Doctor Who’s Rachael daunted by acting with mum

Rachael Stirling (Tipping the Velvet, The Bletchley Circle) appears alongside her mother, Dame Diana Rigg, for the first time as mother and daughter in this week’s Doctor Who episode The Crimson Horror…

It’s a great episode to be involved in. Were you excited when you first read the script?
“I was very excited! Mark Gattiss wrote the episode and I was doing a play with him at the time. He kept giving me tidbits of what he’d written that day and little pieces of the plot when we were at work. I couldn’t wait to finally start filming and read the whole story!”

Is it true that he wrote the parts especially for you and your mother?
“I think so yes. He said he’d never written something for specific people, but that picturing us made it far easier!”

The episode is set in Yorkshire in the 1890s – it’s like a Victorian sci-fi!
“I think the Victorian era makes for great Doctor Who episodes and this feels like a really classic episode!  It’s a character-led story, which revolves around the turbulent relationship between mother and daughter. It’s epic on a small scale, but also camp, pure and funny. There’s also a disgusting monster! There really is something there for everyone!”

What can you tell us about your character? Her brutal father blinded her when she was just a child…
“Yes that’s true and as such she’s terribly lonely. Being blind makes someone very isolated and the fact that her mother does not accommodate her at all makes it much worse. In fact her mother is quite dismissive of her. She’s terribly alone, but she’s a touching character. I loved her vulnerability and learning to play blind as well. I had to wear horrible white contact lenses, which felt like crisps in my eyes – they were so dry and salty!”

Ada is a very thoughtful person, but her mother is quite villainous…
“I think she’s aware that her mother is a bad person, but she has no one in the world apart from her monster – a creature her mother imprisoned after a failed experiment – to share her feelings with. Her mother is her only conduit to the outside world and she’s kept very isolated. But she’s not stupid and as the story ends you realise that there’s lots of pent-up anger there!”

This is the first time you’ve worked with your mother on-screen – have you had offers before?
“We’ve had lots of offers to work with each other before, but we felt that this was the right one. I suppose that in the past I’ve been a little concerned that they only really wanted my mum, but this is the first time I’ve felt like they’ve actually wanted both of us!”

What was it like working together?
“Being on set with mum was hilarious – she’s great fun. I have to admit that it was a bit nerve-racking beforehand though. It’s not just any old actor or member of the crew telling you what to do – it’s your mum! I thought ‘What happens if she thinks I’m rubbish!’ But we laughed so much, we had to be careful that we didn’t get the giggles during the scenes!”


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