The Rani: the villainess whose name has been linked to dozens of actresses throughout the land by the tabloid rumour mill was only ever meant to be embodied by one actress according to former showrunner, Russell T. Davies.
She might not be a ‘Doctor Who actress,’ but celebrated stage performer and star of Cats and Miss Saigon, Ruthie Henshall is a firm favourite of RTD’s – so much so that he cast her in the brand-new children’s action adventure drama, Wizards Vs Aliens:
A lot of times names would crop up and I would say, ‘At least for series one let’s just keep a distance.’ Ruthie Henshall crops up as a villain and she is so brilliant. And actually it’s funny, she’d always been on my list of Doctor Who villains. If I’d brought back the Rani, it would have been Ruthie Henshall, because she is just glorious – she’s showbiz and she’s got that West End flair to her, but she’s a properly good actor. She knows genre. She’s someone who comes in and just delivers a villain that’s absolutely the right pitch immediately. She’s done so many different genres herself. She pitches it perfectly. I’d always wanted to work with her. She’s not a Doctor Who actor, but in my mind she was always there – we could just never get dates to fit for her on Doctor Who.
Speaking to SFX, Russell T. Davies shared the liberating feeling working in the sci-fi genre without the constraints of Doctor Who’s rich, and heavily contested, history:
You kind of think of Doctor Who as limitless, and it is. You can have stories set anywhere, doing anything, but actually there are certain ways it behaves, and we realised we’d been under that yoke for quite a long time. We’re not reinventing the wheel – it’s still an adventure, there are monsters, there are aliens, there’s good and bad, and an even simpler good and bad than you have in Doctor Who, because you can have six year olds watching this, it’s a young kids’ show.
But within that is the great liberation of saying “We can decide the sun has powers.” It’s like suddenly being in Superman’s universe. I was sitting there going, ‘They don’t have a problem with Superman – they say he gets his power off the sun.’ In the Doctor Who world you’d say, ‘This creature specifically has powers from a sun,’ but you’d have to explain it, whereas in a new show you can kind of accept it as natural…We had great treatments, great ideas, and in the end we looked at it and just went, ‘This is Doctor Who, or Sarah Jane.’
It’s the latter show – whose end was a particular wrench for Doctor Who fans when Elisabeth Sladen passed away – who’s curtailed legacy Wizards Vs Aliens borrows from the most:
In series two there’s one story that was abandoned for Sarah Jane. Phil [Ford] had written a full script called “The Thirteenth Floor” that’s literally the best thing he’s ever written, and we’d be mad to let that die, so we’re going to try and make that into a series two story. It’ll be completely rewritten, completely different characters, completely different aspects, but it’s so brilliant we’ve got to give it a go.
To read more about Wizards Vs Aliens head over to SFX.