Dame Harriet Walter is joining Doctor Who as the new Prime Minister for Revolution of the Daleks. Here’s a reminder of why she’s such a familiar face.
One of the great truths of Doctor Who is that it has a unique power to attract top acting talent. Part of the attraction has surely been the kudos it brings with a younger generation. Another is the opportunity to play the sort of material you just get when treading the boards at the National. And the latest to join the Doctor Who family is Dame Harriet Walter, who will playing Prime Minister Jo Patterson.
Doctor Who fits snugly into the respected actor’s CV, who was knighted in 2011 for her contribution to theatre. She’s always been comfortable moving between the worlds of theatre, serious drama, and popular family entertainment. On stage she’s known for playing the likes of Lady MacBeth, Masha in Chekov’s Three Sisters (for which she won the Olivier Award), and even Prospero in The Tempest. While on screen she’s been in hard hitting material like IRA hostage drama The Price (1985), doomed love story The Men’s Room (1991, opposite Bill Nighy), and the celebrated adaptation of Atonement (2007).
For decades Walter has used her great skill both for serious drama, and bringing credibility to heightened realities
But she’s equally at home in lighter, crowd pleasing fare. She was the snobby and selfish Fanny Dashwood in the 1995 version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. And on the supremely popular Downton Abbey, she was the recurring character of the Dowager’s oldest friend, Lady Shackleton. She’s even among that cadre of actors to have been in both Doctor Who and Star Wars. She made a joyous cameo appearance in The Force Awakens as the doctor treating Chewbacca’s flesh wound, striking a sympathetic but bemused tone as she assured the Wookie that his story “sounds very scary. You must be so brave.“
Walter’s balancing of these two sides of her career follows in a family tradition. Her uncle, after all, was the celebrated Sir Christopher Lee, as well known for Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings as for more adult fair. Yet this is far from being an acting dynasty that opens doors based on name alone. After all, Walter only gained entry to drama school on the sixth attempt. A feat which underlines her determination and passion.
In recent years, Walter’s been seen in everything from Star Wars to Killing Eve
Since then she’s solidly, steadily built a respected career that’s seen her rarely out of demand. A feat enabled by her rare success in transitioning from roles like the second Mrs. de Winter’s naive young maid in her television debut, to strong women like Mary Wollstonecraft in Frankenstein: Birth of a Monster, and then onward to powerful elders like the arch-assassin Dasha in Killing Eve and Lady Caroline in Succession. And, of course, new Prime Minister Jo Patterson in Doctor Who’s Revolution of the Daleks.
As we count down to New Year’s Day and the return of Doctor Who, more details are slowly being teased out. Captain Jack is coming back, as is Jack Robertson. And, of course, the Daleks take the streets and skies of the United Kingdom under the guise of Patterson’s new ‘defence drones.’ But we don’t yet quite know Patterson’s role. Is she a gullible victim of the Dalek conspiracy? The latest in the long line of humans who thought they could they could use the Daleks to exterminate their enemies without falling victim themselves? Does she even know what horrors lurk within the Dalek shell?
But there is one thing we can be certain of. With Harriet Walter in the role, Patterson will have the perfect mix of class and humour for Doctor Who. Roll on, 2021!
Doctor Who returns with Revolution of the Daleks at 6.46pm GMT on BBC One, and at 8pm ET on BBC America