I just want to quickly expand on those few thoughts we expressed in Podcast 47 on the subject of Karen Gillan‘s new Doctor Who companion.
First, before an announcement leaks out to ruin everything, I want to quickly discuss this new character’s name, or lack thereof. We are in a rather unusual situation where we know the actor but not the character name. For the announcements of both Billie Piper and Freema Agyeman each were given their respective character names in the initial press release. Catherine Tate was, of course, a special case insomuch as she was originally a surprise guest star. That leaves Karen Gillan as the first modern day Who companion announced but not named! We’ve got to ask ourselves, why? What is Steven Moffat (the Vast Toffee (MN)) up to? Yes, it is a long time until we will see her onscreen but that’s no reason to withhold the name – it’s just a name, isn’t it? We knew the name ‘Rose Tyler’ similarly early but that too was just a name at that point. What could possibly be different this time? A famous person from history or otherwise a name that might give away something about her? A relative/descendant of a past character? If she retains her natural red hair does that mean she might be the love child of Vislor Turlough and Donna Noble?! Probably not…
Whatever the secret is (and there may not be one – just a new level of media management by the Vast Toffee) we are left referring to her only by the name Karen Gillan. As I suggested before the recording of the last podcast, we should speculate on what name she might be given. Pointless but fun! Here were our choices:
- Grunhilda Knobnacker
- Blodwyn Puddephat
- Dementia Nightterrors
Yes, my suggestion of Grunhilda Knobnacker might sound slightly ridiculous (and vaguely rude, in a Slartibartfast sort of way!) but, you may be surprised to learn, I have it on very good authority from someone close to the production team that the character’s name will, in fact, not be that! Yes, not be that. Actually that’s not true at all. I don’t really have any insider knowledge (or links to anyone with such knowledge), so we can all rejoice – it may yet be Grunhilda Knobnacker! Isn’t speculating fun!
What about young Karen Gillan herself? Another name that we all said ‘who?’ to. It was Matt Smith all over again! Unlike with Matt Smith‘s casting, this time there wasn’t too much speculation in the press. A few silly names were bandied around, most notably pop star Lily Allen (clearly influenced by the previous choice of Billie Piper – except that Billie had already moved into acting by that point (and was rather good at it, too!)). Despite the muted speculation, her name, like Matt’s, came out of left field. Certainly no one can claim stunt casting this time!
Now I must admit I’ve not really seen Karen Gillan in anything yet, a few short YouTube clips of The Kevin Bishop Show aside. But, of course, pretty much every Doctor Who fan has probably already seen her as a Soothsayer in last year’s The Fires of Pompeii. I haven’t rewatched it yet but from what I remember it wasn’t exactly a meaty role, so don’t expect to learn much about how she will play Grunhilda from that. Matt Smith was a little different for my initial ‘who?’ reaction (I heard the name some 20 minutes before it was officially announced on TV) but I did recognise his face when I saw it, though not his name. I had previously seen him in both the Sally Lockhart dramatisations.
There seems to be something of a tradition in New Who when it comes to casting companions. All of them (bar Billie Piper, for obvious reasons) have previously appeared in the series before becoming regular companions. By companions here I am only really referring to Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble and Grunhilda Knobnacker. As I said, Rose was a special case as there wasn’t any New Who before her. Donna Noble appeared as a special guest star before landing a regular role (so she still counts, in my book!) Freema and Karen both appeared with minor roles before getting the real gig the next season. I don’t imagine that is deliberate on the part of the corresponding Executive Producer, just an odd twist of fate. I’m sure there were many people interviewed for the roles of Martha and Grunhilda who haven’t previously appeared in Doctor Who (heck, maybe even Lily Allen was among them!) It does go to show the sort of background talent they get in even for minor roles.
Some people (such as Jean in our latest podcast) have raised concerns about Karen Gillan’s age, namely is she too young? Clearly she is far from the youngest person ever to take the role as the Doctor’s companion. The wonderful website Den of Geek has put together a list of ten companions played by actors younger than Karen: http://www.denofgeek.com/television/260706/doctor_who_10_companions_younger_than_karen_gillan.html Far be it for me to just steal names off that list but here I go anyway! Dodo, Nyssa, Adric (of course!), Victoria, Zoe, Vicki, Jo Grant, Peri and Turlough. Being lazy I’m not inclined to look for more but, perhaps surprisingly, the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan was actually a year or two older than the 21 year old Karen Gillan (despite playing a character that was still in school (although quite possibly hundreds of years old!))
Of course a lot of people don’t look at Karen’s age in isolation. If it was just her that was, to many of our now older eyes, ‘too young’ then fewer people would complain. It’s when she’s paired with the ‘youngest Doctor ever!’ that people seem to get nervous. Personally I think it is a good move for the Vast Toffee (Master of Nightmares), Steven Moffat, to (apparently) go back to the traditionally winning format of the Doctor and a younger (if only slightly here!) female companion. In future seasons, once Matt Smith IS the Doctor in everyone’s eyes, he can play around with the format. Older companions, alien companions, 51st century kind of companions and virtual companions could all be before us. For now, though, (much as I hate to use the phrase) let’s get back to basics. Matt Smith has one tough act to follow, so let’s not do anything ‘exotic’ straight off the bat. Of course, for all we know perhaps Karen Gillan’s character is rather less normal that she appears in those three official photos we have of her (and those, I presume, weren’t of the character but of Karen).
There have also been concerns raised, in part due to their relative young ages, that Matt and Karen’s characters may get ‘romantically involved’ in a similar way to the Doctor (particularly David Tennant’s) and Rose Tyler. It’s a fine line but I don’t really want to see anything quite so overt again, however I do think it is vital that they enjoy each others company. That’s doesn’t mean Matt Smith’s Doctor can’t be stand offish with strangers but I do think he needs to take an instant liking to Karen’s character (and vice versa). Let’s not have a repeat of Colin Baker’s early days with Peri where it looked like they hated each other (why did she stay with him?!) That sort of behaviour is the main reason, in my view, that Colin’s Doctor wasn’t greatly liked by the masses (though I don’t entirely agree with them!) Start lighter and go darker (as they have, to an extent, with David Tennant’s Doctor). We really don’t want to turn the audience off the Doctor because then they will simply stop watching. The biggest barrier to entry for audiences with a new Doctor is the chemistry between him and the companion. It worked with Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston and again with David Tennant. Her contribution to the success of them both, and the series in general, cannot be underestimated. I don’t think it worked so well with Freema Agyeman or Catherine Tate (at least at first). It didn’t matter in those cases because everyone had bought into Tennant as the Doctor already.
So, where does all that rambling leave me? I am very hopeful about Karen Gillan, I think she really must be something special to get the part. I trust the Vast Toffee. I look forward to see Matt and Karen working together, I think it really could be something special. A duo to rival David Tennant and Billie Piper, I hope. Time will tell. Will my speculations about her being a traditional companion be correct? Of course by that I mean a New Who traditional companion – the days of two dimensional, screaming, exposition prompting companions are gone (I hope and trust). I still can’t quite shake the question – why the secrecy on her character name? Also, why no publicity shots with Karen and Matt together yet (probably nothing but a scheduling thing – I suspect her promo shots were done whilst Matt was off in Cannes). Perhaps closer to the time (when they actually get together, again, to start filming next month?) they will do a combined publicity shot, maybe even announcing her name at the same time. We will see…