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As an actor, you regard being in Doctor Who as becoming part of television history (2010)

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Catherine Jones chats to Meera Syal about her 'warm connection' to the Welsh and fulfilling an ambition to be in Doctor Who television history


WHEN Meera Syal came to Wales to film her role in Doctor Who she was immediately taken back to her childhood.

The 40-something comedienne, playwright, actress and author was reminded of a Welsh couple who befriended her Punjabi-born parents in Staffordshire where Meera was raised.

Meera, who plays a tomboy academic in the cult show's new series tonight, says: "Gladys Williams was a nurse at my father's factory.

"She and her husband, Wally, were from Port Talbot, and became like adopted grandparents when I was growing up.

"They invited us for Christmas dinner the first year and we had a lovely relationship with them so I feel a warm connection towards the Welsh.

"When I came to Wales and heard the accent, it took me straight back to being in front of the fire with a cup of tea with Auntie Gladys and Uncle Wally."

She added: "I was in Wales for five weeks filming Doctor Who. I have seen more of your hillsides and quite a lot of rain!

s "I was driven round the Valleys on a tour and my driver pointed out all the old pits and where he used to play. s It reminded me of where I grew up and was a real pleasure."

Meera, awarded an MBE in 1997, plays a married-to-the job geologist called Nasreen Chaudhry in Doctor Who.

She says of her character: "She has been part of an ambitious drilling project.

"The episode starts with her having drilled further into the earth than anyone managed before but unwittingly that starts off a chaotic chain of events."

Meera describes Nasreen as "quite a tomboy academic with no make-up, big Caterpillar boots and not afraid to get her hands dirty" who has spent years in a male environment in charge of an all-male crew.

"There are a few bantering scenes with the Doctor as well as some incredibly dark and questioning moments," says Meera, who helped create Goodness Gracious Me and found fame as grandmother, Ummi, in The Kumars at No 42.

"We don't get on at first and then we very much do get on, united in finding our companions.

"She has an intense curiosity and passion which he recognises in her though he knows more than her about this world so she's learning all the time, even as far as romance is concerned."

Having been a fan of the series as a child, Meera, who has a four-year-old son with her actor husband Sanjeer Bhasker, says she was thrilled to be offered a part.

"It really was a cherished ambition. I used to watch it as a child and clocked off around the time of Tom Baker when I was getting more interested in the Osmonds.

"I started watching it again when Christopher Eccleston became Doctor Who.

"I kept badgering my agent saying, 'I'd really love to be part of it, I love what they've done with it'.

"As an actor, you regard being in Doctor Who as becoming part of television history and you get to play situations and roles very different from any other series."

As a child, Meera, whose first novel, Anita and Me won a major literary award, found the series scary enough to dive behind the sofa.

"The theme music used to scare me but I really did love it. I loved the strangeness of it, the way it was about monsters and asked existentialist questions like what human beings are here for.

"It asks quite big questions for children but also appeals to the child within us as I think good sci-fi should.

"I think the new series has pushed that much more. The doctors are more human and frailer and admit they don't know everything. They are prone to jealousy and sometimes make mistakes. They really are doctors for our times."

Meera admires the fine line Doctor Who treads in appealing to both adults and children.

"It's a very hard thing to achieve, not being too grown-up for children or too childish for adults. I think it's achieved by the smartness they have given to story lines which also give you mysteries.

"The kids get scary aliens but I also think the show is such a success because it has such cachet and they do get very, very good actors.

"That raises its game.

"I think it has survived because it's very British. There's always a healthy dose of irony, wit and understatement. It's a fantastic marriage."

Meera says she felt 'honoured' to become part of an institution which is regarded with such professional pride in Wales.

"The crew feels very proud of Doctor Who and the fact it's based in Cardiff. It's like the flagship for BBC Wales and there's a great sense of pride and ownership with anyone from round there feeling very attached to the area. There's a sense of family and caring which is lovely to come into."

Doctor Who is on BBC One tonight at 6.15pm

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  • APA 6th ed.: Jones, Catherine (2010-05-22). As an actor, you regard being in Doctor Who as becoming part of television history. The Western Mail p. 10.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Jones, Catherine. "As an actor, you regard being in Doctor Who as becoming part of television history." The Western Mail [add city] 2010-05-22, 10. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Jones, Catherine. "As an actor, you regard being in Doctor Who as becoming part of television history." The Western Mail, edition, sec., 2010-05-22
  • Turabian: Jones, Catherine. "As an actor, you regard being in Doctor Who as becoming part of television history." The Western Mail, 2010-05-22, section, 10 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=As an actor, you regard being in Doctor Who as becoming part of television history | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/As_an_actor,_you_regard_being_in_Doctor_Who_as_becoming_part_of_television_history | work=The Western Mail | pages=10 | date=2010-05-22 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 November 2017 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=As an actor, you regard being in Doctor Who as becoming part of television history | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/As_an_actor,_you_regard_being_in_Doctor_Who_as_becoming_part_of_television_history | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 November 2017}}</ref>