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Doctor Who: Catherine Tate didn't know there were real people inside the Sontaran alien suits during filming

The Donna Noble actress had the scare of her life when an actor emerged from the alien suit

A promotional still from the Doctor Who episode The Sontaran Strategem
Image credit: BBC

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Practical effects and animatronics have long been a part of science fiction live-action projects, and Doctor Who is certainly no exception. But perhaps the long-running British television show walked this line too ambiguously with the alien Sontarans for actress Catherine Tate.

While speaking a panel at FAN EXPO Dallas with her Doctor Who co-star David Tennant, Catherine Tate revealed that she had no idea there were actual human actors inside the Sontaran alien suits until "about a week and a half into filming." "I didn't know that there were people in them! And then they literally went, 'Okay that's lunch,' and [the top of the suits] opened and someone popped up and I nearly died."

David Tennant was amused by Catherine Tate mistaking the Sontarans for animatronics, saying, "It's the level of budget that they would have had to have for animatronics, to have ten little creatures walking about and doing scenes with people." The actor went on to clarify that the Sontarans weren't operated by electronics or wheels, and were instead controlled by "shorter gentlemen" inside the suits.

The Sontarans are a group of aliens that have been a part of Doctor Who since the time of the Third Doctor, in the 1970s. They appeared in a couple of times during Tennant and Tate's tenure on the show, notably in the episodes The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky. Their realistic appearance on the show during Tate's time makes her thinking that they were animatronics all the more hilarious.

If you want to start watching Doctor Who and don't know where to start, check out our handy Doctor Who watch guide. Or maybe you're already finished with the show - We've got the perfect Ten shows to watch when you're done watching Doctor Who guide for you too. If you're already heads over heels for the Fifteenth Doctor and want to learn more about the actor playing him, check out what he's been in before here. Or maybe you just need to figure out how the new series numbering is going to work (Are there really gonna be two series 1s? Yes.) - if so, this is the explainer you want.

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Jules Chin Greene avatar
Jules Chin Greene: Jules Chin Greene is a journalist and Jack Kirby enthusiast. He has written about comics, video games, movies, and television for sites such as Nerdist, AIPT, Multiverse of Color, and Screen Rant.
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