Returning to the Whoniverse: A Conversation with Catherine Tate at MCM London Comic Con
English comedian, actress, and writer. She has won numerous awards for her work on the sketch comedy series The Catherine Tate Show as well as being nominated for an International Emmy Award and seven BAFTA Awards. Following the success of The Catherine Tate Show, Tate played Donna Noble in the 2006 Christmas special of Doctor Who and later temporarily reprised her role, becoming the Tenth Doctor’s companion for the fourth series in 2008.
In 2011, she began a recurring role as Nellie Bertram in the U.S. version of The Office and was a regular until the series ended.
At last weekend’s MCM London Comic Con, The Fan Carpet’s Marc Jason Ali and Jessen Aroonachellum were in attendance during a special Q+A session with iconic comedian and actress Catherine Tate who spoke about being a part of the Whoniverse, reprising her role of Donna Noble in the Big Finish audio adventures and working with Green Screen…
I guess we’ll kick off. What was like for you to come back to the character of Donna, now that you’re doing the Big Finish audio adventures?
Oh well you slip really closely into it, not closely, you know, easily into it because the audio books, they’re not really books they’re kind of plays, audio episodes are written so close to the character that the relationship between myself and David (Tennant) was exactly as it was, so it was a joy to slip back into the character.
How much sort of revisions do you need to do in order to step back into the role? Is it quite a daunting thing…
Not really, because I’ve learned from then. There’s no point in me you know, I’m not a Sci-fi boff you know it’s not my thing, I happen to privileged enough to be part of the Whoniverse (room laughs). But you know it’s not the stuff that sticks into my head you know. So it’s no point in me coming in and saying let me tell you everything about the Sontarans because I didn’t even know there was people inside of them (room laughs) till we where half way through an episode I thought they ran on electricity and then someone came out of one (room laughs) so I’m not an expert and have not become any more less or more schooled than I was before, but you know it’s more about being a very honoured kind of part the crew, you know what I mean you’re sort of part of it. But you know if anyone needs explaining what things meant, then knock on my cupboard it’s bare (room laughs).
How did you become a star?
How did I become a star? (laughs) Well that’s very nice of you to say, but I’m sure that any actor you meet would never call themselves anything like that, because it’s just our job, you know what I mean. What I was lucky was the job that I wanted to do worked out for me and so I went to drama college, then I did stand-up comedy, then I worked in theatres, national theatre and then I got some work on TV.
It’s just sort of like a gradual progression and then you know you’re lucky enough to do stuff that people like and then someone else asks you to do something that people like and if you’re luck you carry on doing it.
But you never really go around thinking “I’m on the TV” or anything because it’s my job and it’s great but it doesn’t really define you I don’t think. But thank you calling me star (room laughs).
If you hadn’t worked with David Tennant. Which other Doctor would you work with and why?
I was asked that funnily enough in the Q&A, but someone else said “Who else would you want to be a companion to” I had no idea it was someone existing or previous Doctor I thought they just meant anyone (room laughs). And I said, which is what I’ll say to you is that I guess if I was playing Donna I think I would probably have liked to have been paired with Chris Eccleston’s Doctor because he was a bit chippy wasn’t he (room laughs), because I mean she [Donna] was and I wonder what if they had got together.
How does it feel, with your background in comedy as an actress and everything, how did it feel for you to become part of the Doctor Who universe like when you got the call?
Yeah I wasn’t really aware of it really until… Well I knew people liked Doctor Who and I knew it was was a thing, but I didn’t realise how much of a thing it was, and I think that in a way that’s a good thing because if you go into a show…..if I’d gone into a show aware of all this legacy that there was I think it would have daunted you, but if you come into a show going “this is great it’s a great scripts, it’s a great cast, it’s a great show, I’m going to have a great time” this is what I did, I think that I’m pleased that was the way things…..the kind of trajectory that took me on, because I would have been quite daunted on, because you know there’s going to be like millions of people who are staring going “you better not muck this up” (room laughs).
But the fans hold the show very dear and rightly so and that’s why you feel like you’re kind of you get to passed on the baton and then you get to pass it on again and you just have to keep it in the air, just so long as you keep the flame alive that’s what you do. But I really wasn’t aware of it when I went into the show.
Before you where an actor, what did you want to be when you where younger?
Well I sort of did want to be an actor from an early age, but I was a bit fickle and when I went into my careers lesson when I was at school they said “oh what do you want to be?” and I said “I want to be an actor and if I can’t be an actor I want to be a farmer” (room laughs) which is tricky because I live in Central London (room laughs) “and if I can’t be a farmer, I want to be a showjumper” which was again quite tricky because I showed no aptitude in horse riding (room laughs) and the third thing I wanted to be was a ski instructor and I did like skiing and I did quite well at skiing, but again quite tricky in Central London to find any peaks (room laughs), and the other thing I wanted to be was, I didn’t give the lady an easy time (laughs) the other thing I wanted to be was an astrologer and she was like “oh my god” (room laughs) so she sort of went to the shelf at the time and sort of found a leaflet on performing arts and thought “oh just go and read that” (room laughs) And that’s what happened.
You could kind of be all of them…
I know, listen I’ve still not put my farming days behind me (room laughs)
You’re talking about the Doctor Who fans and earlier in your Q & A, the first thing you did was get into the audience, engage with people and talk to them. And I was wondering if could tell me a little bit more about the importance of fan engagement and why you do it so directly.
Well I haven’t done many conventions at all, so I’m really quite new to it. But what really strikes me is the immediacy of everything and it’s such a contact sport really so you can’t be here unless you’re willing to engage and have a good time. And I guess I just, I mean the going down is just the fact that the show offy part of me really.
I just think it’s a bit…. You know they can be….. I was thinking he was going to ask me a question I didn’t know, so I thought “let’s take matters into my own hands and walk down and say hello to people”. You know I think it’s nice to mix things up and I think its…as I say I haven’t done very many but I am struck by the loveliness of people and peoples energy.
It’s a very nice experience going to a room full of people who are pleased to see you, because in life you don’t often do that (laughs) you know there’s always, wherever you are, there’s always miserable people. But here there’s not, there’s just not, it’s a very inclusive and warm atmosphere and I do think it’s right to meet people and to….also the other thing is that everyone’s got a story and everyone’s different and everyone’s interesting and it’s very nice to meet people.
Going back to The Catherine Tate Show, were any of the characters based on anyone you know?
Oh there’s always characters based on people you know, I mean there’ll be characters based on people here today for sure (room laughs).
What was it like working with Tony Blair in the Comic Relief?
Oh he was great actually, clearly one of the finest comic actors of his generation (room laughs).
Took direction very well and actually very very amenable to our time constraints because obviously you turn up at Downing Street and with all these cameras, first thing you’re told is “you’ve got 20 minutes and then you’ve got to go” and we where like “we won’t have even turned the camera on in 20 minutes” (room laughs) and then we’ve got to turn it around. And he (Blair) was really lovely and he was like “just take whatever time you want”. So it was great he was really good.
In Doctor Who where some of the monsters are animated and you have to pretend that their there. Is it difficult to see a monster that’s not there?
It is, that’s a very good question. It is because a lot of the time you’re on Doctor Who you’re doing it on green screen, so it’s a thing like that and it’s supposed to be some massive scary thing and it is a tennis ball on a stick (room laughs) you know that you’re looking at and their going “and now it’s running after you” and you’re going “come on let me take this seriously”. But the end result is always, because the CGI is always so amazing and the post production is brilliant.
But yes it does take quite a…..you have to get your mind around being frightened of a tennis ball on a large pencil (room laughs).
MCM LONDON COMIC CON RETURNS TO EXCEL LONDON THIS OCTOBER