45 Years Later, Doctor Who Just Repeated Its Best Actor Trick

Somebody just showed up very early.

Doctor Who

Science fiction is one of the best genres for actors for one simple reason: Just because you’ve already appeared in a TV series, that doesn’t mean you can’t come back as a totally different character. And The longest-running science fiction series of all time, Doctor Who, does this all time. That said, one of the show’s most interesting tricks is having an actor appear on the series way earlier than it was publicly announced they were supposed to.

“Boom,” the third episode of Doctor Who Season 3, is fantastic for several reasons, but hidden among the bittersweet story is a cameo from Varada Sethu, probably best known for her role in as Cinta in Andor. Recently, it was widely reported that Sethu would join Doctor Who’s next season, in 2025, as a “second companion” alongside Millie Gibson and Ncuti Gatwa. But, here she is, a year early in “Boom,” as an Anglican marine named Mundy.

Way back in 2012, something similar happened when Jenna Coleman appeared in Doctor Who’s s then-seventh season premiere, “Asylum of the Daleks.” At the time, Coleman, like Sethu, wasn’t expected to join the series until much later. Is history repeating itself? Or is this a coincidence?

Varada Sethu as Mundy in Doctor Who Episode 3, “Boom.”


Now, this old hat for Doctor Who — just because Varada Sethu is coming to the show early doesn’t necessarily this is an intentional story choice. It could just be that Russell T Davies cast her in this episode, and then decided to reuse her in a different role for next season.

Case-in-point: Freema Agyeman, who appeared in the 2006 episode “Army of Ghosts” as Torchwood employee Adeola Oshodi, was then re-introduced in 2007 in the episode “Smith and Jones” as Martha Jones, the second permanent companion of David Tennant’s era.

Though probably not planned, this discrepancy was actually explained: Martha is Adeola’s cousin who just happens to look identical.

Similarly, Peter Capaldi played two roles in the Whoniverse before becoming the 12th Doctor in 2013. In 2008, he starred as a doomed Roman named Caecilius in “The Fires of Pompeii,” and in 2009, he popped up on Who spinoff miniseries Torchwood: Children of Earth, playing a politician named John Frobisher. Later, in 2015, well into his second year as the Doctor, in the fifth episode, co-starring Maisie Williams, the series overtly acknowledged that the 12th Doctor looked exactly like Caecilius, and featured a flashback to the moment the Doctor remembered himself (as David Tennant) rescuing Caecilius from the eruption of Pompeii. This canon handwave suggested that the Doctor subconsciously chose his own new face as a reminder to himself that he “saves people.”

Lalla Ward’s role as the Time Lord Romana was her second role on Doctor Who.

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In a sense, this was a nod to the classic show when Lalla Ward returned to Doctor Who in 1979’s “Destiny of the Daleks,” as a regenerated version of Romana and chose the appearance of Princess Astra as her new face, a nod to the fact that she’s played that character in “The Armageddon Factor,” earlier the same year. So, Doctor Who has been doing this kind of thing for at least forty-five years!

Still, not everybody gets the same kind of canon tap-dancing. Karen Gillan appeared as a soothsayer in “The Fires of Pompeii,” and there was no explanation for her reappearing as Amy Pond in “The Eleventh Hour,” two years later. Ditto 6th Doctor Colin Baker, who before becoming the lead character, appeared in the 5th Doctor adventure “Ark of Infinity” as Commander Maxil.

So, Varada Sethu’s early appearance in Doctor Who might never be explained and that would be a Doctor Who tradition. Then again, her early appearance could totally be explained and that would also be a Doctor Who tradition.

Sethu already proved her Disney+ franchise chops in the Star Wars universe.


Overall, it feels unlikely that Sethu is pulling a Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and appearing all over the universe in different forms — that’s already happening this season with recurring actress Susan Twist. So if it’s not some strange way for the series to incorporate a future character early, then fans should appreciate it for what it is: a sneak peek at a talented actress taking on something completely different to the role we’ll see later.

Perhaps her later role will be Mundy’s twin sister, long lost doppelganger, or just unexplained lookalike. Regardless, Doctor Who is giving us one of its greatest gifts: the ability to see the full breadth of an actor’s talents in more than one role, across all of time and space.

Doctor Who is now streaming on Disney+.

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