Blogtor Who takes a look at Ben Bailey Smith, one of the guest stars in this week’s episode of Doctor Who, The Tsuranga Conundrum.
Ben Bailey Smith is an actor who’s proved himself in both comedic and dramatic roles over the past decade – but some may know him better as the rapper and stand-up comedian Doc Brown. The younger brother of novelist Zadie Smith, his undeniable versatility has seen him branch out successfully in his own right into several career paths. Read on to check out just some of Smith’s many highlights…
Ben Bailey Smith: The Actor
The Tsuranga Conundrum reunites Smith with his former Law and Order: UK co-star, Bradley Walsh. Smith starred in the final series as the newly-promoted DS Joe Hawkins, who moves from child protection to become the third and final partner of Walsh’s DS Ronnie Brooks. Hawkins’ working-class background meant that he was more street-smart than his predecessors, with his fierce loyalty and eagerness to learn complementing Brooks’ more seasoned approach.
Other dramas for Smith include the 2012 BBC drama Hunted, and the ITV mini-series Brief Encounters, a female-led comedy-drama about the rise of Ann Summers saleswomen in the 1980s. He’s also made film appearances in Other Side of the Game and more recently Level Up – the latter led by fellow Doctor Who Series 11 guest star Josh Bowman (Rosa).
Last year Smith appeared as DS Evans in the Sky One comedy drama series Bounty Hunters. The odd-couple show was co-written by and starred Jack Whitehall, with familiar Doctor Who faces Jacqueline King (Sylvia Noble) and Charity Wakefield (The Return of Doctor Mysterio) popping up too.
Smith has also guested in some of the UK’s most well-known comedies, including the BBC’s Rev and Miranda and Channel 4’s Derek, written by and starring Ricky Gervais. Smith’s association with Gervais continued with appearances as Dom Johnson in several David Brent shorts, as well as the feature-length film David Brent: Back on the Road in 2016.
One of Smith’s most memorable comedy roles came in the hit E4 coming-of-age sitcom The Inbetweeners, when series regulars Jay (James Buckley) and Neil (Blake Harrison) attempt to score some ‘puff’ from drug dealer Steve:
Smith has also made the foray into children’s television, co-creating and appearing in the CBBC musical comedy-drama series 4 O’Clock Club. First airing in 2012, the series starred Smith as Nathan Carter, English teacher and older brother of Elmsbury High pupil Josh (Khalil Madovi). Smith also drew on his rap background for the show, with each episode featuring a series of raps narrating the characters’ actions and feelings:
Doc Brown: The Stand-Up Comedian
Using the alias Doc Brown, taken from his early days as a rapper (more of which later), Smith has developed a flourishing career in stand-up comedy. He kicked off his comedy career on the BBC Radio 4 Lenny Henry sitcom Rudy’s Rare Records in 2007, and then moved into writing and performing stand-up onstage.
Smith soon started placing highly in competitions, including So You Think You’re Funny in 2008 and The English Comedian of the Year 2009. He then went on to perform his own solo show, Unfamous, in Edinburgh and London, with Chortle describing it as a ‘thoughtful, charming and impressively executed debut‘.
Televised stand-up appearances from Smith include spots on Live at the Apollo, The John Bishop Show and Comic Relief as well as Russell Howard’s Good News, featuring a particularly impassioned dissection of one of the most controversial issues of our time:
Smith has also appeared on several shows including Dave’s Crackanory – a storytelling series for adults inspired by the children’s show Jackanory – and the second series of the channel’s smash hit comedy game show Taskmaster. The latter saw Smith compete in a series of absurd challenges alongside fellow contestants Joe Wilkinson, Jon Richardson, Katherine Ryan and Richard Osman:
Doc Brown: The Rapper
Although Smith has undoubtedly made a name for himself as a comedian and actor, he first came onto the scene as a rapper. Performing under the name Doc Brown – inspired by Back to the Future’s very own time-travelling doctor – Smith started off as a battle rapper before hosting open mic nights at Real Deal Records, where he met the DJ and record producer Mark Ronson.
Smith then toured as Ronson’s MC before breaking through with his own tracks, including ‘Donnie’s Lament’. The track, which sampled Gary Jules’ hit cover version of the Tears for Fears song ‘Mad World’, brought Smith into the mainstream, receiving airplay from notable radio DJs including Zane Lowe, Jonathan Ross and Jo Whiley.
Smith went on to release several albums on the back of the track’s success, including Citizen Smith Volume One, The Document and Citizen Smith Volume Two. As Smith’s projects elsewhere took off, his music career was placed on the backburner – although music, particularly rap, continued to feature heavily in his stand-up comedy in particular.
Last year Smith returned to his rap roots by releasing his his fifth studio album – his first in a decade – Stemma. Smith marked his comeback with a mini-tour of the new record, which embraces his beginnings in hip hop and features artists including Example and Smith’s younger brother, rapper Luc Skyz.
It’s been announced just this week that Smith will be taking a guest role in Disney Channel’s 101 Dalmatian Street, a new animated series based on Dodie Smith’s novel and the 1961 Disney classic 101 Dalmatians. Smith will be playing the parts of Sid Squirrel and Spencer Sausage Dog in the new cartoon, with fellow guest stars including Paloma Faith, Tameka Empson and Miriam Margoyles. 101 Dalmatian Street is set to premiere in the UK in 2019, rolling out globally throughout the year.
Also in 2019, Smith is set to appear in the new ITV drama Cleaning Up. The six-part show stars Sheridan Smith – best known to Doctor Who fans as Big Finish companion Lucie Miller – as an ordinary and devoted mother and cleaning lady who is exposed to the darker world of insider trading. Cleaning Up, due to air early next year, has been created and written by newcomer Mark Marlow.
And this Sunday – the same evening his Doctor Who episode airs – Smith will be taking part in Remembrance at London’s Old Vic. The latest in the Old Vic’s One Voice strand, Remembrance is a set of monologues, curated by writer and actor Arinze Kene, marking the centenary of the Armistice. Five performers will be taking part, with Smith performing his self-penned piece, Coming Home. At time of writing limited tickets are still available for the show, which can be found at the Old Vic’s website.
The Tsuranga Conundrum
Smith will guest star in Sunday’s episode of Doctor Who as Durkas Cicero, a character who is clearly linked in some way to fellow guest star Suzanne Packer’s character, Eve Cicero.
The Tsuranga Conundrum will see team TARDIS, stranded and injured in the wilds of a far-flung galaxy, band together with a group of strangers to survive against one of the universe’s deadliest and most unusual creatures. But who exactly is Durkas Cicero, and how is he involved?
Doctor Who continues this Sunday at 7pm GMT on BBC One and at 8pm EST on BBC America with The Tsuranga Conundrum by Chris Chibnall. Series 11 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), and Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair). The Tsuranga Conundrum guest stars Brett Goldstein, Lois Chimimba, Suzanne Packer, and Ben Bailey-Smith, and is directed by Jennifer Perrott.