After a Doctor Who episode this week full of rampaging Ice Warriors, dastardly moustachioed Victorians and weird body-compressing death rays, your reeling mind could be forgiven for not noticing a great little cameo occurring towards the end of the episode.
Yes, we are of course speaking about the return of Alpha Centauri, a green, genderless, one-eyed alien from classic episodes of the sci-fi series who pops up again this week as an ambassador for the Galactic Federation welcoming the newly-awakened Ice Warriors to the wider universe.
Alpha Centauri in this week’s episode Empress of Mars
In case you’re not a classic Who buff, Alpha Centauri previously appeared in serials The Curse of Peladon (1972) and The Monster of Peladon (1974), both stories also featuring the Ice Warriors, where they were portrayed as a friend of the Doctor from the real-life Alpha Centauri star system (the nearest to our solar system) politically representing the Galactic Federation.
Since then Alpha Centauri’s popped up once or twice in Doctor Who books and audio dramas and remained a firm favourite with fans, making this cameo a great little treat for many viewers.
Alpha Centauri in the original series
And it’s only bolstered by the fact that Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat also managed to rope in the original voice actress for the new appearance, with nonagenarian Ysanne Churchman coming back to record the character she last laid down over 40 years ago, and almost 25 years after her retirement from acting in 1993.
In case you’re wondering where else you recognise her voice from, Churchman is probably best known as the ill-fated Grace Archer in long-running BBC Radio 4 soap The Archers, and is currently the oldest-living actress to have appeared in Doctor Who (just ahead of Honor Blackman and June Whitfield) making her appearance here a fun and nostalgic addition for head writer Steven Moffat’s (and possibly episode writer Mark Gatiss’) final days on the series.
Perhaps in hindsight Alpha Centauri’s return shouldn’t have been a complete surprise – when Radio Times was given the above image full of clues to the new series in April, we quickly spotted a number in lightyears scrawled on the Tardis doors (point no 13) that was exactly the distance from Earth to the Alpha Centauri system, giving us a bit of an inkling that we could be seeing the classic alien’s return – but whether you saw it coming or not, Alpha Centauri’s appearance was definitely a brilliant capper to this week’s episode.
And with David Archer actor Tim Bentinck having voiced the evil Monks in the previous three episodes on top of Churchman’s return, this series is beginning to resemble an Archers takeover of Doctor Who. It’s surely only a matter of time until the Tardis lands in Ambridge itself. Now that’s a crossover we’d like to hear…
Doctor Who continues on BBC1 next Saturday 17th June at 6:30pm