Doctor Who star Mandip Gill reveals she helped inspire Yaz’s surprising backstory

Exclusive: The actor says the response to her character’s mental health storyline has been “absolutely amazing”

Mandip Gill as Yaz - Doctor Who _ Season 12, Episode 7 - Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBC America

Doctor Who episode Can You Hear Me? delved for the first time into the backstory of series regular Yasmin Khan, with the police officer-turned-time traveller revealed to have once had problems with her mental health.

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Since the episode aired many fans have praised the storyline, which saw Yaz persuaded to try and push through this difficult patch by a police officer (implied to inspire her own later career) – and speaking at the Radio Times Covers Party, actor Mandip Gill said she’d been blown away by the response.

“It’s a lot of people’s stories,” Gill told RadioTimes.com. “I’ve had lots of people say that they see themselves in Yaz.

“We worked with Mind charity as well, which was really helpful,” she added.

“I think it was the right time to explore that avenue, and explain her backstory. I’ve always said ‘Oh there’s a reason she became a police officer, it’ll come up when the time’s right.’ I feel the time was right to explore that, and understand why she wants to be a part of this journey.

“She has her own issues going on. And the reaction has been absolutely amazing.”

And interestingly, some of the ideas for the storyline actually came from Gill herself. Before production began on the current series, the actor had met with series showrunner Chris Chibnall to discuss possible ideas for her character in the upcoming episodes, and some parts of that conversation eventually found their way into the script for Can You Hear Me?.

“One of the things was I wanted to know why she was a police officer,” Gill told us.

“Because there was one point when I was five when I said ‘I want to be a police officer, because I want to make a difference.’ And I was thinking, why did I want to make a difference? We lived in an area where there was a lot of stuff going on, we’d phone the police a lot and they’d come out and help or whatever.

“We choose to do things for a reason,” she continued, “and if we could make that reason really wholesome and really real, it would probably resonate better.

“So I did briefly speak about that, going ‘Why is she a police officer?’ and then Chris padded it out, so [it was] amazing.”

However, other parts of Yaz’s story had been planned for longer, with references to her being bullied at school (which were included in 2018 episode The Witchfinders) planting the seeds for this later revelation of just how difficult a time she’d had.

“We’re not told a lot of storylines in advance because of secrecy, which is rightly so,” Gill said.

“But I knew it was planted at some point. So I knew I had that as a foundation. And then every time you get a script you’re like ‘Oh, I say that – because now I’ve explained that I was bullied in school and I found it difficult.’

“So I guess it was just a layering process,” she concluded. “Chris is very good at planting lots of seeds.”

And who knows? Maybe we’ve only begun to see some of those seeds bear fruit…

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Doctor Who continues on BBC One at 7:10pm on Sundays