Who is Tasha Lem in The Time Of The Doctor?

We chatted to Doctor Who guest star Orla Brady about her role in the Christmas Special The Time of the Doctor, and what to expect…

Contains no spoilers if you’ve kept up with the promotional pictures and trailers, but if you want to go in to The Time Of The Doctor cold, come back on Boxing Day…

We’ve seen her regal appearance in the promo pictures, and glimpsed her in action in this trailer, but the mystery of Tasha Lem, a character “from the Doctor’s past” around whom part of The Time Of The Doctor revolves, remains. We know she’s “a descendent of humans” with “a touch of alien” who is part of an ongoing mythology involving Matt Smith’s Doctor and Trenzalore, but the rest? We’ll have to wait and see.

Carefully negotiating any spoilers, we chatted to actress Orla Brady (Fringe, Mistresses, Sinbad) about her role in this year’s Christmas Special. The full interview is available here, and below are a few choice quotes from our conversation:

On her Blade Runner-style make-up as Tasha Lem:

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That was a reference actually. That was the director’s idea, Jamie [Payne]. We did make-up tests at the beginning and he looked at them and said he wanted a touch of alien, and I think he referenced Ridley Scott. It was that idea of human, but with a twist. And there is a twist, it’s as Steven Moffat said, she’s a descendant of humans, there’s a grandmother or a great-grandmother who was from elsewhere, a touch of something else in her. Jamie wanted that slightly not-quite-human, three-quarters human thing, hence that Blade Runner reference, so he asked for that. They know their world so well, Howard Burden and the costume designers, they all know what they want and have a very good vision of it.

On the episode’s raft of returning villains, The Silence, the Daleks, the Cybermen…

Am I allowed to say this? It’s not a spoiler to say that the number are these three? [we assure her that they’ve all been in the promotional material] You can see those three monsters? Okay, okay. Fantastic.

I did have a scene with one of the above, and [laughing] I’m slightly not being serious but I slightly am, it’s one of those scenes where I thought, ‘well obviously I found these particular monsters very scary when I was a child but I’ll just go on now and they’ll look all tinny and silly’, but [laughing] when I did stand in front of them I did think ‘ooh, I’m slightly scared and nervous’, suddenly you have a moment of being thrown back to being six and moving away from the telly. But I’m not saying which one.

On getting up to speed with the mythology behind her role:

When I was offered it, I hadn’t seen Doctor Who since it was first around when we were kids, so I felt it behoved me to sit and make sure I understood everything about the world of the show and the feel of the show, and also literally the mythology because there were things that Tasha Lem has to understand and be.

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I asked the script editor to recommend what he thought I should watch, and said ‘I’m happy to watch as much as you like’, and he gave me [laughing] truly a stack of DVDs from my feet up to my shoulder and said ‘these are the five or six you have to watch, if you really want to know the mythology’. So I watched all those and that was great, because I thought ‘these are fantastic’ so I literally worked my way through them.

It was very rainy in Cardiff and I just stayed in and had this Who-fest, where I watched Christopher’s and David’s and Matt’s of course, a lot of Matt’s, because I was catching up on particular story strands.

Those would be the Trenzalore story strands?


On whether the script made sense the first time she read it:

Yes and no. On the one hand, there was a lot of mythology, because remember there are story strands that are being wrapped up in this, so there were specific things relating to… words that Who fans would have heard but I certainly hadn’t, because as you know I hadn’t watched it then, so obviously, that element of it I thought ‘I have no idea what she’s saying there, or why she’s saying it’ but I could see that it was story strands.

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The main thing is Steven Moffat wrote a character that was [laughs] very clear. The script made me laugh out loud several times.

Can the audience expect to laugh at Tasha Lem then?

Not my character. It was Matt’s interaction with a certain other character who I’m trying not to name [laughing]. There were other conversation strands between the Doctor and somebody else that made me laugh out loud. There were a couple of moments between Tasha and the Doctor that made me laugh out loud, but she’s not a particularly funny character and in truth – and this is completely understandable – some things had to be shaved back because there’s only so much time on Christmas Day. There’s only an hour, and essential story has to be told, so some of the funnier moments, when we got to actually shooting, had been trimmed away, which I was sad about, because selfishly, you always want as much character as possible. Equally I could see quite properly that this episode was firmly about wrapping up the Doctor’s story, so everything else that isn’t that is up for grabs in terms of cuts.

On whether the episode manages to be both serious and festive:

Yes, and this is what I admire very much in the writing. Several of the writers of the series have managed to weave things together. There’s a very strong spirit of Christmas in this woven together with an element of dread, ending, and what looks like a death. That’s coming up. It has been predicted – you stop me if I’m spoiling, because I don’t really know how people talk about those things – it has been predicted that this is a death, an ending, and it’s coming down the line pretty rapidly, so there is that element, but also, woven through that dark element is a very beautiful Christmas spirit.

On Matt Smith’s performance in his final episode:

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There was no sense of sitting back and taking it easy, or not concentrating on scenes. Matt’s one of the most focussed people I’ve ever worked with. If I didn’t know, and somebody had told me that it was his first week in the job and he was really concentrating to make sure his character’s dead right, I would have believed them, even though it’s several years since he started. He works hard, he looks at every scene hard, he’s trying to get the most out of it. There’s no sitting back or feeling of ‘yeah, I know what I’m doing here’. He’s still exploring, still trying to find the Doctor.

On being offered the role in the autumn:

I got this lovely message saying they’ve called and asked if you’d like to do Doctor Who and I just said, ‘I don’t have time to read this, of course I’ll do it’ [laughing]. I had spoken to a friend of mine, Sarah Parish, who played a big red spider [The Empress of the Racnoss in The Runaway Bride]. So I thought, I’ll probably be something like that, a big red spider, or a Cyborg’s bottom – you never know what you’re going to be, it could be something completely potty – so I just thought whatever it is, I’ll do it. I just said, I’ll read it later, but absolutely I’ll do it, and my agent was saying, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to read it?’ and I was saying ‘I will read it of course, but it’s not like there’s going to be anything offensive in it.’ It’s Doctor Who, and I love it.

The Time Of The Doctor airs on BBC One on Christmas Day at 7.30pm.

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