“My character in Queer as Folk got dumped by his boyfriend because he couldn’t name all the Doctor Whos,” laughs Peter O’Brien.
Now ten years later he finds himself playing alongside The Doctor in “The Waters of Mars.”
For O’Brien, who moved to the UK in the early 1990s the role is one of many in his international career. He played Cameron Roberts in QAF for writer / producer Russell T. Davies, who would subsequently become celebrated for reviving the Who legend.
“There had been a couple of things Russell had asked me to do and I couldn’t do them,” O’Brien tells TV Tonight.
“I’m pleased as punch that he’s now has got the success that he deserves. He’s very talented and bright and a very lovely man. And a very good Producer.”
Davies, who also created Torchwood, is known for pushing boundaries. When Queer as Folk hit the screens in the UK it was wildly controversial for its uncompromising sex scenes, teenage sexuality and its frank portrayal of gay relationships. O’Brien defends its ambitions as a snapshot of the real world at a time when other TV played it more discreetly.
“One of the characters said every man goes out there under the proviso of looking for love, but when love pops its head up they run a mile. And that’s not a slur on the gay world, it’s more an indication of the nightclub world,” he explained.
“You only get one or two defining television series in your life. I think it’s presumptuous to say it changed the course of history, but certainly it opened up television to what you could watch. I remember when it went out its biggest audience was women under 35. That surprised Channel 4. They thought it would get a cult following and they didn’t realise its biggest demographic would be females.”
In ‘Waters of Mars’ O’Brien plays Ed Gold, the second in command on Bowie Base on Mars.
“All the studio work was in Cardiff and all the exteriors were on Mars,” he says with a straight face.
But O’Brien is coy on the content of the special, in keeping with the show’s code of silence. He had already been given a gentle reminder when he once mentioned the setting for the show. But Who likes to maintain an air of mystery.
“Sometimes I think things we do deserve that respect, rather than just trivialising it when it comes out. They treat it as an event, saying ‘This is special. Savour the moment, wait until you see it.’
“England does that well. To read about it all beforehand dismisses it in a way. Or to run trailers where you see the whole thing. I think it takes away some of the impact,” he said.
“You’ve got to create an expectation and they realise that.”
Working in the UK and Australia keeps this actor on the move. With a partner, family and work commitements, O’Brien is currently commuting between three cities.
“I’m still based in Adelaide and in Sydney, but I work out of Melbourne a lot. There is no base for me, that’s the only way I can put it really.
“I don’t tend to spend longer than three months in one place. But I like it, I get bored after three months. Or maybe not bored, but I’m ready to go. At the moment I’m spending three days each in either Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide. I don’t spend more than three days in the one city.
“I’ve had no more than 4 nights in the one city in the last 2 months. But I like being on the move. That stimulation I really like.”
Next year he will be seen once again in Underbelly as racing identity George Freeman.
“If I talk about Doctor Who I get shot by Martians and if I talk about Underbelly I’ll get shot by underworld figures,” he laughs.
“George is kind of a bridge between the second and the third series. It’s not like he hands the keys to the city over or anything like that, but he’s a figure the audience would recognise. And he certainly was around in that era, involved in some way, shape or form. So he’s an obvious character to carry through.
“It was great fun. People really got into it when they made it. I was really sad that it ended for me. I would have carried through and done more.”
Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars airs 7:30pm Sunday on ABC1.