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Nemesis to revelation; Graham Kibble-White talks pure evil with Doctor Who's Noel Clarke.

Byline: Graham Kibble-White

Doctor Who's garrulous executive producer and lead writer, Russell T Davies, is fielding questions from a room full of journalists. And he's doing it with aplomb. That is, until something distracts him.

"Noel Clarke is mooning!" he declares, collapsing into laughter as he catches sight of the actor's bare backside through the room's glass partition. "That's made my night. Lovely."

This impromptu display is just one of the many highlights from a press launch celebrating the return to our TV screens of the Doctor's second-best (or should that be worst?) baddies, the Cybermen.

It's been nearly 20 years since the metal meanies last menaced the Time Lord, but in this blistering two-part story - which begins on Saturday - they prove age has not withered them. All who stand in their way are either swiftly "upgraded" into new Cybermen to swell the ranks, or "deleted". Terminally.

Understandably, not everyone gets out of the encounter alive, and events prove pivotal for the Doctor's companion, Mickey.

For a now trouser-wearing Noel Clarke, who plays the hapless mechanic-turned-time traveller, the past year has been building up to this tale.

"I was told what was going to happen in this story right after the screening of the first episode of the series in 2005," explains the 30-year-old.

"From the moment Russell revealed it to me I was like, 'Yeah, most definitely'.

"Getting the scripts I was just amazed, really, because there were times when Mickey was just a buffoon. But he's clearly developed from getting stuck in a bin in episode one, to becoming progressively braver.

"For me that's been fulfilling to see a character go from being loathed, to people saying how they love this guy now."

Set on a parallel Earth, the story presents Noel with an interesting challenge as Mickey runs into a duplicate version of himself, a grizzled freedom fighter named Ricky. Naturally, the actor takes on both roles.

"It was good being able to play a macho, gruff version of the character," he smiles, "and when I saw we had scenes together, I just couldn't wait to do it."

One moment in particular proved especially challenging to shoot, as Ricky ties up his counterpart and questions him.

"That was a long, long day," he sighs, "because I had to do a lot of green screen stuff. I had to do everything one way first, so it was all the Mickey stuff, then I had to do the bits where Ricky walks around him, which was quite difficult."

As for his 'co-star', he's not impressed.

"The other guy was a nightmare!" he jokes. "He wasn't as nice as me. He was always grumping and groaning. I think he had some problems. His trailer wasn't as big as mine, maybe that's what it was."

Working with the Cybermen also threw up a few quirks.

"One of the guys in the suit had a terrible cold," he laughs. "He started sneezing, like, really bad, and he said, 'I need to get out'.

"So they opened him up, and all the other Cybermen actors said, 'I don't want to wear that helmet'. So they numbered it to make sure he got the same one all the time after that.

"At the auditions for Cybermen, one guy got down to the final ten, but he'd yet to wear the helmet. When they clipped him in, he just panicked. It's a tough way to realise you're claustrophobic, I guess."

Without revealing too much, by the story's conclusion it looks like Noel's association with Doctor Who could be at an end. However, he points out this may not necessarily be the case.

"It's a sci-fi show, so anything could happen."

Whatever does transpire, he's aware Doctor Who will always be a part of his life.

"I think it's fine that people are going to associate me with the programme," he says. "I've no problem with that.

"When I first joined, I didn't have any doubts it was going to be huge, I always thought, 'It's Doctor Who. It can't not be huge'."

Besides, he's not quite finished with the world of Who, having recently finished penning a script for the BBC Three spin-off drama, Torchwood, which hits our screens later in the year.

"That came about because I'd written other things and I just said to the producers, 'Is there maybe a chance I could write something for something - anything?'.

"They read a lot of my stuff and went and saw my film, Kidulthood [which he scripted and stars in] and said, 'Yeah, you can write an episode of Torchwood'."

As for his own personal legacy, he likes to downplay the fact that in Doctor Who's 43-year history, he's the first black companion to have travelled in the Tardis.

"Did that mean anything?" he ponders. "I guess it always means something, but what's important is to not make an issue of it. You just kind of go with it.

"The fact that I happen to be a black actor is beside the point, I'm an actor first.

"But, I guess it is great, particularly because it means little kids of ethnic origin who are playing at Doctor Who now don't just have to be a villain or a monster.

"They can say, 'I'm Mickey', instead of K9, or a Cyberman, or Henchman pounds 4."

He's obviously immensely proud of the series and his contribution to it.

"I think this year it's a million times better than last time," he asserts, "and that's not saying last year was bad. I thought it was brilliant.

"But the bar's being raised again. How good can it get? It'll be interesting to see what next year is going to be like.

"Well, unless someone like Russell Grant becomes the Doctor," he laughs, "then people might switch off.

"Yeah! Russell Grant and that girl who used to play Nightshade in Gladiators. Do you remember Nightshade the Gladiator? That would be funny, wouldn't it?"

On that note, chuckling away, he shambles off, stopping only to grab an armful of Doctor Who postcards from the table. And perhaps to also consider who's next to be caught in the dazzle of the already infamous Clarke full moon.

Little kids of ethnic origin who are playing at Doctor Who now don't just have to be a villain or a monster

CAPTION(S):

Noel Clarke rubs shoulders with a rather nasty Cyberman in Saturday's much-anticipated episode of Doctor Who. Is his time on the show coming to an end?
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 9, 2006
Words:1084
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