Born: Norwich, Norfolk, England
At the opening of the Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, Olivia Colman sits with Sean Pertwee and asks if he’s going to be in the special. When Pertwee replies asking if Colman will be she quips that she’s in everything. It’s fine bit of meta-humor because while Colman is relatively unknown in the US, even after winning a Golden Globe for The Night Manager, she does seem to have achieved near ubiquity in British television. Her packed schedule even caused her to miss the award ceremony because she was busy filming a remake of Murder on the Orient Express.
Colman’s oeuvre seems to swing between two poles: she’s either drop dead funny in an ensemble comedy, or near the center of a heart-rending drama. While her turn at the lead of Broadchurch, alongside casting-supporter and former Doctor David Tennant, may sit front and center in most people’s minds for the latter category, but it’s only one example of many. A TV reviewer for The Independent went as far as labeling her the harbinger of doom when reviewing 2013’s Run.
While her tragic performances have been front and center lately, it’s easy to forget that her rise to prominence actually started in comedy as love interest for David Mitchell in Peep Show. She delivered punchlines with a perfect deadpan and was in perfect step with the rest of the impressive ensemble. She’s racked up roles in other comedies that didn’t crack the attention of stateside viewers like The Green Wing and Twenty Twelve, so it was easy to be surprised and delighted to see her revel in the awfulness of Godmother in Fleabag. With all the association of her with death and sorrow, it’s refreshing to see how hilarious she can be, occupying a comic character in dialogue and body language.
If this summary seems to fly through her career too fast, it’s mostly because there’s so much there and it all speaks for itself. If you watch enough British television, you’ve seen her. Even if you hated what she was in, you can’t find fault with her performance. In some cases it may even have been the strength of her performance that kept you watching. What she lacks, however, is science fiction credits. Her genre work has been in period pieces and the occasional noir. We’ve yet to see her spend much time aboard an alien ship, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be able to handle it.
What would she bring:
Her dramatic talent and range are unquestionable and, at least as far as the UK is concerned, she’s one of the higher profile names being seriously batted around. Her comic deadpan would be useful to highlight the Doctor’s alienness and break dramatic tension as needed. Her dramatic delivery would get across the threats posed by sometimes campy enemies.
The BBC has reportedly been less than happy with the ratings for Doctor Who under Peter Capaldi and suggested a return to a proven formula. In these rumors the formula they mean is dashing male Doctor with young female companion. Obviously Colman doesn’t fit this model, but the most successful recent iteration of the role was the empathetic and emotionally present Doctor of David Tennant. Throughout her doom and gloom roles, Colman has played both qualities confidently.
What complications are there:
Surprisingly for the ubiquitous actress, there are only two projects in the pipe according to imdb: the aforementioned Murder on the Orient Express and a Stuart period piece in pre-production. Her recurring roles appear to be all wrapped up with Broadchurch currently airing. So scheduling doesn’t seem to be a problem, unless she decides she’ll get bored having one primary role that takes up most of her time.
Another factor is that she’s been one of the bookmaker’s favorites, and those favorites haven’t fared too well in past casting. This is more superstition than actual complication and perhaps the casting buzz, the lack of controversy it’s bringing, her familiarity to showrunner Chris Chibnall (who helmed Broadchurch) and her high profile might prove an irresistible combination.
Unquestionable talent makes this bookmaker’s choice an exciting prospect for the role.