Barbara Flynn has been playing determined, sardonic, intelligent women for decades… and she’s finally in Doctor Who!
Never let it be said that Chris Chibnall can’t keep a secret. Flux may have been more generous than recent seasons in providing publicity photos and trailers. But there have still been some pretty huge surprises too. One of the biggest was towards the end of Once, Upon Time’s wild web of interconnected knots and strands. When she leaps back into what might be a missing part of her own past, the Doctor encounters… Barbara Flynn! As Awsok, she’s textbook enigmatic, presenting an image of unimaginable power, casually worn.
Could she be some new avatar of the White Guardian? Who else would talk so casually about shuttering up at the end of the entire universe? The episode does centre on the Temple of Atropos, so could she be a form of that ancient mythical figure. She certainly seems to be doing some of weaving when we see her. That would fit with Atropos as the eldest member of the Fates; she who cuts the threads so things can die or end.
Flynn’s first television role was on WWII drama Family at War, though many will remember her recurring appearances as the Milk Woman in Open All Hours
Whomever she’s playing, many would say Barbara Flynn is long overdue an appearance in Doctor Who. With a television career starting in 1970, Flynn has been a memorable figure in many great and well loved television series, often marked out by her sly wit. Her very first role at 22 was as a main cast member in WWII drama A Family at War. For three series viewers watched Flynn’s Freda Ashton and the rest of her family struggle through the difficulties, rationing, and fear of living in an England under threat of Nazi invasion. With most of the characters thoroughly in love with being miserable, Flynn’s Freda shone through for her edge of irony.
A decade later, she became part of a beloved classic with a recurring role on Open All Hours. Despite being only known as “Milk Woman,” Flynn’s divorcee and student was the subject of Granville’s (David Jason) affections. It lead to some of the series’ funniest scenes as he repeatedly tried to woo her during her early morning rounds.
In the 1980s, Flynn balanced two very different looks at the decade; as committed environmentalist Jill in the gently funny Beiderbecke series, and as the ferociously ambitious Dr. Rose Marie in bitingly satirical A Very Peculiar Practice
One of her most famous roles was as Jill in the idiosyncratic detective series The Beiderbecke Affair. The unusually sedate conspiracy thriller spawed two sequels, The Beiderbecke Tapes and The Beiderbecke Connection. They teamed Flynn up with James Bolam’s jazz loving woodwork teacher Trevor. And as Jill she was the more sophisticated, eco-aware English teacher. Though both were somewhat adrift in mysteries they involved themselves in almost accidentally.
Beginning with an order of jazz records going astray, and the pair simply attempting to locate where the package has gone, over three series they uncovered institutional police corruption, illegal toxic waste dumping, and the trafficking of refugees. And along the way they also find time to have a baby they name ‘Firstborn’ with typical non-conformity. Fondly remembered for its gentle satire and the couple’s mix of hangdog fatalism and dogged curiosity, The Beiderbecke trilogy holds an almost unique place in British television history.
As surreal and sharp edged as the Beiderbecke series were cozy and gentle, was A Very Peculiar Practice. Set in the general practice attached to a small regional university, the 1980s show starred Peter Davison, fresh from his stint in the TARDIS. Davison’s Dr. Daker was the newly arrived GP bewildered and alarmed by the collection of wild eccentrics that made up the practice. These included Graeme Crowden (The Horns of Nimon) as aging alcoholic Jock McCannon and David Troughton (The Curse of Peladon) as the avarice driven, upwardly mobile Bob Buzzard. And also Barbara Flynn as the bisexual feminist Rose Marie. With Rose Marie oozing a cocktail of raw sexuality and disdain, some of A Very Peculiar Practice’s most comic scenes involved the repressed Daker’s utter terror of her.
Crime drama Cracker was the watercooler hit of the 1990s, and Flynn starred alongside Christopher Eccleston in the show that made him a household name
In the 1990s, Flynn once again took a role close to the centre of a well remembered series. Cracker starred Robbie Coltrane as Fitz, the damaged, but keenly insightful, psychologist working with the police to help profile and track down various killers and violent criminals. This was the show that made Christopher Eccleston a household name as Fitz’s boss DCI David Billborough. And it also co-starred Barbara Flynn as Fitz’s estranged wife Judith. The two share a complicated relationship, with Judith one of the few who truly understands Fitz, and who still cares for him, while aware that he’s a toxic presence in a relationship.
Around the same time she starred in Chandler & Co, as one half of a duo of private investigator sisters-in-law. One of the more minor shows on Flynn’s resume, today it’s mainly worth remembering for co-starring a young Peter Capaldi. As the cynical former owner of the agency, he feels obliged to grumpily assist the fledgling detectives as they routinely get in over their heads.
In recent years, Flynn appears in fare like Cranford and The Durrells as formidable older ladies
Moving on to 2007, and Flynn was still winning roles are regulars in major television series. The three series of Cranford, based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s 19th century novels of the toing and froing of a small rural town was a gentle delight. Here Flynn was the snobbish and eccentric Mrs. Jamieson, accompanied everywhere by her dog Giuseppe in their matching outfits. Her trademark mix of steel and wit again crafted a memorable character among an ensemble that included the likes of Judi Dench and Imelda Staunton.
And between all these Flynn’s had countless memorable guest appearances. From Z-Cars to The Gentle Touch, Inspector Morse to Poirot, Death in Paradise to Killing Eve, she’s been a reliable performer of characters wise and foolish, ironic and steely. She’s now joined the Doctor Who family at last. And whatever the secrets her character holds, Blogtor Who suspects we certainly haven’t seen the last of her yet.
Doctor Who: Flux continues this Sunday at 6.20pm on BBC One, and on BBC America in the US, with Chapter Four: Village of the Angels
Devon, November 1967. A little girl has gone missing, Professor Eustacius Jericho is conducting psychic experiments, and in the village graveyard, there is one gravestone too many. Why is Medderton known as the Cursed Village, and what do the Weeping Angels want?