These days Olivia Colman is the toast of Hollywood, winning plaudits and awards for her performance in Oscar-nominated film The Favourite and soon to take over the central role in hit Netflix series The Crown.
It’s all a long way from her fondly-remembered guest role in a 2010 episode of Doctor Who – and looking back, then-series showrunner Steven Moffat admits he feels they “wasted” the now Oscar-nominated actor in such a small role.
“Well in my first series, [Eleventh Doctor] Matt Smith’s first one, there was Olivia Colman,” Moffat told RadioTimes.com at the Radio Times Covers Party. “Olivia Colman, just a heartbeat before she was stratospheric.”
In the episode (Matt Smith’s debut The Eleventh Hour), Colman played one of the hosts for the episode’s villain Prisoner Zero, a shapeshifting alien prisoner who used Colman’s form to taunt the Doctor (while also showing off some pretty terrifying teeth) at the end of the episode.
In hindsight, Moffat said, he wishes he’d used the actor more.
“I think, ‘Oh we wasted that, didn’t we!’” Moffat said. “Bloody hell.”
Fellow Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss, meanwhile, had fond memories of a few other future stars he cast in 2013 episode Cold War, including two of Colman’s co-stars in the next series of The Crown (Josh O’Connor and Tobias Menzies) along with Grantchester’s James Norton.
“There are some funny ones aren’t there, like in Cold War, my story on a submarine,” he said.
“Peter, who’s killed in the opening titles, is Josh O’Connor from God’s Own Country: he’s a big star now. And James Norton is one of the sailors, and Tobias Menzies. It’s an amazing submarine of stars now!”
Nowadays, with new boss Chris Chibnall in charge, both men are watching Doctor Who from the sidelines after over a decade at its heart – so do they miss being part of the sci-fi series?
“I’m sort of used to watching Doctor Who I’ve got nothing to do with,” Moffat pointed out.
“That’s alright – I don’t mind that at all. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
“I do still have the impulse to do Doctor Who ideas. And I quite like the luxury of saying, ‘Well, that’s a good idea. I’ll just leave it in my head, it’s fine there.’”
“It’s lovely to know nothing at all,” added Gatiss.
“I used to come in occasionally and write an episode – but you end up finding out bits about the two before and the two after.
“So to know nothing at all has been really lovely, refreshing and fun.”
And who knows? If they watch closely, they may see even more stars of tomorrow wandering in to Jodie Whittaker’s adventures.
Doctor Who returns to BBC1 in 2020
David Tennant, who played the time-travelling alien from 2005-2010, told Radio 4’s The World at One that Olivia Colman would be a “magnificent” Doctor, and could take Capaldi’s place when the character next “regenerates”.
Colman and Tennant know each other well, having co-starred in ITV crime drama Broadchurch. The series was created by Chris Chibnall, who is set to take over as Doctor Who’s head writer from next year. Chibnall’s appointment has prompted speculation that he might decide to bring in his Broadchurch colleague.
Tennant said: “If the two of them [Colman and Chibnall] have been having top secret discussions behind my back, I will be furious! Olivia would clearly be a magnificent choice.”
Colman would be the first female actor to play the character in the show’s 50 year history, though Joanna Lumley once took on the role for a Red Nose Day comedy special. Referring to the change of gender, Tennant said: “If the story was right, then why not? […] If you have the right people telling the right stories, then it’s absolutely a possibility.”
Bookmakers are offering odds around 20/1 on the three-time Bafta-winner landing the role, but Colman is not the only famous name in the running. Ben Whishaw, best known for playing “Q” in the Bond films, is currently the bookies’ favourite, while his Bond co-star Rory Kinnear and comedian Richard Ayoade are also considered likely contenders.
Capaldi surprised his fans when he revealed on Monday that he would be leaving after the 2017 Christmas special, to coincide with current head writer Steven Moffat’s departure.
“People who know the show and love the show get very attached to actors in the role but are also always kind of excited about the prospect of change and renewal,” Tennant said. “That’s how the show has managed to keep going for over 50 years, because it has that kind of built-in renewal system.”
The actress, who is best known for her roles in Broadchurch, Tyrannosaur and Peep Show, advised fans not to ‘put any money’ on her being cast as the Doctor, a role in need of being filled following Matt Smith’s announcement that he will leave at the end of the year.
‘My brother sent me a text saying, “Congratulations, they’ve released odds on you being the new Doctor Who” – which we thought was very funny,’ Colman is quoted by Digital Spy as saying.
‘It’s all on Twitter, isn’t it? I don’t have Twitter. It is all on Twitter, isn’t it?
‘No-one’s ever asked me about it. I assume they would have to ask me for it to be true.’
Speculation has been rife that Doctor Who bosses want to cast the first ever female Timelord, with Dame Helen Mirren also said to be in the mix.
Other names being thrown around include Rory Kinnear, Ben Daniels and Ben Whishaw.
Colman is next set to appear on screen in Run, which airs from Monday, July 15 to Thursday, July 18 on Channel 4.