As the Mona Lisa is to art lovers and the Stanley Cup is to hockey nuts, so the TARDIS is to fans of the long-running science-fiction show Doctor Who. Since Who debuted on the U.K.'s BBC network in the fall of 1963, this time-traveling spaceship which is, famously, bigger on the inside than its exterior would suggest has transported the series' alien hero to a vast array of locales where he has battled a variety of monsters. While the Doctor's ability to physically regenerate has allowed 11 actors of different shapes and sizes to play the part on TV, the TARDIS still resembles a blue, '50s-era British police phone box. Over time it has become a bona fide sci-fi icon, with its distinctive design replicated on toys, T-shirts, towels, and even teapots (did we mention this is a British show?). Alas, in real life, and specifically on this overcast morning in the summer of 2012, the TARDIS looks rather, well, crappy. Situated at the end of an alley in the small Welsh village of Llantrisant, the ship is predictably, yet still somehow disappointingly the same size inside that its outward dimensions indicate. And as the interior walls of this clearly made-from-wood prop haven't even been painted, the structure seems more toolshed than time-travel vehicle. Also: It's missing one of its door handles. Which is why the current Doctor, Matt Smith, and his Who costar Jenna-Louise Coleman have stopped shooting as various crew members shout out the same refrain: ''The handle came off the TARDIS!'' ''The handle came off the TARDIS!'' ''The handle came off the TARDIS!''
Ultimately, the case of the TARDIS' unglued handle proves to be one of the Doctor's less incident-packed adventures, and Smith and Coleman are soon back at work. They're in the midst of filming the second half of the 2012--13 season, which premieres on BBC America March 30 at 8 p.m. and kicks off Doctor Who's 50th-anniversary year. Expectations are high among fans around the world that the show will commemorate this milestone in momentous style. In short, the Who crew has bigger things to worry about than errant handles not least of which is ensuring the time traveler has a future as well as a storied past. ''I think Doctor Who can do another 50 years,'' says executive producer Steven Moffat. ''But I'm very, very concerned about not ending it.''
At a Manhattan restaurant, five months after EW's visit to the Doctor Who set, Matt Smith is looking a little like one of his Time Lord character's many monstery foes, the lizardlike Sea Devils. Which is to say, he's green around the gills. You could blame his sickly pallor on jet lag, as Smith flew into New York a couple of days ago, after wrapping the 2012--13 season. Or you could blame it on the previous night's party at the BBC America offices, during which Smith, Coleman, Moffat, and Moffat's fellow exec producer Caroline Skinner delighted the troops by forming a conga line on the dance floor. Regardless, Smith's worse-for-wearness is not preventing him from attacking a filet mignon as plump as the actor is willowy while enthusing about the eight upcoming episodes of Doctor Who. ''We've got a great alien-planet episode,'' he reveals. ''We've got a great horror-movie episode, and we have an episode set on a submarine, which I think is really exciting.''