Dr Who sidekick Freema sets the record straight
Feb 16 2008 Western Mail
Was Doctor Who’s old sidekick Martha Jones dumped? The actress who plays her sets the record straight for Catherine Jones
DEALING with monsters and mayhem was par for the course when Freema Agyeman took the part of medical student Martha Jones, companion to the 10th Doctor Who.
But was the young actress prepared for dealing with the tabloid press when, during her first season in the role, one newspaper claimed she was being axed from the cult show?
Last May, The Sun revealed Freema, now 28, was to be written out of the next series of the BBC science fiction hit – resurrected by Swansea-born star writer Russell T Davies – after she became the Timelord’s new assistant when Billie Piper left.
The decision to “dump” Freema was said to be a “bolt from the blue”, not least because her performance for the first couple of episodes was praised and she had previously portrayed Martha’s cousin, Adeola Oshodi, who was killed by the Cybermen.
But Freema – who makes a return to Doctor Who offshoot Torchwood next week – looks back at the time with laid-back pragmatism, saying that while they got their facts wrong, such attention was always going to be part of the Doctor Who experience.
“Everyone wants to know the facts on such a popular show and you can’t give them out before programmes, so people add two and two to make five, and jump to the wrong conclusions,” she says.
“I knew where the character was heading when I joined last year but we decided not to say anything when this story was printed.
“When I started as Martha, Russell didn’t know what her fate would be but you saw it panning out.
“Martha was heading towards unrequited love, we know what her family went through, and all that year of travelling, so no way was she going back to the Tardis full-time.
“Now she’s coming back and going to Torchwood. It’s an excellent idea. I feel really privileged and chuffed. It’s a shame something so positive turned into something scandalous and with a suggestion of ill feeling.”
Freema has also tasted the positive side of publicity.
She was one of the Faces of the Year (people who made a cultural impact on Britain in 2007) in The Guardian, and was voted Most Popular Drama for her performance in Doctor Who at National Television Awards last year.
“At the very beginning, such attention is an aspect to get to grips with, such as doing interviews and controlling how much of you is out there, because you are very much public property in terms of a popular show such as Doctor Who.
“But there’s such a massive support structure. If you needed help or advice, it was there and I never felt I was going out there on my own.
“I had such positive reactions that you’re almost prepared for the very real possibility of the British backlash that can happen. I never took the positivity for granted and was never complacent.
“I thought, ‘This is part of the process. If someone’s looking for a story and you can’t give them one, they still find one!’ It’s inevitable in a way.” London-born Freema will guest star as Martha in Torchwood for three episodes starting on Wednesday’s episode, titled Reset.
She will also return for five episodes in the fourth series of Doctor Who, whose eponymous hero is played by David Tennant, with comedienne and actress Catherine Tate as his companion this time around.
Previously, Martha left to care for her devastated family, and to break the cycle of unrequited love she felt for The Doctor. So what can fans expect now?
“A lot has changed in Martha’s life. She’s finished her studies, there’s her new job, she’s in a relationship. She’s a lot harder because of everything she experienced but she is still the same person with the same connections.”
Is Martha her favourite character to date? “Oh definitely. She’s so different from anything else I have played because up until this point I never had the opportunity to develop a character in this way.”
She talks fondly of scenes shot with the other actors – “round a table with endless conversations and laughter” – and is full of praise for Russell T Davies’s hands-on approach.
“What’s unique about him is he’s so powerful and creative and so generous and open to small suggestions I might have.
“I might send a text and he would get right back to me.
“I think having a part like this has really opened my eyes.
“You can have a deeper involvement with character development and be involved in the creative process.
“In the future, that may take the form of theatre or film, here or abroad.
“For me, it’s not so much about fame as the part.”
For her return to sci-fi work, Freema worked in the Cardiff studio Torchwood shares with Doctor Who, and stayed in the same Bay apartment she had for her first stint as Martha. “Being in Cardiff Bay kind of feels like being at the seaside, with the water and the gulls.
“My boyfriend and friends and family all loved visiting me.
“I think Cardiff is beautiful and it very quickly became my surrogate city. I hope no one will be offended by this but it seems like London but just not on the same scale.
“It has everything London has but Cardiff feels intimate and friendly.”
Why does she think Doctor Who is such a success?
“I think it’s a combination of the show being an exploration of the unknown, which lets your imagination run wild, and the fact the Doctor is a well-loved, long -established character.”
Freema is in Torchwood on Wednesday on BBC Two at 9pm