Doctor Who - UNIT Dominion
Behind the Scenes
Forging a UNIT
Stars Tracey Childs, Beth Chalmers and Alex Macqueen discuss their roles in hugely anticipated box set UNIT: Dominion with Paul Spragg
Hello all! Tracey, last time I spoke to you, you said you’d like your character, Klein, to have a spin-off series. Well, here you are…
Tracey Childs: I’m not daft, am I? I did know exactly what I was saying when I said I think Klein should get a spin-off! And frankly, I think it could run and run for years.
What can you reveal about your characters in Dominion?
TC: Elizabeth Klein is still Elizabeth Klein. Her memory has been wiped clean, but her characteristics, her personality, are the same. She just doesn’t remember very much of her past. So the joy is, I get to play the whole efficient, wonderful Miss Klein again – with slightly bizarre tendencies occasionally – but in a whole new situation. And now she’s a goodie, I suppose. Well, who knows? You can decide for yourself, really. But she’s certainly in a totally different position, so it’s great fun to see the character from a totally different perspective.
Beth Chalmers: I think [the Doctor’s companion, Raine]’s getting the hang of what the Doctor’s world is. To begin with, she’s saying, ‘Do you normally expect this? Did you and Ace [Sophie Aldred] have a lot of this?’ so she’s still finding out how the world works but I think by the end of this, she’s going, ‘Oh, I see. We almost die regularly’. Before, she thinks she’s going to die and will probably take a day or two to get over it. Now she’s going, ‘Oh, I see. Yeah. We’re going to die but now we’re not dead. Brilliant!’ So it’s much more fun to play her like that.
Alex Macqueen: The Other Doctor’s got a lot of colour; he’s a split personality, which is great. As an actor it’s a real pleasure to play because one minute he’s being incredibly pleasant and nice and polite and the next minute he’s being really quite foul and horrible, so it’s a good part to play. In some ways I waited ‘til I got here this morning so I could see how Sylvester [McCoy, the Seventh Doctor] plays it, because I’ve not watched the Doctor Whos as a child. I picked up on some of his mannerisms and delivery style, playing it in a sort of jolly fashion. So it’s slightly eccentric and slightly peculiar. That’s my current approach!
Making sure you’ve got room on the day to hear how another actor’s performing and delivering is quite important. If you come to it with a very clear mind as to how to deliver it and how you’re going to do it, for some people that does work well, but for me I prefer to actually be able to respond in some way to what I’m hearing and seeing played.
It’s probably one of the biggest scripts I’ve ever read; it’s a good 300-and-something pages! But it’s great, it’s incredibly well written and it’s very easy to remember lines if it’s well written. And also, there’s no big long sentences in them; they’re all very manageable. Because it’s co-written by an actor, they’re very easy lines to deliver and play, so that’s a big bonus.
What’s your relationship with the Seventh Doctor?
TC: Suspicious. Klein doesn’t know who this man is, the umbrella man. She’s haunted by someone; she sees him. She sees him watching her and she thinks he’s judging her. And he never speaks to her, and every couple of months he just turns up and looks and it’s freaking her out completely. So yes, she has a very suspicious relationship with him.
BC: I can be more sarcastic towards the Doctor because I’m sure of my position, I suppose. And I can ask outright questions because I don’t mind appearing that I don’t know. When Ace was around I’d go, ‘I know! I know that’s what happens!’ whereas when Ace isn’t there I can say to the Doctor, ‘What does that mean? What’s this? I don’t know about this. What are we doing?’ So that’s quite cool.
Klein and Raine have a few run-ins….
TC: Well, excuse me, I didn’t ask for her to turn up. I’m definitely suspicious of her!
She’s stealing your spin-off.
TC: Absolutely! What’s she doing getting in on the act? Yes, she’s fab. And it’s very nice to see Elizabeth Klein being rather frosty with another woman. Whoever the other woman is, she’s going to be frosty with her!
BC: Normally, most of the characters I play, I come out on top. If I take on another woman I’m always the winner, but with her I’ve got lower status in our battles. Even though I’m the Doctor’s companion.
TC: I’m sorry, I’m a time travelling astrophysicist! She can’t touch Klein’s intellect. She may be a little more street-savvy, and have things to offer on a different level, but intellect-wise, don’t be silly. This is Klein we’re talking about!
How is the UNIT Klein different to how she’s been before?
TC: I guess she’s a little more human now. In Colditz she was a Nazi. A time travelling physicist with her own TARDIS Nazi, but she was a Nazi. And the joy of the trilogy [main range releases A Thousand Tiny Wings/Survival of the Fittest/The Architects of History] was you got to see Klein’s story and how she got in that situation in the first place, and realize that the situation she found herself in was not of her own making and the Doctor did have a very big responsibility in screwing up her life and her timeline. I do think everything she’s been through has made her a little more human, even though she doesn’t quite remember why or what happened. So yes, she is possibly a little more emotional and human and… compassionate might be a little strong, but she has more sides to her this time. She’s not quite as black and white as she used to be.
Is it possible, and should you try, to be a sympathetic Nazi?
TC: I went to Salzburg and was in a hotel and the maître d’ remembered Hitler and turned round and said, ‘He was always good to the dogs’. Yeah, great! Not so kind to Jews…
Everyone’s nice to their mother or their dog or their something; everyone has their own sympathetic side, however it comes out. But Elizabeth was not just one-dimensional, there were people she cared about and there was a whole belief system that she had been indoctrinated into believing. The psychological monsters don’t think of themselves as monsters and they will always have the justification for why they do what they do and nine times out of ten they don’t think it’s their fault. So actually you can’t play someone as an out and out monster; as far as you’re concerned, you have a justification.
Have you enjoyed working with the rest of the cast members?
TC: I haven’t worked with any of them before, apart from Alex Mallinson [Maynard and Arunzell], which is very rare, so to have lots of new people to play with who you’ve never met or performed with before is lovely. They’re all very good. It does keep you on your mettle a bit!
BC: I was at the National Youth Theatre with Alex [Macqueen]. I’ve known him for years and years, so when I saw him on the call sheet I did think, ‘Yay!’ I was very, very pleased to see him because we haven’t worked together for a long time. And I think he’s absolutely brilliant.
AM: I think I first met Beth in 1992 and then I did a Masters at the same place she went to university, so we met there, and over the years we’ve come into contact with each other on various projects so it was very, very nice to see her name on the cast list and know there’s someone you’ve worked with before, that’s very comforting. It’s altogether a brilliant environment here. Not just because the lunches are so exquisite, but also because it’s a nice bunch of people. Sylvester and Tracey, it’s great to be working alongside them. I’ve now worked with Colin Baker, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy, so this is great. I’m building up a portfolio of the Doctors!
BC: I think he should be the next TV Doctor Who, I really do! Just hearing him in there, you’re going, ‘Wow!’ He plays slightly barking and very powerful.
AM: Oh, crikey Moses! I’d never ever rule anything out. The idea of becoming Doctor Who; you’d be filling some pretty impressive shoes. It comes with the danger of being compared, but that would be a fantastic opportunity. We’ll see what the future holds!
You’re best known for your comedy roles in The Inbetweeners and The Thick of It. You must have been delighted to play a truly villainous role in the Doctor Who Lost Story Paradise 5.
AM: Most of the work I’ve done so far has been comedy; there’s been The Inbetweeners and The Thick of It. Comedy is my background, but evil and comedy are often very much hand in hand; villainy can be a very amusing activity as well as a dark activity. The comedy background is useful, but I have done more dramatic parts as well. I did a film called The Hide, in which I play a birdwatcher who’s not all he seems, and there was comedy in there but it was a much straighter, more dramatic role than I’d played before. But I’m offered comedy more than anything else.
You’ve not made many sojourns into sci-fi or fantasy yet.
No, and I’d like to. I must say, it’s thoroughly enjoyable.
You did appear in the disappointingly short-lived Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire, which I rather enjoyed.
That was great fun to film, it was an incredibly good, fun time out in Hungary, but the show, I don’t think, met with the same response, which is a pity. I played an obsequious manservant to Matt Lucas’s chancellor, so that was very good fun, to get to know him and work with him, because he’s obviously a fantastic actor. I was very lucky to be part of that team.
It might have benefited from having a second series – I’d obviously say that, but it might have found its feet a bit more if it had had a second series, and then gone on forever! I think it was quite an expensive production. It may come back; there may be legs in it, but I’m not aware of any immediate plans.
You’ve all played several roles for Big Finish; is there anything you’d like to play more of, or play for the first time?
TC: Absolutely. I have played a megalomaniacal computer – now I come to think of it, megalomania seems to crop up in most of my characters! I did a Bernice Summerfield, so that was fun. So yes, I could come back as all kinds of things.
BC: I was an Ice Warrior. Ow. That hurt. But I haven’t been enough aliens. I was in Bernice Summerfield; I was a giant electric mixer, basically. But in Doctor Who I think I’d like to be some bizarre aliens. Or Miss Moneypenny when they do James Bond! I think the James Bond series should be next…
AM: I thoroughly enjoy that the world of Doctor Who is very imaginative and inventive in a way that your straightforward dramas aren’t. They’re great fun, but they’re not as colourful and inventive, frankly.
So Tracey, now you’ve got your spin-off, are you keen for it to continue?
TC: Much as we like getting into studio and having fun for a few days, actually we’re doing it for the audience. So if the audience turns round and says, ‘Oh, that’s a great story,’ it has a huge life in it. UNIT can go anywhere and do anything and, interestingly, it can also deal with almost any Doctor. Although obviously I’d like to keep Sylvester coming back and back and back because I love working with him. Sorry, but what’s he been doing the other side of the world making movies when he could have been here doing audios for Big Finish with me? I mean, for goodness’ sake. Keeping me hanging about waiting for him to do this… Being in a booth adjacent to Mr McCoy is a very lovely thing to be. But yeah, a couple of box sets a year would be very nice, thank you!