We’ll Take Manhattan, Karen Gillan’s first TV acting gig since taking up a post in Doctor Who, screens tonight on BBC4 and sees the soon-to-be-former Amy Pond once again heading back into the past – only this time she’s playing 1960s fashion model Jean Shrimpton instead of saving the Earth from total annihilation.
Despite the drama going out on one of the BBC’s smaller channels, it’s a high-profile job for Ms Gillan, and one in which she’ll be hoping to demonstrate that there’s more to her than a knack for dodging Daleks.
But how worried should she be about the trajectory of her post-Who acting career? After all, in years gone by it often used to be the case that the best anyone with a regular part on Doctor Who could expect after leaving the series was a life of signing autographs at provincial sci-fi conventions.
But since the show’s 2005 reboot, Doctor Who’s acquired a new sheen of cool and, being one of the most-watched programmes on TV, garnered much more industry respect for its modern-day performers than their predecessors received in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
So, what are Karen Gillan’s chances of breaking free from the shadow of Doctor Who and finding success on her own? Perhaps a look at the post-Tardis lives of her fellow “New Who” companions might help give us some idea…
Billie Piper (Rose Tyler)
When the ninth Doctor appeared on the scene in 2005 he was accompanied by plucky girl-next-door Rose Tyler, played by former pop star Billie Piper. Piper excelled in the role, creating a thoroughly believable and lovable on-screen character, which firmly cemented her credentials as an actress. Since leaving Doctor Who, she’s enjoyed an iconic leading role in her own right as Belle du Jour in three series of Secret Diary of a Call Girl, appeared in numerous West End shows and popped up in televised adaptations of Shakespeare and Phillip Pullman’s historical novels. She’s also set to return to our screens soon in new TV drama series Love Life alongside former Doctor David Tennant. As far as post-Who careers go, they don’t get much healthier than Billie’s.
Bruno Langley (Adam Mitchell)
Since his turn as the Doctor’s would-be companion Adam Mitchell, Bruno Langley’s split his time between guest stints on Coronation Street, the show that launched him on TV, and high-profile stage acting gigs. He’s performed Shakespearean roles, appeared at the Old Vic and starred in theatrical productions that have toured the country, with his latest role in a touring version of Calendar Girls earning rave reviews from the public.
John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness)
Not only was Captain Jack Harkness so popular that he was given his own spin-off series, Torchwood, but John Barrowman has become an almost ubiquitous presence on TV since appearing in Doctor Who. You name it, he’s done it – from hosting game shows to appearing in top-rated US dramas like Desperate Housewives, Barrowman’s tried his hand at the lot. In fact, his prolific post-Who career is about as far from the Doctor Who companion’s traditional exile to the convention circuit as it’s possible to get.
During downtime from his numerous stints in the Tardis, Noel Clarke wrote the screenplay for the urban movie Kidulthood in 2006 and directed its sequel, Adulthood, two years later. After leaving the series and starring in the music video for The Prodigy’s single Invaders Must Die, his movie career continued unabated. Clarke wrote and co-directed the glamorous heist movie 126.96.36.199 in 2010 and has landed a role in the upcoming big-screen Star Trek sequel, a massive concern in Hollywood, which suggests that, post-Who, Clarke’s really made it in the film world.
Catherine Tate (Donna Noble)
Already a star in her own right before she threw in her lot with the Doctor, Catherine Tate has returned to comedy since leaving the series. But instead of reviving Nan and her cast of Catherine Tate Show grotesques, she’s managed to crack America as a new regular character on the US version of The Office called Nellie Bertram, a “misguided special projects manager”, who’ll be appalling US viewers later this year with her “far from professional” relationship with the workplace’s CEO.
Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones)
After stepping away from Doctor Who entirely following a stint on Torchwood in 2008, Freema Agyeman’s found a regular role in the ITV cop drama Law and Order: UK as Crown Prosecutor Alesha Phillips. Ironically she’s since been joined by the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, who now also has a regular role on the show as one of her superiors.
Karen Gillan’s already got a film role lined up after We’ll Take Manhattan, playing an eccentric author in Not Another Happy Ending, and based on the evidence of her New Who predecessors she can expect lots more work to follow. So while fans of the series would probably relish the opportunity to pose for polaroids with her alongside cardboard Cybermen at one of the show’s many fan events, it seems safe to assume that she’ll be far too busy for anything like that for a long time to come. To paraphrase Harold Macmillan, Doctor Who stars have never had it so good…