"Seeing Cybermen on their lunch break was surreal!" says Doctor Who star Sanjeev Bhaskar
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Comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar will be appearing in the Doctor Who series finale on Saturday. We caught up with him to chat about fulfilling a childhood dream and which members of the Royal Family hide behind the sofa when the Doctor is on TV...
How did you feel when you realised you'd be appearing in the final episode of the series?
"I was incredibly excited to be a part of the show! I didn't know at that stage that I was in the last episode, but just to be involved was amazing. It's still weird to me when it's a show or people I've watched and admired, to then be invited into that world is all kind of a bit mad!"
Were you a big Doctor Who when you were a youngster?
"I was yeah. I think the first one that I remember was John Pertwee but it was probably Tom Baker that I remember the most as a regular viewer. Then obviously, there was a bit of a hiatus although I did like Paul McGann in the one-off that he did. He also plays the Doctor in the audio stories and I did a couple of episodes of that which was really exciting. But it was great when they rebooted it and in many ways I enjoyed it even more as the production values were far better."
What can you tell us about your character in the finale, Colonel Ahmed?
"He's got a military background and he's an ally of the Doctor. I think most people know the final episode is about the Cybermen attacking Earth and wandering around the streets of London - all that kind of stuff. The Cybermen are classic Doctor Who villains but I hadn't seen them used in quite the same way that they're used in these episodes. The threat has certainly been upped!"
So there's a new scarier side to the Cybermen?
"There's a twist to it, yeah. Lots of fans will know more about the Cybermen than me, but when I read the script I was going, 'Ooh, wow. That's good!'"
Were the Cybermen your favourites from your childhood?
"Yeah I think so. The Daleks are brilliant, but amongst that pantheon of classic villains, I think the thing which makes the Cybermen so scary is that there's no negotiation. With the Daleks you can enter into a dialogue but the Cybermen are just relentless. That's why they've retained their level of scariness."
What was it like being on set with an army of Cybermen?
"The funny thing was seeing them wandering around when we were on lunch or something. It's not a spoiler to say they are actors! They're not real. There isn't a RADA for Cybermen somewhere and they get drafted in! But seeing them wandering about the set is slightly unnerving."
There have been some very dark episodes this year, is this final episode his greatest test yet?
"It's an episode that tests the Doctor in terms of his focus, his loyalties and dramatically, it's great. He's dealing with several problems at once which push him in different directions. That's always the most interesting thing for any dramatic character - when you have choices to make. Making a choice can be to the detriment of something else and it constantly happens in this episode."
Are you a fan of Peter Capaldi's Doctor Who?
"Yes I think he's great! I'm a huge fan of his anyway, I loved Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It. So seeing him on set was great and he was so warm and welcoming. He gave me a personal tour of the TARDIS which is just beyond any fanboy's dream. He said I could work the controls if I wanted. I said: 'Really?! I don't want to break anything!" He was like, it's okay you can use that, work that. It was fantastic going down there, reliving some of my childhood and watching Peter work which was just fascinating."
The tagline for this final episode is 'Death is not the end!' Is this going to be a scary one for kids?
"I think it might be a scary one for the adults! A lot of people have been discussing whether Doctor Who has got darker but I think it's always been that kind of show. I remember it being quite dark when I was little and I've had it on good authority that when they were kids, certain members of the Royal Family hid behind the sofa when the show was on!"
Do you watch the show with your kids?
"When we can. The good thing about being able to watch those things as a family is being able to talk about it afterwards and explain, either in kids terms or whatever, what issues may come up. It happens less and less as we watch TV in a more fractured way on different platforms nowadays. My son is eight and my wife (fellow Kumars.. star Meera Syal) was in a couple of Doctor Who episodes a few years back. He was just at the age where his friends and older siblings were talking about Doctor Who so we had this build up. Then we all sat down to watch it and mummy comes on screen and gets sucked down a hole! He had to then sleep with us for three nights because he was so scared!"
What did he say when you told him you were going to be in the show as well?
"Well he'll be a bit more prepared for what may or may not happen!"
Has he been pestering you to find out what happens in the series finale?
"Yes and he hasn't been the only one! He immediately announced it to his school mates - and parents of school mates! They were all asking what would happen but I stayed strong and didn't say anything! It's great that it still crosses generations though."
'Death in Heaven' the final episode in the current series of Doctor Who airs on BBC1 on Saturday 8th November.