Liverpool’s tunnel king is coming to Doctor Who in the form of Steve Oram. But if you’re a fan of eccentric and dark British comedy you’ll have seen Oram before in… practically everything!
As a six-part epic, Flux will be Doctor Who’s longest, most ambitious story in decades. As the mysterious Flux endangers all of time and space, the adventure only starts in present-day Liverpool. Soon the TARDIS will be off to visit the past, the future, and alien worlds. Perhaps that’s why the cast list and publicity photos for the first episode The Halloween Apocalypse features an otherwise out of place gentleman in Georgian dress and a magnificent hat. But this isn’t just any old lantern waving man in a tunnel. This Steve Oram as Liverpool’s famous ‘Mad Mole,’ Joseph Williamson.
Considered a wild eccentric in his time, Williamson delved deep beneath the city in vast tunneling projects, sometimes with purpose, and sometimes seemingly with no goal but to use his fortune to provide wages to the men of the unemployment struck city. But perhaps Flux will reveal some deeper purpose to his digging… Either way, for Doctor Who Steve Oram is the man lauded as the King of Edge Hill is brought to live by Steve Oram. And, as we’ll see this is far from Oram’s first touch with eccentricity.
Some of Steve Oram’s most well known work, like serial killer comedy Sightseers, have been collaborations with Alice Lowe
Steve Oram’s best known for his collaborations with fellow writer and actor Alice Lowe. First meeting as stand up comedians at the Ealing Live event in the early 2000s, the two began to work together as a support act for Steve Coogan’s comedy tour Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Comedy Characters, as well as making short films such as pitch black mortuary set Stiffy, and mockumentary Lifespasm: My Child is French. On stage Oram and Lowe also developed the characters of a couple on a stereotypically grim English camping holiday. Only slowly do the pair reveal themselves to the audience as enthusiastic serial killers. Over the next decade, the routine evolved into first a short film and then a full feature film, the awards laden Sightseers, with the critically acclaimed director Ben Wheatley.
This strand of Oram’s career also gave us the bafflingly disturbing (or disturbingly baffling) Aaaaaaaah! Though still featuring Lowe in a cameo, this directorial debut for Oram was a more fiercely individualistic work. The film is set in a world where humanity has all the modern conveniences of electricity and satellite television, but machismo posturing is stripped of all the elaboration and pretence of language. It’s a dialogue-free story of grunting, animalistic men attempting to dominate each other for status.
From Ghosts to Drunk History and from The World’s End to The End of the F***ing World, Steve Oram’s been in a wide slice of British comedy
In parallel to his more personal work as a writer/director/performer, Oram has become a regular fixture of the company of British comedy actors. He’s played small roles in everything from The World’s End to Paddington in cinemas. While on TV he’s run the range from Miranda to The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. He’s been part of the teams for Drunk History and Crackanory. He’s even briefly appeared in Line of Duty, like a lot of this year’s guest cast; in his case as Steve Arnott’s therapist in the final episode.
He’s been in some of the UK’s most offbeat and funny shows. In Ghosts, he’s the regularly non-plussed leader of the builders who just want to get on with repairing the old house without supernatural interventions. In The End of the F***ing World, he’s won audience sympathies as the loving father out of his depth with his fledgling psychopath son. Code 404 features Oram at his shifty best as one of the cyborg copper’s potentially corrupt colleagues. He’s one of Stephen Mangan’s recurring patients in Hang Ups. And he was Mick in Julia Davis’ typically dark comedy Sally4Ever.
In Doctor Who, Oram plays Liverpool’s famous tunnel builder Joseph Williamson. But what dark secrets might Williamson have uncovered?
Doctor Who at its best thrives on mixing the horrific with the comic, while maintaining an ability to believe in the characters. So perhaps the only wonder is that an actor so perfect for Doctor Who is only appearing now. Appearing in at least the first two episodes of Flux, his Joseph Williamson may well hold the key to some of its mysteries. Could he have found something unexpected and alien beneath the sandstone of Liverpool? Perhaps that was even his goal with all those excavations all along, kept secret from history. Does his work in the 17th century impact Dan’s life in the 21st? But with Oram on board, we can be sure of a skilled performance that reflects Doctor Who’s unique strand of horror at its very best.
Doctor Who returns this Sunday with Flux: Chapter One – The Halloween Apocalypse on BBC One at 6.25pm and on BBC America at 2.25pm ET
A universe-spanning adventure in space and time starring Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill and John Bishop. On Halloween, all across the universe, terrifying forces are stirring. From the Arctic Circle to deep space, an ancient evil is breaking free. And in present day Liverpool, the life of Dan Lewis is about to change forever. Why is the Doctor on the trail of the fearsome Karvanista? And what is the Flux?