TV

Doctor Who star Millie Gibson on hope for Ruby Sunday and lessons learned from 'magical' Ncuti Gatwa

The Doctor's latest companion already has viewers connecting with her on a personal level

Millie Gibson. Image: BBC Pictures

“Every companion is a mystery.”

Millie Gibson is right at the heart of this new era for Doctor Who. Her introduction in The Church on Ruby Road at Christmas – when her character Ruby Sunday forged an instant, lifelong friendship with Ncuti Gatwa’s 15th Doctor, met TV’s Davina McCall, and narrowly defeated some singing goblins – was a soaraway success. And there is so much more to come.

“I’m so excited for everyone get the reward of getting to know Ruby Sunday,” she says, when she takes time out of the busy filming schedule to meet the Big Issue in London. 

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Gibson was young when she was cast as Ruby Sunday, but she has years of acting experience behind her. She began her path to stardom, like so many brilliant actors before her – from Sarah Lancashire, Suranne Jones and Anna Friel to Joe Gilgun and Olivia Cooke – at the Oldham Theatre Workshop. 

“It was just incredible,” she says. “I could bang on about Oldham Theatre Workshop all day. It is so important. I found my people there. So many of my friends I have today were from there. And I got spotted by an agent in my first production, which was called Eyam – a very cheery play about the plague!”

From there, Gibson began auditioning, got a role in CBBC football drama Jamie Johnson, before winning a big role in Coronation Street

Millie Gibson played Kelly Neelan in Coronation Street. Image: ITV/Shutterstock

“I grew up watching it,” she says. “My mum and my nana loved it. When I got into Corrie, my nana was just gagged – she still thinks it’s bigger than Doctor Who.”

And, as soap fan, Russell T Davies knows there is nowhere better to learn how to build a character over time. For three years, she was a mainstay of our screens. 

“If Coronation Street was my secondary school, Doctor Who is like my uni,” says Gibson. “All my friends were going off to uni and I was heading to Cardiff. 

“So I’ve grown so much on this show already. I started when I was 18 and I’m the grand age of 19 now. I’m a lot more independent. 

“Honestly, I’ve learned so much, I’ve grown so much. When you have done this job, you can put yourself in any situation and deal with it, because it is really intense and a unique experience to have at such a young age. It can set you up for the rest of your career.”

Gibson’s final episode in Coronation Street aired the night before her recall audition for the role in Doctor Who – where she met and read with Gatwa for the first time. 

“I was in the waiting room and could hear Ncuti’s laugh. So iconic,” she grins. 

“As soon as I walked into the room, all my nerves completely floated away. It was a magical moment. Then it was like a blur – I knew we had chemistry, but he is such a nice guy, he probably has chemistry with everyone. Honestly, Ncuti could have chemistry with a wall.”

Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday. Image: BBC Pictures

Whether fighting for the unhugged, abandoned Space Babies or taking on the unhinged, audacious Maestro (Jinx Monsoon) who violently consumes anything approaching a catchy chorus in a music-free Earth where even The Beatles churn out tuneless dirges in The Devil’s Chord, the Doctor and Ruby have wit and energy to spare. They are stylish, sparky, superb – and Gibson is having a blast. 

“Jinx Monsoon in The Beatles episode was just insane,” she says. “Some scenes she was involved in, I felt like packing my bags and going home. Me and Ncuti would turn to each other and be like, ‘She’s BAFTA-winning, Oscar-winning, everything-winning good!’ Give it all to her. And she was my favourite on RuPaul’s Drag Race, so I was really starstruck.”

Ending the opening episodes with an all-star song and dance was a dazzling way to kickstart the new global era of Doctor Who – showrunner Russell T Davies greedily splashing the Disney co-production cash to make his second coming in his dream job bigger and bolder than ever. 

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson in Doctor Who. BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon

Because if Doctor Who is always fun, the new era, led by Gatwa’s mesmerising central performance, is more fun than most, even when the entire concept of the show is being spelt out for newcomers.

“Ruby and the Doctor have a similar relationship to me and Ncuti,” says Gibson. “We’re both very cheeky. Two peas in a pod. I first described our chemistry as like two schoolgirls having a giggle.

“Ncuti brings a whole new light and love and representation to Doctor Who that no one has seen before. I get to witness it firsthand and it is like a masterclass. We’ve had so many beautiful moments together. And when the work gets intense, it really helps to have that foundation and that love.” 

This series will see them living out their Bridgerton fantasies in Regency England, trapped by a landmine on a far-off planet and facing Welsh folk devils. 

But while monsters come and go, the mystery of the Doctor’s new companion will be one of the key themes of the whole series. Ruby is both open book and complete enigma – upbeat and positive, but also in search of answers about her past and her birth family, having been found on the church steps and fostered as an infant. 

But this is a show that thrives on such dualities. And there is such a dynamism and a charm to Gatwa and Gibson’s Tardis team.

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson. Image: BBC Pictures

For Gibson, knowing she is representing children brought up in foster care by playing the inspirational Ruby Sunday – abandoned as a baby, raised in a loving foster family, and now boldly going off to see the entirety of time and space – was vital. 

“I really want Ruby to be a beam of hope,” she says. 

“Companions are the eyes and ears of the world, and I think if people connect with her on a personal level, because of the fostering storyline and the way Russell has written it, you’ll be even more on her journey. 

“It’s an ongoing theme of the series. Because the Doctor is a lost child as well. So it’s like meeting your person or finding your family, or the family you choose. And that’s so important to see. These two lost children meeting each other and finding their way through the universe – what a beautiful thing…”

Doctor Who airs on BBC One and iPlayer every Saturday night 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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