Doctor Who series 11’s fourth episode, Arachnids in the UK, finally introduces us to the home life of series companion Yaz Khan (Mandip Gill), with the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) popping round her flat for tea and meeting her father and sister (played by Ravin J Ganatra and Bhavnisha Parmar).
However, it’s Yaz’s mother Najia who we spend the most time with in this week’s episode, and actor Shobna Gulati recently revealed to RadioTimes.com her excitement at becoming part of the Doctor Who universe.
“I actually said yes before I’d read the script, to be honest,” Gulati said. “Because it’s a childhood dream, so what can I say? I jumped at the chance. How often does that happen in my life?
“Doctor Who for me personally was something that I’d always wanted to do as a child. I watched it, and the dream is that you will be the Doctor. Or, at the time when I was a child I wanted to be the Doctor’s assistant because they were always different and interesting.
“As I’ve grown up now, Jodie’s paved the way. You never know what might happen in the future.”
Born in Oldham in 1966, Gulati’s big break came from being cast as Anita in dinnerladies, Victoria Wood’s smash-hit comedy based around a group of canteen workers in the North East of England.
However, she’s probably best known for her role as Sunita Alahan in popular ITV soap Coronation Street, which she appeared in from 2001-2006, then again from 2009-2013 until her character died following a fire.
Over the year’s Sunita’s storylines included escaping an arranged marriage, dealing with illness, having an affair with Karl Munro, surviving a tram crash, being falsely imprisonsed AND held hostage and falling pregnant with twins, so it’s fair to say Doctor Who won’t be her first brush with TV excitement.
Unusually, Gulati also appeared in rival BBC soap EastEnders for a few months in 2000, making her one of a small list of actors to appear in both series.
Gulati has also appeared in TV series like Where the Heart Is, In The Club, Paranoid, Doctors, Casualty and Hold the Sunset, and also spent some time as a panelist on ITV panel show Loose Women.
Gulati is a vocal supporter of Asian women’s rights, particularly in the entertainment industry, which she told us was partly why she joined this series of Doctor Who.
“I call myself a visibly minority ethnic actor, and so when you see people like me onscreen, or you see characters like me, I’m always interested in their careers,” she said.
“So when I got the chance to work with Mandip, I thought that’s absolutely fantastic.
Shobna Gulati with Mandip Gill in Doctor Who: Arachnids in the UK (BBC, HF)
“I think if more visible different people from different communities are onscreen, that gets rid of fear and loathing. If we’re not part of the community and we’re not visibly a part of the community, how can we ever go forward?
“That’s what I think, and Jodie, everybody keeps banging on about her being the first woman Doctor – well let them. Let them carry on banging out that. Because I think that’s brilliant.
“On this show, it is truly inclusive,” she went on.
“In fact, to the point where if I wasn’t so political, I would forget, and I would just watch it and think that’s today’s world in the future. That’s today’s world in the past. That’s today’s world.
“That’s the only way forward, I think, and the only way forward in our very divided country right now. For children and young people to see that we’re all a part of this community.”
Bhavnisha Parmar, Ravin J Ganatr, Mandip Gill and Shobna Gulati in Doctor Who (BBC)
And what could she tell us about her character in Arachnids in the UK?
“I’m playing Yaz’s mum,” Gulati said, “So I’m part of the family that she mentioned in episode two.
“Yaz’s mum is a hard worker. She’s got two daughters, and one of them is Yaz. And Yaz is still sort of living at home, but she’s got her own career and everything going off, so she’s in that transitional phase with her daughter. Is her daughter ever going to move out?
“And if she does move out, is she moving out with someone? She’s got all those concerns that a lot of women her age have with daughters and sons who are in their 20s.
“She can’t keep tabs on her, but she doesn’t really want to keep tabs on her. She just wants to know if she’s alright, if that makes any sense.
“Does she know about Yaz’s life with the Doctor?” she teased. “That’s all to be revealed.”