With one week to go until the return of Doctor Who, the BBC has released more details about the upcoming series.
Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, John Bishop and Jacob Anderson star in an epic six-part adventure that will take the Doctor and her friends to the edge of the universe and beyond, in a battle for survival.
Packed with action, humour, terrifying new villains, and iconic returning monsters such as the Sontarans and the Weeping Angels, the new series of Doctor Who tells one story across a vast canvas.
It features a host of acclaimed British acting talent including Rochenda Sandall, Annabel Scholey, Craig Parkinson, Kevin McNally, Sam Spruell, Robert Bathurst, Steve Oram, and Thaddea Graham.
From Liverpool to the depths of space, via the Crimean war and a planet named Atroposwhich shouldn’t even exist, fighting old foes and new creatures from beyond our dimension, theDoctor and company face a race against (and through!) time to uncover a universe-spanning mystery: what is the Flux?
Synopsis - Chapter One: The Halloween Apocalypse
On Halloween, all across the universe, terrifying forces are stirring. From the Arctic Circle to deep space, an ancient evil is breaking free. And in present-day Liverpool, the life of Dan Lewis is about to change forever. Why is the Doctor on the trail of the fearsome Karvanista? And what is the Flux?
My vision for the series was (to create) a massive story - bigger than we’ve ever told with Jodie’s Doctor. And to start with an episode that feels like a finale and carry on from there and play out the rest of the story. I wanted it to be really epic, to be fun with lots of cliffhangers, to be surprising, and to really do things we hadn’t yet done with the Thirteenth Doctor.
What can people expect from the series?
People can expect a rollercoaster of a ride, very different episodes, six very specific chapters, lots of different places in time and space, lots of returning monsters, some really brilliant guest stars, some brand-new monsters, and some of my favorite cliffhangers we’ve done!
How do you write new characters/monsters?
I think you’re always thinking, “Who is interesting for the Doctor to come up against? Who is going to reveal new things about the Doctor?” But with villains and monsters generally, you’re looking for an interesting visual, an interesting idea, something that will be scary or fun or a mix of both, and an underlying character that will be great for an actor to play or great for the Doctor, Dan or Yaz to be going up against.
Who are the Ravagers?
They are a couple of characters who we meet who are creatures of another dimension who have a history with the Doctor – but I even think with this I am giving too much away!
Why is it important to bring back monsters from the past like Sontarans and Weeping Angels? First of all, it’s a joy. I think it’s always lovely to connect back into the history of the show as the history is so rich and varied. Bringing back the Sontarans was a story I really wanted to do…I felt like there hadn’t been a big Sontaran story for quite a long time. They have a great mix of threat and humour, they’re very identifiable, they’re great characters as well – a brilliant creation by Robert Holmes. They’re great because they have range. They’re dangerous, they’re violent, they’re also funny and that’s a great mix for Doctor Who. With the Weeping Angels, I really wanted Jodie to come up against them and we’d been thinking about a story for her for a long time, testing out ideas. They are genuinely scary and a brilliant creation by Steven Moffatt and they haven’t been in a main Doctor Who story for nine years so they were due to come back as well. There are lots of ideas you can explore around Weeping Angels so we’ve had a lot of fun with them.
Can you tease us about what the Flux is?
The title of the serial is Flux, it’s divided into six chapters, and the Flux is a mysterious event that is going to have an effect on all the characters in the story.
It’s been amazing. It’s been a long journey – we thought when COVID hit, to be honest, we didn’t know whether we’d be back and how we’d make the show so it was brilliant to be back, to start filming again, and to get the team back together again. We had a small delay due to COVID so it was lovely when we all got back on the TARDIS. It’s been amazing actually and we’ve managed through all the challenges of the last year. The fact that we’ve gotten this far seems slightly miraculous but it’s brilliant and an amazing testament to the cast and crew. It’s brilliant to be back, it’s been a real thrill.
What’s in store for viewers of this series?
Series thirteen evolved quite late in the day, we had a plan for what we wanted to do and then the pandemic hit, and what we realized was that there were certain things we wouldn’t be able to do in the normal way, as we had for series eleven and twelve. So rather than be compromised – as what you want for Doctor Who is for every series to be bigger and better than the last, you don’t want to
rest on your laurels - Chris came up with the brilliant idea of going, “Why don’t we just do something different for our era, wouldn’t it be great if we told one big story?” We knew we wouldn’t be able to do the same number of episodes in the time that we had so he came up with the fantastic idea of this overarching narrative. Each episode has the same bang for its buck, each episode has the story of the week, we’ve still gone for that filmic quality for each episode, but much more than the previous two seasons we’ve tied it together with a massive overarching story for the Doctor and huge jeopardy for the Doctor. It picks up on a lot of the things the Doctor learned about herself and her history at the end of series twelve. I can honestly say it’s not like the previous two series. It’s huge in its scope and its scale and the jeopardy. Also, we’ve really tried to go as big as could with the visuals as well, in terms of CGI and in terms of the design of the series, we really tried to pull out all the stops so when you watch the show, whether it’s in five years’ time or whenever, no one will be able to say, “You made that during a pandemic!” We didn’t want that to impact the experience for the audience.
Where do we find the Doctor and her “fam” at the start of this series?
This year we’ve got the wonderful Mandip Gill returning as Yaz, but the “fam” as it was ended in the last New Year’s Day special - Revolution of the Daleks - where we said goodbye to Graham and Ryan. This year we start the adventures with Yaz and the Doctor, the Doctor is very much on the hunt for something and we encounter our new friend of the Doctor Dan Lewis, who is played by the brilliant John Bishop. I think when you’ve done two series of a show and you’re coming back, it’s really great to have familiarity but it’s also really great to mix it up a bit and to bring a new element to the cast and the teams on the TARDIS and to see what that brings out in the other actors. It’s great fun for Chris to create a brand-new character who I know the audience will take to their hearts almost immediately. John is just perfect in it and Dan is a glorious character – warm, funny, an action hero. It’s seamless really. The moment John walked on the TARDIS he clicked with the other two and the team and it was like he had been on it forever.
What kind of monsters do they face?
In terms of monsters, we’ve got some returning favourites…so we’re bringing back the terrifying Weeping Angels who have a very sinister role to play, and a very different role to play. it’s quite an interesting development to their story if you like. The much loved and villainous, and basically, warmongering Sontarans are back, with a brilliant new iteration. They’re very much the classic monster, the look is classic that has been adapted and reinterpreted for our era. We have two wonderful performers playing our Sontarans, and there’s great menace with them but there’s also incredible humour and Chris gets that fine line between menace and humour just perfect. I think they are going to provide lots and lots of thrills and excitement for this series. We have quite a lot of new characters and new villains!
What were some of the challenges you faced?
I think probably the biggest challenge was to keep the scale of Doctor Who as big as it had been - with every series you want to go one better than the last series in terms of that. As we couldn’t travel, the challenge was to create worlds that the audience would never know you had been curtailed by COVID. The other one was, with a really stellar returning cast, being able to get those actors back on a returning basis.
This year the guest actors have the opportunity to have a recurring appearances across the episodes, can you tell us about what we can expect?
For me, it was a real joy to welcome Craig Parkinson, who I’ve worked with very briefly on Misfits, but I’ve always followed his work and career - I think he’s a wonderful actor. For him to bring his unique qualities to one of our greatest characters of the series, it was just a joy to watch him work. Kevin McNally, I’ve watched him for years and I’ve always thought he’s an exceptional actor and talent so to have his gifts was just wonderful. He’s such a detailed actor, he has so much fun with it and there’s a wonderful quality to his performance. Mandip and John who got to spend the most time with him relished working with him and bounced off him, the whole dynamic between those three actors was taken to another level and that was a joy. The wonderful Annabel Scholey who plays Claire, was so delightful to have around. I was blown away that Jacob (Anderson) was available (for the role) and then we realised he was a massive Doctor Who fan. Obviously Chris has worked with him previously but seeing his delight and childlike glee when he had that costume on for the first time, that was a joy to see! He’s a wonderful actor to work with, so humble and so kind. The atmosphere on set with our guest actors, all of them have been absolutely glorious. Craige Els as Karvanista goes down as one of my favourite characters of all time, he’s an exceptional actor and it was a joy. More than ever we’ve been able to build an ensemble we haven’t been able to build before as we’ve been largely episodic so by the end of it the Doctor Who family feels properly expanded. Not only do you have a new companion in Dan (John Bishop) who is amazing, but the whole family grows substantially which is the biggest thrill out of Doctor Who: Flux for me.
What is the Flux?
So Flux is the title of the series in fact, this is the first time we’ve titled this series as it’s one epic story. It’s kind of the biggest nemesis that the Doctor has ever faced. It’s a hugely destructive force but quite what it is and why it’s become unleashed will become apparent as you watch the serial unfold. It’s quite awe-inspiring and terrifying and the way it’s realised on screen will be I think quite breath-taking for the audience as they realise what the Flux is and what the Flux does.
What does Doctor Who mean to you and what will you take away from the experience?
Firstly it’s something that’s always been around in my life, it’s something I watched as a child and something that has never been out of the consciousness or cultural life of the country so it’s immense in terms of British icons, it’s that and Bond for me. So to be a part of it in a way is surreal and it’s never stopped being surreal. When it’s all over it’ll all feel a bit of a dream. Of course there’s been challenging times but all of that is tiny in terms of what I’ll take away from it, it’s been the longest job of my television career and I doubt there’ll ever be a longer one. I take away a sense of real privilege to have been a small part in this sixty-year story, about one-twelfth of Doctor Who history! Being a part of that story is a privilege and is something that no one can ever take away. It’s nice just to be a small footnote in the Doctor Who history books and that’s something I’ll forever be thrilled about.
For anyone that hasn’t watched Doctor Who before, why should they watch the series?
If you’ve never seen it before you can step in on this story. If you like a great action-adventure story with great fully rounded characters, lots of humour, lots of explosions and really pacey storytelling. At the end of the day it’s great fun and something you can watch with the whole family, it’s something everyone can enjoy. If you were ever going to come on board with Doctor Who, now is the time.
We started filming late because of COVID so starting was a tentative time because none of us had shot during the pandemic. So knowing it was my last I knew it would be very different because we weren’t able to travel, we couldn’t be tactile in that way we were. But what was immediately reassuring is as soon as you got on set, no matter if the logistics or the face of the show seemed different because of masks and all of that, all of the heart and all the love was still there and it was still great fun. We were able to be safe as we could be and as caring as we could be and not lose the atmosphere on the set. It was such a pleasure to be around people, so I was delighted! It was emotional to start with because you hadn’t seen anyone and everyone has gone through so much to get to the first day, and you want to make sure you’re not the person to make a mistake as the domino effect can be so catastrophic on the set. Also, it was the longest time I hadn’t seen Mandip!
Did you approach anything differently coming to a serialised story?
I don’t think so. As an actor you’re so used to things changing so the change between serialisation and episode arcs doesn’t change your approach in any way - I could not quote what happened in what episode as I can see the whole story in its entirety. I just know we all start on a journey, where we go and how it pans out. The thing that’s most different is that it’s been almost twelve months (of filming) and it requires a different type of stamina than I’ve ever had to find before.
Are you excited for how it will be for audiences to see the story portrayed that way?
Definitely. Obviously for Whovians (the story) has played out in many different ways over the years, and I think it for us it was great to have had the experience of both. It was definitely the right decision for us to start series eleven, my first series, in a way that was a jumping off point for anyone that hadn’t watched it before. And this series certainly doesn’t exclude people that haven’t seen it but it gives reason to go back and rediscover, it also has those brilliant cliffhanger moments and that, as actors and for the characters, it gives lots of different layers you can bring to it. You don’t want to play the endnote in the first episode because you know you’ve got this journey to go with a particular beat or particular emotion. Even with the serialisation it’s still very episodic and each episode has its world that is different from the rest. There may be characters you see again but you certainly feel like you are taken through many different worlds and times like you would in our previous seasons.
Were there any special moments that stood out for you filming series thirteen?
For us, getting to know John (Bishop) has been wonderful. He came in at one hundred and ten (percent) with his energy and enthusiasm. He’s been so much fun to be around he’s been a massive team player. For us, we were still grieving Brad (Walsh) and Tosin (Cole) and for him to come in and not to fill anybody’s shoes and be his own person…we found a new dynamic which felt brilliant and it felt so comfortable. I think the way you meet Dan and that whole introduction; those are really fun scenes. I think all the early scenes with him and Karvanista has been really fun to shoot. I’ve been lucky to enough to work with new people but I’ve been lucky enough to work with people I’ve worked with before. This is the third time I’ve worked with Jacob, I’ve worked with Annabel, we’ve played sisters before, and this was so lovely just to spend time with her. Thaddea Graham, I’ve never worked with Thaddea and she blew me away from the read-through – just from Zoom I was like, “That girl is phenomenal.” And that’s the thing, it can be your first interaction with people or it can be an old friend stepping on set but what you always get at the end is that it’s like you’ve all known each other for years. Like I was in Kevin McNally’s company for about ten minutes and I felt like I’d known him for twenty years. We’ve had to put certain safety precautions in place, but it hasn’t in any way dampened that kind of camaraderie. Other highlights are we’ve so many ensemble scenes, we’ve had some brilliant scenes with the likes of Craige Els, Craig Parkinson - we can feel so many people in a scene and it can feel really epic, it’s been great.
Have you gotten used to being spotted everywhere by the fans, three series on?
I’m really lucky, as whenever I have a reaction it’s always really joyous and everyone is really warm and welcoming. The fans are the show - there’s no way a show can last this many years without loyalty and a fan base and you don’t have the show without them. To have those interactions when you have them is wonderful.
What journey does the Doctor have this series?
From where we’ve left her, I think self-discovery is the biggest journey the Doctor goes on this series.
Can you tell us about any stunts you have this series?
We’ve done a lot of wires this year, particularly for certain scenes in episode one, it was mine and Mandip’s first few days (on set). We started at energy of a hundred and then after two days I was bruised and hurt and realised that this is why there are stunt doubles, as I am pathetic! You do a lot of flips as if you’re falling through space and have to spin yourself backwards in a rotation and make sure you don’t get tangled. It’s all wonderful as you don’t think at the time that you’ll be able to do it. I also do sword fighting in this, or maybe it is best described as avoiding being got by a sword - I really loved that. Stunts wise there is lots of action but rather than jumping through cranes it feels like a lot of falling through space!
There are lots of exciting monsters this series -can you tell us about any that stand out for you?
The thing that’s fun about working with monsters that have been in it before but are new for me is that it makes you feel like you are getting your moment of history…like Sontarans, for me it’s my first (as The Doctor) so that was great.
The prosthetics are amazing – do you get used to working with actors that you can’t recognise?
You forget that the make-up is on them after ten minutes as you’re so used to seeing them having a cup of tea and talking to people.
Why should people tune into series thirteen?
It’s bigger and better than ever, it’s my final (full) series, there’ll be questions asked, there’ll be answers, there’ll be exclamation marks, and huge exclamation marks and I think that in itself will pique your interest and pique your curiosity.
How would you describe the series in three words?
A self-discovery rollercoaster!
Yaz continues to go from strength to strength in terms of independence in Space during this series. She can be seen to be taking charge in adventures without the Doctor but naturally at times is out of her depth and asks herself, “What would the Doctor do?” I very much enjoy these struggles as it naturally shows that no matter how many adventures she goes on she will always need the Doctor.
Can you talk to us a bit about how it was filming one serialised story this time around and how that changed things for you?
Filming one serialised story for me personally has been great. I did love the stand-alone episodes but this way feels like I have longer to explore relationships with other characters such as Vinder played by Jacob Anderson and Jericho played by Kevin McNally. Both characters are seen in several episodes and so Yaz is able to develop a much deeper relationship with them that doesn’t end at the end of an episode. On a personal level, I have really enjoyed having such amazing guest leads around for a longer period of time and sharing this experience with them.
How was it introducing John Bishop into the Doctor Who family, and what kind of relationship does Dan form with Yaz?
John was so brilliant from the beginning. He was eager and excited and I loved that about him because I am still so excited by costumes and sets and the amazing crew in Cardiff myself. Yaz and Dan have a really wholesome relationship, they have quickly managed to find a place in which they can tease one another confidentially. They really create a special bond on some of the adventures, they are able to get to know one another and can connect on a human level.
Can you tell us a bit about working with Jacob Anderson?
Meeting and working with Jacob Anderson has been one of the highlights of the series for me. He is incredibly talented and such a joy to get to know.
We hear monsters and prosthetics will be on another level this year, what can you tell us? Did you feel spooked by any?
You have heard correctly; the monsters and prosthetics are on another level this year. I was so intrigued by the detail and intricacy of some of the prosthetics. We have Karvanista an alien dog and as much as I am scared of dogs in real life, he was so fascinating to look at. Craige Els playing Karvanista is over six feet tall, imagine that!
Did you do any exciting stunts this series?
We have a really exciting stunt scene over an acid ocean. Jodie and I spent the day on wires been hung upside down, spun around, and winched up like small animals. Yaz also has a quick sword fight. It was a short rehearsal before the shoot, but I really enjoyed it and am excited to see how it looks.
There are some amazing guest actors in this series, who have you enjoyed working with?
I have enjoyed working with all of the guests leads this year. It has been an absolute honor to work during COVID and to be able to meet new people. I have previously worked with Rochenda Sandall so it was a delight to see her again. Kevin McNally is one of the most talented actors I have had the pleasure of working with. He unknowingly taught me so much on and off-screen. John (Bishop) and I joked about going to the ‘McNally school of Acting’. It was really refreshing to see how much he enjoys being on set.
What has been the highlight of your third series?
The highlight of the series for me was genuinely being able to work during COVID with the same crew as the previous series in Cardiff. They are the kindest, most funny, and genuine cast and crew I have ever met.
How would you describe Series 13 in three words?
An emotional rollercoaster.
Why should people tune in to this series?Tune into this series to see an emotional rollercoaster heavily sprinkled with old and new enemies.
It meant I could get out of the house and not be stuck in with COVID (laughs)! I’ll be honest I don’t know how big an impact this will have on my life or anything like that as it’s not come out yet, but as a life experience, it’s one of the best things that I’ve done since I’ve managed to get into this world of showbusiness. I genuinely feel I’ve learned a lot and I genuinely feel I’ve made good friends, and I didn’t think that I’d come away with that.
What are the main differences to being in Doctor Who and your role as a stand-up?
The longevity, the fact you spend so much time with them, you genuinely create bonds with people. And the fact you’re part of a team. Most of what I do is me, or “The John Bishop Show”- me on the stage on my own or leading something on my own. For this I was part of something, and I wasn’t the most important part which was good! It many respects the actors themselves are not the most important thing, there are so many other things that happen before that camera gets turned on and I came away with that appreciation for the skill of so many others.
How has the response been from fans so far?
So far it’s been positive but they haven’t met him (Dan) yet! I think for me I have been given a glimpse that once you’re in Doctor Who, you’re fixed in time in the eyes of a lot of people because they’ll come to it at different times in their lives and at different ages. And so of all the things I’ve ever done it might be the thing that lasts the longest.
Can you tell us a bit about Dan and what you liked most about him?
I liked his humility, his willingness to help people, when we first start off he is working in a food bank. I liked his vulnerability, he’s not really lucky in love, I liked his caring nature because he cares deeply for the Doctor and Yaz and wants them to be happy. I liked his sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. He’s really prepared to stand up to those who are doing something wrong.
How did you enjoy working with this year’s guest actors?
I loved spending time with Jacob Anderson, Kevin McNally was great – it’s like a masterclass all the time with Kevin. Paul (Broughton) and Sue (Jenkins), I had a few scenes with them and it was absolutely brilliant watching them work. During one scene, I had to remind myself they were acting!
Why should audiences tune into series thirteen and can you sum it up in three words?
Fast, energetic, and heartfelt.
It was a complete surprise, it felt like it was completely out of the blue. But it was one of those things that I always wanted to do. There are certain goals or dreams you might have in your life and the minute you stop obsessing over them, that’s when they happen! I had no expectation at all of being asked to be part of it, and Chris swooped in and asked if I’d like to be part of this iconic show that means a lot to me.
What’s the difference between Doctor Who and other sets you’ve been on?
It actually feels like walking into somebody’s family home. Everybody knows and cares about each other and you can tell that this is a group of people who have spent a lot of time with each other and would choose to continue to. There are some people who have been working on the show for fifteen years and you feel that, but you can also feel Jodie and Chris’ influence on the environment. It’s just a really welcoming, comfortable, warm place to work.
Are there any big moments in Doctor Who history that stood out to you, who was the Doctor that got you into the series?
My first Doctor was Sylvester McCoy, he was great and kind of kooky and a bit curmudgeonly as well - I’ll always have a special place in my heart for him. But David Tennant is just charisma to eleven, I think he’s fantastic and really defined a modern-day depiction of the Doctor, so he’s probably my favourite before seeing Jodie. I think Jodie does such a wonderful job; she does things with the character that are subtler than she gets credit for sometimes. She puts so much pathos into this alien. The Doctor can sometimes be quite clownish, skittish and jumpy and that’s really a part of the charm that she can do that, but she also has the tragedy of their life and it is all contained in it. She plays it in a really beautiful subtle performance, I really enjoy her Doctor. She makes it look effortless!
Can you tell us about who you enjoyed working with?
I really enjoyed working with Craig Parkinson, I knew him a bit before but this is the first time we’ve worked together. Thaddea is amazing, she’s an incredible actor, Mandip is one of my favorite human beings ever. She and Jodie are like the same person but also the inverse of each other, they’re so similar but then also completely opposite. Being around them as a team is a joy, a proper joy.
How has the reaction been from fans?
I tend to hide a bit whenever there’s any type of announcement but in the immediate announcement I saw some really nice “Welcome to the family” type tweets from Whovians, “Welcome to our crazy family, it’s going to be an adventure!” I really appreciated that and thought it was really nice. It was really nice to be welcomed so I zoned into that and I really appreciate it.
Can you tell us a bit about Vinder?
I really hope people like Vinder, as a fan of the show and as a fan of those characters that come in and recur and are part of the story beyond their singular story, there are some really iconic characters. Like River Song, and Osgood, and all these people you really remember and I hope Vinder can be a part of that, I really hope people like him.
Doctor Who: Flux launches on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 18:25 on Sunday, October 31st