Elsewhere in this blog you will find me banging on about the talent coming out of the small but amazingly beautiful country of Wales. The thing is that something very similar can be said about Scotland…well, apart from the size that is. Scotland is nearly four times bigger than Wales and has nearly twice the population. Where there are similarities are the incredible beauty of the country and the awesome talent of the actors.
Probably one of the most well known was the legend that was Sean Connery but he was by no means alone. James McAvoy, Robert Carlyle, Ewan McGregor, Brian Cox, David Tennant, are just the first few that spring to my mind but there are many, many more. Very often you might not realise that they are, indeed, Scottish; the people I just mentioned are all very good at accents. You often don’t realise that they are Scots until they are just being themselves on a chat show.
Karen Gillan – Early Days
But all those guys can wait their turn. The person I want to concentrate on today is a woman who bounced into our collective consciousness as the new companion for a new Doctor; she was Amy Pond to Matt Smith’s eleventh incarnation of Doctor Who. That wasn’t her first appearance on TV though. A couple of years earlier she had made her TV debut in an episode of Rebus; an Edinburgh based crime drama series led by another awesome Scot, Ken Stott as DI John Rebus.
What makes her debut so special is that she landed the part while she was mid way through her first year at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. She did end up dropping out to take the role. But she already had a HNC in Acting and Performance under her belt. Also she had been spotted by a modelling agency and made her modelling debut at London Fashion Week in 2007. Despite her obvious good looks and her height of 1.8m (a shade under 5’11”) acting was her main goal and so modelling fell by the wayside.
Not Just A Tall Red Head
Incidentally, her height caused something of a problem for the set designers on Doctor Who. You don’t have to be a loyal fan to know that the biggest of the big bad guys in the Whoniverse are the Daleks. At some point every Doctor has to do battle with them; I can still remember seeing them for the first time when I was just six years old. For Karen, though the Daleks on the series had to be redesigned to match her height. This was because she’s 150mm taller than Billie Piper, who was the first companion on the revival.
And it was in 2008 that she started popping up in a number of, mainly, now forgotten TV shows. Actually, Rebus was quite good I thought but I have to admit that I can’t remember seeing Ms Gillan’ episode. As for Harley Street, Coming Up, Stacked, and New Town Killers, well, I haven’t heard of them, let alone seen them. Obviously, I’ve heard of Harley Street, my brother had a flat there in the eighties, but I don’t recall a TV series based on the location.
Karen Gillan – Small Parts
Of course 2008 saw Karen getting parts in a few TV series. She was a regular in The Kevin Bishop Show which was a sketch show supposedly reminiscent of channel surfing. Yes, younglings, there was a time when having a lot of channels was unusual enough to be worthy of being the basis of a TV programme. Another series she appeared in was a fantasy thriller called The Well. This was a story of four teenagers who accidentally uncover a cursed Celtic well. This releases an evil spirit and they must discover how to restore order before one of them is killed by the evil hag that they have disturbed. One of the four is Coll played by…obviously, Karen Gillan.
But the other series that Karen landed was the one that we all know about. It was, as you all very well know, Doctor Who. Ah, yes…we all remember Karen’s appearance alongside the Doctor. As played by David Tennant. At this point I can hear everyone muttering things like “daft old bugger’s forgotten to take his tablets again”. Dearhearts, rest assured that I am fully medicated and firing on the usual number of cylinders.
The Doctor Will See You Now
The episode in question is series four (reboot era) and episode two named The Fires Of Pompeii. It’s David Tennant era and the Doctor and Donna (Catherine Tate) have travelled back to Pompeii. In a stroke of wretched happenstance they arrive in 79AD and on the day before THAT eruption. They decide to jump back in the TARDIS and get out of town. Unfortunately, the TARDIS has disappeared because they left it by a market stall and it got sold. Who bought it?
Have you guessed who yet? Wrong! Sorry, not Karen Gillan. It was snapped up by none other than Cæcilius played by Peter Capaldi! Yes, the Doctor after next. A couple of years later he was to come back as the Doctor between Matt Smith and Jodie Whittaker. Speaking as a person of advanced years, I was quite happy to see a Doctor of a similar vintage to myself. I thoroughly enjoyed his tenure in the TARDIS.
Is This The Big Time?
But running around in the background, under the cover of a lot of stylised make up but still quite recognisable, was our Karen. She played the part of a soothsayer. Not THE soothsayer but one of the other soothsayers but she did get a few lines and a few close ups! So whether that was seen as an audition role I have no idea but a couple of years later she popped up again but with a new doctor and as the new doctor’s assistant
This was quite a big deal for the production team. It’s a bit like when a new James Bond rocks up. There are a lot of twitchy sphincters while they are waiting for the reviews. There are always people who default to “not as good as the last/original/one before last/etc.” often before they’ve actually seen the new one. Matt Smith had been introduced at the end of the last season and Donna and the Doctor were waved off in a quite heartrending way.
David Tennant had proven to be one of the most popular Doctors since the days of Tom Baker. In Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) he’d also had two of the most popular companions. They were both written into the last Tennant episode. So, as well as introducing a new Doctor, there was the tension of a new companion being introduced. All this secrecy is now expected and helps to fire up all the rumour mills. While she was in the process of auditioning for the role of companion, Karen adopted a code name – Panic Moon. Obviously, that code name is only safe as long as you’re not trying to hide from a cruciverbalist…
If you remember the introductory episode of the Matt Smith tenure it started off with the Doctor crash landing in a young girl’s garden. They meet and he notices something going on in the house. It seems like a simple crack in the wall but turns out to be the thread that runs through the whole series in a similar way to the “Bad Wolf” thing did a few series ago. He decides that he needs to just nip off and give the TARDIS a quick spin and he’ll be back in five minutes.
A Family Affair
Young Amelia Pond rushes back into the house to pack a case. She also grabs her duffel coat, and runs back out to wait in the garden. Inside the house, a clock on the wall says it is half eleven at night. A dissolve tells us it now twenty past ten in the morning…a wee bit more than five minutes! However, the TARDIS whooshing noise tells us that the Doctor has come back so, better late than never! Anyway, the reveal comes that the Doctor is a fair amount longer than ten hours late; he is actually twelve years late!
The young woman he meets turns out to be the person that young Amelia Pond grew up into and who now calls herself Amy Pond; it is our Karen in her companion debut. Incidentally, if you thought that the casting of the young Amelia was believable, that Caitlin Blackwood was credible as a young Karen Gillan, well, that’s not down to chance. Caitlin and Karen are cousins in real life and, if you check out her more recent photos, you can see that Caitlin has grown up to look rather like Karen.
Karen Gillan – Roads Not Taken
Apparently, when she was auditioning for Doctor Who, Karen had also auditioned for Game Of Thrones. I have no idea which part she was up for. The temptation is to say that she may have read for Sansa Stark given that there is a definite similarity between her and Sophie Turner. Incidentally, there was a member of the Gillan family in Game Of Thrones; Josephine Gillan played Marei, one of Petyr Baelish’s prostitutes in eight episodes. They are, however, not directly related.
As Ms Gillan herself said of her big break. “I went from naught to a hundred in the space of an hour of that news being released. And it was a wild ride.” And part of that wild ride was her induction into the cinema actor’s holy grail; a recurring role in the MCU. In what seemed like no time at all Karen went from whizzing around the universe in the TARDIS to being a bald, blue robot called Nebula.
Ding Dong…Marvel Calling
Well, I say ‘robot’ but I’m not a hundred per cent sure what Nebula is meant to be. Apparently she is a Luphomoid and they are some type of cyborg. Anyway, that is irrelevant, what it does show is that refreshing lack of ego displayed by Karen. Many actors are so fond of their own appearance that they are reluctant to take a part which might make them seem less than stunning. Karen had her head shaved of her glorious flowing red hair and then had her face painted blue.
Regardless, she has had plenty more opportunities to show off her natural beauty. She has been in many films and TV series outside of the MCU. One of my particular favourites is in 2015’s The Big Short which is one of my ‘easy pick’ films. She only has a quite small part but, let’s face it, in a film which has the likes of Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, and Steve Carrell attached any part is to be snapped up!
Just when she must have been thinking that her career was going to consist of popping back and forth into the MCU interspersed with other random films Karen landed a role in what could turn out to be yet another massive franchise: the Jumanji reboot. Admittedly, this new outing has only got two episodes under its belt but it has the potential to keep going. There is another sequel in the pipeline so fingers crossed it can keep going!
Call Out Its Name…
I’ll happily toddle down to my local flea pit to watch another outing for Karen as Ruby Roundhouse – Killer of Men! She perfectly manages to capture the geeky, shy teenager who suddenly finds herself in the body of a strong, powerful woman. She goes from being a veritable fish out of water to a confident, reassured, warrior woman.
I do sometimes wonder how much of Ruby Roundhouse is acting and how much is just Gillan. I say this because she is equally tough…possibly even tougher as Sam in the fun, action thriller Gunpowder Milkshake. This was immense fun and showed that women are just of capable of carrying action features as men are. Besides Karen the leads were Lena Headey, Michelle Yeoh, and Carla Gugino.
But I can’t help but think we have much more to come from Ms Gillan. As well as her very capable and versatile acting she has proven to be able to tell a story in other ways. After trying her hand on a few short features Karen has proven herself to be a more than capable writer and director of full length features. If you get the chance check out 2018’s The Party’s Just Beginning which she wrote and directed.
Oh yes, Karen Gillan is not not just a pretty face. She’s not just tall and with flowing red hair. Karen Gillan is an accomplished actor as well as a skilled writer and director. I look forward to seeing a lot more in the way of her storytelling over the years to come.
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Former teacher, lecturer, homelessness administrator, pharmacy dispenser now happily retired, happily married, and a very happy granddad. I live next to the Mersey but on the side Daniel Craig and Taron Egerton come from rather than the side the Beatles came from!