Gemma Chan ("Mia Bennett")


We talk to actress Gemma Chan about surviving The Waters of Mars... 

[Published in Doctor Who DVD Files #55 (GE Fabbri, ) pp.  15-6. Posted here by kind permission of the team at Eaglemoss. NB This is the version as delivered by me, rather than the edited, tidied version published.]

Hi Gemma. Tell us about your character, Mia Bennett.
Mia is one of the youngest members of the Bowie Base crew. She's very smart and cares about the people she works with. She's a fighter, too. Despite everything going wrong, despite it being scary and how much she gets upset, she never gives up.

Mia's biography flashes up on screen at one point – and she's American.
She has quite an international background – I think she's half-American but her mum is from Hong Kong. Mia grew up in England so she has an English accent.

Did they discuss the accent with you?
I used my own accent when we went for the first reading and that's what they wanted. It was about getting the right mix between us. They had another American character – Roman, played by Michael Goldsmith.

A deleted scene reveals you and Yuri (played by Aleksander Mikic) were having a secret affair.
Yes, we were! They didn't keep it in for the final edit but there was a whole story with me and Yuri. We'd been having this 'secret' relationship, but we don't know that everyone knew about it. When the Doctor first arrives on the base and we're introduced, he immediately clocks what's happening. Adelaide is the only who doesn't know and she tells us off. That is the back-story of our characters – we've fallen in love so we're in peril together.

It's quite a scary episode. What's the trick to acting scary?
The director, Graeme Harper, would say to us before a take, 'Remember what is happening – you've lost this person you worked and lived with. And it's not just being scared for yourselves but the potential that this thing could get back to Earth.' There's the enormity of that. But it's not just us being scared – so is the Doctor! You see him torn and vulnerable and scared. He doesn't know what to do. And that's scary for the viewer.
What was David Tennant like?
David was lovely from the first time we met him at the read-through. He just gave it 110 per cent. At the read-through you're thinking, 'How much should I be going for it? Should I be screaming?' And he just absolutely went for it. That gave the rest of us the cue to go for it as well. He relished that these were his last few episodes and got into it more! He was very enthusiastic and a very nice guy.

As Captain Adelaide Brooke, Lindsay Duncan brought a touch of class to the story, didn't she?
Yes she did. Lindsay was lovely, too. As the captain, she really had gravitas and authority. We'd all go back to our hotel each evening, after being soaked or blown up, or setting the base on fire, and she'd joke about what state we'd be in by the end of the week!

Did that mean it was wet and cold making the story?
It was okay at first. We tried to shoot it mostly in chronological order because the set was destroyed bit-by-bit. That was quite unusual. But then there were the unfortunate characters who got turned into water monsters. They had to be constantly wet – and we filmed it in February so it was very cold for them! Luckily for me, my character doesn't get wet so I got off quite lightly.

Actors often hanker for a really good death scene. Is it good you survived or would you have liked a cool death?
(LAUGHS) Oh, I don't know! A cool death scene would have been a lot of fun, but on the other hand Yuri and I got to ride in the TARDIS. I was much happier about that. Very few lucky people get to ride in the TARDIS. I was honoured.

So you and Yuri live happily ever after?
Yes, we do. You see a newspaper clipping of us, telling our story. It's such a dark episode – everyone else except us two and the Doctor has died. But we have a happy ending.

How do you feel about the Doctor calling you and Yuri 'little people'?
(LAUGHS) Oh, it's not that bad. And that's not the Doctor's true character, that's a moment of arrogance, of madness. It's not what he really thinks of people. And Adelaide puts him in his place.

Did the Doctor break the laws of time by saving you and Yuri?
Hmm... I think there are arguments either way. It's that paradox of changing the course of time and what the consequences are. That's very interesting. I don't think we'll ever really resolve that – having not invented time travel yet!

Didn't you do a law degree before you became an actor?
Yes, I did.

So would you defend the Doctor if this goes to court?
(LAUGHS) I'd be happy to defend him.