DOCTOR WHO is expected to pull in a whole new fan base with Freema Agyeman's funkier,
more streetwise portrayal of a sidekick.
The actress replaces Billie Piper, who was a family favourite when she played Rose
Tyler in the long string of assistants to the Time Lord.
But Agyeman's portrayal of the Doctor's new companion in the eagerly-awaited third
series of the BBC Wales-produced phenomenon has already gained plaudits.
Critics were given a sneak preview of the new series, which starts next week.
London-born Agyeman stars as medical student Martha Jones, who is convinced that
the Doctor, played by David Tennant, needs a new friend, even if he protests that he doesn't. The series even features a kiss
between the two lead protagonists, although as usual, all is not as it seems.
Nevertheless, there are still references to Rose
throughout the new series, for which 27-year-old Agyeman is grateful.
'Billie did an amazing job, and Rose is a phenomenal character,' said Agyeman at
the London launch for the new series. 'She was taken to the nation's hearts, and rightfully so.
'So I think it's great what Russell T Davies has done. It's right that we don't
start the new series going, 'Out with the old and in with the new, let's never mention Rose's name again!' I think it's lovely
that she's mentioned throughout the whole series, and we can see that the Doctor was affected by their relationship. The audience
will be too - they're not going to forget her overnight.
'But I didn't want to spend the whole time worrying about that. I wanted to be
able to look back and say I had a really good time making this series, and I can say that now. It's made me feel really welcome
from the get-go.'
The new series of Doctor Who promises to pull out all the stops in terms of computer-generated-imagery
special effects, spectacular sets and a myriad of famous-name guest stars, including Derek Jacobi, Ardal O'Hanlon, Roy Marsden
and Life on Mars actor John Simm as The Master.
John Barrowman will also return later in the series as the much-loved Captain Jack,
star of the hugely-successful BBC3 spin-off series Torchwood, set in Cardiff.
The opening episode of the new series, Smith and Jones - written by Davies - features
an entire hospital transported to the surface of the Moon, where Agyeman's character Martha Jones has to battle the Judoon,
an intergalactic force of alien storm troopers, and outwit a blood-sucking Plasmavore, played by Anne Reid with moments to
rival no less than Hannibal Lecter.
Episode Two, The Shakespeare Code, takes the Doctor and Martha on their first time-travelling
trip in the Tardis to Elizabethan England, where the nation's most famous playwright, played by Shameless star Dean Lennox
Kelly, gives the performance of his life to save the world from destruction at the hands of a trio of fearsome flying witches.
The episode features breathtaking crowd scenes shot on location at London's Globe
Theatre. Elsewhere, however, it is Cardiff and its environs which continue to provide the bulk of location and studio backdrops,
and a forthcoming two-part story demanded the recreation of 1930s New York in the heart of South Wales.
Russell T Davies stressed that he remains constantly grateful to the support and
endless enthusiasm given by Welsh locals. 'We are very well looked after,' said Swansea-born Davies. 'If you film in London,
you're one of 27-hundred crews, and probably in Manchester too. It's a smaller production base in Cardiff, and it sounds like
fawning, but the council is proud of it. We're treated very well by Wales.'
Agyeman, who is currently living in a flat in Cardiff, added, 'It's got great locations.
There's this one factory that you can use for so many different exteriors and interiors. It's got everything you need and
it's very versatile and the people are lovely.'
Agyeman also suggested that Rose and Martha are not that dissimilar in many ways.
'There are certain aspects that the Doctor is always going to look for in a companion,
and there's got to be feistiness and fieriness, and you've got to not be a wallflower. Once you've got all those things together,
you're going to get a happy-go-lucky, bolshy kind of person.'
Agyeman's first scene in front of the cameras as Martha was a relatively easy one,
as part of her hospital team 'walking like ducks behind our consultant boss, Mr Stoker, played by Roy Marsden. Funnily enough,
my first day's filming - and I thought it was done on purpose - was a really easy day with no dialogue, it was just running
and walking down corridors.
'David (Tennant) wasn't in that day, so I thought, 'I don't have to worry about
anything!' But as it turns out, the irony is that I was less nervous when I had my first scenes with him. When he's around,
I find it easier to work, because of his energy, and it's nice to have someone like that around.'
Jane Tranter, the BBC's recently-appointed head of fiction, was full of praise
for Agyeman at the launch, held at the Mayfair Hotel.
'Freema has burst onto our screens and into all of our lives with intelligence,
fearlessness, charisma and beauty,' said Tranter. 'She tackles the Doctor like no other companion has done before. Her wit
and charm and bravura are evident from the get-go, as is her warm heart and generosity. Martha Jones is going to take us all
on an extraordinary journey.'
Agyeman appeared in Doctor Who last year, as the doomed supporting character Adeola
Oshodi, in the episode Army of Ghosts. Martha Jones is a completely different character, but Agyeman has hinted that the resemblance
will be explained on-screen later.
Contemplating the national fame that is inevitably about to come her way, Agyeman
remains philosophical. 'You're told that your life is going to change, but I have no basis for comparison,' she said. 'I don't
know how to prepare for that, and I just think that if it carries on the way it's been going - everyone's been nothing but
kind and encouraging, and the fans have been warm and welcoming - then I'm ready for it.
'There are a lot of good people around me who are supportive and give me all the
right advice, so I will embrace it.'
For 35-year-old Tennant, meanwhile, his role continues to be a personal dream come
'The Doctor is the best part in the world. I get to be 900 years old, I get to
have two hearts, I get to fly around the universe, I get to be in a small box with a beautiful lady, it couldn't be any better
than that. I've always wanted to be Dr Who.'
The launch was attended by a host of stars including Dawn French, former EastEnders
actors Adam Woodyatt and Michelle Collins, Catherine Tate, Arabella Weir, Celia Imrie, Jonathan Ross and his three children,
Coronation Street's Antony Cotton, Maggot from Welsh band Goldie Lookin' Chain, The League of Gentlemen's Mark Gatiss, Fame
Academy's Carrie and David Grant, and David Tennant's girlfriend, actress Sophia Myles.
The new series of Doctor Who begins on BBC1 on March 31st.
Source: The Western Mail