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Who Goes There? (2022)

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2022-01-01 Radio Times p26.jpg


Guest stars Aisling Bea and Adjani Salmon join forces with the Time Lord as the Daleks strike again

A1SLING Bea's CHANNEL 4 comedy This Way Up - an often unflinching look at a woman recovering from a nervous breakdown - seems unlikely inspiration for a Doctor Who special. Yet showrunner Chris Chibnall wanted to capture something of its essence when he set out to chart new territory for his era: a rom-com. One with, naturally, a time loop and Daleks.

Eve of the Daleks shares with This Way Up the theme of loneliness and trying to make connections. The action is set against a two-hander between Bea's character, a storage facility manager called Sarah, and lovestruck customer Nick (Adjani Salmon). Bea is no Who fan ("I didn't realise the Daleks aren't in every episode!") but was drawn by the story's grounded nature. "Sarah feels more like me - or at least my stand-up persona - than Aine in This Way Up, who is actually quite removed from me."

With a core cast of five on a single set over a week, this is pared-down Who, but Bea still can't get her head around Chibnall writing the script in a little over a fortnight. "Holy moly, that man's a machine; she marvels. She took "a lifetime" to write series two of This Way Up, the heaviness of its themes taking their toll in lockdown. "I hate writing alone, it makes me ten times slower. I can probably write a scene in 20 minutes, but to get to that point takes about three months.

I'll walk around the house, paint something... I wrote a whole film in the middle of writing it!"

Having got that series over the line last summer, she's welcomed the chance to forge more moments of connection beyond the everyday. "It's glorious after two years of things feeling cold, to have that warm feeling again. The flavour has come back into life."

She resumed stand-up, welcoming the "visceral" nature of playing to crowds and the chance to edit her thoughts in real time rather than poring over every word for months.

ON DOCTOR WHO, Bea was made to feel instantly welcome. "For a massive show, it's actually quite small." She was awestruck watching Jodie Whittaker. "She powers through dialogue like no one else, these huge monologues that pack in so much plot. Working with her was like moving to a new school and finding the head girl is lovely and wants to be your mate' Bea also singles out the episode's director, Annetta Laufer: "I hope she gets sent straight to Marvel after this. Her enthusiasm, excitement and energy bled through the cast'

But the actor also admits it was hard to keep a straight face against the Daleks, "especially if they have to go down stairs, with two lads lifting them down and resetting for the next take". She conjures up the surreal image of a Dalek banging its head against the wall when its operator lost control. "It was like watching a toddler learn to walk. We almost lost our minds laughing."

What will she take from her brief time in the Whoniverse? "Free advertising for my show," she deadpans. "I got photos of me on the warehouse set, in front of loads of boxes printed with the words 'This Way Up:"

Caption: DALEKS: AD 2022 Dan (John Bishop), Yaz (Mandip Gill), the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Sarah (Aisling Bea) and Nick (Adjani Salmon)

Have you always been a Doctor Who fan?

I used to watch it all the time at uni - the David Tennant and Matt Smith Doctors. Because it's so massive, I didn't ever see myself in it. Even when they asked me to audition, I was like, "Have you got the right person?"

Was it a pinch-me moment when you stepped onto the set?

I didn't realise they were life-size Daleks with people in them! The first time the armoury guys shot something at us, that sank in. I'd seen Game of Thrones behind-the-scenes videos where there's a blue blob that's supposed to be a dragon whereas on Doctor Who they build everything and that's what makes it fun. We were legitimately running from Daleks with things flying over our heads. The set really immerses you in that world.

Will you be watching your Doctor Who debut?

Yes - but from Jamaica, where I've been since October. I'm from Montego Bay and I try to come back as often as possible. I'm writing at the moment. I figured I can write anywhere so why choose the British cold and rain?

What's your writing routine?

I wake up early [5arn] to catch England at lOam and then write till about 1pm, then the afternoon is mine. I'll be on the beach. There's a reason why Ian Fleming came here to write. I get it now.

How well known is Doctor Who in Jamaica?

We get mostly American networks here. But when I announced it, loads of people in Jamaica went, "What, you're in Doctor Who?" It's one of those shows that everyone knows, especially younger people. It's a massive deal to them. I had no idea.

BBC3 picked up your YouTube series Dreaming while Black for a BBC3 pilot that aired on BBC1 last April. What doors has it opened for you?

I've got a sitcom in development with BBC Studios, another comedy-drama with Vertigo Films and something with UKTV, and I'm in Steve Coogan and Sarah Solemani's new Channel 4 show Chivalry. I understand the analogy now: you just need to get into the room, because then everyone's in there with you and they want to know what you've got.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Parker, Robin (2022-01-01). Who Goes There? (2022). Radio Times p. 26.
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