Sunday, 18 March 2018

Who Reviews The Ark by Tony J Fyler

Doctor Who – The Ark

Tony mucks out the Monoids.

Doctor Who has always been a show driven by imagination and stories, rather than practical deliverables and budgets. That means there have always been stories that, while working brilliantly as stories, have been let down by wobbly sets and naff monsters.

The Ark, from First Doctor William Hartnell’s third season, is one of those stories. At its core, The Ark is a brilliant tale - humans fleeing the destruction of the Earth by the Sun, taking all the animals with them, along with micro-dotted human beings and a friendly bunch of mute creatures called the Monoids. It takes in themes of privilege and revolution and also, deals with the consequences of the Doctor’s interference in time and space as the Doctor’s companion Dodo bring a cold on board the spaceship. Having no resistance, the super-evolved crew start dropping like flies. There’s a trial, there’s the Doctor in scientific mode trying to find an antidote, and then, job done, the Tardis crew bog off into time and space – only to return immediately to the Ark 700 years later, to find the Monoids no longer mute, no longer docile and frankly ruling the roost. It’s not quite Planet of the Apes, but it is rather Spaceship of the Monoids.

Sadly, the Monoids on-screen reduced The Ark to ‘that one with the stupid one-eyed Beatle-haired things.’ They were badly realised on what felt like an aggressive level, and they robbed the story of any real ability to shock or provoke.

Good news! The audiobook version means you can invent your own Monoids, albeit they’re described in the text. Your mind has a bigger budget than the BBC in the Sixties, and so the Monoids, while still being front and centre of the action here, stop being so much of a focus-drag.

The audiobook by Paul Erickson manages to take a four-part story that always on screen felt like two two-parters knitted together (two episodes with the humans in charge, followed by two on a Monoid-run Ark), and expand it to feel like a valuable six-parter, with a long trial as the Doctor and Co are sentenced to death for bringing a fatal disease on board the Ark, and some exploring in different environments and biospheres to find vaccine ingredients. There’s more texture to the novelization than ever made it on screen too – we learn how Monoid One came to power, which gives a rewarding reality to the revolution of the Monoids, and we also get a bit of backstory for Jackie Lane’s Dodo.

The Ark then feels like a more substantial story in the novelization than it did on screen, and its themes are given more time to expand and bed in.

Peter Purves, on reading duties, is perfect here. His Steven, the companion he played in the story, is of course perfect, but he also delivers a Dodo that makes you want to dig out more Dodo stories and watch them, and over the last decade, at Big Finish and BBC Audio, he’s been honing his version of the First Doctor to the point where it’s utterly believable and consistent, meaning he strongly anchors Doctor Who stories that need a nuanced characterisation of the First Doctor to hold them together. Even his Monoids sounds less distracting than the on-screen versions, helping you to get away from the visual of them, and making the run-time of this audio novelization fly by.

Pick up The Ark on audiobook today – it’s probably the best version of this story you’ll ever own.  

Big Finish Reviews+ The Churchill Years, Volume Two by Tony J Fyler


The Churchill Years, Volume 2

Tony gives Churchill a V-sign.

Full disclosure time. Before Volume 1 of The Churchill Years was released, I was not a fan of the idea of using him as an anchor for a whole spin-off series. Ian McNeice’s Churchill on screen had been one of only a few highlights of Victory of the Daleks but turning him into the anchor for a series of Doctor-adjacent stories felt like stretching his capabilities as a character within the world of Doctor Who beyond the point of diminishing returns.

Then the first volume came out, and I was utterly, utterly wrong. Doesn’t happen often, but there you go, let’s never speak of it again.

So with Volume 2, what we have is a much stronger sense of instinctive reliability on approach to the box set – but does it deliver?

Yes it does, but just slightly less than the first set.

This collection of tales focuses for three of its four stories on Churchill’s war years, and brings two Ninth Doctor stories, one Tenth and one Eleventh to the party. Oh and Madam Vastra. Churchill and Vastra, side by side – that’s got to be worth the price of admission, no?

Paul Morris kicks us off with Young Winston, a tale of magic jewels, historical legends, and the volatile background of Cuba. Set in 1985 and 1899, it follows Churchill on a trip to Cuba to get a taste of war, and then, as he begins to make his parliamentary way in the world, the ghosts of hot-blooded nations and people surface in his life.

It’s a story that bristles with star power and crossover potential, with Churchill and Vastra swapping narration duties in the different tones of the Churchill Diaries and the Chronicles of the Great Detective (Now that’s an audio spin-off we’d pay good money for), but it delivers far more than a star pairing and a jewelled MacGuffin – there’s an enormous well of tenderness in the story of the young Winston (Iain Batchelor) and his mysterious Cuban friend Carmen, played with sensitivity by the gloriously-named Melody Grove, and it leaves you wanting more crossover stories between the Paternoster Gang and the future Prime Minister. Churchill and Strax for box set 3, anyone?

Human Conflict by Iain McLaughlin is a story that highlights, in a way similar to but harsher than Victory of the Daleks, the dichotomy between Churchill’s drive to win total war at any cost and his friendship with the Doctor. It’s harsher because this is a story in which the Doctor with the big ears and the leather jacket is advisor, judge, jury and rescuer as Churchill explores the potential of alien weaponry in the early years of the war.

Advised not to get involved in an arms deal that could potentially win the Allies the war, Churchill, like Harriet Jones in later years, goes against the wishes of his taciturn Time Lord friend, leading to a solid story of derring-do, stand-offs, a terrible price, and perhaps most remarkably of all, a portrayal of Churchill from McNeice that shows why, even with his war-hawk intuitions, Churchill was a man inherently good enough to earn the Doctor’s friendship. It’s moderately romanticised stuff of course, but the Churchill of Doctor Who has never been the Churchill of real life. Nevertheless, Human Conflict brings good performances to the fore, especially from Bethan Walker as Bragnar, and feels like a Sunday afternoon black and white war movie, only Doctor Whoed up.

I Was Churchill’s Double, by Alan Barnes, romps home with this box set’s ‘complicate the living bejesus out of a plotline’ prize. Into what sounds like it should be a straightforward tale of deception, doubles and associated tomfoolery, Barnes brings fairy tales, parallel dimensions, self-hypnosis through a howlaround TV interference pattern (a lovely touch, that), secret plans, two Churchills, John Logie Baird, undercover Nazis and a whole lot more. Oh, and the Ninth Doctor again, popping up having lost his Tardis somewhere. It’s a storyline you don’t want to try and follow while, for instance, operating heavy machinery, because you won’t stand a chance of working out what’s going on. You won’t if you give it your full attention either, but it will unfold for you better if you dedicate your lugholes to it for the space of an hour. McNeice is on top form in this story – which is just as well, given its double dose of Churchill – and he gets to slightly vary his performance to differentiate between the two. Compelling stuff, but you might like to have a cup of tea and a biscuit ready at the end, so as to untwist your brain.

Churchill Victorious shows us the man who led the British war on the day of its effective completion – with London, with the whole country celebrating on what rations it can scrape together, Churchill feels himself alone, and under faintly ridiculous Dad’s Army cover, he goes out looking for, if not trouble, then at least an honest communion with his people. Naturally of course, he runs into power cuts, a populace less grateful than he might have expected, an alien aggressor and a prisoner with familiar puppydog enthusiasm and demented hair. Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky are rarely writers to rush to their point, but here they give us a story that’s seemingly innocuous but eventually builds to a test of Churchill’s soul – how far will he go to ensure his personal victory, his legacy, his immortality among the British people?

There’s a line of balance to be drawn with Churchill – on the one hand you don’t want to overstud his life and career with incidents with the Doctor. For those who like him in the real world, it could potentially take away from the man’s own greatness. For those who don’t, it could feel like the Doctor’s trust was misplaced. And the ending of the second box set, coinciding with the end of the war, could work as the moment to fade out on Churchill. But there’s no real reason why it has to – McNeice is clearly in great form, and Churchill’s life was long and studded with real incidents which lend themselves to a Doctor Who treatment. On the strength of this box set and its predecessor, a third set would be no hardship at all, and with the dramatic returns showing only faint signs of diminishing so far, there’s no reason why Churchill himself shouldn’t KBO for a while yet at Big Finish.

Big Finish Reviews+ Short Trips: Mel-Evolent by Tony J Fyler

Short Trips: Mel-Evolent
Tony’s away with the fairies.

Written by Simon A Forward.
Read by Bonnie Langford.

Doctor Who and fairy tales. What could possibly go wrong?

Not, as it turns out, an awful lot if you trust your Time Lord fairy tale to Simon A Forward.

The Short Trips are a playground, where writers can do almost anything, so long as they can craft their anything into the time run-time of a short story. They’ve been used to add depth and weight to companion characterisation, to show vital moments in the Doctor’s life that have never been seen on screen, to add texture to the Doctor Who universe, and to even show the kind of adventure that is commonplace on the Tardis, but still has a threat level that gets the pulse racing.

Forward does all that and more besides in his tale of Mel and the fairy queen of darkness, the with-queen from the other side of the mirror.

Mel-Evolent starts with scenes that both perfectly encapsulate the 80s, technicolour vibe of Bonnie Langford’s time with the Sixth Doctor, and gently satirizes the keenness with which both Colin Baker and Langford used to take to the pantomime stage. ‘Once upon a space and time…’ it begins – you’re almost hoping for an ‘Oh no it isn’t!’ thrown in, but Forward moves things along quickly – a trip to the Tardis theatre (oh yes, it has a theatre now), gives us a declaiming Doctor, a costume bundle, a stab of nostalgia and then, rapidly, a shiver of danger as Evil-Mel looks back at them from a dark – not to say a black – mirror.

Forward’s pacing of the plot here is impressive, as the genuine danger to the here-and-now in which our heroes exist is quickly explained and escalated, and the Mel in the mirror, looking for all the world like a particular horn-headed Disney witch-queen, sends evil, misshapen dwarfish minions to devour the Tardis.

While the Doctor stays behind to Do Something Clever With That Pigging Exercise Bike, it’s up to Mel to dress up like her Inner Badass and go to do battle with her doppelganger to save the day.

The temptation, when writing a Doctor Who fairy tale, is to only go so far, to go along obvious lines, or to allow the Doctor to stay in fairy tale territory too long, to the point of believing the myth, rather than giving some kind of anchored science fantasy explanation (New Who, Series 5, we’re looking at you).

Mel-Evolent does none of those things, but fuses Doctor Who and fairy tale lore in a new, inventive way that pushes beyond the ordinary, and makes you realise the power of a really good writer, to deliver things you would never have thought of. The actual threat in this story, the what of it and why of it, is sublime, and you won’t see it coming till a heartbeat before it arrives – Forward gives you just that long to realise what it is, and just enough description to trigger your nostalgia, before moving…erm…forward in terms of plotting and emotional punch. Forward delivers a story that goes beyond traditional fairy tales, to really nail the Doctor Whoness of his story to your consciousness, leaving you well and truly satisfied at the end of it all. What’s more, there’s a quality to the actual descriptions of things like ‘liquid space’ that make you stop and clap the business of writing, the ability creative people have to go beyond the workaday and open your mind to things you never thought you’d see.

Bonnie Langford was one of the most poorly served companion-actresses in Classic Who, from her two-line character description, to her frequent reduction to boggling, screaming and asking ‘What’s that, Doctor?’ in scripts which left her little else to do.

Big Finish has worked for years to give her more to work with as an actress, and this Short Trip punches above its run-time as far as expansion of character is concerned. Langford for her part takes to this opportunity to go to the Dark Side, and especially when she comes face to face with her mirror-side doppelganger, there’s a sense of visual and vocal differentiation that’s very easy to imagine on screen. In fact, the combination of Forward’s descriptive prose for some areas of this trip into a weird realm, and Langford’s assured but Mel-breathy delivery, lets you lose yourself in the visuals of this audio short very easily, and rewards you for doing so with one of the more immersive Short Trips in recent times.

Overall, this is a barnstorming Doctor Who fairy tale, and among the best examples of its kind, because it goes that extra mile on every level – the story doesn’t rest on familiar fairy tale territory but pushes beyond to give you imaginative surprises that make you think about them even after the story’s over. It takes Mel to new places, where you wouldn’t ordinarily imagine her going, and so proves a constant but little-regarded element of her nature as a person – when faced with necessity, Mel pushes down her fears, rolls up her sleeves and gets on with the job at hand to the best of her ability.

So – a magical mystery tour to the land beyond the mirror, a strengthening of the character of one of Doctor Who’s most poorly-served companions, a Doctor Who fairy tale that merges real-world threat with fantastical imagery, and all in the space, and for the price, of a Short Trip. It’s been a while since Forward wrote a Big Finish story. On the strength of this, it shouldn’t be so long till he writes his next.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Articles Welcome to Issue 56: WATNOW: They Keep Killing Suzie

Issue 56

They Keep Killing Suzie

Contents Guide

WATNOW: They Keep Killing Suzie cast

Big Finish Reviews+

Interview with Ravin J Ganatra

Interview with Julie Barclay

The Coffee Shop
Buster Smith’s Shocking Secret Competition

Fans Fiction
Mitchell: Patience, Part 3


Who Reviews
Nuclear Time

Planet of Fire

The Invasion

The Invasion of Time

The Twin Dilemma

Time Flight

Editor Note

It’s been quite a crazy month, especially the Snow Days we’ve experienced this past week. Never expected that to lie for that amount of time, nor that deep. Still, relatively back to normal now.

We’ve got some exciting Interviews for you this month. Julie Barclay aka Bernie Harris’ Mam, and Ravin J Ganatra aka Neil (whacked by Toshiko with a golf club), both absolutely wonderful people, thoroughly enjoyable interviews.

We’ve got our usual reviews, some a wee bit later publishing due to offline issues, but fear not, they’ll be up within the week.

Mitchell is hotting up as Jack finally discovers why he’s being tortured, and Gwen discovers that a member of the team hasn’t been completely honest about where their loyalties lie.

We’ve also got a Hollyoaks Competition this month, which will continue right through to probably the end of the summer, so plenty of time to enter, and enter plenty of times!!!

Our Merlin Connections throws up a few surprises, and we reach our WATNOW They Keep Killing Suzie episode.

Thank you to our wonderful guests for their wonderful interviews, thank you to Shaz for the brilliant as ever front cover, and thank you to Tony as always for his wonderful reviews.

Welcome to Issue 56: WATNOW They Keep Killing Suzie


Sunday, 4 March 2018

Articles WATNOW: They Keep Killing Suzie by DJ Forrest

They Keep Killing Suzie Cast

Where Are They Now?

There is a spate of murders across the City of Cardiff, with Torchwood’s name written all over them, and traces of DNA with a compound B57 - RETCON discovered at the latest crime scene. It would take a lot to narrow down who it was, but a chance discovery that all those killed were from the same meet and greet group – Pilgrim, the net begins to tighten, and Jack decides it’s time to talk to the dead.

Resurrecting Suzie Costello with the aid of the Risen Mitten and the Life Knife, Jack bites off more than he can chew, when the connection between Suzie and Gwen is strong enough to keep Suzie fighting fit, and Gwen slowly dying from a bullet to the head.

Suzie has a mission, one that she had been planning, long before she turned the gun on herself and Torchwood fell for it.

Indira Varma

Suzie Costello

‘Captain, my captain. Do you want to know a secret? There's something moving in the dark and it's coming, Jack Harkness. It's coming for you.’

When Suzie shot herself in Everything Changes, we thought that was it, and it would have been, if it wasn’t for the deaths caused by Max Tresilian, but bringing Suzie back, came at a cost, and it was going to take a lot to put her back in a body bag.

With much of the main cast already taken care of by way of the WATNOW search, it only left Suzie – Indira Varma to finish up the team. Indira has been busy since Torchwood with her role in Game of Thrones and her latest ITV drama performances and no-one is more pleased than I am to see, or rather hear Suzie back in Torchwood in the Big Finish Torchwood audio – Moving Target. Only time will tell I suppose if Suzie returns in another story later on in the Torchwood series.

Indira has played roles in well known television dramas including Luther, Hustle, Silk and What Remains. Has voiced characters in video games such as Dragon Age: Inquisition series as well as Mass Effect: Andromeda as two characters.

Played Nina Suresh in Paranoid in 2016 and Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones for 13 episodes, played Jo in Unspeakable, an ITV drama and is currently filming Carnival Row television series as Piety Breakspear, due for release in 2019.

As a producer, Indira was executive producer of Indian Summers, a drama set in the 1930s during the final years of British Colonial rule in India, starring Julie Walters and Jemima West.

Yasmin Bannerman

Detective Swanson

‘Torchwood walks all over this city like you own it. Now these people are paying the price. Ordinary people, ripped apart, with your name written in their own blood. From where I'm standing, you did this, Captain Jack Harkness. You did it.’

Detective Swanson doesn’t like Torchwood very much. The organisation dominates much of her work where murder is concerned, but when the team are trapped inside their own building, she does all she can to get them released from their apparent lock down and allow the SUV to break to speed limits in order to rescue one of their team.

If you remember, this isn’t the first time Yasmin has appeared in the Whoniverse. Back in 2005, she played one of the Forest of Cheem called Jabe, who helped the 9th incarnation of the Time Lords, to prevent a disaster on Platform One after Lady Cassandra sabotaged it.
Since Who, Jasmin has appeared in Life on Mars, Who Do You Think You Are, and Casualty in 2009, after that, and with much searching, there is no mention of any other credits beyond that year.

Daniel Llewelyn-Williams

Alex Arwyn

There is no quote for Daniel, as he was one of the unfortunate victims of Max Tresilian.

Since Torchwood, Daniel’s credits range from Midsomer Murders, Doctors, The Machine and Eastenders, as Dr Rhys Thomas. In 2017 he played Mr Wilkinson in Born to Kill. Have been unable to find further information regarding Daniel’s theatre work. Have discovered his website, where I learnt he is also an accomplished singer and is currently working as a writer but no little more than that.

As well as an actor, Daniel is also a singer, dancer, fight director and writer. He has also appeared in theatre productions. Alex Arwyn was one of the unlucky victims of Max Tresilian.

Gary Pillai

Mark Brisco

‘Where am I? Is my wife alright? It was that man…he belonged to Pilgrim… Oh my God, he had a knife. Max…There was someone who knew him better. That woman…Suzie’

Mark was the unfortunate victim who fell foul of Max Tresilian. He was murdered alongside his wife in their home, their blood used on the wall of their bedroom leaving a calling card for Torchwood.
In a search for the killer, Jack used the Risen Mitten to get an exact make on the killer, when Mark told them it was Suzie, the team realised they were talking to the wrong corpse.

Since Torchwood, Gary has played a variety of different characters, from a doctor in Dirk Gently and Emmerdale and Franklyn, a Clerk in Coronation Street, a Headmaster in Love & Marriage, played Stephen Miskin in Silent Witness for 2 episodes, a Merchant in The Passion and Merchant Captain in one episode of Game of Thrones in 2015. He’s been a Pathologist for Remember Me, and Tamwar Johar for Casualty, and played DC Dev Bansal for 2 episodes of Eastenders in 2015. This year he plays a Sonographer in Hard Sun (2018).


Max Tresilian

‘Stopped for me. The carriage held but just ourselves and immortality. Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me.’

Max Tresilian, of 106 Endeavour Terrace had been overdosed on B57 compound – known to us as RETCON. He’d been given one a week, every week, for two years. Desperate for someone to talk to, about the job she did, Suzie had opened up to Max, then drugged him straight after talking to him. After Suzie stopped coming to the meetings, after she’d killed herself, something triggered inside Max and he went on a killing spree, killing all those in the Pilgrim group, bar Lucy Mackenzie.

Shend who is 6’ 4”, is also a stunt fighter. Since Torchwood, Shend has played Hogfather in the film of the same name, Mike O’Shea in Emmerdale, played a Barbarian Chief, Mr Slaughter in Fur TV, Ebor in Merlin, Nobby in Life’s Too Short, a thug in Spy, The Collector in Phometrica, Mikey in My Name is Lenny and is currently filming Schemers, playing a character called Burton.

Badi Uzzaman

Suzie’s Dad

No speaking part

Given the resentment Suzie felt for her Dad, it’s likely the man was bad news, and there was no love lost when the man awoke in time to see his daughter whip out his breathing tube.

Badi Uzzaman was born on March 8th 1939, in Phulpur, Azangarh, India. He played mostly supporting roles alongside Michael Gambon in The Singing Detective in 1986 and in Coronation Street, The Bill, Inspector Morse. His role as a shopkeeper subjected to a racially motivated attack in both Casualty and later in Cracker were the programmes I remember seeing him in. It was only later when he appeared as Suzie’s dad that I remembered where I’d seen him before.

Badi Uzzaman died at the age of 72 of a lung infection on 14th June, 2011.

Interviews Interview with Ravin J Ganatra by DJ Forrest

Interview with Ravin J Ganatra
by DJ Forrest

It was a little before lunch time when we hooked up over Skype for the interview. Ravin, enjoying his one day off from his busy schedule greeted me with a welcoming smile from his small office, wearing a stonewashed denim shirt and sporting a greying beard.

It was an absolutely wonderful interview, where I learnt a lot more about the man who twelve years ago played Neil in Torchwood’s Greeks Bearing Gifts episode.

Our interview began with a look through Ravin's CV on his agent’s website, but although IMDB had listed the episode and programme in question, his CV had no mention of Torchwood at all. After a shocked response from Ravin, it was soon explained.

Ravin: Torchwood was some ten or twelve years now so it may be as my credits move up as you add a credit it might have dropped off the edge. 

What was your first experience of acting that inspired you to become an actor?

Ravin: My first experience was obviously the school Nativity, where for some reason I was cast as one of the Three Wise Men, you know, the wise man who was the darker Wise Man. (laughs). I went to a Church of England school so that was really the first, but I never really took it that seriously. I took part in a lot of community shows and then I got into Amateur Dramatics at a Youth Theatre, there was a theatre locally. So, youth theatre and then I did Hampshire County Youth Theatre and then The National Youth Theatre. I think I sort of knew from a very early age that I was going to be an actor partly because I didn't like academics at the time. (laughs). I didn't like the option of having to study hard and acting at that time seemed a bit of a get out clause although the discovery thereafter there is far from that. I get young actors who want some advice and even my son who wants to do GCSE drama, my advice is really clearly - don't think that it really is a get out clause, because the actual amount of writing and essays and critiques that you have to do is far more than you get in English literature.

What was your first acting role - after the Nativity?

Ravin: We had a little Diwali review show in our community and as I grew older I ended up almost taking charge of that. So, by the time I was 16 my friend and I, we had a comedy act, which was trial and error and then I started at Youth Theatre around the same age, at 16 and we did Peter Terson's Zigger Zagger. It was written specifically for the National Youth Theatre in the late 70s early 80s, Zigger Zagger was a drama about racism in football communities and all those things that we talk about now. It was a little bit ahead of its time.

I played a comic bus conductor. I remember having to sing a song Camptown Ladies sing this song, doodah. It was thirty years ago so it was highlighting the issues of racism and integration. I think that was the sort of thing Peter Terson's Zigger Zagger was all about, a very sort of seminal moment in theatre history.

You voiced the character Mr Mahajan in Torchwood audio - Golden Age, but I had a feeling that you had voiced another character in audio for this series, but I can't find it in your credit listings.

Ravin: When I did the first series of Torchwood at the time I didn't know how big this was going to be, nobody knew really, just how big this thing would get. Then BBC Bristol or BBC Cardiff wrote the radio dramas with the same cast members, so that was a two part drama. So, I remember doing that probably a year after I filmed Torchwood. I think I maybe did another audio for Torchwood about 4 years after that but again, it's probably not on my CV now. (Ravin explains about the credits added, loses one from below, in the same way as his Torchwood episode 12 years ago).

In the actual Torchwood episode, Greeks Bearing Gifts, how hard did Naoko actually hit you?

Ravin: (laughs) I was battered - I could say that! No, it's stage fighting, isn't it? From what I remember it was a foam - you know the foam that you insulate pipes with - so it was made with a similar sort of material - some sort of foam. So when she hit, she arrests the hit right at the point of actually striking me but it looks worse and it's the sound effect that... and I was thinking, and she did actually batter me.

Oh, that's right, I remember, she battered the back of my head. It was like having a good slap. So, the reaction was real on that take. Naoko was meant to hit it and stop it at that point so you don't actually touch but because it's flexible material it obviously slapped me. And I remember thinking 'Oh god.’ That wasn't hard, it didn't hurt me. It properly, actually happened.  It was a real shock.

So, when you know you're about to be whacked on the back of the head, in that particular scene, you've got to show that you're not waiting for that moment, how did you prepare for that?

Ravin: With any script, even though you've read from A to B from the beginning to the end, you have to approach the lines as if you don't know when the next line is coming. Acting and Reacting. The truth of any situation is like I'm speaking to you now is I have no idea what you're about to say. I can predict by intellect, so as an actor, I know what you might think but I have to put that out of my mind because the way you react to me may be different. So, I had to react accordingly to how you said the line.

So that moment of being struck hadn't even crossed my mind as we were going through that scene, and saying the line, even though we all know it's going to happen, you block - you try to put that out of your mind, so that it's a very natural reaction. Otherwise you'll be saying the lines (Ravin demonstrates as a character bracing himself, eyes wide open). As an actor you have to find a way of detaching yourself from the reality of what's about to happen.

Have you always had a passion for acting?

Ravin: Yeah. I had a passion for God and I had a passion for acting. I met a Maasai at the age of 16 and he read my palm and he said to me, 'You're a prince amongst men' I said, Oh really, what does that mean? He said, 'Well you're going to struggle with God' because I was going to join the priesthood. He said 'You'll struggle with that but I can see this artistic creation within you' and I think that sort of confirmed it, of course I took it all with a pinch of salt. It was really interesting how he saw the two things, having not met me, having not learnt anything about me how he saw the two very strong pulls in my life.

Being a priest is something that I take my hat off to anyone who can do - but it wasn't for me especially when I discovered the opposite sex. (laughs)

Had you seen Torchwood before you played the role of Neil?

Ravin: No, I think I was the first series, wasn’t I? (I nod) So, no. And Doctor Who was a distant memory for me because at that time Doctor Who hadn't gone through its reformation like it has now, which is phenomenal. And my memories of Doctor Who was Tom Baker, just about catching some repeats of Jon Pertwee but Tom Baker was my Doctor.

When I went up for this casting of Torchwood, I didn't know about it. I was told it's like Doctor Who, my agent of 20 years told me. She told me it's an off shoot of Doctor Who, but I didn't know the character of Torchwood - John Barrowman, I hadn't seen the episode. This was prior to major internet Googling 13 years ago, it's amazing to think that the whole internet has really exploded over 10 years, and prior to that you couldn’t really research much or watch back episodes on BBC iPlayer or none of that.

You know, actors now, if you're put up for a job the first thing I would do is Google it, have a look at the style, have a look what it's about, who was in it, who was the director. It's very easy with the tools you have available to you as an actor now is far different to what you had eight years ago.

Ten years ago, there was no such thing as a blog or a vlog, so to be a writer, to tell someone about your passion meant you had to be a journalist. You had to arrange advertising space in publications, or to write for a publication. I know there were fanzines of Doctor Who many years ago, I'm not sure if that still exists, a printed fanzine, so the world is changing.

What came first, theatre or television?

Ravin: Theatre, absolutely theatre. I actually did a casting when I was 13 years old for a TV show, a children's television show and it was my first real experience of professional casting and it was heart-breaking so I didn't really enter into that ever again for many years. So, then I did the Youth Theatre and then the A Levels and theatre studies and all that till always being on the stage. So, from the age of about 15 right the way through till 20 I was doing Amateur Dramatics and then I did a semi-professional show which was a tour of The Ramayana and that went to Czechoslovakia, just as the Czech Republic was being formed.

That was in my gap year. So that was my semi-professional job and then while at drama school in the first and second year I did a lot of Extra work to pay the bills. So that was my first experience of television. So as an Extra you don't have to go for casting, if your look is right you get sent somewhere. But as a result of that I got my first speaking part while at drama school that was in my third year. So, in your third year you're discouraged from doing Extra work because you're now entering the world of being a professional actor and don't want to be seen as an Extra. At the end of the second year I stopped doing Extra work and then I was getting Castings for professional TV - Granada, BBC.

I studied up in Manchester, we still proudly say -  the alumni say, Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre, rather than Manchester Met - we're a bit diehard. But you know, it came from good stock of actors from the past - Julie Walters, Steve Coogan, John Thompson, Matthew Kelly, Kevin Kennedy ended up on Corrie for god knows how long. So, the first telly auditions happened way into my semi-professional career, student career and then I started getting TV castings.

So, when you were doing your castings, when you started out doing Extra work, were you kind of pigeonholed into certain roles like your bus conductor, or doctors or was it just what came up that you applied for - without trying to stereotype everything.

Ravin: We all have a niche! Look at John Barrowman - handsome, tall, romantic lead, that's his niche and he plays it well. You know, quirky. So, everybody has their niche, and I was discovering what my niche was and the first few years was a discovery for casting directors who met me. They get to know you over time. I think also casting in those days was reasonably, and I'll say this word with caution, was reasonably colour blind. Which meant, I was going for parts that, I as Ravin, it's obvious that I am Asian, Indian origin, I don't make any attempt to hide it. I didn't Anglicise my name - I was getting a lot of advice 'You should Anglicise your name, you'll do well.' and actually a lot of Anglicised Indians did do well, but I didn't want to, I wanted to be true to my own identity. I think casting in those days as I was going up for the part of John, a part named Harry, so really the best man was getting the job so I was up against non Asian actors, White, and we were all in the same pot of 20 something year old romantic leads or whatever.

I think what happened around the mid to late 90s especially with the turning of the sort of resurgence of comedy 'Goodness Gracious Me' suddenly casting became a little bit narrower. You got all of a sudden, casting directors, producers, directors thought 'Oh, that's where you belong is it? I see you guys are funny.'

Now that's my cynical head - I notice that. So, from being cast as a character which is non-descript in its ethnicity to all of a sudden being cast in a character which is specific in its ethnicity, now of course that has its advantages as well, because that pool is smaller.

And as I'm growing up in the industry I'm seeing the same actors, maybe there was twelve of us before, now there's maybe six of us and we're all at the same casting and it's all pretty much all the parts I can ever look at, which some are of my castings from this year will generally be ethnic specific - Asian male, 40 years old, 50 years old, whatever, but I think right at the beginning, in the first five years I didn't feel that at all. 

So you've worked behind the camera as well as in front of it?

Ravin: That was a good turning point for me around ten years ago, I mean, I wanted to understand the industry better from a wider perspective. Seeing it from the actor’s vision is quite narrow - you start taking it quite personally when you don’t get the job - and you think, what did I do wrong? You always blame yourselves.
But actually, when you sit yourself up at the other end of the table the casting process is horrible actually, to be on there. You see great actors and you suddenly find that you have to make choices about the way they look and the way somebody else looks.

Doesn't mean that they're not good actors they're brilliant actors but they just so haven't matched that person, so it helps to understand how casting works. Also I wanted to understand the technicalities of film making and what it is to get shots from different angles, and what crossing the line means, and the different things you hear when you're on set. I think as actors you weren't really taught that. I did a drama school degree but we only spent one term on television acting and even that was maybe 6 weeks of term yet the bulk of our work will be on television or film, I believe.

Manchester Poly was very known for creating theatre actors, really strong theatre actors, and some of the greats have come from there but I think drama school doesn't really equip you to be in the television or film industry - it's learning on the job.

So, because you've worked behind the camera as well, are you more critical of yourself when you're playing a character in front of the camera?

Ravin: Terribly critical. I hate it. You know, I get given requests 'Do a self tape'.
(Ravin explains Self Tape Casting)

So, instead of going along somewhere and meeting them, just read the scenes. So I'll be sat in front of my laptop or set up a camera, and normally you go in for a casting and you make and meet some of them face to face and have an interview, have a chat and then they say OK let's read. You're done in 15 minutes and you get two stabs at it, three at most. When you're doing a self tape, you do it 'Oh I didn't like that' and you do it, I'm there for 3 hours!!! and I want to get the best take. I want to be like ‘Oh god come on, just let go now. Just do it’. (laughs)

So if that's what I’m doing with a Self Tape, heaven help me when I'm on set. I do get very critical, self-critical, self-analyse a bit but then all actors do. We're all bloody insecure!

The acting industry is the only industry where we take critique. We don't critique our car, now people review everyone, you can review your hotel, review your restaurant, they'll write like they're writing like a theatre critique but we're the only industry where it's acceptable to write and say ‘Ravin, that was rubbish, do it again.

‘The actor playing Malvolio had about as much depth as a pond on a summer's day.’ It's the only industry where people get away with that level of criticism.

“The doctor who did my appendix surgery lacked the emotional empathy to connect with me prior to surgery“ ..

I mean, you're not going to write about a doctor - they get on with the job. But you as a writer was doing it this way, you as an actor was doing it that way that's par for the course, I understand. And it's getting more and more with amateur critiques of every aspects of your life.

What's your most memorable role on stage, screen or radio?

Ravin: Good lord that's a great question. (I knew I'd have one in there somewhere) Oh wow, I could think of so many. My most memorable role in TV, I'll have to say Torchwood, all right? There's so much. I haven't got my CV in front of me and I think I might be erring on the forgetful right now.

Stage - the most memorable. I've done a five year project with the theatre company called Tara-Arts mapping the diaspora of the British Asians from India to Africa and Africa to England.

It started as a single play when we did it about the East African experience, the East African Exodus of course, it was called Exodus and actually the process of doing that one show, so much came out of the interviews that the director made it into a much broader project. So, it lasted five years. Five years of your life, meeting people, who are revealing their stories of heartache and pain and you then as an actor finding a way with the writer to create stories which are tangible for an audience to hear and see. So, people are opening their hearts and so as far as memory that always stays with me - some of those memories, some of those stories.

As far as fun, being in the West End no doubt, in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bombay Dreams. It was a dream job, the interesting thing is I did the original casting to play the part, I didn't get anywhere, I didn't get seen again, because then a Bollywood actor came and did it, right, so that was great.

Dalip Tahil did it, and he was great in it, and then, he got cast in Eastenders so he left, mid contract, I got called up and they said, ‘there's a part available, do you want to go for it?’ So, I said, yeah why not, so I did it and I had two or three meetings with them and singing and all the rest of it and they loved it and they offered it me.

And then I got to know Dalip on a personal level - He left it in a good place for me to take over and I got to play 15 - 20 years older than me, at that time I was 35, and it was a very happy place in my life. It was where a lot of good friendships developed. A lot of experience of being on stage, being fresh every day for eight shows a week and in front of 2000 people, for sheer experience, that has to rank at the top.

Films - I've done some great films I've enjoyed doing. The most fun I had on a film was The Infidel which was directed by Josh Appignanesi but it had my hero in it and I was a big fan of the West Wing, my hero Richard Schiff was in that. Of course, Omid Djalili, Archie Panjabi and the rest of them was in it as well but to be in the same room as Richard Schiff was a big deal for me.

What's the toughest role you've ever had?

Ravin: I think every role has its own challenges. I wouldn't say one role was tougher than another. I know I was doing this role with Peter Kosminsky - it was one of Kosminsky's first films - No Child of Mine - so that was a tv movie, so going back to 1997, and it was about child abuse and grooming, and this was way before we were all talking about it in such a broad manner as we are in the current climate. So, I think just understanding that subject, what leads a person to do that - I only had a small part in it. You read the script, you have to understand the personalities within, so I think that was one of the tougher roles to understand.

And then again, I worked with Peter 10 years later on Britz which was about Islamic Terrorism - a brother and sister. It was two episodes and you see his perspective and you see her perspective and I played a Police Chief in India, but when you read that script, it has so many layers, so many reasons why people do what they do. So being involved in that was, I wouldn't say it was tough but it had its challenges.

It makes you think, it really makes you think.

And then there was one more that I did last year - The Boy with the Topknot. Sathnam Sanghera, he was the Guardian journalist who wrote the biography of his family. Now my mother suffered from mental illness, and mental illness is something we're only just starting to get to grips with. We've got Prince Harry talking about it, people are starting to talk about it in the public view, to take away the shame of that.

Yesterday I talked to one friend of mine whose son is going through some major psychosis. Now my mother had all that in the 70s - and in the 70s all they knew about was to give them a frontal lobotomy and give them loads of drugs - that was psychiatric health care in the world at the time. But psychiatry has come a long way and I think for me to do that and play the psychiatrist in that film was actually an honour and it was my story. I could relate to that story of an Asian immigrant in the 70s/80s growing up with a parent with a mental illness, so yeah it was a great move for the Beeb to take that on.

It's available to view on iPlayer, it was on BBC2. It was a great film. Sacha Dhawan plays the lead. It's got a lovely fluffy ending. You have to do that I suppose - that's not the real ending. But all for the cause of television - the romance has to be there.

When you're working on radio, how different is it to portray your character when you have only your voice to project a scene?

Ravin: Radio is one of the harder forms of acting. You rely on the director and producer to give you what they're hearing. You'll see them sitting in the box as your acting. They've got their eyes closed so they're visualising what they can hear, which is great and I love to see that.

I did a radio soap for 4 years at Birmingham Pebble Mill, or what was Pebble Mill but now is called the Mail Box. It was called Silver Street. I played a character called Jai - Uncle Jai, he was the bad boy - he was always ripping off his Mum, a bit dodgy, a bit like the Nick Cotton in Eastenders. But a great character to get into.

Now how do you play without him being smarmy. you can sound all sorts of things. So, I had to rely on, when I'm rehearsing the lines, was to do the same thing, close my eyes and visualise what I think the character is doing.

When you're not working, or taking a break between shows or programmes, how do you relax?

Ravin: I have such little time. I have my family. My father lives with me, he has dementia. I have a young boy but I am also the UK trustee of a charity - co-chairman of the charity based out in India which helps to educate and empower slum girls. So, we have 3 schools, a hospital and currently we're looking after 1500 girls and their families and actually I've been involved in the charity for about 10 years and so I've seen a lot of these girls grow up and we got to the point where their primary education, that if we stopped there they're going to end up married, at eleven, what do we do, how do we stop these child marriages?

Get them into secondary schools. So, we built the secondary's, and then actually, we want them to achieve more than one GCSE level - it’s called something else in India, Level 8 Standard, or 9 Standard, so we started an intercollege. Anyway, I'd seen these girls grow up and then we got them to the point of graduating at our schools at eighteen, what are they going to do? OK, some of them will go home, maybe end up married but how can we increase their education beyond that. So, we then sponsor them through University and last year our first batch of university graduates came to fruition. It was one of the proudest moments for us as a charity as we never envisaged that. Could it be possible? Anything is possible.

We launched an ambassador scheme. We have sponsors in the UK and £1 a day and we compete with other charities who offer £2 a month. That's fine - you can feed someone for a month -   but what we're doing is not just one feeding - it's 3 meals a day, it's medical care, it's education, it's all the books and then what we learnt is that the girls were going home and going ‘Papa! Papa, we're hungry’ and he'll slap them and say 'How dare you' and she'd say 'Well why did you slap me father?' and he'd say 'You've eaten today, twice, we haven't eaten in four days.'

So, we realised that's a problem so there was a holistic approach, so we do this thing of rationing -  we give the family enough rations to last them a month then at least they get one square meal a day. So, you can feed one but it's important to look after them surrounding also ... so it's about creating that sense of belonging and creating that sense of empowerment for the girls and their families. These girls graduating from university and all of a sudden fathers and mothers have changed their attitudes. 'Marriage? No, no forget marriage - no, no work that's good. You're a somebody. You belong.' It was a great end of achievement.

 So, £1 a day is all it costs.

Are you still filming the Sept Nains et Moi?

Ravin: We filmed that last summer and that was Series 2, I wasn't in Series 1. So again, it's amazing how fate turns and an opportunity creates. Actually, you asked me something memorable - that is so amazing. There I was living in Paris, near Montmatre, filming 14 episodes of a wonderful teenage TV series. It's on Netflix right now - Series 1. Series 2 will come out in April or May and according to that we'll know if we get a Series 3.

I had a great time doing it. Made great friends. The interesting thing about the French, and the different thing about the French and the British culturally, I hate to say it but I think they were far more advanced than we were, in the way that the cast and the crew integrate and interact with each other and interact with their actors.

You know, lunch is an ensemble, everybody had lunch together. You had the cook and chefs come up and take your orders - really? - here you go to a little bus and say 'can I have some more please sir?' and walk along. You might sit along the left and the crew sit along over there, the Extras will sit upstairs but here it was a feeling of equality.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité - meaning freedom, equality and fraternity.

It's interesting that they put that into their constitution. It's fairness and equality it's a big thing I think. and there was no sense of hierarchy. I was working with four different directors and the executive producers and you know, they were on speed dial if I needed to talk to them. It's very rare you get that.

Having said that, I had a wonderful experience just recently, filming here in the UK and for the first time in 25 years, the producer, and I don't want to embarrass him because he might read this one day, but amazing, he came up me and the other guest cast, and said, 'Thank you for coming on and I really appreciate your time.' Very rarely does a producer do that and this made me feel a part of the family of a show, or a film that's going on, with people that have been there a month prior to me. I didn't feel like an outsider, which sometimes when you go in as a guest or a supporting lead you feel like a bit of an outsider.

Have you ever contemplated playing in a horror film, playing a zombie or something?

Ravin: I'd love to. Bring it on. I did a horror last year, it was a pre-pilot. It was for Channel 4, it was called True Horror, or something. It hasn't made it to screen yet, so think they're still pitching it in the television market place. I'll probably see it in Cannes when I go again. but yeah, that was a horror, it was great.

Thank you so much for the interview

Ravin: My pleasure.

This is the short documentary by Emmy award winner Robyn Symmons

The Web series Ravin co-produced featuring Marie Avgeropoulos

All permissions for use of the photos for the cover art and for much of the interview were kindly given by Ravin J Ganatra