Interview: Emma Campbell-Jones on The Night of the Doctor

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Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull interviews Emma Campbell-Jones who played Cass in The Night of the Doctor.

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Before Christmas, as the world recovered from The Day of the Doctor, I had the chance to speak to Emma Campbell-Jones, known in the world of Who as Cass, ‘the woman who killed the Doctor’, in The Night of the Doctor (and also Doctor Kent in The Wedding of River Song).

She spoke about hanging out with ‘Sylv’ McCoy, filming The Night of the Doctor and working alongside the great Paul McGann.

How did you get the part? And where were you when you were told?

I was offered this part without having to audition, which was extremely flattering. I’d only just auditioned for Andy Pryor for a part in An Adventure in Space and Time and I had also worked with the Executive Producer, Marcus Wilson, and the producer, Denise Paul on two episodes of Taggart and a previous episode of Doctor Who, as Dr Kent in The Wedding of River Song. It was such a pleasure to get to work with them again on something so special. Where was I when I got the news? I was getting ready to go out – I dropped to sit on the side of the bath and remember seeing my face gleam with excitement in the mirror opposite. I felt privileged to have been entrusted with a part who had such a pivotal role in Doctor Who folklore and, of course, to get to work with Paul and play a part in the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration – although I do keep getting called “Doctor Killer”, even by the Seventh Doctor, my dear friend, young Sylvester McCoy!

What was it like participating in such a momentous if short minisode?

Deeply thrilling. I mean, it’s not often I get a chance to pilot a gunship through space and dodge explosions with Paul McGann grasping my hand. The anticipation of starting work on it, getting to work with people I admire – cast, crew, writer and production, getting to chat to Mark Gatiss (who Paul introduced as “the nicest man in showbiz”) and Steven Moffat, who’d come to set and seeing them watch the rushes and look impressed. It’s always a good feeling to know that the work fits with the writer’s vision of it. The days following the aftermath of its release were such a high and there were so many nice messages from people. I got to go to the BFI 3D screening of The Day of the Doctor and after party, as Sylv’s guest, which was great fun. I had a slightly surreal moment of sitting on a sofa, sandwiched by Doctors past (Sylv, Peter and Colin) watching Zoe Ball interview the then current Doctor, Matt. The Five Doctors Reboot was just hilarious. So impressed that they put it together. I’d love to see more of them in British comedy – especially Peter – his expressions had me falling about laughing.

The shoot must have been a very secretive affair – did you have to hold back on details from friends and family?

It was incredibly secretive. They even had to hold umbrellas over Paul between trailer and set, over a rain-free couple of days, to prevent any potential aerial or long lens shots being taken of him. I admire them for taking the lengths they do to guard the Doctor Who secrets until they’re revealed on air. It would ruin the surprise for the fans otherwise. But, wow, it was a hard secret to keep. All I wanted to do was shout it from the rooftops and I was fit to burst. I did live with my little brother at the time though (so it was impossible to keep it from him) and he’d occasionally wind me up by saying he’d gotten drunk and told the world, but I threatened him with undignified death if he ever blabbed, which must’ve worked. My boyfriend was in the 50th anniversary special, so we did know each other’s secrets, but as we’re fans of the show, we dutifully guarded it from others right until they were aired. It’s quite fortifying to know I can keep a secret that delicious. It’s a bit upsetting they were forced to release it early – apparently pictures or bits footage had already been seen on the Internet, but ultimately the early release wasn’t too much of a hiccup and that decision meant that the surprise of seeing Paul’s Doctor back wasn’t spoiled for fans worldwide.

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Upon seeing the TARDIS, Cass reacts against the Doctor and tried to leave his side. Did a part of you just want to forget the script, run inside and become the next companion?

Of course, are you kidding?! That would be a dream job. Paul’s so easy to get on with too – I’d skip into work each day with the joy of a thousand Disney princesses.

You worked alongside the great Paul McGann, it must have been quite a buzz.

As he knows, I’m a big Withnail & I fan and I was very much looking forward to working with him. He exceeded my expectations. Day one was all about playing dead for me, but I got to watch some of that atmospheric scene from the sidelines. I can’t tell you how tough it was to stay dead on that altar and not have a subtle peep at what he was doing – it sounded so powerful. Both he and Claire have such luxurious voices – it was a treat to be in the middle of it. Day two was when Paul and I really took off. He’s really a delight, full of interesting ideas and a touch rock n’ roll, appealingly – plus he’s the king of anecdotal back stage chatterings. After just two days, he made me feel like we’d been pals for years.

Cass was the only new character in The Night of the Doctor, did you construct a bit more of a backstory for her?

I always do, as it creates a depth and understanding of them as a person. All the more important when you’re compressing a story like this into about seven minutes. I had to know who she was in order to tell her story as part of the bigger picture. Cass sprang off the page as a strong, independent, pragmatic person with a deep-rooted sense of pathos for the suffering across the universe that the Time War has caused, which she must have witnessed over and over again. I watched some older episodes that made reference to the Time War or featured Time Lords, to be able to get a handle on Cass’ disgust on discovering she was in the presence of a Time Lord and the pain she evidently feels recalling the destruction of the Time War. I got the sense she was on her own now – that she did have family once, probably some brothers, so grew up a tough little cookie, but since the fallout from the Time War and the personal impact it made she had made the decision to train up, then take off on a journey across the universe in search of something… I like that she had moments of vulnerability, that she was willing to put her hand into the hand of a stranger, letting him lead her, instinctively trusting him with her life. I love that the potential of companionship was hinted at and a tangible connection between them was drawn. Gave us lots to play with in such a short space of time.

Naturally it would be hard for Cass to make a comeback (but you did star in The Wedding of River Song), would you ever return to the show?

In a heartbeat. The Doctor Who crowd always make it feel like family. Moreover, it’s FUN. In whatever guise they want me, I’d be there, with all the bells.

Thanks Emma! Follow her on Twitter here.

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