While Doctor Who series 12 was a pretty massive year for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, it also contained some revelations about Mandip Gill’s companion Yaz, whose new backstory drew plaudits from audiences as they unfurled alongside the bigger arcs of the BBC sci-fi drama.
Recently we caught up with Gill to find out how she and the Doctor Who team (including Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole) are keeping busy in lockdown, her series 12 highlights as well as what we can look forward to from future episodes – assuming, of course, that they can get filmed at all during the pandemic…
Hello Mandip! We’re here to talk about Doctor Who, but here’s an obligatory pandemic question first – how are you passing the time in lockdown?
Oh, I’m not doing anything but time is passing. I’m really good at not doing anything. I might paint my toenails later and then I think I’m done for the month.
That’s a pretty full day in the current climate.
Well it’s a completely cool day, but then we’ve been doing it for five weeks! Imagine how thick my nail varnish is!
Have you been staying in touch with the other Doctor Who cast?
Oh, all the time. I’ve literally just messaged Jodie. We still have our WhatsApp group, so we’re still sending memes, sending messages. Brad’s sending videos of his gorgeous place – and as soon as it’s done we’re going to meet up.
We’ll always stay in touch, because we are really really close – we spend a lot of hours together. And we’ve sort of formed… I know this sounds like a cliché, but a family. Me and Tosin are cast as the little kids, Jodie’s the big sister, Brad’s the dad.
And obviously Jodie’s so needy, so she’s forever going ‘Guys, can we meet up soon?’ – she wants to do a Zoom meeting actually, that’s what she wants to do.
Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Jodie Whittaker and Bradley Walsh in Doctor Who (BBC)
A TARDIS team Zoom meeting! What a thought.
I’ve said to Brad, if he’s missing The Chase then he can host a quiz for us.
Doctor Who fans seem to have come together during the lockdown to lift spirits – there have been watchalongs, quizzes, virtual conventions and so on. Were you surprised by how much the fandom has come through?
I actually wasn’t surprised at all, because I know it’s so popular, I know people have always done artwork of it and rewritten stories stories and whatnot. When I first started, I was taken aback by how much fan art there was, but I’m used to it now.
But I think the watchalongs surprised me. I’m not shocked but I’m really surprised how many people are sitting at exactly the same time and watching the same episode, given that we’re all on different timeframes as well.
You took part in one for BBC America, didn’t you?
I watched Spyfall 1 and 2 with everyone, and I can see why people do it because I had so much to say! Beforehand I was like “Oh my God what am I going to tweet about?” But you remember all the stuff that happened when you were filming it, and you find new things in it.
So I can see why people are watching them and rewatching them, because there’s always little things that you pick up on, little Easter Eggs that have been left around that you maybe just didn’t see the first time.
And the fans feel a part of this, this is for them. They want to know these stories – and even if you told them before, they still want to hear them again.
We should talk about series 12, which feels like a million years ago now but only concluded at the start of March – it was a big one for Yaz and her backstory, so was it nice to find out what made her tick?
Oh, 100 per cent. I’d had a conversation with Chris [Chibnall] about the first series, and he was very open to ideas. I only went with, “I’d love to know more about her.” And maybe she shouldn’t always agree with the Doctor, because I find in series 11 she did naturally always agree, she was always looking up to this person.
And then he just padded it out into a really really wholesome background. It’s relatable, it’s realistic, and really explains where she is in series 11, why she’d randomly meet these people and go on this journey. She was really up for it, really keen…you know when she went back home she liked seeing her family, but she was always really quite quick to leave.
So I think her backstory for me sort of explained series 11, explained why she was so eager, why she needed this journey. And just why she needed the Doctor so much. It was also what I needed as an actor, that I think the character needed.
Given these developments, how do you think Yaz was feeling at the end of the series with the Doctor gone and the team back on Earth?
I definitely think she’s gutted. If that’s her time done in the TARDIS she’s definitely upset. I don’t think she’s ready to go back to Sheffield – there’s so much more for her to learn about herself, and about her being a police officer in space. So I definitely think at that point she’s really upset. And I think it’ll take a long time for her to come to terms with this. Like she’s created this new little family. Everyone wants to feel wanted and part of something.
And it was quite abrupt really. She didn’t have time to say the goodbyes that you would want to say. And she’s created a really intense relationship with this person that she might never see again.
I see what you mean – and it’s not like she can just pop back and find her on Gallifrey.
Exactly. It was not her choice, and she’s probably thinking “When am I ever going to meet an alien again?”.
Speaking of the finale, what was it like to film? You got into a Cyberman suit, which must have been pretty exciting, but then to see the reaction to it as well….
Yeah, I was really looking forward to the reaction. It’s so amazing to work with all these things that people have been talking about and associate with Doctor Who, and are really iconic.
And working with the Daleks and the Cybermen, and even the Judoon is so exciting. But I was a Cyberman! When I read it I was so excited. I was like “I’m getting in it? I’m getting in the Cyberman??” It was so exciting for me.
I think he’s absolutely amazing. An amazing person but aside from that, as an actor he was so brilliant to watch. He was so focused and professional, but we still really had a good time.
We saw him on the day in the aeroplane scene where he turns from O into the Master. We saw that switch happening. But when you see it onscreen, considering he’s worked so hard at O, and you completely fall for O, and then this switch is just…it was just so instant, you could see it onscreen.
I think he’s a really good Master, and I really enjoyed working with him. And also we get on really well as mates, so I’d love for him to be back as the Master.
When he was posing as O in the episode it seemed like he and Yaz were kind of getting to know each other…
…and then nothing really happened with that. Would you like to see that dynamic explored again?
Well I think we thought it was heading that way and played it like that! I thought ‘Oh my God I’m going to fall for O, and then it’s going to be the Master and he’s going to take me away with him!’.
Yaz would be travelling through space and time with someone other than the Doctor!
I know! I couldn’t do that to her. Obviously that didn’t happen anyway. I think where it went to was the right level of.. .she’d started to have feelings, or think “Ooh he’s really interesting” but… it felt like where it stopped was right.
There were some huge twists this series as well – is it nice to not have to worry about those secrets any more, or are you already worrying about the next lot of secrets for the next series?
No, you know what, you do get quite good at the secret thing. Sometimes you genuinely forget yourself, or you haven’t filmed things yet so you don’t really slip up, because not all the pieces are there.
And sometimes you’re still figuring it out! I have to read the scripts one, two, three times and then sometimes only on the day things are slotting in together. Because sci-fi’s not my genre and so sometimes even for me it takes a few goes for me to understand the storyline.
So it’s really easy for me to keep things secret. And I actually find a lot of people don’t like spoilers. Because as much as people want to be the first to know things, they don’t really want to watch a whole series where you know the ending to it.
It’s not as much fun – you kind of want to find it out with the characters.
Yeah exactly. And in this day and age where there’s Twitter, and everyone’s watching and finding out together, and there’s a massive discussion about it, you want to be part of that when it happens. Things have leaked before, but they don’t get very far because people are not open to listening to them.
Do you find some fans like to shut spoilers down?
Yeah, I see all the time people going “Don’t come on Twitter if you don’t want spoilers”, or giving spoiler alerts. So they give the head’s up so people can tune out – which is exactly what I would do.
In terms of being worried about next year’s secrets it is worrying sometimes, like when I saw you at the Radio Times Covers party I thought ‘Oh God, what can I say and what can’t I say?’ – but when you get there you remember ‘I’m obviously not allowed to say that bit.’ So it becomes quite easy.
That said, the fans are really good because they’ll pick up on little bits and piece it together, whether it’s the truth or not. But that also keeps me on my toes as an actor.
On the subject of secrets, I have to ask about the upcoming festive special – I understand you filmed that a while before the lockdown?
It’s good news for fans, as a lot of festive drama that would have been showing this year may not have time to film – Whovians still have this to look forward to.
You forget actually that loads of other festive specials won’t have been made -so yeah like you say, it’s something to really look forward to this year, considering the most amazing series we’ve had as well.
Have there been conversations about whether filming for series 13 will be affected?
The conversations are probably happening somewhere else! Everyone is affected, so I guess we’re just going to have to wait for guidelines.
I’ve kind of not even asked, because I know that I’ll get told when I’m supposed to know. I’m quite laid back in that sense, it’s going to come to me when it’s supposed to come to me.