Praxeus guest star Warren Brown has had a longer relationship with the Doctor Who universe than you might realize. But he’s also a name to be reckoned with in the world of TV action drama.
When Series 12 kicked off it was toplined with the news that Stephen Fry and Sir Lenny Henry were guest starring. Since then we’ve had the likes of Breaking Bad’s Laura Fraser, ER’s Goran Višnjić and Silk’s Neil Stuke pass through the Doctor Who studios. So Chris Chibnall and his team certainly aren’t being shy about casting familiar faces this year. But Warren Brown as Jake Willis in Praxeus is perhaps unique. Because he hasn’t only been in a wide selection of very well known TV projects. He’s already practically one of Doctor Who’s own.
For most viewers tonight he’ll be best recognized as DS Justin Ripley, the long suffering sidekick of Idris Elba’s eponymous Luther. But Doctor Who fans, particularly those with Big Finish accounts, will know him best as Lt. Sam Bishop of UNIT. Ever since Big Finish launched its UNIT series in 2015 with Auton/3D printer thriller Extinction, Brown’s Sam Bishop has been a constant defender of the Earth alongside Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and Osgood (Ingrid Oliver).
The Cybermen. The Master. The Silurians. As a star of Big Finish’s UNIT series, Brown has faced them all
Sam’s role in the team is as UNIT’s answer to James Bond or Ethan Hunt. He’s the one most likely to found infiltrating villains’ lairs in far flung countries unlocking a global alien conspiracy. His adventures have seen him battle the Silence, the Silurians, and the Cybermen across six boxsets so far. And he’s even had to cheat death at the hands of the Master (Sir Derek Jacobi) and get to grips with River Song (Alex Kingston). And in further spin-off Lady Christina, Sam took the Cary Grant role in a homage to classic heist movies. The boxset saw him chase Planet of the Dead’s aristocratic thief (Michelle Ryan) around the world. And that’s before the pair had to join forces to fight the Slitheen! In the Doctor’s world, Sam’s a busy boy; to Big Finish fans, Warren Brown’s one of the family.
But Brown’s longstanding loyalty to Doctor Who on audio is all the more remarkable considering his hugely successful television career. Having originally built a career in his late teens and early twenties Thai Boxing at the highest level (Brown is a two times world champion), he made the decision to put that energy and drive into building a career in acting. He first caught people’s attention during recurring roles in Shameless and Hollyoaks. For those he played against his later type as, respectively, a brutal Maguire family member and a serial rapist. While the harrowing Accused episode Kenny’s Story saw him take centre stage for the first time, as a man haunted with guilt after beating to death the man he wrongly believed to have attacked his daughter.
Even before Praxeus, Warren Brown’s been no stranger to genre TV
Genre fans, however, may have first seen him in 2008’s Dead Set, which began his change into more heroic roles. The five part mini-series came from the darkest past of Charlie Brooker’s mind, and prefigured Black Mirror. In it, a zombie apocalypse unfolded while life in the Big Brother house carried on in blissful ignorance. It’s still remembered for its unique mix of horror and surreality, including Davina McCall playing an undead version of herself. Dead Set featured Brown as the brave, resourceful, but ultimately doomed Big Brother housemate Marky.
From around the same period comes Single Father, the drama in which his character Matt is part of a tangled love jigsaw involving his girlfriend’s (Suranne Jones, The Doctor’s Wife) attraction to recently widowed Dave (David Tennant), the memory of Dave’s wife Rita (Laura Fraser, Orphan 55), Rita’s former partner Stuart (Rupert Graves, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship), and Matt’s own involvement with Dave’s adult daughter Tanya (Sophie Kennedy Clark).
As Idris Elba’s sidekick DS Justin Ripley in the massive hit Luther, Brown became one of the UK’s best known faces
But it was with 2010’s Luther that Warren Brown truly became a household name. As DS Justin Ripley he played an up and coming young detective eager do it by the book. But Ripley’s dedication to his ethically flexible mentor John Luther tarnishes his reputation and prospects for advancements. It was a role which highlighted the subtlety and skill of Brown’s performance. Ripley acted as both Luther’s conscience and conflicted protege, while being such a contained presence that his inner thoughts and loyalties could still sometimes be in doubt. When Ripley was killed off towards the end of the third series, it forever changed the balance of the show. And, some would say, Luther was never the same again afterwards.
But Brown was making the move to starring roles of his own. Good Cop was centred firmly on his broad shoulders, in a police drama dark enough to give Luther a run for its money. Following the murder of his partner, Brown’s PC Rocksavage finds himself on a path of escalating revenge against the gang responsible. By Any Means soon followed, again with Brown front and centre as the morally ambiguous series lead. From the creator of Hustle, By Any Means was a sort of harder edged update of the Mission: Impossible TV show. Each week saw Brown’s Jack Quinn lead his team in taking extraordinary measures to ensnare otherwise untouchable criminals.
Luther led to Brown stepping up anchor shows of his own, including the action packed Strike Back
Following By Any Means, Brown spent three seasons as the star of X Company. The multinational co-production detailed the adventures of an elite Allied unit in WWII, tasked with missions of espionage, sabotage and assassination behind enemy lines. X Company, coincidentally, also saw him work alongside Praxeus director Jamie Magnus Stone. This segued naturally into his taking over as the lead of Sky’s massively successful, and continually mutating, Strike Back franchise. He assumed command of the action packed military adventures of Section 20 with the sixth series, Retribution, and returned for the seventh, Revolution. He’s set to return to the role of Sgt. ‘Mac’ MacAllister one last time for Strike Back: The Final Season later this month.
But what can we expect of his portrayal of Jake Willis in Praxeus tonight? Hero or villain? It’s too early to say, but the trailers and promotional photos depict as a man of action. But with his combination of modern biker jacket and laser rifle, is he a human trying to survive alien attack? Or is he himself the threat the Doctor must face? We only have a few hours until we find out…
Doctor Who continues at 7.10pm next Sunday on with Praxeus
What connects a missing astronaut in the Indian Ocean, birds behaving strangely in Peru and a US naval officer who washes up on a Madagascan beach? Team Tardis investigate.
Starring Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham), Mandip Gill (Yaz) and Tosin Cole (Ryan). Praxeus guest stars Warren Brown (Jake Willis), Matthew McNulty (Adam Lang), and Molly Harris (Suki Chen). Written by Chris Chibnall and Pete McTighe (Kerblam!) and directed by Jamie Magnus Stone (Spyfall Part One, Fugitive of the Judoon).