In the late 1990’s the name Billie Piper was associated with cheesy pop-songs but fast forward a decade and her pop career is but a memory as Piper has carved out a successful acting career for herself. From The Canterbury Tales to Doctor Who, Secret Diary of a Call Girl to the Sally Lockhart mysteries Billie Piper has soon her worth and range as an actress. Tomorrow night she appears in the two-part BBC One drama A Passionate Woman alongside Sue Johnston so we thought we’d take this opportunity to make Billie Piper an ATV Icon.
At the age of 15 Billie Piper was offered a record deal and in 1998 because the youngest artist to debut at Number One in the UK singles chart with the song ‘Because We Want To’ – a cheesy pop song that still haunts discos and ‘cheese nights’ at nightclubs across the country to this deal. The single was from Piper’s album, titled ‘Honey to the Bee’, and subsequent singles released from it included Girlfriend, Honey to the B and She Wants You. Following the success of her first album she went on tour and released a second album in 2000 when singles such as Day & Night, Walk of Life and Something Deep Inside.
Despite success in the UK with her two albums Billie Piper decided to quit her pop career and instead concentrate on her first love; acting. Three years after her last album was released Billie Piper returned to television but this time for acting rather than singing. One of her first on-screen roles was in BBC One’s critically acclaimed updated adaptations of The Canterbury Tales in the episode The Miller’s Tale in which Piper appeared alongside James Nesbit and Dennis Waterman.
The episode saw Piper play Alison, wife of the pub landlord John [Waterman] and who wows the locals with her singing talents on karaoke nights. When stranger Nick [Nesbit] arrives in the village he spots a chance to run a scam and tells Alison he’s a talent scouting and can get her a record contract. The BBC’s re-telling of The Canterbury Tales were a huge success for BBC One both critically and ratings wise and also served as an excellent introduction for Piper to audiences as an actress who had previously assiocated her with pop-music.
Before Piper started work on Doctor Who she filmed roles in the films The Calicum Kid, starring alongside Orlando Bloom, Things To Do Before You’re 30 and the horror film Spirt Trap. Piper also recorded another television drama for the one-off BBC play Bella and the Boys which was also well received when it aired in 2004. The BBC announced in 2003 that it was reviving Sci Fi series Doctor Who after 13 years off-air – although it breifly returned in 1996 for a television movie starring Paul McGann. The new series of Doctor Who was to be produced by Russell T Davies who had made his name in terms of television writing creating drama’s such as Queer as Folk, Bob & Rose and The Second Coming. Davies was a long-term Doctor Who fan and had been approached by the BBC in 2000 about a possible revival of the series but other projects got in the way. However, in 2003 the BBC once again discussed the possiblity of reviving the series and this time everything fell into place.
The BBC announced the return of Doctor Who in late 2003 and the new series would premier in 2005. In the role of the 9th Doctor actor Christopher Eccleston, who had starred in the main role of Davies’ ITV drama The Second Coming, was cast. The new companion was to be played by Billie Piper which, at the time, did raise some eye brows amongst fans of the Sci Fi. Between the announcement of its return and the actual premier of Doctor Who in 2005 tantialising hints were given as to what fans could expect as well as photos of filming which offered further insight.
The return of Doctor Who also prompted a huge amount of press interest and as the start date approached in 2005 there was a lot of anticipated towards the project. Appearing alongside Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston in the new series – as recurring characters – were Noel Clarke as boyfriend Mickey and Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler, the mother of companion Rose and for the final five episodes John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness.
In 2005 Doctor Who returned to high ratings and excellent reviews – the press loved it and the gamble the BBC took in reviving the series paid off. Billie Piper was particularly singled out by the press for praise as she took on the role of Rose; a new and different type of companion from those before her. Any doubts fans had about the casting of Piper in the role were immediately dismissed as the actress proved her talent and the character became hugely popular among younger viewers – especially girls who were watching.
The character of Rose was credited as making Doctor Who more accesibly to girls as the show previously hada reputation for being “boys” only stuff. The first series of the revived Doctor Who saw a blend of old [Autons, Daleks] and new [Siltheen and Reapers] and made family drama on a Saturday evening a hot topic once again. The success of Doctor Who’s first season led to the BBC commissioning two further family drama’s for Saturdays; Robin Hood and Merlin while ITV quickly followed suit with Primeval and with less success Demons [which interestingly was from the same team behind Merlin].
At the end of the first season Christhopher Eccleston bowed out of the drama and actor David Tennant took on the role of The Doctor – now in his 10th incarnation. Billie Piper remained in the role of Rose however to bridge the gap for viewers between the two Doctors. After the first episode of Doctor Who aired in 2005 the the BBC announced it had ordered two more seasons of the Sci Fi as well as a Christmas Special. Tennant made his first appearance in the closing moments of Season One and fans were treated to a special “mini-episode” of Doctor Who for Children in Need in 2005 to keep them going between the end of the season and the Christmas Special.
With David Tennant in the role Doctor Who reached new heights as the press hailed the actor as a success and the BBC commissioned two spin-offs; Torchwood with John Barrowman reprising his role of Captain Jack Harkness for it and The Sarah Jane Adventures with Elisabeth Sladen reprising her role from the original series. The BBC’s decision to hand a spin-off to Elisabeth Sladen came following her one episode return in Season Two as Sarah Jane which proved to be popular with fans.
The second season of Doctor Who once again mixed with, more Daleks, Cybermen and returning foe Cassandra from the previous year, with new enemies such as The Beast and the Clockwork Robots. However, as season two progressed it emerged that Billie Piper would bow out of the Sci Fi at the end of the season. Speculation mounted amongst fans, and the press, as to whether Rose Tyler would be given a happy ending or if she would be killed off.
The two-part finale of Season Two teased fans as a monologue by Rose said “this is the story of how I died”. The finale saw the return of the Cybermen and Daleks who were for the first time ever seen on-screen together and battling each other. However, while fans were teased as to the death of Rose the finale had Rose and her family trapped in a paralell universe instead. Executive Producer Russell T Davies did consider giving Rose her own spin-off series at this point and the BBC commissioned a script with Piper agreeing to reprise the role but eventually Davies decided against the idea.
In between filming for seasons one and two of Doctor Who Piper appeared in another series of adaptations for the BBC. This time the corporation was re-working several of Shakepeare’s plays for modern audiencew with Piper appearing in Much Ado About Nothing playing Hero; a weather presenter for a televisions station.The episode also starred Sarah Parish, Tom Ellis, Damian Lewis, Martin Jarvis and Derek Riddell.
Shakespeare Retold didn’t prove as popular with audiences as the BBC’s successful re-telling of The Canterbury Tales. In December 2006 she took on the role of Sally Lockhart; the central lead in Phillip Pullman’s series of novels revolving around the character. The Ruby in the Smoke was adapted from Pullman’s novel by Adrian Hodges and saw Piper act alongside future 11th Doctor Matt Smith. Piper reprised the role in 2007 for another one-off adaptation, The Shadow in the North, once again by Adrian Hodges with Matt Smith returning to appear alongside Piper once more. In 2007 Piper also appeared in ITV’s adaptation of Mansfield Park playing Fanny Price.
In 2007 ITV2 announced it had commissioned a drama series based around the blogs of high-class escort Belle De Jour and Billie Piper was cast in the title role – something of a departure for the actress in terms of role. The Secret Diary of a Call Girl was far more raunchy than Piper’s previous dramas with sex scenes in every episode pretty much because of the nature of the drama. A few within the press criticised the decision to cast Piper in the role because of her assiocation with Doctor Who – a family drama – and claimed that younger viewers would be tempted to watch The Secret Diary of a Call Girl because it featured Piper.
The first season of the drama debuted to 1.9 million viewers on ITV2 and the digital channel was quick to commission a second season. Starring alongside Piper in the drama over the course of the three seasons so far have been Cheryl Lunghi, Callum Blue, Iddo Goldberg, James D’Arcy and Ashley Madekwe. While The Secret Diary of a Call Girl premiered to strong ratings in 2007 subsequent seasons have seen a noticable drop in figures with the third season attacting an average of 500,000 viewers per episode. ITV2 has yet to re-commission the drama and there is some speculation it won’t be renewed because of the ratings.
In 2008 having been away from the role of Rose Tyler for nearly two years the actress returned to Doctor Who to reprise the role. The character had a cameo appearance at the end of the opening episode of Season Four in a brief season with Catherine Tate as new companion Donna Noble – the scene was not included in copies sent out to the press so the appearance of Rose would be a surprise. Over the course of the season there were several more cameo appearances by Piper until she made her proper return in the episode Turn Left which saw all her scenes played with Catherine Tate as the episode only featured David Tennant in the opening and closing scenes.
The following episode, the penultimate of the season, saw Piper one of a several actors returning to the series with Elisabeth Sladen, Penelope Wilton and John Barrowman amongst those appearing. The final episode of season four, Journey’s End, saw Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri also reprise their roles. Billie Piper and Camille Coduri reprised their respective roles, possibly for the last time, in a brief cameo scene in The End of Time: Part Two which was David Tennant’s final story in the role. The final few moments of the episode saw Tennant’s Doctor revisit his former companions with Freema Agyeman, Noel Clarke and John Barrowman also having brief cameo appearances in the episode.
Tomorrow evening [Sunday 10th April 2010] Billie Piper will appear in the new BBC One drama A Passionate Woman. Written by Kay Mellor the drama explores the conquences of an affair in the 1950s has on a family several decades later. Billie Piper plays the role of Betty, the central character of the story, in the scenes set in the 1950s while Sue Johnston plays the character of Betty in the 1980s.