The TARDIS has been home to two companions this season. First there’s Pearl Mackie’s delightfully human Bill, and then there’s Matt Lucas’ human-alien hybrid (and chronic scene-stealer) Nardole.
Sent as a gift to the Doctor from River Song (a.k.a. his wife), Nardole has been responsible for keeping the titular Time Lord in check while the three of them travel all of Time and Space together. But as the season has unfolded, viewers have seen Nardole reveal glimpses of his backstory — including the fact he was once blue — as he simultaneously supports both Bill and the Doctor, while also providing the right amount of emotional support and comic relief when needed.
With only one episode left this season, EW caught up with Lucas to learn where Nardole gets his confidence, his favorite episodes, and, of course, whether there’s a chance he’ll return.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: One of the really cool things about Nardole has been that he actually stands up to the Doctor and stops him from being too reckless. What do you think gives him the confidence to do that?
MATT LUCAS: He’s not a wide-eyed human like a lot of the other companions. He’s been with the doctor for many, many years. He’s had a life in space with River Song before he met the Doctor. So he’s been to a lot of the places before and met a lot of the other characters. For instance, he’s had experience with Daleks before. He’s less tolerant towards the Doctor, in some regards. So the doctor might hold a little bit less mystique for him. However, he also is subservient to the Doctor because he’s pretty much the doctor’s valet. He wants to challenge him but at the same time, he knows he can’t push it too far.
We’ve been learning Nardole’s history in bits and pieces over the season. What’s been your favorite thing to discover about him?
I reacted with mixed emotions to the news that this wasn’t Nardole’s original face. He’s a hybrid of android, alien, and human, as far as I can tell. So I reacted with mixed emotions because, although I thought it was wonderfully inventive and funny, it also occurred to me that I might tune into Doctor Who one day and watch someone else be Nardole. So I was slightly aghast at the prospect, but I also thought that was rather wonderful. Also, I was impressed that he knows where the teacakes are in the TARDIS.
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When you were signing on for the whole season did you know all this stuff about him, or was it the process of discovering it with each episode?
There were a few things I was told at the very beginning, but I make the discoveries almost only a few seconds before the viewer. I didn’t know what was in the vault until I actually asked. Nobody told me, and then one day I went, “What’s in the vault?” and Peter [Capaldi] told me. I thought, “That’s clever.” I never ever, ever talk to anyone about anything in terms of plots and spoilers, because if I talk to one person, then I’ll panic. If I talk to nobody about it, then I just don’t have to worry. In some regards, I was happy not to know a lot of stuff because then it’s just less stress because people pump you for spoilers all the time on this particular show. The less I knew, the better because it’s hard to keep secrets. I might, for instance, know all sorts of things about various personnel in the future, but I’d rather I didn’t. People get upset because they go, “Well, you can trust me.” But I never tell anyone anything. They’re called spoilers for a reason.
Is there anyone on the cast who does want to know some of those details or doesn’t care about being spoiled?
I don’t know because I just try and avoid those kinds of conversations with people. I try and be really respectful of the fact that it’s not my show. It’s not my gift to divulge information. The main conversations that happen between me and Pearl and Peter have usually revolved around trying to work out what stuff means, like, “Do you understand the thing when that happened?” and between us trying to solve the riddle of the script because Doctor Who‘s a very complicated show when you watch it, but often, it’s even more complicated in script form when you don’t see things; the stuff that is interpreted in different ways. Often we’d be talking and saying, “Well, ah, that’s interesting. I thought it was very different.” Also, it’s not a show where the writers are on set, so sometimes, you have to work out for yourself what something means.
Was that the case with this last episode where you were trying to figure out the science of it? Because the ship has two different time zones within it.
Yeah. I find those things really hard to understand. I don’t have a very scientific brain, so I just spend a lot of my time asking Pearl what things mean.
Is she really good at the science of it?
I just think she’s cleverer than I am.
Speaking of Pearl, we know that Bill has kind of been turned into a Cyberman now. How is Nardole going to be reacting to that?
I should say that I thought this episode should be called “Keeping up with the Mondasians.” But poor Bill. Nardole has not normally got a lot of time for humans, but he has developed a closeness with this particular human so he’s sad. In fact, there was a bit in episode 11, where you see Nardole responding to Bill getting shot, which was cut. There’s so much stuff that gets cut. You can do an edit of every episode that was probably 20 minutes longer if you kept the entire script in. So stories have to be told at speed to cram everything in, but there is a closeness, and they’ve had work together to take care of the doctor because he has been growing weaker over the past few episodes. He was very vulnerable [starting with episode] “Oxygen” onwards really.
Where we left off, the Master and Missy are teaming up. How is Nardole reacting to that?
He is pretty fearful of them, and for good reason. Do you think Missy can turn good? The doctor’s placed his faith in that. Nardole probably trusts them a little less than the Doctor.
Do you have an episode from this season that you’re most proud of?
I thought episode 11 was pretty sensational and really vintage, great Doctor Who. I loved episode 1 as well. Bill’s introduction was done beautifully. Probably my personal favorite is “Oxygen” actually because it just felt like a really classic space adventure. I loved the idea of capitalism in space and the way it explored the idea. It was really good.
I have to ask: Do you know if you’ll be back next season?
I do know the answer to that question. I’ve known the answer to that question for a while, but I can’t tell you the answer I’m afraid. It wouldn’t be fair of me to do that. But it’s been a great experience the three of us working together. I’m very grateful that the viewers have come around to the idea of Nardole because the character in his earliest incarnation was very broad and big. Over time, I was able to bring it down a little bit and explore some facets of the character and ways of performing. That’s thanks to the writing and also the direction and the other actors. I haven’t played just one character for that length of time before. So it’s been great.
The Doctor Who season finale airs Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.