Julie Hesmondhalgh played the “long game” to get a role on Doctor Who

And it turns out the Coronation Street star was asked to be a part of the series years before she actually appeared onscreen

Julie Hesmondhalgh as Judy in Doctor Who (BBC)

Doctor Who series 11’s seventh episode Kerblam! finally brings actor Julie Hesmondhalgh into the Whoniverse family, reuniting her with Broadchurch co-star Jodie Whittaker realising a long-held ambition by the Corrie star to get a trip on the Tardis.


But what was it like for Julie to have her dream realised? How did series boss Chris Chibnall (who also cast her in Broadchurch) approach her about the part? And why was the story of an intergalactic retailer based on a moon one of the toughest roles the acting veteran has ever taken on?

To find out, RadioTimes.com had a quick chat with Julie ahead of her episode airing, where she revealed just how long her appearance has been in the pipeline…

So, Julie, how did Chris Chibnall approach you to be part of the series? Was it after you starred in Broadchurch series 3?

Hello! Well I was doing a play, and I got the call about Broadchurch. I had the conversation with Chris, in my dressing room, about doing Broadchurch. And it’d just been very recently announced at that point that he was taking over Doctor Who.

Now it’s been a long-term dream of mine to be in Doctor Who. I’ve always wanted to, and especially when I left Corrie. My kids were so upset about me leaving Corrie because they loved it and they loved me being in it, that I was like “Maybe only getting in Doctor Who can save me from my kids’ disdain.”

Julie Hesmondhalgh in Broadchurch
Julie Hesmondhalgh in Broadchurch

So it’d been like the long game for me, thinking “Oh, I’ll put it out into the universe, maybe that’ll happen.” And when I had this conversation with Chris, he said to me: “You know, we’ll try and get you into Doctor Who as well when I’m running that show.”

And I was like “Well, this is like literally the best phone call I’ve ever had in my life, two phone calls in one!” It wasn’t an offer, but it was a slight off-the-record promise, I took it as.

And sure enough he was true to his word and got in touch with me in springtime this year and I was just over the moon. And luckily available!

When I say this, it makes it seem like this is what my life is normally like. And it really, really isn’t! I need to say that right away, because it is ridiculous….

What was it like working with Jodie again after Broadchurch?

Julie Hesmondhalgh and Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who (BBC)
Julie Hesmondhalgh and Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who (BBC)

Oh my God, honestly, I cannot tell you how much I bloody love that woman.

I didn’t know her before Broadchurch but we’ve got mutual friends. And so when I got offered the part, she was the person I rang up just to see what it was like, and what Chris was like actually, because it was before I spoke to him.

So I rang up Jodie on our mutual friend’s recommendation and spoke to her about it, and she was like “Oh Chibs is absolutely great, he’s absolutely sound politically, it’s a lovely show to work on. Everybody’s gorgeous, Olivia [Colman] and David [Tennant] are brilliant.” And I immediately knew that she was an ace person.

But brilliantly, I had no idea she was a northerner! Because obviously she’s Dorset in Broadchurch, but she looks like such an English rose. I always thought she was posh! So I was so shocked when she picked up the phone and she was broad Yorkshire like she is.

Did you stay in touch?

She was great with me on Broadchurch, and we got on like a house on fire. So when she got Doctor Who, I’d gone out for lunch with her, she was in Manchester the week before the announcement. And I’d asked her what she was up to, and she’d said “Oh absolutely nothing, there’s nothing on the cards at the moment.”

And when it was announced I was just like, “Oh my God!”

I can’t think of anyone better for it. Because she’s such a brilliant role model as well. She’s so tough and funny and smart. She’s whip-smart. Just as a person as well as being the first female Doctor. She’s just a brilliant person for young people to see as a role model as well.

We’re more used to seeing you in dramatic roles – how did this compare?

Ha! It was a slightly different skillset that I had to access. Honestly, it’s been one of my favourite jobs that I’ve done, but it’s been one of the hardest as well. Because there’s a lot of sci-fi gobbledegook – I’m sure it’s not gobbledegook but it’s gobbledegook to me.

So that was difficult to learn and hold in my head whilst walking and talking at the same time. Pretty basic acting skills, but they seemed to elude me on this!

Also, working with Bradley [Walsh] in particular – because his mind is so incredible, that he can mess around right down to the count of a take. He can just be having a laugh, acting daft and then he’ll hit his mark and get his lines completely right. And then you’re just like “No I can’t do this, I don’t have a mind like Bradley’s! I can’t mess around until they’re counting down the take!” And then deliver these very, very intense lines about Kerblam.

So yeah, I did find it very difficult, and had to find the right balance between trying to cope and have the best time possible with that gang.

What was it like working with fellow guest star Lee Mack? Was he distracting as well?

Doctor Who Series 11

Well no, Lee had the same problem as me. I said “Lee it’s really hard! It’s really hard and I’m properly doing some s*** acting here, I can’t seem to get these lines out!”

And he was like “Oh it’s really, really difficult, isn’t it?” It’s harder than you think.

It’s quite simple, straightforward storytelling when you see it onscreen. But actually it’s quite involved in the number of set-ups there are and everything. So we bonded over that, and how hard we were finding it.

We only coincided by one day. But it was dead nice to work with him.

You’ve worked with two Doctor Who showrunners in Chris and Russell T Davies (who wrote Cucumber, which Hesmondhalgh appeared in) – can you draw comparisons between the two?

Russell T Davies (Getty)
Russell T Davies (Getty)

I think there are real similarities between Russell and Chris actually. There’s an attention to detail and a love of words and a language that I can really see in both their writing. They’ve got, not the same, but a similar sense of humour and a similar sensibility.

If you look at Russell’s A Very English Scandal it was a real caper, but there was a real point to it. There was a very deep message in it about shame and living an honest life and how hiding things leads people to ridiculous situations.

Programme Name: Doctor Who Series 11 - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Chris Chibnall - Doctor Who, Showrunner - (C) BBC / BBC Studios - Photographer: Ben Blackall
Chris Chibnall (BBC)

And I think it’s the same with Chris’ work. Broadchurch was known to be very intense and dark, obviously, but if you think about it and if you watch an individual episode there’s a lot of humour in it.

As people they’ve got a very similar energy actually, a very avuncular energy. But smart. Not suffering fools gladly. But very avuncular. Very warm people. I do find them incredibly similar in many ways.

They know exactly what they want. They’re not just writers, they’re showrunners.

And what did you respond to in this episode’s script?

Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole and Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: Kerblam! (BBC)
Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole and Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: Kerblam! (BBC)

Gosh, it’s quite difficult to say without giving too much away really.

What I loved about Kerblam! was like every episode so far, there’s more to it than meets the eye. There’s a little bit more going on than there seems to be at the surface of it. And the world that it inhabits includes references to a world that we have here, now, but in quite a clever, oblique way.

I think it’s quite a clever episode, but actually great fun. In lots of ways, I feel like it’s maybe one of the most traditionally Doctor Who episodes of this series so far. It might be a little bit more one for the purists.

Kerblam! could be said to resemble real-life online retailers – will there be any satire about that in the episode?

Well that’s possibly what I’m referring to. That possibly might have been what I was giving a nod to when I said there was something in our world that it gives a nod to.

But it’s set in the future. I can tell you that much.

Doctor Who continues on BBC1 on Sundays


This article was originally published on 18 November 2018