Ahead of her debut as companion to Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor, we talk to Millie Gibson about how it felt joining the crazy world of Doctor Who as the youngest ever companion, and what the role means to her
Every year Millie Gibson writes down her New Year’s resolutions in a little notebook, referring back to them a year later to tick off the ones she accomplished before making new ones for the coming year. Two years ago, aged 17 and playing Coronation Street’s Kelly Neelan, she wrote down: ‘Find a job after Corrie’. Little did she know that not only would she succeed, but that she would bag perhaps one of the most famous roles on British television. “Looking back, a year on, I was like, oh my God, I can tick that off! It was just like I had manifested it in my little book,” she laughs.
On her last day filming on the iconic cobbles in September 2022, her agent phoned to check how she was feeling. “I said: ‘Oh I’m a bit down – it’s really weird saying bye to everyone’. And he just said: ‘Well this will cheer you up, we’ve got an audition through for Doctor Who’s companion.’” She recalls, happily. “I sort of said, ‘Oh, this’ll be a laugh – first one to do after Corrie’. But I ended up getting a recall after my self-tape, and that was for a chemistry read with Ncuti Gatwa in London, Russell T Davies was there too, and Phil Collinson, the producer.” She has, she says, never felt so nervous ahead of an audition. “Usually in auditions I go in quite calm and quite chill, but this one I was shaking,” she admits. “I was in the Caffè Nero opposite overthinking everything, and I remember Russell had posted on his Instagram saying something like ‘Very exciting Saturday’ with a picture of the room that they were all in. And I thought, oh my God, I’m going to be in there soon…”
How did she control the nerves, I wonder. “I think they go as soon as you enter the room,” she tells me. “You can, you know, build up and build up and build up in your mind, and then as soon as you enter the room it’s like, OK time for work brain. I think it’s what everyone does when they’re nervous, you have to kind of just go into a sort of trance, where you just switch your work brain on and just do what you are best at. But everyone in that room made me feel so calm and relaxed, and I remember being in the waiting room and just hearing Ncuti’s laugh, and I was like, there he is! So, yeah, I felt very at ease once I entered, and then I just did my thing, and Ncuti is such a beautiful actor to bounce off: it was so easy in a way.”
What wasn’t easy was the subsequent wait for news – it was about a month before she got the call to say she had been offered the job. “You kind of get yourself into lots of twists in your brain,” she admits. “It was excruciating, every time someone rang me, I was like, ‘It’s them!’ And it wasn’t. It was just this nightmare! Through that whole month I had made sure that I was in the most appropriate place to hear the news, ideally at home by myself, so I could process it.” Of course, we all know what they say about the best laid plans – when the day came, she had just been for a spray tan. “I’m waiting for it to dry off, that’s when I hear,” she tells me, laughing at the memory. “I just remember trying not to cry it off, because it was fresh! I was in total disbelief; it was a crazy, crazy experience. My mum was picking me up from the spray tan appointment, and I got in the car, and I was like, ‘Don’t start the engine just yet, I’ve just got a bit of news…’ She immediately thought it was bad news, and I said, ‘No, no, it’s good, I’ve just heard back, and I’ve got the part!’.”
“I’m excited, and aware that it’s probably going to be a bit crazy for a few months. But I know that I’m very, very lucky in that respect.” Millie GibsonMillie wears: Dress by Rachel Gilbert; earrings by Astley Clarke; rings by Tilly Sveaas; shoes by Dear Frances; and tights by Falke
Sworn to secrecy, she didn’t share the news with anybody else until it was revealed live on Children in Need a month or so later. I can’t imagine how she managed to keep such a big story under wraps. “Oh gosh, I think it was just easy, because I didn’t believe it myself,” she laughs. “And also, I think it helped that I wasn’t working anymore, so I was kind of at home digesting the news. And to be honest, my agent was just like, ‘Do not tell anyone or it could really jeopardise things’. I was like, yeah, you know what, I do want it to be a surprise; it will be worth it in the end.” It is perhaps not surprising that Millie found it hard to believe the news – the series, which celebrated its 60th anniversary late last year, has been recognised by Guinness World Records as the longest-running science-fiction television series in the world, as well as the ‘most successful’ science-fiction series of all time, based on its overall broadcast ratings, DVD and book sales, and iTunes traffic. Millie herself grew up watching the show and is a huge fan: “I used to watch the show with my dad all the time,” she tells me. “My personal doctor was Matt Smith – fans get really offended when I say that because it makes them feel old! But yeah, I used to watch it with my dad and my companion was Amy Pond. I just can’t believe I’ve got to a stage where I might be a little girl or a little boy’s companion too, so yeah, it’s a real, real honour.”
The co-protagonist of the BBC series, the role of the companion is a vital component of the show’s stories across space and time. “In my eyes, I think it’s beautiful to see how each companion humanises the Doctor,” Millie explains, talking about the appeal of the role. “You’ll see how my companion, Ruby Sunday, does that to Ncuti’s Doctor. What’s also special is that the companions are the eyes into the Doctor’s world. And I think many of the Whovian fans really do want to be in the Doctor’s world – the idea of travelling in the TARDIS is just so exciting. So, to take on that role, it’s amazing.”
At 19 she is the youngest ever Doctor’s companion, an achievement of which she is rightly proud. “It’s just crazy – an utter privilege,” she exclaims. “Sometimes it’s a case of older actors playing younger characters, so I think it’s really special that Ruby is my age. And you really see that on the screen, there’s this certain lovable, childlike energy about her, she’s just really fresh to the world; I’m really fond of her. And I think the Doctor and Ruby’s relationship is very different to what viewers will have seen before, in the sense that they’re kind of like two schoolgirls giggling and chatting and plotting, and yeah, they’re just the bestest of friends, and I think that’s such a beautiful thing to see on screen. Ruby is just so ready to enter the world, and I think it’s going be really exciting to see the journey she goes on with the Doctor.”
While many of her contemporaries were heading off to university, Millie spent nine months shooting this latest series of Doctor Who in Cardiff. “It was a long one, I could have had a baby in that time!” She exclaims. “It was all a blur really. I did come home most weekends, but yeah, I had to move there by myself, and it was probably the weirdest uni experience anyone could ever have at my age – that’s how I kind of thought about it.”
Did it feel intimidating walking onto set for the first time? “Oh my gosh, it was weird, especially because I didn’t have Ncuti for the first few months, because he was filming Sex Education,” she reveals. “So, there was a part of me that was like, is this even Doctor Who, am I even doing this right now? It just felt like a really cool drama that we were doing, and then as soon as Ncuti came on it was like, oh, OK! But yeah, just walking through the sets, and seeing them build the monsters, I was like, this is classic Doctor Who – they don’t use CGI, that’s what I’ve always loved about the show, they really bring the monsters to life. So yes, seeing all of those things was just surreal. And just being there really and taking Ruby Sunday in my stride.”
It was certainly surreal – an experience like no other, but one which Millie wouldn’t change for the world. “It was so much fun!” She tells me. “I think there were days where we got used to the madness of the job, and then when other people came in to do scenes with us, they were like, ‘Oh wow, this is your job, this is what you do every day!’ And we were like, ‘Oh my God, I know!’ It was just the most fun, and yeah, we really had a crazy time. And the team was wonderful… honestly from the make up department, props department, costume, everyone… I could go on for hours listing; they were the most supportive, kind people. And in a heartbeat I would work with them all again.”
Of course, coming from Coronation Street, Millie is used to being recognised. “When I played Kelly, it was nonstop,” she reveals. “I think because everyone watches Corrie, they see you as a kind of a friend, because they see you in their living room every night. In my experience people are usually lovely. Of course, there will always be one or two occasions where, you know, it’s not the nicest of experiences… it’ll be interesting to see how things will change when I get recognised as Ruby Sunday instead of Kelly. It’s going to be a weird shift, but I think what’s been so great up to now is how lovely the Whovian fandom is, and how supportive everyone’s been.
It will be an exciting year, there is no doubt about that; I wonder what else is in store for Millie in 2024? “I think, now that the strike’s over, probably auditioning again, for parts, and seeing what’s out there,” she tells me. Having made her acting debut at the age of 14, playing the role of Indira in CBBC television series Jamie Johnson, she went on to appear in Love, Lies and Records, and Butterfly, before landing the part of troubled teen Kelly in Coronation Street, a role that saw her nominated for Best Actress at the Inside Soap Awards and brought her to the attention of Russell T Davies. For one so young, she has certainly held some big roles – so, what does she have her eyes on next? “Every year has seen such change for me, it’s hard to think what might come next. I’d like to play a villain…” she reveals. “If not that I think I’m really intrigued by biopic roles that you really need to research. I think that would be a great challenge. I don’t know, I think I’m just excited to see what’s to come.”
And outside work, she has plenty to be excited about, too. “I’ve just recently bought a flat,” she tells me. “So, I’m looking forward to getting into my dream home. It doesn’t need work doing to it, it just needs furniture, and honestly, it’s the most stressful thing! I love Gustaf Westman – I’m obsessed with all his furniture, which is quite quirky, weird shapes. So, I was going to go with stuff like that, but now I’ve been looking at colours, I feel like I’m going to go for a bit more of a subtle aesthetic – I might mix it up a bit as the months go on. I have been making mood boards, to see if things go together, it’s just like, yeah… adulthood!” She laughs. Back to those New Year’s resolutions, what’s going on the list this year? “This year, I think to travel more,” she says, after a moment’s contemplation. “I really want to see more of the world – it’s a bit of a cliché answer that, isn’t it. And to maybe achieve something that I haven’t yet.” Let’s see what she can manifest in the little notebook this time.