Torchwood, the TARDIS & the 59th Doctor – Kai Owen at MCM Birmingham Comic Con


One of the stars of the hugely popular Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood, Kai Owen plays Rhys Williams, the loveable, long-suffering husband of Gwen Cooper. Just a day after the Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebrations, the actor attended the MCM Birmingham Comic Con to talk about his experience of working on the show.

In an unconventional start, Owen kicked off the conversation himself by asking the audience a question. Naturally, he wanted to know what they’d made of the Doctor Who special the night before.

“I thought it was rubbish,” he joked, before describing how it had made him laugh and cry and had generally been brilliant.

Continuing on the Doctor Who theme, the first question put to Owen himself was about Torchwood’s “spin-off” status, and whether, given this, he’d been surprised at the series’ huge success. In response, he talked about how Torchwood has gradually evolved into something that stands apart from Doctor Who. One key factor which initally convinced him to get involved with the show was the fact that it had been created by Russell T. Davies, whom he described as a “genius”. Although Torchwood still maintains some ties with the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who, he feels that, were it to make a return now, it would probably have very little to do with Steven Moffat and his conception of the “Whoniverse”.

472773-children_of_earth_promo_pics_torchwood_6840362_1706_2560As Torchwood progresses, the character of Rhys becomes increasingly developed, starting out on the fringes, very much outside of what happens to the Torchwood team, but eventually ending up as the “emotional backbone” of the show. Asked whether he’d anticipated this happening, he replied that it had been a complete surprise for him, since initially he’d only been contracted for six episodes. He remembered learning at one point of plans to kill Rhys off, though even then, he was told he shouldn’t worry too much, since “thanks to the magic of sci-fi”, he could always be brought back. Owen described Rhys as the “normal” character, always there to look after Gwen and to offer a break from the strange world the Torchwood team inhabit the rest of the time. It’s largely because of his groundedness and caring nature that he’s come to be so popular amongst fans of the show, which probably played a part in increasing the character’s prominence within it.

Talking of unexpected decisions, the next question was about the show’s biggest surprises. Owen said that, as big Buffy fans, everyone had been quite excited to find out James Marsters would be joining them, however briefly, though of course, the biggest surprise had to be finding out about Season Four, which took the team out to L.A. He described the chance to work on Miracle Day in the States as “a dream come true”.

Next came a question from the audience, asking whether he had been a fan of Doctor Who before working on Torchwood, to which he replied that he remembered the show “as clear as day” from his childhood, and had been really excited when it was finally brought back, especially since he was already a “massive fan” of Chris Eccleston.

At this point, Owen’s young son, who up until now had been waiting patiently in the audience, decided to join his dad on stage. “He’s gonna be the 59th Doctor!” joked the proud dad, prompting a question about whether or not the little one had had a chance to watch him on telly. “He’s still a little young for that,” said Owen, though added that he is beginning to watch some Doctor Who now.

As our smaller, unexpected guest ran off back to his mum, a question was asked about favourite memories of working on Torchwood. It was a tough one to answer, but after some thought, Owen replied that one of the most exciting things had been filming in a studio right next to Doctor Who, when just a black curtain had separated him from David Tennant and the TARDIS. Asked more specifically about his favourite scene, he chose the moment in the wedding episode, Something Borrowed, when he “smacked John Barrowman in the face and said, ‘That’s for calling my mother an ugly bitch!’”

So, what advice would Kai Owen give to aspiring actors? “Don’t do it!” he exclaimed. “Be a doctor or a vicar or something instead!” More seriously, he explained that though there are times when it’s the best job in the world, there are plenty more when it’s really tough, so the most important thing is to be certain that you really, really want to do it.

Asked to put himself in the shoes of the show’s writers for a change, he was asked what he would like to write for his character, given the choice. Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied that Rhys and Captain Jack in a West End musical would be perfect!

Finally, a question was asked about what it had felt like to discover how big Torchwood had become. Repeatedly blown away by how many people turn up to events like this, Owen expressed his amazement and gratitude at the loyalty of the fans, who clearly care so deeply about the show, and said that he has always enjoyed getting to meet them.


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