Under the umbrella of Rising Stars we take a look at those actors who are making a name for themselves in British television. Our fourth Rising Stars profile takes a look at Freema Agyeman whose role in Doctor Who has re-launched her career leading to roles in Torchwood, Little Dorrit and Survivors.
Freema Agyeman’s first big role in television was in 2003 on the revived soap Crossroads. Crossroads had originally run on ITV between 1964 and 1988 before being dropped by makers Central Television however, the soap was revived by ITV in 2001. The 21st century version of Crossroads had proved to be a hit with daytime audiences, pulling up to four million viewers per episode, but ITV were hopeful for more ratings. After eighteen months on air the soap was pulled off and a new producer brought in, Yvon Grace, in order to revamp the series to boost ratings. The format of the show radically changed under Yvon Grace as it went in a new direction, a Dallas direction. The majority of the 2001 cast were axed and new actors were hired to replace them, amongst them Freema Agyeman. Agyeman was playing Lola Wise, one of three sisters, who arrived at the Hotel with a stolen credit card. Once this is discovered she and her sister, Belle [Jessica Fox] are forced to work at the hotel to pay off their bill. They are soon joined by older sister Phil [Shauna Shim] and after paying off the bill the three decide to remain at the Hotel and continue to work.
Agyeman’s character was something of a vixen, netting hunky Ryan Samson [Luke Roberts], son of hotel owner Angel Samson [Jane Asher]. The Wise’s mother, Wanda, was introduced part way through the soap’s run played by guest star Linda Robson. Ratings for the “Dallas” styled Crossroads were not good and had dropped considerably from what they were during the 2001 incarnation. As ratings dropped to one million bosses at ITV decided to pull the plug after just eight weeks on air even though everyone was contracted for a year. Crossroads limped on until May 2003 when the final episode aired, revealing the modern versions had been nothing more than a dream. However, despite the axe Freema Agyeman was nominated, and short listed, for an award in 2003 at the British Soap Awards in the Sexiest Female category.
Following the axing of Crossroads in 2003 Freema appeared in several television advertisements and landed small roles in The Bill and later a Holby City/Casualty crossover episode, in which a truck plunges into the hospital starting a fire. Agyeman’s character in the crossover story, Kate, was caught in the fire and later lost her arm because of it. More minor roles in dramas followed such as Sky One’s Mile High, which starred her former Crossroads co-star Luke Roberts. In 2006 she once again appeared in The Bill in two episodes as Shakira Washington.
Agyeman was then last, in a minor role, for a part in Doctor Who. Agyeman appeared in the penultimate episode of season two of Doctor Who playing Torchwood Institute employee Adeola Oshodi. Adeola is quickly taken over by the invading Cybermen in the episode and is killed later on in the episode. Although the role was a minor one it brought Agyeman to the attention of the producers, such as Russell T.Davies, who were looking for a replacement to Billie Piper, who had decided to quit the series. Davies was impressed with Agyeman’s performance in the episode and called her back to audition, supposedly for a role in the spin-off show Torchwood.
After these auditions were successful Agyeman was informed she would be the new companion in Doctor Who, replacing the departing Billie Piper. Agyeman’s character, Martha Jones, was introduced in the first episode of Season Three, Smith and Jones. Martha was a trainee Doctor caught up with the Doctor when the hospital she works in is transported to the Moon by Judoon, looking for an escaped criminal. There was a brief reference to explain away Martha’s similar appearance to Adeola, the two were cousins.
Martha Jones quickly proved to be a popular addition to the series and press interest in Agyeman surged. As with Rose before her, Martha was given an on-screen family in order to give her a reason to return to Earth. Francine Jones, Martha’s mother, was played by Adjoa Andoh who had appeared in Season Two of Doctor Who as another character. Gugu Mbatha-Raw was cast as Martha’s sister, Trish and Reggie Yates as Leo, Martha’s brother while Martha’s father was played by Trevor Laird. A story arc concerning Martha’s family and how Martha’s travels would the Doctor would have bad consequences for them was woven into Season Three as the Doctor’s old enemy, The Master [John Simm] laid a trap for him with Martha’s family as bait.
Towards the end of Season Three’s broadcast stories started to appear in the press that Agyeman had been dropped from Doctor Who as producers felt the character of Martha wasn’t working out. These stories continued to be reported in the lead up to the series three finale which did indeed see the departure of Martha from the series. However, it was then revealed that Martha would crossover to spin-off series Torchwood for three episodes and would appear in five episodes of season four. The move over to Torchwood for three episodes had been planned for the character since her conception and reports of Agyeman’s sacking proved to be unfounded.
Agyeman appeared in three episodes of Torchwood’s second season as Martha Jones, ironic considering Agyeman’s first role in Doctor Who was as a Torchwood employee and she had auditioned for Martha under the guise of it being a role in Torchwood. After her three episodes stint in Torchwood Agyeman, along with co-star John Barrowman, returned to Doctor Who for several episodes. It was widely speculated amongst Who fans that Agyeman would be a series regular in Torchwood for its shortened third season however, it seems that is now not the case.
Agyeman’s role in Doctor Who has re-launched her career and lead to other roles now she has left the series. Agyeman was one of the many famous faces to appear in the BBC’s adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel, Little Dorrit, playing Tattycoram. The adaptation was stripped across 14 parts, of varying length, and was a hit with critics but struggled in the ratings because of tough competition. Agyeman also narrated the BBC3 series Bizzare ER, which dealt with strange accidents that casualty departments across the country encounter. Bizzare ER has been re-commissioned for a second season and its expected Agyeman will narrated the series once again.
Agyeman appeared in the feature-length opening episode of Survivors, the BBC’s reimaging of the Terry Nation series from the 1970s. Agyeman played Jenny Collins in the opening episode, Jenny was the only character to appear in all three seasons of the 1970s series but was killed off, in a shock twist, during the course of the episode. Survivors is a series about the struggle of a group of survivors after a plague wiped off most of the world’s population. The press release for Survivors hinted that Agyeman would be a series regular in order to maintain the surprise of Jenny’s demise from the plague. Amongst the other actors in Survivors was Shaun Dingwall, also killed off in the opening episode, who had a recurring role on Doctor Who.
Next year  Agyeman will had a lead role in ITV’s remake of American series, Law And Order. Agyeman will play Alesha Phillips in the series, based on its American counterpart, and will star alongside Jamie Bamber [Battlestar Galactica] and Bradley Walsh, amongst others. The English version of the American series is being developed by Chris Chibnall who was lead writer for Torchwood.