given a script with a dummy ending by writers determined to keep closing scenes a secret from fans.
The cast and crew decamped from Cardiff to the wilds of Utah for filming, the first time the show has ever been shot in America.
But it is the series finale that caused the biggest shock for Karen, Matt Smith’s Doctor and Arthur Darvill, who plays Rory.
Karen – the Doctor’s assistant Amy Pond in the series – said: “Normally cliffhangers are our lives being threatened. With this one, three lives are changed forever.”
She added: “Even I got given a dummy ending to episode seven and it was only at the read-through that writer Steven Moffat took me, Matt and Arthur into the corridor to read the proper version on his laptop. We then all paced around going ‘Oh my God!’.
“It’s brilliant and viewers will just have to tune in to find out more. It certainly provides a fantastic cliffhanger to see us through until autumn.”
However, it was the change of scene to the American wilderness that sparked mischief among the cast.
Karen said: “We genuinely messed around all day.
“But I think that works, because as a viewer I’d like to see the Doctor, Amy and Rory having fun. Of course, we are serious when we need to be, but in general we clown around between takes and I think that helps to create chemistry on screen.
“Matt has also taken to hiding in my trailer and I’ll go in, humming to myself, and then he’ll just jump out on me. The first time he did that, he scared me so much I actually fell over.
“He also has an annoying habit of filming me when I fall asleep or while in make-up in the mornings, and it’s a hideous sight – I’m not going to lie.
“But Arthur eggs him on and the pair of them gang up on me. But I give as good as I get. Although it’s brilliant when Alex Kingston (who returns as a guest star in this series) up and is around because she knows how to handle them.”
The new series of Doctor Who returns on April 23. It kicks off in the Utah desert’s Monument Valley, one of America’s most identifiable national parks, which is still officially the reservation of the Navajo tribe of Native Americans.
It’s also the setting for classic John Ford western films as well as more recent movies like Back To The Future III, Forrest Gump and Wild Wild West.
Karen said: “Filming in Utah was so much fun and I spent a lot of time running around the desert.
“The scenery was amazing and it simply wouldn’t have looked the same if we had filmed it in Cardiff against a green screen. The desert backdrop really gives the opening two episodes an epic feel.”
But the climate can be wild and unforgiving in such exposed land, even for a girl from the Highlands.
Karen said: “We were all thermalled up and I had on two pairs of trousers and four tops.
“Then the sun would come up, making it blistering hot, and we’d all peel off the layers.”
But even in the middle of nowhere, the Time Lord couldn’t escape a species common to our galaxy. Fans. Matt, who took over from David Tennant as the Doctor last year, said: “It was very strange. We were in the middle of the desert and suddenly there was a lady with a campervan and deck chair, holding up an iPad with a moving screen which read ‘autograph please’. “I mean, how on earth she knew we were in the middle of the desert I have no idea, but it certainly proved her dedication to the show.
“The landscape was incredible. I think being in America, filming in that terrain, has definitely added a sense of scale and a filmic quality to this series. It was an amazing experience and a brilliant laugh.
“Karen, Arthur and I spent a lot of time mucking around annoying each other.”
Hugh Bonneville, Lily Cole, Suranne Jones and Marshall Lancaster guest in the new series, which sees the team head back in time to 1960s America and the high seas of the 1600s.
Karen said: “The great thing about this show is that it attracts big names.
Everyone who comes on set is excited to be part of the Doctor Who experience.
“These actors could all be off doing other things, but they choose to come on the show because they are either fans or their kids are, so it makes the whole experience enjoyable. It’s also a wonderful experience to watch these people at work – like an acting masterclass every episode.
“I had a brilliant time filming with Hugh Bonneville, who plays a pirate captain in the 1600s.
“Swinging across a pirate ship was a particular highlight and I loved doing the sword fight.
“I literally picked up the sword and started learning moves with a stunt guy – in fact I loved it so much that I want to take it up as a hobby.
“Luckily I caused no major injuries, although I did collide with Arthur at one point, but that was his fault.”
The monsters this time round, are, of course, the scariest yet, if you believe Paisley-born writer Moffat.
He said: “Scary. Very scary. I don’t want to say more – there’s the Silence, the Siren, the Gangers, all these are more than just freaky costumes and masks. And just wait till you meet Idris in episode four.”
But that’s nothing. The Doctor’s living with a scarier combination – a married couple, with Amy and Rory tying the knot in the last series.
Moffat said: “The big difference is how long the Doctor is hanging around his companions. He normally gets them when they’re young, and leaves them while they’re young.
“He’s careful to put them back where he found them, before he screws up their lives. But here he is, married couple on board and he wonders if it isn’t time to get out of the way – before something really bad happens.”