WHO COULD REFUSE?
David Bradley is known for playing bad guys, but when he got the opportunity to star as one of the nation’s favourite heroes, Doctor Who, in this year’s Christmas special, he jumped at it. He tells GEORGIA HUMPHREYS why
TWICE UPON A TIME: THE DOCTOR WHO CHRISTMAS SPECIAL BBC1, Christmas Day, 5.30pm
ONE person is particularly excited to see David Bradley on TV this Christmas – his three-yearold granddaughter, who will be watching him on screen for the first time.
“My son got her on camera and she said, ‘My Grandad is Doctor Who!’” says David with immense pride.
The 75-year-old actor has a soothingly gentle voice when talking off-screen, but becomes adorably animated when discussing how “great” it is to be the Time Lord for your grandkids. The image of a doting family man doesn’t exactly match up with some of David’s most famous on-screen characters.
For years, the role he was most recognised on the street for was Argus Filch, the villainous caretaker from the Harry Potter films.
More recently it tends to be Game Of Thrones fans “warily” approaching him about playing the loathsome Walder Frey. “People will say, ‘Ooh, I hate you, you’re horrible!’” he exclaims. David was also a baddie when he last starred in an episode of Doctor Who, alongside Matt Smith in 2012. But in this year’s Christmas special, Twice Upon A Time, he plays a heroic character for a change – the First Doctor, no less. It’s a role the Yorkshire-born star was a logical fit for. He previously portrayed William Hartnell, the first man to play Doctor Who, in one-off BBC drama An Adventure In Space And Time, which told how the iconic science fiction series was first created in 1963. Written by Mark Gatiss (who also stars in this year’s Christmas special as a First World War captain), it also depicted Hartnell’s personal life and what he was like as an actor. David acknowledges there’s a slightly different pressure that comes with starring in the Doctor Who Christmas special.
“Playing William Hartnell, the responsibility for getting it right was more to his family and the people who knew him, because I wanted to do justice to who I considered to be one of the great British screen character actors of that time,” he elaborates.
“Whereas this, I feel a responsibility of getting it right for the fans.”
From the sounds of it though, the millions of viewers set to tune in won’t be disappointed. The episode promises plenty of action scenes – jumping out of a Tardis, and aliens throwing bombs are just two stunts the veteran actor loved filming. It’s also very Christmassy, he insists: expect lots of snow.
“There’s a kind of It’s A Wonderful Life feel to it,” says David.
And when it comes to the script, there’s “comic energy” between his character and the Twelfth Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, who come from different worlds.
Stranded in an Arctic snowscape, we will see both Doctors refuse to face regeneration.
“They wanted me and Peter to have fun, and the relationship and banter between them, that’s what I loved about it,” says David. “Not hanging about or indulging, but just ‘bang bang’ dialogue where you’re bouncing and sparking off each other – that’s when it works best for me.”
“I felt a bit intimidated at first,” admits David. “I thought, ‘They’ve all been together for so long, they’re the Doctor Who family’.
“But Peter sat next to me for the read-through, we just started bantering straight away. He made me feel so welcome.”
Of course, there’s an elephant in the room when talking about Peter. Even though we don’t know how the Doctor will regenerate, or how the episode will end, we do know this is his last adventure in the Tardis. David lets on there was one particularly emotional scene to film together – though he’s tight-lipped about exactly what it details.
“There was one moment where me and Peter just looked at each other in the middle of this scene and it was like, who was going to well up first?” he reveals.
Writer Steven Moffat is also leaving after the Christmas episode, and will be replaced by Broadchurch writer Chris Chibnall.
Meanwhile, Jodie Whittaker – who David starred with in Broadchurch, and whose praises he can’t sing enough – is the latest star to join the list of Doctor Who actors. A list that David can now also firmly claim he has a – very worthy – place on.
David, right, as Filch in the Harry Potter films