Doctor Who is famous for its dramatic regenerations, when a new actor takes on the title role every few years – but the hit BBC show also has the power to transform careers.
Take Jenna Coleman, who went from Emmerdale to become one of Britain’s most sought-after stars after playing Matt Smith’s companion Clara.
Now, another actress with a soap background – and a similiar look – is hoping to tread the same path to success. Tomorrow, Millie Gibson, who played drug dealer’s daughter Kelly Neelan in Coronation Street, will be unveiled as Ruby Sunday, joining 15th Doctor Ncuti Gatwa in the Tardis.
Millions will tune in for the two new stars’ debut episode in what is expected to be one of Christmas Day’s most-watched programmes.
Millie, 19, has also begun her own personal regeneration, transforming her image from party-loving teenager into something classier, more befitting an actress on the threshold of international stardom.
Millie Gibson , who played drug dealer’s daughter Kelly Neelan in Coronation Street , will be unveiled as Doctor Who’s Ruby Sunday
Millie will join the 15th Doctor Ncuti Gatwa in the Tardis on Christmas Day
One reason may be the involvement of Disney, a company always keen to project a wholesome, family-friendly brand. Last year the BBC signed a lucrative deal with the Hollywood giant to bring the show to a potentially huge global audience, with its Disney+ streaming channel carrying the show everywhere but the UK and Ireland.
Ahead of her debut, Millie has deleted social media pictures of herself partying and wearing bikinis or low-cut dresses. Often they showed her with drinks which appeared to be wine – even when she was underage.
Gone, too, are her wavy locks, replaced with a long blonde bob, prompting some friends to say she now resembles Marilyn Monroe.
She also has a stylist now, and at October’s Glamour awards in London channelled the glamour of Hollywood’s golden age in an elegant white full-length gown with a high neckline. At the event – which celebrates women’s achievements – she rubbed shoulders with A-listers including Oscar-winners Halle Berry and Ariana DeBose and Barbie star America Ferrara.
It was a restrained night out for an actress who – according to sources who used to work with her on Coronation Street – used to have a reputation as a ‘little bit of a wild child’.
One insider recalled a ‘very boozy’ leaving party in October 2022 with her castmates, including a five-hour session at the Alchemist bar in Salford Quays.
A friend of the star told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Millie loved a party, she would often be out and about with the other young Corrie gang. She also loved to share her good times on Instagram.
‘She was a young girl who couldn’t believe her luck and was making the most of it. But now things have got incredibly serious for her. She knows she has a shot at making a real name for herself and doesn’t want to take any risks.’
Millie was born and raised in the village of Broadbottom just outside Manchester, and aged 11 she started drama lessons at Oldham Theatre Workshop – famous for nurturing Happy Valley’s Sarah Lancashire and Vigil star Suranne Jones, both of whom also cut their teeth on Corrie.
Within a year, Millie was signed by a Manchester-based talent agency and won her first television role in 2017, when she was just 13 years old, on the children’s BBC show Jamie Johnson.
It was followed by the BBC1 drama Love, Lies And Records and ITV mini-series Butterfly, before she caught the eye of the Coronation Street team.
When Millie was 15 she was signed up for five episodes to play the troubled Kelly, but impressed bosses so much that her contract was extended.
In 2022 she was named best young performer at the British Soap Awards. Her achievement echoed that of Jenna Coleman, who won the gong for best newcomer at the same event in 2006 for playing Emmerdale’s journalist, Jasmine Thomas.
Jenna, now 37, also had a similar start in the acting industry. Growing up in Blackpool, she joined a theatre group named In Yer Space and performed at a play at the Edinburgh Festival called Crystal Clear.
She then won the role in Emmerdale but her big breakthrough came when she was cast as Clara Oswald, companion to Smith’s 11th Doctor, then Peter Capaldi’s 12th – a part she played from 2012 to 2015, returning for a small cameo in 2017.
Jenna next starred as Queen Victoria in the period drama Victoria, winning a National Television Award for best drama performance two years running. She then led the crime mini-series The Cry and The Serpent, a drama based on serial killer Charles ‘Serpent’ Sobhraj.
In 2022, she portrayed Johanna Constantine in the Netflix fantasy drama series The Sandman.
Jenna has repeatedly said her training in soaps was the best grounding she could have had – her ‘university days’, she has called them.
Jenna Coleman went from Emmerdale to become one of Britain’s most sought-after stars after playing Matt Smith ’s companion Clara
Jenna-Louise Coleman as Jasmine in ITV’s Emmerdale with Cain (Jeff Hordley) and Debbie (Charley Webb)
Likewise, Millie credits Corrie’s gruelling six-episodes-a-week filming schedule for giving her a good work ethic.
She said: ‘Before I went into Corrie I was like, “Well, how hard can it be?” But it’s really hard. I mean, they work so quickly.
‘There was one point when Kelly’s storyline was so big we were doing ten scenes a day. That’s a lot of dialogue, a lot of turning on the tears in two seconds.’
And there are more similarities between the two stars. Millie has signed to the same London-based publicist as Jenna.
They are now represented by Public Eye, which also counts the likes of The Crown’s Emma Corrin, Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor and Game Of Thrones’ Sophie Turner as clients.
Millie also made the risky decision to quit the more comfortable world of soap to try to catapult her career into the stratosphere – against the advice of her parents.
Speaking of her decision to quit, she said: ‘When I first thought this is going to be the year where I do it, my mum and dad were like, “Are you sure? It’s such a secure place, you’re doing great, you’re having great storylines.” And I was like, “I know, but I’ve got to trust my gut, I’ve got to trust my instincts.”
‘I went with it without them even being on board with it at first, but as soon as I started to go with it I convinced them. But it was one of those times where I just had to make the decision for myself and … hope for the best.
‘Because I’m so young I thought I’ve got to leave. I have no responsibilities – I don’t have kids, I don’t have a mortgage to pay or anything like that, I’m still grateful to be living at home.
‘So I thought I’m just going to see what else the world has. If it does, it does – that would be quite good, wouldn’t it? I just thought I might as well see what happens while I’m still young.’
Jenna is not the only actress Millie hopes to emulate, as she has also spoken of her admiration for Liverpudlian star Jodie Comer, who shot to fame as sociopathic assassin Villanelle in Killing Eve.
Millie said last year: ‘I love Jodie Comer. I’m obsessed with Jodie Comer. All of her work is just incredible and her career path is just very idealistic for me.’
As for matters of the heart, Millie already has a showbiz boyfriend as she is said to be dating music label owner Tom Neatis. They were spotted holding hands during a romantic stroll on the streets of Salerno, Italy, back in April.
But she remains coy about her love life. For now, she insists life is all about work. And who can blame her?
Friends say she can’t believe the success she has had since receiving a call from her agent on her last day on the Corrie set, inviting her to audition for Doctor Who’s sidekick.
The day after her last appearance in the soap aired, she performed a screen test alongside Ncuti – the first black actor to take the lead in the show.
And it transpired that she already had won over Doctor Who boss, Russell T Davies, who had been following her career since her soap debut. He said: ‘As a Coronation Street fan, I’ve seen Millie survive chases, guns and sieges, but that’s nothing compared to what lies ahead for Ruby Sunday.’
Millie was sworn to secrecy when she landed the role in October last year and revealed she discovered the news while ‘waiting to dry off’ after getting a spray tan ahead of the National Television Awards.
She said: ‘I got this WhatsApp call, asking me to join the call with all my agents.
‘I picked up the phone and they were like, “Are you good at keeping secrets?” ‘I said “Yeah.” They said, “Are you really good at keeping secrets? Cos you’ve got it.”’
A month later Millie was officially announced as the Doctor’s new companion during the BBC’s Children In Need telethon.
Millie Gibson as Kelly with Gary Windrass (Mikey North) in Coronation Street
She revealed that former stars of the show sent her texts offering their support, including Jodie Whittaker, who played the 13th Doctor, and Karen Gillan, who played companion Amy Pond before making it big in Hollywood as star of the Guardians Of The Galaxy and Jumanji franchises.
So surely Millie will take Karen’s advice when she said: ‘It’s only going to get crazier from here.’
Millie admitted she was bracing herself for the show to air and says ‘it doesn’t seem real’ even now.
‘It feels like we’ve made a lovely little project and it’s never going to be released to the world, but it is. I’ve got to wrap my head around that.
‘So many people have sat me down and said, “Look, your life will change.” It is hard to accept that. It’s a baffling thing to be told, to be honest.’
But at 5.55pm tomorrow, that is exactly what will happen. Just ask Jenna Coleman.