Doctor Who visits Sunderland + video interview and episode preview

One year after millions of viewers tuned in to hear that Matt Smith was to replace David Tennant at the controls of the Tardis the long wait to see him on screen is almost over.

The 11th Doctor makes his full debut on Saturday night.

And Matt can't wait.

"I am just glad people are going to see it," he said.

"We spent nine months making it, we are very proud of it and I hope people enjoy it."

Karen Gillan, who plays new companion Amy Pond, admitted the production schedule had been so intense it was sometimes easy to forget the finished result would be judged by the viewing public.

"You go into this Doctor Who bubble and forget it is going to be on television," she said.

The pair received the kind of welcome normally reserved for rock stars when they arrived at Sunderland University's Prospect building last night on their whistle-stop UK tour.

Matt and Karen introduced the episode and then took questions from children.

Matt, who was on the books of Nottingham Forest and Leicester City before a back injury forced him to hang up his footballs boots, sparked cheers and frantic applause when he paid tribute to Steve Bruce, Kenwyne Jones and Darren Bent.

The hero turned temporarily to zero when he revealed his hitherto-unknown love of Blackburn Rovers – but recovered the situation deftly with a flourish of the new-look sonic screwdriver prop.

Matt and Karen have both been overwhelmed by the reception they have received before the first episode of the new series has even aired.

"It has been absolutely amazing," said Matt.

"Everybody has been so enthusiastic and it seems to be going pretty well."

It was an emotional day for Karen, who followed up a visit to her hometown with another family reunion.

The Doctor's new assistant, it transpires, has Wearside roots. Dad Raymond was born in Sunderland but moved to Inverness before Karen was born and grandad Lawrie Gillan and aunt Doris Wilkinson were on hand at the university.

"It is lovely to have my family here," said Karen.

Proud Lawrie revealed the young Karen was a regular visitor to Wearside.

"Karen used to come down here but she has not been since she was 15," he said.

"I used to go all over the place with her."

Karen moved to London to pursue her dream of acting and it has been a couple of years since grandfather and grand-daughter saw each other, but the family is still in touch.

And Lawrie has followed Karen's career fanatically – including a previous spot in Dr Who as a Roman soothsayer in 'The Fires of Pompeii'.

"I am as proud as punch. I could not believe it when I heard she was going to be the new companion – I was absolutely delighted."