Diversity on the Tardis:
The changing face and nature of Doctor Who.
At six, Mandip Gill dreamed of playing a police officer on a television drama. Twenty four years later, she is finally playing that cop – as Doctor Who’s time-travelling companion PC Yazmin Khan.
Gill, who cut her teeth with roles in Hollyoaks, Doctors, The Good Karma Hospital and, most recently, Love, Lies And Records, is relishing every minute of her time lost in space.
“I couldn’t think of a better show for me to be doing right now,” she says, of playing Yaz, one of three companions to the first female Doctor (Jodie Whittaker).
This season’s companions – Yazmin, Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (The Chase’s Bradley Walsh) – are the most culturally diverse in the show’s 50-year history.
“I think it’s well needed and it’s correct as well,” Gill says. “It is a reflection of England, New Zealand and the rest of the world.
“While we’re not doing anything that’s ground-breaking, it feels amazing to be part of the change.”
The 30 year old says there were Asian actors on screen in Britain when she was growing up – in shows such as Goodness Gracious Me – but not many of them.
“They’re the ones that paved the way. I said to myself then, ‘I am going to be the first Asian police officer’ on this show that we had back then. It eventually went on to have a lot of Asian people on it but when I was about six or seven I thought I was going to be the first.
“So, to be part of something so iconic, changing stereotypes, is a very big deal for me.”
Gill also welcomed the chance for her and Whittaker to use their native Yorkshire accents – despite criticism from some people that subtitles would be needed to enable the series’ American viewers to
properly understand what was being said.
“I have a very strong Northern accent so I do tend to drop a lot of letters. Even people in London often ask me, ‘What did you just say?’ ” Gill admits.
“There was an emphasis in the beginning about being articulate – the same as for any show really – but there was never ever a question about being northern.”
In fact, she believes the fact they are both Yorkshire lasses created an instant bond between her and Whittaker with the two hitting it off right from their first meeting.
“I think the chemistry and the relationship happened really quickly. I even joked to her at the audition and said, ‘Jodie, it’s not about making a friend’ because we got on really well,” Gill says.
“I guess part of it would have been because we were able to talk about being northern and when you’re in London that doesn’t often happen.”
Gill is just as enthusiastic about her fellow companions who she says have become firm friends. They are still in touch now even though filming has finished. “We have a What’s App group now where we message each other pictures that we’ve found or articles about each other – just really to keep in touch and have a laugh,” she says.
“There’s nothing forced about it. In fact, maybe the chemistry was too much in the first few episodes because we got on so well and in the story we didn’t really know each other.”
Gill and Cole worked together on Hollyoaks several years ago and have remained friends but neither had met Walsh before.
However, it seems that he has won over his co-stars in the same way he has become so popular with Kiwi fans of The Chase.
“He is the funniest man I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” Gill says of her quizmaster co-star.
“If he takes a day or two off for The Chase, which is not very often, he’s completely missed. We call him ‘Dad’ on set – not that he acts like a dad, pretty much the opposite – but we’re like, ‘Dad’s not here today’.
“He is absolutely amazing and I envy anyone that has a chance to work with him because he just lights up the whole room.
“He just loves being the joker, the centre of attention. He’s very good at it and he loves doing it.” Gill says Walsh has even suggested that his Doctor Who co-stars could field a team to compete on The Chase.
“I was just like, ‘I’d be no use to you’,” she says, laughing. “I’m not very good at stuff like that.”
Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole