Whizz-Kidz's Ruth Madeley joins Doctor Who! Is the TARDIS now accessible?

From the Kidz Board to a rumoured wheelchair-accessible TARDIS, Ruth’s opened another new dimension in disability representation

Former Kidz Board member Ruth Madeley has been confirmed to appear in the hotly anticipated 60th anniversary special of Doctor Who.

The BAFTA-nominated actor will play a character named Shirley Anne Bingham in the trilogy of episodes airing in November 2023. Starring alongside the returning David Tennant as The Doctor, a teaser trailer released at Christmas left fans of the long-running BBC sci-fi series reeling with excitement. And that was before we spotted Ruth had a role.

Details are scarce, but it's thought Shirley Anne Bingham will feature beyond the three anniversary episodes. Executive producer Phil Collinson told Doctor Who Magazine that “It’s our great delight to show an all-too-brief moment of Ruth Madeley as Shirley Anne Bingham". He added, "There’s lots more of Shirley to come, as she plays an integral role in the new Whoniverse.”

Ruth has long blazed a trail for the representation of wheelchair users in film and TV drama with acclaimed performances in Years and Years and Then Barbara Met Alan, to name a few. But this feels like a new landmark, even by her high standards. Doctor Who is more than just a TV show. It’s a national cultural treasure, an icon of British identity that’s loved and watched across the globe by millions. So we couldn’t be prouder to see Ruth play her part in it (and hopefully save Earth from another alien invasion).

It’s not even her first landmark achievement in the Doctor Who universe. Last year she was the show’s first companion to use a wheelchair, starring in a series of Big Finish audio adventures. Playing marine biologist Hebe Harrison, she appeared in Water Worlds with the Sixth Doctor pairing of Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford.

Ruth Madeley said about that role: 
“I loved my first trip in the TARDIS. It’s a dream of mine that’s finally been realised. I’m very excited about it.  As a disabled actor, it’s always fascinating when things are authentic. To have a disabled actor play Hebe was always going to be key. She has so many different layers to her.

“It’s great for the fanbase and young kids to see themselves represented in a world they love and cherish. It’s fantastic to be a part of that…”

The confirmation of Ruth’s role follows an interview with Doctor Who casting director Andy Pryor in August, where he revealed plans to make the future of Doctor Who more diverse. He told Doctor Who Magazine, “I like to cast as inclusively as possible. It’s more interesting. Also, if you can’t cast diversely on Doctor Who, what show can you do it on? It goes everywhere, on this planet and others, and you don’t want to see the same kind of people all the time. You don’t want it to be exclusively middle-class white people speaking with RP accents.”

“I know Russell [T Davies, past and new showrunner] feels the same way I do about this. We’ve always been, I like to think, quite good at casting inclusively, but we’re more keen than we’ve ever been. So right now, we’re casting more diversely in terms of ethnicity. We’re casting more disabled actors… But there’s always more we can do. Certainly, there’s absolutely no excuse to not cast a disabled actor in a disabled role nowadays.”

“Also, we’re trying to cast disabled people in roles that aren’t necessarily written as disabled. We don’t always want disabled casting to be ‘issue’ casting. So our horizons are widening. I want to see more disabled people on screen.”

Ruth’s been involved with Whizz-Kidz for much of her life. As she said in our interview with her for the 30 Years, 30 Stories project, “it’s been like the other family member in my life.” After receiving a bright pink wheelchair from Whizz-Kidz aged five, when she had been struggling with a big heavy wheelchair from her local services, she was suddenly like “Barbie on wheels”. Ruth went on to join the Kidz Board and later, after university, she worked at Whizz-Kidz in the fundraising team in 2018. Her big acting break followed, along with BAFTA nominations, acclaimed performances and being a Whizz-Kidz Patron and Ambassador. Now, she’s got arguably the highest-profile role for a wheelchair user on British TV. 

Intriguing rumours of a wheelchair-accessible TARDIS also leaked from the filming of the special in the summer. There were reports that the famously expansive interior may contain ramps and a lift. 

It all adds up to an exciting future, present and past for the Timelord’s adventures when it comes to Whizz Kidz and what we stand for. Because if the TARDIS can go anywhere in Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, then so can young wheelchair users.

Read Next