Clifton’s own Karl Collins is making a return to a little show called Doctor Who for a certain sixtieth celebration. We talk to the Shaun Temple star about his time at the Television Workshop, Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It and jumping back into the Whoniverse…
Can you tell us a bit about your early life growing up in Clifton and how you got into acting?
I grew up in Clifton; I was there since I was two, probably, and my mum still lives there. And yeah, it was a great childhood. I found drama when I was thirteen, fourteen, when Central Television moved to Nottingham. I didn't really know what it meant to be on TV or to become a professional actor. You just saw people doing things on television and you never in your wildest dreams could imagine that that is what you could be doing in your life. So even when I started doing drama, it was just fun, really.
But basically, every now and then, Central Television, if they were casting something, they would send a casting director along or a director along just to observe one of the Workshop evenings, where we did theatre games and stuff. And then that's how I got my first TV job when I was fourteen, a part on a drama series called Dramarama, which I got on my fourteenth birthday.
Even after I got that and started doing other bits and bobs, I still didn't realise the true magnitude of what it could be in terms of having a career. Then, at some point, I think the woman who ran the drama group, Sue Nott, said to me, ‘Oh, you know, you could make a career out of this, and you could go to drama school,’ And I was like, ‘What the hell's that?’
Then, it felt as if I went to drama school, I could be classically trained and I could do TV and I could do theatre, and it would mean that I wouldn't be hemmed in by any sort of stereotypes - because I would be able to challenge them by saying, ‘Well, I can do this and I can do that. Don't limit me by what you think a working class actor can do, what you think a Black actor can do. I can do anything. I'm trained.’ So that was why the big decision to go to drama school came, and that's why I moved to London at eighteen.
Those of us of a certain vintage will remember the kid's sketch show Your Mother Wouldn't Like It. It was a unique concept for the time, what was it like to work on?
There was a strong core of writers who were what you would call ‘professional writers’, and then there were a few of us from the Workshop who wrote some of the sketches as well, and did some of the ideas for it. And I was one of those; I wasn't the best one at the writing, but I was part of that group, and actually a lot of the stuff that made it into the show was written by members of the Workshop.
And, you know, if you imagine that we're talking kids between the ages of fourteen to sixteen, those of us who were involved were like, ‘Oh, this is just like a freestyle sketch show.’ The great thing about it was it was kind of adult in its form, but it was very much aimed at young kids, and a bit risky at times, which was great. I mean, it was great being involved in that project, and then I think it was 1986 when we won the BAFTA for Young Children's Show, which was amazing.
You are making your return to Doctor Who after thirteen years, in the sixtieth anniversary specials, The Star Beast, Wild Blue Yonder and The Giggle. What was your reaction when you were asked to revisit your role as Shaun Temple?
I was a bit shocked, actually. I was like, how can he be coming back? I have to say it was all very cloak and dagger. I think we filmed around March, April time, and I think it was the October before there was a tentative enquiry as to whether I'd be interested in coming back. And I was like, ‘Yeah, I'd be interested,’ but at the same time it was very, very tentative, and obviously they like to play their cards close to their chest.
At the time I'd been quite busy working, so between me and my agent, we said, ‘Well, yeah, it would be interesting but, you know, I've been busy, so if it fits, then great.’ They were very, very serious about, ‘Right, you can't tell anyone, you can't talk about it.’ I said to my girlfriend, ‘Oh, I'm going to be doing Doctor Who.’ She's like, ‘What?!’ I said…. well, I couldn't tell anyone, you know, I wasn't allowed to talk about it. She said, ‘Yeah, but does that mean me, as well?’ I was like, ‘Yeah. I mean, this is the Whoniverse. You tell no one!’
I mean it's Russell T. Davies back at the helm, so you know it's going to be a wild adventure. There's going to be lots of crashes and bangs
Without going into any spoilers, of course, what can fans expect from the forthcoming specials?
Well, obviously, Catherine Tate and David Tennant... and me. I mean, it's Russell T. Davies back at the helm, so you know it's going to be a wild adventure. It's brilliantly written, as you can imagine. Oh gosh, I mean, there's going to be lots of crashes and bangs. There's going to be… I have to be really careful, haven't I? Yeah, I think there's a new addition to the family.
There is. Rose, isn't it? Your daughter?
Yes, that's right, played by Yasmin Finney, who obviously people will know from Heartstopper.
What do you think is the secret of Doctor Who's popularity and longevity?
Russell T. Davies said that it's not for kids, and, I mean, when I was young and I could watch Doctor Who, it was really scary, and when you're at a burgeoning age you could start to watch things that are on a bit later.
As young kids, you get sucked into those kinds of adventures. I think that there's something about wanting to be scared or being a bit unsettled, so I think that, because it captures the imagination of a sort of adolescent group, you can also watch with your parents, it's like… I mean, it sounds so corny, doesn't it? It really feels like family entertainment rather than just like a pure kids’ show.
I remember going up the stairs, turning all the lights on, shooting around the corners to make sure there wasn't an alien there. I remember that. I'm sure I didn't like it, because I know I was scared, but there was no way I wanted to miss it. I never wanted to miss the next week.
The Doctor Who sixtieth anniversary specials will air on BBC One and iPlayer on 25 November, 2 and 9 December
We have a favour to ask
LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?