Once, Upon Time introduces Craig Parkinson’s mysterious unnamed character. But if we don’t know much about this new (probable) baddie, what about the actor who plays him?
Of all Flux’s various guest stars, he’s one of the more familiar faces to British TV audiences. Yet the Doctor Who team have kept Craig Parkinson’s debut curiously low key. We still don’t know the name of his character, and he’s not even in the official cast list for this weekend’s Once, Upon Time. Yet we know from the official publicity photos that he is in this episode. And that he’s in some way connected to whatever happens to Yaz and Vinder next. In fact, he may even be the resident of that creepy, impossible, sprawling mansion in the sky.
Speculation has included him being some human form of Swarm, though wouldn’t they just use actor Sam Spruell sans makeup? Or a new incarnation of the Master, but why when Sacha Dhawan is so brilliant in the role? Considering some have even dared utter the ‘L’ word, Lungbarrow, in relation to that spooky house, could he be another past incarnation of the Doctor? The Other? Tectuen? Who knows? The last time the publicity team so downplayed a guest star was Fugitive of the Judoon so all bets are off. But one thing’s for sure, whomever they are, with Craig Parkinson they’ve one fine actor playing them.
Parkinson first came to national attention as the apathetic probation officer Shaun in superpowered delinquent drama Misfits
Parkinson’s career has been so varied, and he’s been so consistently in demand we can only scratch the surface here. After all, he’s celebrating his twentieth anniversary on television this year, with his very first screen credit being a guest role in Daziel and Pascoe. Since then casting directors have often given the 6’5″ actor roles as tough guys and criminal enforcer. However, his acting range allows him to avoid the pigeon hole of such roles. In fact, his gift for playing against easy types has been the hallmark of his career. Comic characters are tinged with pathos, and villains are somehow likeable no matter their sins. Meanwhile, tragedies arrive with a hint of a wry smile.
As is almost compulsory for British actors, his early career involved doing the rounds of shows like The Bill and Holby City. But it also gave him an early opportunity to showcase his comic skills in Black Books. In one episode he was ‘Martin the Tout’, who cons Dylan Moran’s Bernard into thousands of pounds of debt. All before memorably threatening to “evict him from his shop, or his legs.”
And it also saw him guest star in future Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall’s Born and Bred. In 2010 he came to widespread attention as probation officer Shaun in Misfits. alongside stars Ruth Negga and Robert Sheehan. Again, Parkinson’s ability to mix the comically apathetic Shaun’s disinterest in what the Misfits got up to, with a subtle humanity, made the character’s final scenes some of the most affecting on the show.
Around the same time he also appeared in the 2010 adaptation of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. Once more his talent for balancing light and dark came into play as Cubitt, a gangster who, despite his own capacity for violence, becomes repulsed by the excesses of his boss Pinkie (Sam Riley).
Line of Duty, and the role of corrupt AC-12 detective ‘Dot’ Cottan would make Parkinson a household name
After Misfits Parkinson went on to his most famous role to date, as DI Matthew ‘Dot’ Cottan in the BBC’s smash hit crime drama Line of Duty. Dot, codenamed ‘the Caddy,’ was a mole recruited by organized crime as a teenager and planted within the police. Dot doing whatever it took to keep his secret became the major storyline of the first three series. The popularity of the character, despite the various murders, planting of evidence, and other corruption he orchestrated, was in no small part down to Parkinson’s talent at investing him with a human vulnerability. Embedded in the police’s Anti-Corruption Unit 12 and ultimately assigned to investigate and identify the Caddy, Dot’s mix of horror and cunning as he desperately tried to keep the evidence pointing away from himself had viewers almost hoping he’d get away with it.
Following Line of Duty, Parkinson took the role of British Army Captain McLeod in Irish War of Independence drama Resistance. In both series of Channel 4’s critically acclaimed Indian Summers he was Dougie Raworth. Dougie was one of the community of British immigrants during the Raj whose lives become entwined in sometimes scandalous ways.
More recent roles for Parkinson have included Temple, Black Mirror, Grace, and, of course, Doctor Who
Parkinson was back then on familiar ground as one of the lead antagonists in the first series of Temple. The crime drama centred on a secret underground clinic hidden among the network of tunnels at Temple Street Tube station. As Mark Strong’s brilliant surgeon Daniel Milton desperately hunts for a cure for his wife’s terminal illness, he turns to treating criminals injured on the job. He again brought a finely judged mix of menace and pathos to reluctant organized crime enforcer Keith Sullivan; a man trapped in a job he was very, very good at. Meanwhile, in Charlie Brooker’s experimental interactive movie Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, he was the concerned father to Fionn Whitehead’s young game designer spiralling into psychosis.
This year Parkinson was shady nightclub owner Terry Chino in sitcom farce Sandylands. 2021 also saw him become the corrupt leader of an interstellar government in Sky’s Blake’s 7 like SF drama Intergalactic. After Doctor Who, he’ll be teaming up with another sinister face from the Doctor’s adventures in another series of Grace. Starring former Master John Simm as the titular detective Roy Grace, it features Parkinson as Grace’s distinctly politically incorrect sometime sidekick DS Norman Potting.
On Twitter, Craig Parkinson himself has delighted in the mystery surrounding his Doctor Who character, teasing fans. It won’t be long now until Once, Upon Time reveals all. But whoever they are, we’re guaranteed a layered performance of charm and menace.
Doctor Who: Flux continues this Sunday at 6.30pm on BBC One, and on BBC America in the US, with Chapter Three: Once, Upon Time
“Time is beginning to run wild”. On a planet that shouldn’t exist, in the aftermath of apocalypse, the Doctor, Dan, Yaz and Vinder face a battle to survive.