The Twin Dilemma’s Kevin McNally is back! But his career between then and this week’s Village of the Angels has seen him build a distinguished career
This Sunday’s Village of the Angels includes the return of a former Doctor Who guest star in a new role. As the superbly monikered Professor Eustacius Jericho, Kevin McNally is one of the key characters of the Weeping Angels’ return. Both the trailer and the synopsis focus on Professor Jericho’s experiments into the power of the mind. Is it these perhaps that prompt the Angels to target the ‘cursed village’? Like all the best scientists pushing the boundaries of science even as their peers told them they were mad (Maaad!) he certainly seem irascible and opinionated. But McNally himself has a long career of diverse roles in both small dramas and huge blockbuster franchises.
His first time on Doctor Who saw McNally struggle heroically against some of the show’s strangest script and costume choices
But first we need to address the giant slug in the room. This is Kevin McNally’s second brush with Doctor Who after guest starring in 1984’s The Twin Dilemma. That story, Colin Baker’s debut, has the ignoble distinction of being consistently voted the worst Doctor Who story ever. There are many factors that undermine its story of a giant slug intent on blowing up a planet in order to spread its eggs across the galaxy on the shockwave. Not least the fact that it’s about a giant slug intent on blowing up a planet to spread its eggs across the galaxy on the shockwave. But Kevin McNally isn’t one of them.
Like most of the cast his Lt. Hugo Lang battles gamely on in the face of ripe dialogue like “I’m in visual contact with a Spacehopper mark three freighter.” Meanwhile, with the new Doctor’s costume resembling the result of banana and strawberry milkshakes exploding in a bagpipe factory, everybody else’s costumes were heightened to match it. Meaning McNally does well to retain any shred of dignity in the early scenes the spaciest space cop uniform ever. Though the rainbow festooned glittery wraparound number he later changes into would sink even the greatest actors of the age. It’s a magnificent horror that even the Thirteenth Doctor would put back on the rack as “too rainbow.”
From I, Claudius and the original Poldark, to Supernatural, McNally has become an internationally renowned character actor
But there’s a lot more to Kevin McNally’s almost forty-five year long career than lines like “My ship! The squadron! The children!” His very first television role was in an iconic drama that reshaped the medium – I, Claudius – where he took the role of Castor, one of the lesser royal sadists to bedevil Rome. A year later he was Drake Crane in the original adaptation of Poldark, decades before Harry Richardson took up the role of Ross Poldark’s ill fated brother-in-law. He was also a regular in early Jimmy McGovern drama Hard Cases, about the troubled lives of probation officers. The 80s also saw a smattering of leading man roles, such as the intense psychological drama The Berlin Affair.
But in the 90s and 00s he became an established character actor, often as weary or suspicious public servants and academics, or as mischief making locals. He was real world journalist Walter Burton Harris in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. And also bent copper Harry Woolf in Life on Mars. Among his genre roles was the rat demon Mr. Tibbs in Demons and paranoid surveillance expert Frank in Supernatural. McNally’s a force of balance for many television shows. Sometimes he grounds more outlandish or fantastical character in some kind of reality, other times he adds a quirky individuality to more ordinary people.
Five Pirates of the Carribbean films as Gibbs have made it possibly McNally’s most famous role
It was also in this period that McNally got the role for which he’s perhaps most famous. Having gotten his first movie role fighting alongside Roger Moore in seafaring Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me, he was back on the high seas for 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean. As the (mostly) loyal sidekick of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) his character of Gibbs became one of the few characters to appear in all the films of the series. In them, his perfectly judged performance allows him to play the straight man to Depp’s wild pirate captain while still fitting in as part of the same heightened reality.
McNally’s Olivier Award nominated stage work has seen play everyone from King Lear to Alan Bennett
On stage, the same skills let him move between wildly different roles. He took the title role as King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe for one. And he was nominated for an Olivier Award for his Lebedev opposite Kenneth Branagh’s Ivanov in the prestigious Donmar production. It was for Domnar too that he was Claudius in Hamlet. But he was also Alan Bennett opposite Dame Maggie Smith in the stage version of The Lady in the Van, telling the wry, mostly true, story of how the famed playwright accidentally invited a homeless woman to stay for fifteen years.
Most recently Kevin McNally will be known to audiences for succeeding in the daunting task of stepping into Arthur Lowe’s shoes as Captain Mainwaring in recreations of lost Dad’s Army episodes. And for his role in Catherine the Great, as the top advisor to Helen Mirren’s Russian monarch.
Village of the Angels shows every sign of being a creepy, terrifying addition to the Doctor Who canon. And utilising a Kevin McNally at the height of his powers, perhaps it will help the memory of that jacket fade into history at last.
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?