When I tell people about this project one name invariably comes up: Daniel Kaluuya. It’s no surprise, he’s a terrific actor and he’s having a bit of a moment right now with the surprise blockbuster Get Out. I always had him in mind for someone to write up, just figured he’d be later on. That said, strike while the iron is hot.
Kaluuya’s first major role came in Psychoville: Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton’s first foray post-League of Gentleman. Kaluuya plays Michael “Tea Leaf” Fry, whose community service assignment leads him to sidekick eccentric collector Oscar Lomax. Kaluuya serves the role of audience surrogate, bringing a normal character’s viewpoint into a bizarre world alongside an unusual lead. Kaluuya is his trademark relatable self, and his developing affection for the impossible Lomax is portrayed excellently.
His next major series was 2011’s The Fades, a supernatural teen drama about angels and undead souls and… honestly I’m not really all that sure. It was compelling, and Kaluuya kept my interest (along with Joe Dempsie’s excellent scenery chewing as the primary antagonist). Kaluuya plays Mac, the geeky best friend of Paul, a teenager who discovers he has secret powers like growing wings when he masturbates (the two end up being unconnected). Kaluuya is the grounded sidekick and, again, audience surrogate who helps keep the story grounded (or at least tries to). Despite my scathing comments above I’d say fans of supernatural drama would find it worthwhile. That said, It’s almost strictly through Kaluuya’s relatableness that the story holds together.
2011 was a bit of a busy year for Kaluuya, seeing him star alongside Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English Reborn, playing the title character’s sidekick and (wait for it) audience surrogate. It also was the year he had a lead in a project readers are probably more familiar with: Black Mirror. Kaluuya leads an episode (no more sidekicking) that’s a sort of underground dystopia where people are forced to race on stationary bikes to earn merits to spend on distractions like online avatars, porn, and reality TV entry tickets. It’s not a subtle metaphor. Normally I don’t mind skirting into spoilers, but given the nature of Black Mirror, I’m going to just say that Kaluuya again delivers an everyman likableness that helps the viewer make sense of the world around him and expertly conveys the emotional journey of his character.
Surprisingly, given how big his 2011 was and how clearly talented he is, there wasn’t much to follow. A number of recurring roles in television and smaller roles in smaller movies, but our expert everyman was hung up in no man’s land until Jordan Peele saw something in him and cast him as the lead in Get Out. It feels like a waste that it took so long for him to have a major starring vehicle. I’d be willing to state that Get Out would have struggled with a different actor in the lead role. Kaluuya’s ability to be relatable and to serve as an entry into an unreal world is second to none, making him the ideal horror movie protagonist. He’s done sci-fi, horror, supernatural fantasy all while retaining a believability and relatability that is second to none, including an appearance on Doctor Who during one of the specials that stretched out David Tennant’s run.
All of the above should serve to show you that I really admire and enjoy Kaluuya. So keep that in mind when I say that, given all of this, I don’t think he’s right for the Doctor. I’d love to see Kaluuya on the Tardis but as the companion. That’s not a knock on him. The companion is as important as the Doctor, maybe even more so. The companion is the audience surrogate who helps the Doctor shine and makes a (let’s face it) ridiculous universe sensible. The Doctor is the enigma, sometimes an unlikable one at that, and while the Doctor gets all the attention, it’s the companions who do the hard job of making the stories work. It’s like the old line about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did only backwards and in high heels. The companions have the harder job without the spotlight. Kaluuya has shined as being the relatable everyman. I want him to keep doing that.
What he would bring to the role:
Well I’ve covered his primary attributes as an actor in depth above. He’d also bring youth to the role being only slightly older than Matt Smith when Smith took the role, but with an ability to play even younger. He’s also got considerable buzz right now having lead a movie that’s made more than 30 times its filming budget and counting. His resume in genre productions is unquestionable. There’s a lot to offer and I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong.
What complications are there:
He’s currently filming a supporting role for Marvel’s Black Panther and is attached to Steve McQueen’s upcoming film Widows, which is in pre-production. After the success of Get Out you’d have to figure that the studios are going to come calling, with or without Samuel L. Jackson’s blessing. If Marvel wants him for sequels, that’s probably going to cause scheduling problems and the lure of Hollywood might be stronger than the pull of the Tardis.
Breakout star with everyman qualities might be better suited as companion, but we’d happily be proven wrong.