Blogtor Who takes a look at the career so far of The Witchfinders guest star Tilly Steele, who plays Willa Twiston
Tilly Steele is an actor still in the early years of a career nevertheless set to be long and successful. As a student at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School she trained on the stages that had previously seen the likes of Peter O’Toole and Daniel Day-Lewis. There, she appeared as Ophelia in Hamlet and Katya in Fathers and Sons, among others before graduating in 2015.
Her television debut came the next year in the small part of Carly Bridgeman in an episode of lightly comic detective show Agatha Raisin. Appropriately enough, that episode Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden involved, you guested it, witches. Although in that case the witches were self-processed psychics at a Special Paranormal Activity weekend but fail to foresee… murder. In another coincidence, Geoffrey Saz directed Witch of Wyckhadden. Blogtor Who readers will know Sax well as the director of 1996’s Doctor Who television movie.
A guest role in Doctors followed, in which she played a con artist posing as a wheelchair user called ‘Amy’ to try and extort money from the clinic receptionist. Small guest roles in Mount Pleasant and Strike: Career of Evil came soon after.
As Miss Carly in Victoria, Steele helped shine light on a forgotten horror of British history
But her most high profile role to date has been as a series regular in the second season of Victoria. Former Doctor Who companion Jenna Coleman as the young Queen Victoria. Season two saw the Queen wrestle with issues both political and ethical. As Miss Carly, the Queen’s new junior dresser, Steele provided one of the show’s main windows onto the trauma of the Irish Famine. Early in the season she lived in fear of losing her job if found out as a Catholic.
And towards the end all her desperate attempts to find money to send home to save her family come to naught. For they’ve already left for America on the infamous Coffin Ships. The coffin ships were notoriously overcrowded, unsafe, and run by ruthless opportunists. And so-called because so many of the migrants attempting to find a safe home died at sea. Steele’s performance, heartfelt and pure, made the drama hit home for a television audience largely ignorant of the historical event.
The Witchfinders sees Steele at the heart of another drama of the uncomfortable past
Steele is also one of the creators, along with Upstart Crow and Raised by Wolves’ Helen Monks, of the Bitchin’ podcast. Bitchin’ is promoted as a comedic, and explicitly sweary, roast of various public figures. However, it’s actually much more intelligent and insightful than that, featuring far ranging and balanced discussion of the issues.
In The Witchfinders, her Willa Twiston faces the horrors of the witch hunts provoked by James I’s obsession with witches. Steele’s unique combination of projecting innocence and otherworldliness is perfectly suited to the role.
The Doctor Who adventure continues…
Doctor Who continues this Sunday at 6.30pm GMT on BBC One and at 8pm EST on BBC America with The Witchfinders by Joy Wilkinson. For further broadcast times in your region, check local listings. Series 11 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien) and Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair).
The Witchfinders guest stars Alan Cumming (King James I) and Siobhan Finneran (Becka Savage) and is directed by Sallie Aprahamian.
The Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz arrive in 17th-century Lancashire. Soon they become embroiled in a witch trial run by the local landowner. As fear stalks the land, the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But is there something even more dangerous at work? Can the Doctor and friends keep the people of Bilehurst Cragg safe from all the forces that are massing in the land?