So, waaaay back in 2013, I wrote a little Doctor Who/Horrible Histories fanfic for a friend’s birthday. While it wasn’t an amazingly fabulous piece of fiction that resulted in a big-name publisher throwing a million dollar contract at my feet, it is oddly prophetic, given the recent announcement of the new Doctor Who. So here it is, if you fancy a read.
THE NEXT DOCTOR
“Hey. HEY! Nic! Wait up!”
I paused, hitched my bag up my shoulder and frowned as the steady flow of college students skilfully dodged their way around me in the middle of the quad.
I sighed and turned, eyes narrowing as I picked out the yeller from the sniggering crowd who’d all turned to stare. Mark? Mal… no. Mat, that was it. Mathew Baynton. He was a second year. Tall, skinny, great smile. Funny, too. Good voice. I sighed again. “What, Mat? I’m going to be late for drama.”
“Are you going to the audition?”
“What audition?” I put my hands on my hips, shoving a stray lock of hair back from the hasty ponytail I’d tied that morning. July in London had been unseasonably warm and my hair was just too damn thick and heavy for it.
Mat’s brows went up. “The audition for Jim’s band? They’re filming the music clip in the grounds tomorrow.”
I shifted the strap on my shoulder and glanced back to the main building, watching the students file in for their classes. “I don’t think so.” I began to walk, hoping Mat would get the hint, but he just matched my pace with a disturbingly long-legged stride.
“Why not? I think you’d be great.”
I flushed. I’d had a desperate, burning desire to act ever since I was six, and coupled with a deep love of England, its actors, culture and history, it was a no-brainer I’d move back to the land of my birth. I’d determinedly ignored the little niggle of self-doubt, sucked up the fear and left my home and family in Perth, Australia to attend drama college in London. And now here I was, at Rose Bruford College, eighteen and at the peak of youth, living a life I’d always dreamed of.
Well, except for the whole stage fright thing.
I shot Mat a look now as we walked across the immaculate grounds to the main building. “I don’t want to encourage you guys.”
I sighed. “Look, I’m not stupid. I was an accelerated student back home. Everyone knows Jim named the band after me and it’s just… embarrassing. Okay?”
“‘Kiss Me Nic‘?” His mouth kicked up and a dimple appeared, and I stared at it for a second too long. Then I flushed and glanced away.
“Awww, c’mon. It’s funny.”
“I’m not laughing.” It’d been flattering for about one second, until I realised Jim had been deadly serious.
“‘Nick’ could be a guy, you know.”
We reached the path ringing the massive main building and clomped across the cobblestones. “Right. The lyrics for You and Me go: ‘Red hair, big brown eyes and a crazy foreign accent’? Does that sound like any guy you know?”
He shrugged and shoved the heavy door open, allowing me entry first, and the aura of musty air, crowded students and lingering history quickly hit. I smiled. The familiar smells always made my heart pick up.
“It’ll help with the stage fright,” Mat said as we walked up the winding stairs, footsteps echoing off the exposed walls.
I frowned. “I don’t have stage fright.”
He gave me a look. “Sure you do. Everyone does. I do.”
“Oh, that’s crap. You’re a natural performer and you know it.”
He shrugged. “Look, are you going to audition or not?”
“Not.” I took a deep breath as we reached the first floor landing, only briefly winded. Months of taking the stairs had finally paid off.
“Then you’re stupid.”
I blinked. “Excuse me?”
“I said, ‘you’re stupid’.” He shoved his hands in his jeans pockets. “First, you need the experience. And second, you have to learn how to switch off the personal and focus on the professional. It’s a job, Nic. Acting involves a lot of pretending. You’ll get thrown into scenes and have to turn on your emotions with barely any mental preparation. And some scenes will likely involve some kind of intimacy.”
“I was in Geoff’s class when he told us this, you know.”
“I know. But you don’t seem to be getting it.” He glanced over my shoulder to where my class was moving slowly into drama. “So what if he named the band after you? It’s not like we’re gonna be bigger than U2. And anyway, not all the songs are about you. Just suck it up and audition, okay?”
I stewed on that all the way through the lesson, and by the end of it, I’d finally come to a conclusion. At home I’d always been the shy girl, never seeking attention, always blending into the background. My parents had been shocked when I’d announced I wanted to go into acting, yet they’d said nothing, even helped with the application and organised a place to stay at my Aunt Izzy’s south London apartment.
I was finally pursuing what I’d always wanted to do. There was no need to fade into the background any longer.
After Drama, Jim had asked for those interested in auditioning to stay back and now a handful of students remained. Thanks to the ad on the community noticeboard, the room was slowly filling with hopefuls eager to be involved in the project.
Right, Nic. You can do this. I could swallow my fear, ignore the jangling nerves, the awful tight sensation in my belly and do it.
But aren’t you just encouraging him? Jim had had a crush on me since February: he’d asked me out twice, I’d politely declined. Then he’d named his band after me and wrote a song about unrequited love. I got ribbed about it nearly every day.
On the premise of retying my Docs, I hunched down and fiddled with the laces, eying the competition. Cute blonde girls in cut offs and revealing tops. A senior with perfect coffee skin and dressed like a Sixties pinup. A weird-looking Goth. A gorgeous redhead in my class who did modelling on the side. I sighed, straightened, then smoothed my denim skirt. There was no way I’d have a chance, not with all this talent. I was the outsider, the odd-looking Australian who wore short skirts with leggings, blazers and t-shirts emblazoned with political statements. Who lived in her black rose tattoo Doc Martens. Who much preferred watching Doctor Who reruns than going out drinking and pulling on a Friday night. I-
“Nicoletta! It’s you! That’s awesome!”
God, how embarrassing! I felt the flush start at my neck, flaming up as heads turned, making me the sole focus of the crowded room. The smile I offered was verging on a grimace. “Yeah.”
Jim rushed over, his delight obvious. “Well, I think we’ve found our female lead, then.”
The room groaned, followed by a wave of angry protests. Jim continued to beam at me, until I felt the desperate urge to turn around and run right out of the room.
No. You can’t. You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t face this. You need to suck it up and just be professional.
I gritted my teeth, swallowed and smiled again. Better. “Isn’t that a little unfair?”
Jim shrugged. “My band. My rules. Everyone, go home!” He announced loudly then placed his hand lightly on my back, guiding me through the disgruntled crowd. “Let’s talk.”
Midday the following day, I nervously stood in the middle of the rose garden, hands deep in my cargo pants while I watched a camera man work out the best position. I’d read the script Jim had given me and it looked pretty straightforward. The story was about unrequited love, a guy watching a girl with her asshole boyfriend until he finally got up enough courage to rescue her. A familiar story, one I’d seen over and over in movies, videos, books.
All I had to do was just ignore the cameras, suck it up and act.
“Nic?” Jim called. “You’re up.”
I swallowed, glancing to Mat who was hovering in the background, a grin on his angular face. When he gave me a goofy thumbs up, I couldn’t help but laugh.
Okay, time to make this acting gig official.
The first hour was a disaster. I’d stared right at the camera, missed my cue then forgot my mark. And Will, a senior playing my asshole boyfriend, seemed a bit too much into the role. By hour two my throat was dry and scratchy, sweat had formed under my artfully sexy hair and I could feel my makeup slipping. Finally Jim called for a cut, handed me a bottle of water and said, “we’ll break for fifteen minutes, okay?”
I was fucking it all up. The humiliation burned as I strode over to a deck chair and flopped into it.
“You’re doing well.”
Mat appeared on my left and I rolled my eyes. “No, I’m not. I suck.” I took a swig of water, swallowed then blew out a disgusted breath. “Jesus, how on earth am I ever gonna actually get a job when I can’t bloody-well get a film clip right?”
Someone hit playback on the music and the familiar strains of Abby’s bass blasted from the speakers.
“You just need a little experience, is all.”
“How do you do it, Mat?” I looked up at him. “How do you get up on stage with those guys, block everything out and just perform?
He shrugged. “That’s music. Acting is different.”
“But I’ve seen you do both. You’re a natural. Me…” I made a face and took another drink, then sighed. “Okay, enough whinging. What are we filming next?”
“The last scene.”
“The kissing scene?”
He nodded. “But Jim wants to change it a bit.”
He looked over to where Jim was talking with a camera man and beckoned. Jim nodded and held up a hand.
“We’re doing a few different scenarios.”
I frowned. “I don’t get-“
“Hang on. I’ll let him explain.”
When Jim finally came over, he was beaming. “So, Mat’s told you what we’ll be doing?”
“So,” Jim put his hands out, elaborating with gestures. “You and our hero are kinda friends, study buds, and he’s been watching you for a long time with Will, right?” I nodded. “So instead of the big rescue-and-kiss at the end, he’s now imagining all kinds of geek-related scenarios where he rescues you from Mister Dickhead – I wanna use pop culture references like Star Wars, Titanic, Sherlock, Pride and Prejudice…”
“Right.” I smiled. That sounded really cool, actually. “What about outfits?”
“The Costume Department are letting us use whatever they’ve got,” James said, grinning. It was clear to see he was excited about this. “And of course, at the end of each ‘rescue’, he kisses you.”
“Oh.” I blinked. Right. Okay. A kiss. “And how many rescues are we talking about?”
“Four. Five, including the real-life one with you dressed like that.” He nodded to my pink baby-doll T and cargo pants. “So that means we’ll be doing that scene in about five minutes.”
Five minutes? Five minutes to mentally prepare to kiss a complete stranger? “Err, Jim, mind telling me who the hero is?”
James’ brow raised and his gaze flicked to Mat. “You didn’t tell her?”
“I thought you told her.”
“I never told her.”
“Who?” I butted in.
Mat smiled, his hands going into his pockets again. “Me.”
Okay, it was logical to use Mat as the nerdy guy. He was tall and skinny, a little on the pale side. He had that sensitive-yet-romantic look about him.
But I had to kiss him. At least five times. If the take was perfect. Which, going by my track record, was so not going to happen.
Panic started to swell. I’d been way too focused on my studies, then college, to get into any relationship stuff. I frowned. When was the last time I’d actually kissed someone? Oh, that guy in the pub four months ago, but he’d been drunk and I’d managed to push him off. High school? I’d been obsessed with my neighbour – a Johnny Depp lookalike – for about a month, and we’d spent a total of two illicit evenings parked in my driveway, making out on his motorbike, until I found out he had a girlfriend.
I eyed Mat standing next to my chair as I slowly took another sip of water. He was dressed in loose jeans and a white Bonds v-neck T-shirt, messy chocolate-brown hair brushing his nape. Okay, right. A kiss. I could do this. I was an actor, so was he. This was exactly what he was talking about yesterday. It was a job, nothing more.
So why did I get a weird fluttery feeling in my belly when he suddenly glanced down at me and our gazes held?
“I didn’t know you’d auditioned,” I said suddenly.
He shrugged. “Didn’t have to. Jim asked me.”
“Okay, let’s do this, shall we?” Jim called from across the grounds. “Mat? Nic?”
“Hang on.” I dug around in my backpack for my makeup bag, quickly brushing on some powder, relining my eyes then dabbing on lip gloss. Mat watched my every move, an action I found just a little disturbing.
“Right. Show time,” I muttered, shoved everything back in my bag then stood. “Let’s see if I can do this without stuffing up.”
Mat gave my arm a gentle shoulder bump. “You’ll be fine.” And when he smiled, I felt my mouth curve in response.
Why have I not noticed those dreamy brown eyes before?
“Right, Nic. You start here.” Jim indicated a white marker painted on the grass. “Mat is over there.” He pointed a few feet away. “This is the last scene, okay? Our hero’s been dreaming about this moment. You’re his perfect girl and you finally realise he’s your perfect guy. We need to see emotion, we need to see passion!” He grinned and waved his arms, camping it up for effect before turning to Mat. “Ready?”
Mat nodded. “Yep.” He looked to me. “You?”
I took a breath, then another, to get into the zone. Okay, right. Think ‘love’. Think, ‘yes, finally, I get to be with the guy I’ve wanted for a long time’. Think… I opened my eyes.
I have to kiss that mouth. With everyone watching.
My heart began to pound but I wasn’t sure whether it was from nervousness or anticipation.
“Okay,” I got out. “I’m ready.”
Mat turned and strode to his marker, I pushed my shoulders back, took another breath and Jim moved off.
Oh, I want you. But it’s not real. I need you. Need to know how you feel…
The lyrics belted out across the garden, and I had to admit that the tune was catchy – a raw alternative rock sound that reminded me of the pub bands back home. So unlike the synth pop and over-commercial rap that dominated the radio these days. I Want You by Kiss Me Nic wasn’t half bad.
I pulled my shoulders back, opened my mind and fixed my gaze on Mat across the garden. The late afternoon sun beat down on my head and I could feel the sweat form on my scalp. No, don’t think about that. Think ‘where have you been all my life’. Think ‘I must have you.’
The song beat its climatic bass across the set.
Oh, I want you. Could this be real? I need you. Need to know how you feel…
And suddenly, miraculously, I was in the zone. I felt the smile split my face the moment I surged forward, my strides quickening across the grass. Elation rose, pounding my heart, forcing my breath out as I saw Mat standing there with an odd look of fearful anticipation. Then he blinked, eyes wide, realised I was real and was heading straight towards him.
Shit, he’s good!
He shot forward and we met moments later, stopping just an inch away from contact before melding together in slow motion, almost tentatively. His eyes were huge, staring into mine, those dark brown depths setting off something inside. My arms automatically went around him, drawing him closer and the heat from his lean body seared into me. I drew in a shocked breath and in the next moment his hands cupped my face, he leaned down and then he kissed me.
It was an unsure kiss to start, and that was probably a good thing, considering the parts we were playing – two admirers from afar who couldn’t quite believe their luck. But then, as Mat’s lips slid across mine, he tipped my chin up and I felt his breath quicken, something kinda just went…
My eyes closed, I shifted my weight to get closer, and with a soft sigh, opened my mouth to invite him in. His appreciative murmur was like oxygen to a latent flame. All of a sudden, my body was heating in places I thought I had perfect control over – my arms, pressing him closer. My legs, wobbling like I’d done a five k sprint. And my sudden and inexplicable desire to keep on kissing him for hours.
Dimly, I heard a direction – what, cut now? – and then Mat pulled back with a grin, his hands still on my cheeks. Warm, long-fingered hands that felt very comfortable right where they were.
“Good take,” Mat said, finally releasing me and stepping back.
I swallowed, trying to drag my senses back to a fully functioning state. “Thanks.” God, I sounded so hoarse. I coughed. “You too.”
“That was great, you guys! Perfect!”
Brain still fuzzy, I turned to see Jim standing next to the camera with two thumbs up. “So we’ll change and do a scene in the main entrance, yeah?”
I got to kiss Mat all afternoon, which, although excellent, was getting a bit overwhelming. I had to resort to Chap Stik when the third take – in Princess Leia garb – just wasn’t doing it for Jim.
“Strawberry?” Mat asked, rubbing his lips together with a grin.
I nodded, my mind all jumbled. All this sudden body contact was really going to my head, and not in a good way. He was making me dizzy with all his soft-lipped, warm mouth kisses, so perfectly delivered. He smelled and tasted so damn good and it was a little disconcerting to know that every tiny movement was being captured by a camera and witnessed by a growing number of people.
It’s a job, Nicoletta. It doesn’t mean anything.
I had to get a grip.
Determinedly I pulled my back straight, readjusted my ear buns and focused on being professional.
It took another day to complete the kissing scenes – I wasn’t complaining at that – then another two for the rest of the clip. And by the next day, I’d become almost relaxed in front of the camera. I moved on cue, I got my marks and I managed to manufacture a multitude of facial expressions – irritation, sadness, wistfulness, joy, frustration. Mat gave me some tips and I soaked them up, gleaning as much as I could from a guy who clearly knew what he wanted from life.
How had I not seen that before? He was cute, he took the time to explain things, and he laughed at my stupid nervous jokes.
And he was one hell of a kisser.
I didn’t want the shoot to end, but obviously it did. And afterwards, Mat hugged me, thanked everyone and went back to being just a guy at school. I agonised about asking him out but every time I scraped up enough courage, I remembered he’d told me a job was just a job, and couldn’t do it. Anyway, he didn’t seem remotely interested in taking anything further, and I certainly wasn’t going to push it.
Jim released his video clip, the song garnered a little airplay then disappeared without a trace.
I also scored my first commercial a few weeks later and from then on, everything just snowballed.
THIRTEEN YEARS LATER
“So, you were purely a stage actor before landing this role, Nicoletta?”
I blinked as the flashes went off, staring out over the press conference packed with reporters, cameras, mikes, then nodded, linking my fingers together on the long interview table. “I also did a bunch of commercials.”
“And a music video back in college,” someone added from the back.
I groaned. “Oh, God, is that thing still going?”
“Been getting a few thousand hits a day on YouTube last week alone.”
Since the press release had been leaked. A ripple of laughter erupted and I smiled, nodding again as I recalled that strange time from so long ago. I had been so eager, so fresh to learn. And so very scared.
How things had changed.
“Whatever happened to the band – Kiss Me Nic, right?” The same guy asked as the laughter died down.
“Oh, I see Jim now and again. We’re still really good friends. The band though… yeah.” I shrugged. “A few gigs, that was about it. And, well, you know what Mat’s been doing. He’s the famous one, not me.”
Everyone laughed again.
I grinned out at the crowd, taking in the huge wall at the back bearing flashy promo posters and stand-alone banners. There I was as a life-sized, five foot eleven cardboard cut-out, looking mysterious and fierce in a pair of leather pants, jacket, pop-art T-shirt and knee boots. Wardrobe had gone through a dozen options but this one I’d instantly loved. Perfect for gadding about the universe, easy to run in and modest yet still sexy. My eyes skimmed across the room, taking in the Familiar TARDIS-shaped blue ‘DW’, then the various villains – Dalek, Cyberman, Weeping Angel. My heart was already racing thanks to the press conference but now it really picked up.
It had actually happened. This was the pinnacle of my career: I was not only working for the BBC – a dream come true – I was also part of an honest-to-goodness English institution, a groundbreaking show that was firmly fixed in pop culture.
It didn’t get any better than this.
“So how do you feel about stepping into such illustrious shoes?” Came the next question. “Nervous?”
I fixed my gaze on the speaker and smiled. “Of course. But in a good way. I am so thrilled to be offered this opportunity, and so flattered that the producers, writers and everyone else at the BBC thought I was good enough for the role.”
“So what do you think you’ll bring to the series?”
“Well, something different, obviously. But in essence, it’s the writers who ultimately make my character memorable. I just hope I can stick around long enough.” Everyone laughed and I grinned. “And of course, I am very excited to be working with Mat Baynton again.” I swept my hand down the table, past Moffat, then the producer, to Mat sitting at the end. All eyes followed and a flurry of cameras went off again.
“We’re quite proud of the fact that we were able to score two brilliant actors,” the producer added. “It was a mix of luck, star alignment and online stalking, really.”
Everyone burst out laughing again, me included.
“Mat. How are you going to juggle your other roles – and your writing – with Doctor Who?”
He leaned into the mike and smiled. “Like I always do – with a mix of luck and star alignment. Not the online stalking, though.”
My laugh was lost in the crowd. Finally, when the noise petered out, he added, “And for anyone worried about having a brand-new Doctor and a companion at the same time, don’t be. I can assure you the scripts for the new series are brilliant.”
“How are you going to work the unique dynamic between you and Nicoletta, Mat?” Someone asked. “Because there’s always been that underlying sexual tension between the two characters, hasn’t there?”
“Oh, I think everything is fairly organic. We’ll just go with the flow,” Mat grinned at me, then winked. “Right, Doctor?”
I grinned back, my heart fluttering. “Sure thing, companion.”