Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for The Woman Who Fell to Earth
In The Woman Who Fell to Earth Jonny Dixon played Carl, the hapless random target of Tim Shaw’s hunt. But where have you seen him before Doctor Who?
He is valued. He is special. He’s Jonny Dixon and he played Carl in Doctor Who episode The Woman Who Fell to Earth.
There’s something that doesn’t happen as often as it might in Doctor Who. The Doctor leaps into danger, uncovers a mystery, dangles the promise of a wider world in front of the random people who’ve fallen into the situation with her. Beams their most winning smile and says “Run with me!” And then they say “Um, no thanks. This all looks incredibly dangerous and reckless to me. I just want to go home, have a cup of tea, and be thankful for my boring life. Also: what on Earth are you wearing?”
It is, let’s face it, what most of us would do.
That’s more or less the reaction of Jonny Dixon’s Carl when the Doctor, fizzing with the excitement of them all just nearly having been killed by a ball of metallic tentacles, suggests the survivors team up to solve the mystery. Endearingly, Carl is just worried about getting in trouble for being late for his job as a crane operator. A job he’s taken in his father’s company, even though he’s scared of heights. And perfecting his self-actualization mantra to try and build his confidence. And trying to get a girlfriend. It’s fair to say Carl has enough going on without hunting murderous aliens.
Chris Chibnall’s script gives Carl a surprisingly full and relatable life in his few scenes. Especially in a script that also has to juggle introductions for four brand new regulars (or five, since Sharon D. Clarke’s Grace is effectively treated as one of the leads for this episode). But it’s the skills of actor Jonny Dixon that brings Carl to truly gormless life.
From Grange Hill to Corrie, Jonny Dixon established a line in surly, anti-social teenagers
If you want to feel truly old consider that Dixon was sixteen and playing a schoolboy on Grange Hill when Christopher Eccleston was the star of Doctor Who. It’s a sign of range, though, that he wasn’t playing any hapless miniature version of Carl. He was ‘Mooey’ Humprhries, a latter day successor to the infamous ‘Gripper’ Stebson. Mooey was a cruel and vindictive bully who for four seasons terrorized the school. He charged a tax for using the playground, stole money, smashed windows, and generally made life at Grange Hill.
Fresh from Grange Hill, and after an exhaustive audition process, Dixon won the role of Darryl Morton on Coronation Street. This brought him fame, though not without controversy – a proposed scene of Darryl and Vernon (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’s Ian Reddington) indulging in a heavy marijuana smoking session had to be cut after an outcry from the national press. The character of Darryl perfectly balanced Dixon’s talents for comedy and drama. He was someone who meant well but always seemed to find himself on the wrong side of things. Darryl got heavy storylines like almost killing his baby sister with ecstasy tablets he’d hidden in their house. But also spent much of his time on the show as the dogsbody having to put up with his temperamental and demanding boss, Dev.
With sitcom Boy Meets Girl, Dixon established his comedy credentials as the caring, but pathologically lazy, James
Since leaving Coronation Street in 2009, he’s been a regular feature of the guest casts of shows like Casualty and Doctors. But his most notable has been playing James in the BBC’s Boy Meets Girl. Boy Meets Girl drew attention as the first British sitcom to star a transgender actor as a transgender character. Over two seasons it charted the developing romance between Rebecca Root’s Judy and Harry Hepple’s Leo. If Boy Meets Girl was described by some reviews as a “transgender Gavin and Stacey” then Dixon’s James was its Smithy. As Leo’s professionally lazy brother, who’d never had a job or moved out of his childhood bedroom, it was Dixon who generated many of the show’s biggest laughs.
He currently spends much of his time as a drama teacher with Rebel School of Theatre where he brings on the next generation of young talent. His students are currently involved in filming Anna Friel’s Deep Water, and were recently in The Little Stranger.
As Carl, dragged into a battle against aliens he’d rather have nothing to do with, Dixon brings just the right balance between playing up the absurdity of the situation he finds himself in and the very real fear of imminent death.
Carl escaped the climax of The Woman Who Fell to Earth with his life, but no more eager to step further into the Doctor’s world. Whether he will return to Doctor Who later this season is uncertain. But it’s far more certain that Jonny Dixon will continue to be a actor called upon to provide both characters hapless and cunning for many years to come.
The adventure continues…
Doctor Who continues on BBC One at 6.55pm this Sunday with The Ghost Monument by Chris Chibnall. Series 11 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), and Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair).
Still reeling from their first encounter, can the Doctor and her new friends stay alive long enough in a hostile alien environment to solve the mystery of Desolation? And just who are Angstrom and Epzo?