TV Series

Indira Varma on her return to the Whoniverse

The latest star in the Whoniverse, with recent credits from the fantastical Game of Thrones to the futuristic Star Wars, discusses Jane Austen and the iconic Britishness of Doctor Who...

The Doctor and Ruby are set to meet a court of new faces in the upcoming adventure Rogue - including the formidable Duchess, played by Indira Varma. Previously appearing in the Whoniverse briefly as treacherous Torchwood member Suzie Costello, Indira spoke to us about returning to work with Russell T Davies, as well as her experiences on set... 

Watch ROGUE on BBC iPlayer from Saturday 8th June and on Disney+ from Friday 7th June where available.

Indira Varma Q&A

How did your casting come about? And what was your initial reaction when you heard you'd be joining the Whoniverse?

I got an email from Russell, via my agent, asking me if I'd like to play the Duchess and was really excited. I worked with Russell on Torchwood back in the day. That was such a laugh. My character in Torchwood, Suzie, was only meant to be in the first episode. She was set up as one of the gang, but turned out to be the rotten egg and died. But then, as you can in the Whoniverse, was brought back to life for an episode as she was the only one who knew how to use the magic glove! It is so much fun to be part of this world and I really wanted to join the gang again.

What's brilliant about Doctor Who is that it's so British, which makes it very special to me as a Brit. Even though I wasn't an avid watcher as a kid, I always feel like a fan, and I really appreciate the legacy. I love the fact that the Doctor regenerates. I am also in awe of how Russell is taking the Whoniverse to a different level. I don't know how his mind works, but I feel like he lets his imagination run, and it's always with generosity and compassion for his characters, and for the viewers. There's something for everyone, and it's always done with joy.

Can you tell us a bit about your character?

The Duchess is from Regency Era England. She's a woman of society and is throwing an enormous party. It's all very fabulous and fashionable, her costume is amazing. We find her at the centre of it all.

Did you have to do any dance lessons to learn the choreography?

Sadly, I didn't get to dance. But I've actually worked with the choreographer, Jack Murphy, before! I worked with him years ago at the National, so it was lovely to see it all - it was beautiful! Everyone looked amazing on set. The costumes are incredible. As viewers will get to see, the costumes change throughout the episode and I had such fun seeing it all unfold!

Indira Varma Q&A

How does Doctor Who differ from other projects you've worked on before?

I have been part of some massive shows with a huge history, including Star Wars and Game of Thrones. But with Doctor Who, I think it stands on its own within the genre and it's uniquely British. I think that's really important. I feel really proud to be in a British show. I really love the way that the companion is written as one of the viewers, an ordinary person, and they get to go on all these adventures. They are the eyes and ears of the audience and I think that's brilliant. Also the fact that the Doctor can go anywhere in time and space – anywhere, any universe, anytime in history. It’s not just the world that becomes your oyster, it's the universe and beyond, isn't it? And I just think that's amazing. It can be silly and fun, and it's also quite profound. There's such humanity in it, and it can be incredibly moving. It's got it all.

What was your first reaction when you read this script?

Well, I've always wanted to be in Jane Austen. So I was thrilled that it was Regency. I thought it was sort of a happy irony that because when I was growing up, they were always filming the Jane Austen adaptions, and being mixed race, I could never ever be in those shows. Now, it is all changing which is fantastic, with shows like Bridgerton, and similarly Doctor Who, it can do what it wants. We are in a different time now and I was just so thrilled that I was going to be in a period drama from that time. Get the dress and wave the fan. It was a lot of fun to play the etiquette of that time. We had such a laugh, and I got to have so much fun with the Duchess character, doing all sorts of things! She's the polar opposite to Suzie. The Duchess has her own agenda but she's whimsical, greedy and playful.

What was it like working alongside Ncuti?

I admired Ncuti from Sex Education. I think he's a brilliant actor and, I think an exceptional Doctor. He's very present and playful so goes along with whatever you're doing. Fun to play with. I felt welcomed by him. He has vulnerability as well being very funny and cheeky. There's a knowingness to him. I think he's great.

Indira Varma Q&A

Was it hard keeping your role under wraps from friends and family when you got cast?

There are a few people at work at the moment who are massive Doctor Who fans, so when they saw me in the trailer, they were like, ‘Oh my God!’. One of the crew members had a life size cardboard cutout of David Tennant as the Doctor in their office space, as you do! I actually worked with David Tennant on The Quatermass Experiment when he got the job and weirdly with Matt Smith when he also got the role! Which, of course, was a huge secret for them. But personally, I don’t have a problem keeping the secret. Why divulge and spoil the surprise. That reveal in situ is much more interesting!

Did you have a moment behind the scenes or an experience filming that was uniquely Doctor Who?

I mean, it all felt uniquely Doctor Who, to be honest. I felt like I was definitely living my Doctor Who experience. The whole experience filming was amazing – we were on location at this beautiful stately home at night. It was so atmospheric. We were running around these gardens at night, the moon was out shining through the mist – very spooky and atmospheric...It wasn't like being on a set.

If you could travel in time to anywhere, any era, any planet, any period, what would you visit? And why?

Oh, that's so hard! Maybe Ancient Greece, I feel that they were already ahead of the game, it was a very advanced civilisation. I'd be really curious to experience what that was like. I don't know if I'd want to go into the future.

Watch ROGUE on BBC iPlayer from Saturday 8th June and on Disney+ from Friday 7th June where available.

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