The Thirteenth Doctor wasn’t the only new adventurer we met in Sunday’s history-making Doctor Who Season 11 premiere. We were also introduced to the Doctor’s latest Companions—or, as they’re called in this season, Friends.
We had a chance to chat with Mandip Gill, who plays Yaz, about where her character comes from and where her character is going now that she’s been swept up into all of time and space alongside the Doctor.
“She’s got a family unit back in Sheffield that she’s very close to,” Gill said of Yaz. “So she has that home connection to Sheffield and to her family. Like we focus on Ryan and Graham’s background [in the season premiere], we do go on to learn about Yaz’ background at some point.”
One of the details about Yaz’ background we do get in the Season 11 premiere is her previous connection to Ryan (Tosin Cole). The two characters went to school together, but haven’t seen each other in a long while—long enough that they don’t recognize each other immediately.
“They are like brother and sister,” said Gill of the dynamic, referencing a moment in the car in the season premiere when Yaz bugs Ryan to hand over his phone, which he does with an eye roll.
Gill did tease that the Yaz/Ryan relationship could develop into something else, saying: “They could be a little bit more, because you see that really kind of flirty smile that she gives him when she realized that it’s Ryan and that he is grown up and what not. But we have not touched upon that yet. I want to say, not never… but I think, at this point, he is that annoying brother.”
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We also know from the first episode that Yaz is a police officer. It might not be what is expected of her, said Gill, but: “I think she does that job because she likes to help people and she is good at helping people.”
It’s one of the many reasons why Yaz is so affected by Grace’s (Sharon D. Clarke) death. Gill told us that there was a scene cut from the premiere that sees Yaz trying to save Grace after she’s fallen.
“So there was a scene actually in which I perform… I tried to help Grace when she’s dying on the floor,” said Gill. “So, with that scene in, you could see that Yaz was bothered, really affected by the death I think. And, obviously, you know when they’re in the town and she says ‘How are you Ryan’s nan?’ She’s obviously met Ryan’s nan [before], knows Ryan’s nan from years ago.”
Gill said that the characters do continue to talk about Grace throughout the season and that “seeing Ryan upset also really affects [Yaz].”
We don’t see much interaction between Yaz and Graham (Bradley Walsh) in the season premiere, but Gill said that Yaz sees him like an older family member.
“You know what? I think she actually sees him like a grandad,” said Gill. “Not in the way like: you should hold back or whatever, you’re a bit older or whatever, but they go off and do things together and it’s not weird at all.”
At the end of the Season 11 premiere, we see Yaz, Ryan, and Graham unintentionally swept away into the vacuum of space alongside the Doctor. How does Yaz react to being brought on adventures with the Doctor?
“You will see she always makes sure she can get home,” said Gill. “And, for me, that shows how she is excited about this, but she doesn’t know where it’s gonna lead her. And so she needs to make sure that she can jump ship at any point.”
Gill said she is “so excited for the next episode,” adding that all of the episodes of the season are “written so well.”
“[The writers are] all from different backgrounds and have worked on a lot of different things and they’re established writers in England. They’re all very different. Their storytelling is very different. The themes of each episode are very different and they jump between episodes about historical events, futuristic events. They’re all written very differently, and it’s really exciting as an actor to be able to jump between totally different stories.”
Gill has been kept quite busy with her work on Doctor Who—both making and promoting the new season—but she has another project coming out soon called The Flood, which she is “quite proud” of.
Gill stars alongside Game of Thrones‘ Leda Headey in the film about the refugee crisis in Calais. The film is currently in post-production and will be coming out soon, said Gill, adding that her character in The Flood “is completely different to my character that I play [in Doctor Who].”
Gill takes the responsibility of storytelling very seriously. “I am very conscious of the stories I will be telling or the stories that I think need to be told,” said Gill, marking Doctor Who Season 11 as very special indeed.
Doctor Who Season 11 airs on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America. Stay up-to-date with all things Doctor Who Season 11 here.