Doctor Who fans were expecting to meet a new hero when Jodie Whittaker made her debut on Sunday 7th October – but the one they found was a bit of a surprise.
Sure, Whittaker attracted near-universal acclaim for her performance as the Thirteenth Doctor.
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But there was almost as much love for another alien-battling character in The Woman Who Fell to Earth: a drunken Sheffield reveller who pelted salad from his kebab at alien baddie Tzim-Sha while yelling “Eat my salad, Halloween!”.
For many, he was the true hero of the episode.
“Salad man is the hero we need, but not the one we deserve,” noted one fan on Twitter.
“Genuinely how all northern people would actually react to an alien,” said another.
For actor Philip Abiodun, who played the leaf-lobbing character in the first episode of series 11, the whole thing was a bit of a surprise – not least because he still hasn’t seen himself in action.
“I’ve not even watched the episode yet!” Abiodun, 42, tells RadioTimes.com over the phone from Manchester.
“I’ve not had a chance. I got a message from my sister saying, ‘Oh my God, you’re on Doctor Who!’ Like, ‘Oh, is it on tonight? I didn’t know.’”
Abiodun’s scene in Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth
Since his appearance, Abiodun’s character (credited as “Dean” at the end of the episode) has been the subject of memes, online jokes and T-shirts featuring his dialogue.
According to Abiodun, he’s even picked up a fake social media account.
“I noticed online that someone put on his profile that he’s salad man, claiming to be me,” Abiodun says.
“I don’t know whether he’s just set up the profile, because he’s not got many friends. He’s written ‘I am salad man’ and stuff.”
Abiodun’s real Twitter profile, meanwhile, has now been altered to mention his latest role.
— Bowdizle ???? (@Bowdon76) October 11, 2018
It’s all quite a departure from Abiodun’s day job buying and selling damaged vehicles (when we first call, he’s still driving his collection truck round Manchester), though it’s far from his first acting gig. Over the years he’s appeared in several adverts and TV shows, as well as working on his own material.
“Some people do it for money, some people do it to be famous. I just enjoy it. It’s a good thrill when you go for a casting and you get the part,” he says.
And when it came to bagging the role on Doctor Who, Abiodun definitely went the extra mile, practising a more precise accent with a friend from Sheffield and even going a bit Method with his salad-throwing.
“I got asked to do a self-tape,” he says, “and my new trick that I’ve been doing lately for self-tapes is using props.
“So I trotted off to Morrison’s, I bought some pitta bread, I bought some salad, massive tomatoes. I made it all dead big so it was obvious what it was, massive pieces of lettuce.
“And I got one of the lads off the estate to come and film me. I know about filming and stuff, I’ve made my own little short films for my degree [a BA honours in multimedia design, and a Higher National Certificate in multimedia].
“I was telling him how to go with the phone to make it more realistic. I cut it all together and sent it off – and my agent then got back to me and said you’ve been picked!
“When I got down there to Cardiff they were like, ‘Oh, we loved your self-tape! It was amazing. As soon as we saw that we knew we had to have you. Nobody else thought like you did, or did anything like you did.
“’You’re the only one to buy a kebab.’”
Once in Cardiff, Abiodun was set up in a spa hotel for three days and only ended up filming for about five hours – “It was a nice little break, really,” he laughs, and confirms that the only cast member he met was Tzim-Sha actor Sam Oatley – though when it came to getting his pivotal scene right, there was no scrimping from the BBC.
“I must have thrown that salad seven to 12 times,” he says. “You lose count. They just go retake, cut, retake, cut.
“They were just reloading it, reloading it. They’d keep giving me a fresh kebab; they had loads of them all made up ready to give me.
“It was all real stuff, but there was no meat in it though, just salad. I was a vegetarian at the time; I eat chicken now.”
He also worked closely with the costume department to nail the look of his character, which he had worried could come across a little inauthentic.
“I thought, how would they portray a black, mixed race person as northern? Straight away in my head I thought everyone associates northerners with Liam Gallagher, his dress sense– but would they think that with me?”
Happily, though, the costume department riffed off Abiodun’s own wardrobe to dress his character, and he says now it was a highlight of his time filming the episode.
“Everything I wore in the tape was pretty much what I ended up wearing in the show, but it was their stuff,” he recalls.
“I’d basically turned up on the day in the same clothing, only not as expensive!
“They had this coat that they’d bought from Liam Gallagher’s shop and these Armani jeans. They didn’t let me keep the coat, unfortunately. They have to keep it, I think, just in case.”
Still, despite this minor disappointment Abiodun came away very happy from his Doctor Who experience, especially considering at one point he thought he’d been cut out entirely.
“I thought they’d cut a load of my scene out, because I had to go to London and record over it in London,” he says.
“They wanted me to do some heavy breathing and the screaming. But it looked to me like they were recording over loads of what I’d said. So I just thought they were having me breathing and then going, ‘Come on then!’ before I died.
“I thought they’d cut everything else out, chopped it up and edited it away. But obviously not!”
While everyone's raving about the Doctor and her companions, can we just take a minute to appreciate the brave guy that tried to single handedly defend the Earth from aliens armed only with salad.#DoctorWho #SaladMan pic.twitter.com/jfTI5LLYpe
— The Gallifrey Times (@GallifreyTimes) October 8, 2018
Going forward Abiodun hopes to continue acting, and he says he’s happy to have made such an impact in such a short role.
“My little girl, she’ll be excited. I’ve not watched it yet, I’ll watch it with her,” he says. “When I first read it, I thought, ‘Oh this is like me, this character – I like it!’”
Though when pressed about why he hadn’t watched the episode yet, he reveals one crucial difference between himself and fearless salad man.
“To be honest, I’ve never watched Doctor Who in my life – I’ve always been terrified of it!” he laughs.
“I’m scared of the Daleks – them saying ‘WE ARE THE DALEKS’ always used to freak me out. Where I live there was a bloke who actually worked for the BBC making the Daleks, and he had one in his front room.
“So every time you walk down the road you used to see this Dalek in the window. It used to freak me out all the time.”
Clearly, in real life he won’t be bravely lobbing his food at any other alien invaders any time soon.
Doctor Who continues on BBC1 on Sundays
This article was originally published on 12 October 2018