Warning: contains spoilers for Doctor Who series 12 episode 1: Spyfall, Sherlock series 4, Line Of Duty series 2, and Iron Fist season 2.
Had actor Sacha Dhawan not been in such high demand in recent years, he might have missed out on his current choice role in Doctor Who series 12. Dhawan was originally approached by Who executive producer Matt Strevens about playing a different part in series 11 (guesses on the back of a postcard to Den Of Geek Towers please), but was unable to accept due to filming commitments elsewhere.
“I think in hindsight it’s the best thing that could have happened,” says Dhawan in a BBC interview, “because I wouldn’t have been able to play this iconic character.” The iconic character in question is of course (spoiler incoming) the Doctor’s Gallifreyan arch enemy The Master.
Before that came his way, Dhawan established a long and varied screen and stage career that began as a child. Starting out with parts in CITV’s invisibility caper Out Of Sight and The Worst Witch sequel Weirdsister College, Dhawan graduated to adult television with a role in post-apocalyptic ITV drama The Last Train, written by Life On Mars’ Matthew Graham, and on ill-fated Tamzin Outhwaite crime/supernatural series Paradox, before landing roles in the follow-up to Gwyneth Hughes’ acclaimed thriller Five Days, a part in underwater exploration drama The Deep, by Fortitude’s Simon Donald, and a recurring role in ITV’s Mr Selfridge.
Over the years, Dhawan also had small roles in a number of cult British hits from Utopia to In The Flesh and Being Human, as well as recurring parts in US shows, from NBC sitcom Outsourced to 24 sequel Live Another Day.
The Master isn’t even the first time Dhawan has worked with Jodie Whittaker. The pair also starred together in 2008 financial fraud thriller Wired, (“I was worried she might not recognise me so it was a real joy when she did. It totally put me at ease.”)
From a healthy selection of parts, here are ten of Dhawan’s highest-profile roles to date…
The History Boys (2004)
Dhawan was part of the original stage cast for Alan Bennett’s acclaimed The History Boys, the 1980s-set story of a group of A Level students preparing for the Oxford entrance examination under the tutelage of Richard Griffith’s culture-steeped English teacher Hector and Stephen Campbell-Moore’s cynical strategist newcomer Irwin.
Dhawan played Akhtar, as one of a now very starry ensemble including Preacher’s Dominic Cooper, Being Human’s Russell Tovey, Gavin & Stacey’s James Corden, Doctor Who’s Samuel Anderson, Dirk Gently’s Samuel Barnett, Spooks’ Andrew Knott and Harry Potter And The Cursed Child’s Jamie Parker, all of whom returned to the roles for the 2006 film.
Bradford Riots (2006)
This 2006 Channel 4 feature-length film won Dhawan that year’s Breakthrough – On Screen Royal Television Society Award. In it, he played Karim, a student who became involved in the 2001 Bradford riots, a reaction to escalating tension and threats in the city from the National Front and British National Party. Written and directed by Neil Biswas, the drama was based on testimony from members of Bradford’s Pakistani community, and explored how young men, many with no previous convictions, became embroiled in acts of mass violence. A challenging race drama anchored by Dhawan’s moving lead performance.
Last Tango In Halifax (2012)
A bit of Northern brilliance for the Stockport boy here. In the first series of Sally Wainwright’s tremendous comedy-drama about a long-estranged couple who reconnect and marry in their seventies, Dhawan plays troublemaker Paul. He’s the 22-year-old lothario with whom Nicola Walker’s character Gillian has an affair, scandalising the locals because of their age gap, and provoking Gillian’s son Raff to attack him (which backfires as, with nowhere left to go, Paul ends up moving in with Gillian to recover from his injuries, further enraging Raff). Funny, involving and the usual genius writing from Wainwright.
An Adventure In Space And Time (2013)
This feature-length docudrama made as part of the BBC’s Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebrations told the story of the show’s genesis. Written by Mark Gatiss and produced by current Who executive producer Matt Strevens, it starred David Bradley as William Hartnell, with Jessica Raine as producer Verity Lambert and Dhawan as Waris Hussein, the British-Indian director of the show’s first ever serial An Unearthly Child (among others). Dhawan’s casting here forged an early link between him and Doctor Who, and led to his name being among those rumoured as being considered for the part of the Thirteenth Doctor.
The Tractate Middoth (2013)
Hot on the heels of Dhawan’s role in An Adventure In Space And Time, this was another Mark Gatiss-written drama, the first of several M.R. James adaptations by Gatiss, who has been keeping the ‘ghost stories at Christmas’ tradition alive on BBC Four. Dhawan plays the lead, library employee Mr Garrett, who becomes embroiled in a tangled inheritance plot with a supernatural flavour. Only a half-hour story, this was a mini outing for Dhawan, but one that cemented his working relationship with Gatiss, and may well have led to his later roles in both Sherlock and Dracula.
Line Of Duty (2014)
Dhawan played a truly nasty piece of work in Line Of Duty series two (aka the ‘did Denton do it?’ series). DS Manish Prasad was that most Line Of Duty item – a bent copper. Working for Tommy Hunter’s OCG (organised crime group, keep up), Prasad abused underage girls and groomed them for exploitation by Hunter’s prostitution racket. He killed multiple victims, including his fellow police officers in an ambush, and partner-in-crime Jeremy Cole, and very nearly murdered DI Lindsay Denton before she bested him and broke both his legs. In an indictment of our legal system, he played the cooperation card, feeding the police misinformation, pleaded immunity and was let off. Prasad was surely Dhawan’s most conscienceless villain, until the Master of course…
In The Club (2014-2017)
Dev and Jasmin’s story was the most emotional of several high-stakes plotlines in Kay Mellor’s ensemble parenting drama In The Club. Playing the husband of a wife with doubts over the paternity of her first child in series one, and serious health risks affecting her second pregnancy with twins in series two, Dhawan ran the gamut of emotions, all the way to the couple’s moving, much hoped-for final scene.
Sherlock series 4: The Six Thatchers (2017)
A bit of Bond-style action for the actor in the Sherlock series four premiere The Six Thatchers. This updated version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Six Napoleons saw a flash drive hidden inside a bust of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher. It belonged to Dhawan’s character Ajay, one of Mary’s international assassin pals, and was stashed inside the alabaster/iron lady while he was being tortured. Once retrieved, it would lead Ajay to Mary, the person he thought responsible for his capture. The episode itself wasn’t much cop, but Dhawan made a convincing action star on Ajay’s global hunt to track down his former colleague.
The Boy With The Top Knot (2017)
Adapted from Sathnam Sanghera’s 2008 memoir The Boy With The Top Knot: A Memoir Of Love, Secrets And Lies In Wolverhampton, this feature-length BBC Two film follows the story of Sanghera’s family and early years as a young boy growing up in Wolverhampton’s Park Village, and as a young man returning there after studying at Cambridge University. Among the coming-of-age drama faced by this second-generation British-born Indian (Dhawan), it takes in Sanghera’s father’s serious mental illness and his experiences as part of the Sikh community.
Marvel’s Iron Fist (2017)
This high-profile gig saw Dhawan play Danny Rand’s childhood chum/supervillain antagonist in two seasons of Marvel’s Iron Fist. The role involved first palling around and then acrobatically fighting with K’un-Lun’s chosen one, as Davos was overtaken with jealousy of Danny’s super powers and believed that the Iron Fist was his birth right, before becoming the Steel Serpent.
Iron Fist had two seasons plus Defenders on Netflix before getting the boot along with the streaming service’s other Marvel shows.
Dracula: Blood Vessel (2019)
Dominating BBC One this New Year period, Dhawan not only appeared in the Doctor Who series 12 two-part premiere, but also Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ new Dracula adaptation. In episode two, Blood Vessel, Dhawan played Dr Sharma, a passenger on board The Demeter – the ill-fated ship on which Count Draula (Claes Bang) travels to England, feeding on the manifest list as he went. Dracula’s meals chosen for a particular purpose, the Count had planned to absorb Dr Sharma’s scientific ability by drinking his blood. The doctor’s previous experience with the undead, and observant young daughter though, threw a spanner in the works.
Doctor Who continues on Sunday the 12th of January at 7.10pm on BBC One.