Freema Agyeman 'didn't anticipate' Dr Who racist abuse

Freema Agyeman, who played the first black companion to Dr Who, says she ‘didn’t anticipate’ the racist abuse she received when appearing on the show

  • Freema played Martha Jones in third series of BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who
  • The 42-year-old actress said ‘life changed overnight’ after appearing on show
  • Says she received racist abuse from ‘certain sectors’ of the hit show’s fanbase 

Freema Agyeman says she ‘didn’t anticipate’ the racist abuse she would receive playing the first black companion on Doctor Who. 

The 42-year-old actress, who played Martha Jones in the third series of the revived BBC science fiction series, says her life ‘changed completely overnight’ after her first appearance on the show. 

She said she ‘couldn’t rationalise’ the comments coming from ‘certain sectors’ of the hit show’s dedicated fanbase and that she was perhaps ‘naive’ to the level of racism among viewers. 

Speaking at Ofcom’s Diversity in Broadcasting event as part of National Inclusion Week, she said of the show: ‘It is a game changer’. 

Freema Agyeman says she ‘didn’t anticipate’ the racist abuse she would receive playing the first black companion on Doctor Who. Pictured, the actress alongside Dr Who actor David Tennant

‘My life changed completely overnight. You go from obscurity to people knowing who you are, in a good way.

‘And then we aired and I didn’t even mind that there was so much on the fact that I was the first black companion because I was. It never bothered me at all. It was something I was, and still am, so proud of.

‘What I didn’t anticipate – and maybe I was naive – was the racism from certain sectors of the fanbase.’ 

She said while she could handle criticism based on her performance, backlash based on her race was something she couldn’t justify.

The 42-year-old actress, who played Martha Jones in the third series of the revived BBC science fiction series, says her life ‘changed completely overnight’ after her first appearance on the show

‘There was criticism levelled towards my contribution for other reasons, which I could handle’, she said. 

‘I could rationalise those away. I’m an artist, no one’s going to like your work all the time, people are entitled to their opinions, it’s all subjective. But the racism… yeah, I couldn’t rationalise that.’ 

The show came under fire in 2013 after claims published in book, Doctor Who And Race, said the BBC programme is based in attitudes ‘that continue to subjugate people of colour’. 

Several of the 23 contributors to the book lament the failure to cast a black or Asian actor as the Doctor. And in earlier series, white actors were cast as other ethnicities.  

There is also an attack on the ‘second-class’ treatment of black characters such as Martha Jones in episodes aired during the revived series

The show came under fire in 2013 after claims published in book, Doctor Who And Race, said the BBC programme is based in attitudes ‘that continue to subjugate people of colour’

A feminist contributor with the pen name Fire Fly, said the Doctor’s relationship with Martha, who was played by Agyeman, is proof of the ‘white  perspective’ of the series.

She singles out a 2007 episode set in Elizabethan London when Martha voices her fears that she might be sold into slavery, only to be told by David Tennant’s Doctor that she should ‘walk about like you own the place. It works for me’. 

But fans at the time dismissed her criticisms. Sebastian J Brook, editor of Doctor Who Online, said the show ‘embraced rather than divided’.

And the BBC said: ‘Doctor Who has a strong track record of diverse casting among both regular and guest cast. Freema Agyeman became the first black companion and Noel Clarke starred in a major role for five years [Mickey Smith].

‘Reflecting the diversity of the UK is a duty of the BBC, and casting on Doctor Who is colour-blind. It is always about the best actors for the roles.’  

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