TV and Radio

Doctor Who's Mark Gatiss traces his Derry roots

Mark Gatiss is best known for his appearances in The League of Gentlemen, Sherlock and Game of Thrones  
Cathal McGuigan

DOCTOR WHO may travel across time and space, but it seems that those involved with the show find themselves drawn time and time again to Derry.

Writer and actor Mark Gatiss has become the second Doctor Who star to trace his family roots to Co Derry.

While filming an episode of the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? in February, Gatiss (48) visited the Guildhall in Derry city as well as Dungiven and Limavady to trace his family roots.

In 2006 Doctor Who star David Tennant also visited Derry as part of an episode of the show.

Gatiss was investigating his late mother’s side of the family, tracing it back five generations to the Roe Valley area. Winifred ‘Winnie’ O’Kane shares a surname with the descendants of the O’Kane, or O’Cahan clan, that once were powerful in Limavady and Dungiven.

“The big mystical thing for me is my mother’s side. The Irishness of her side of the family always appealed to me. I’ve never really delved very deeply,” Gatiss said.

Mark Gatiss has written and appeared in episodes of Doctor Who and Sherlock and has also recently appeared in Wolf Hall and Game of Thrones.

He is also famous as a being a member of the BBC’s classic comedy horror show The League of Gentlemen. In tonight’s episode he speaks about how he has always been drawn to horror films and ghost stories, which he describes as his “childhood obsession”.

“I used to walk around the football pitch talking about horror films with my best friend. History’s also always been one of my biggest passions really from, from primary school,” he said,

“It’s a sort of affinity with it all in a way. My mum used to say I had an old soul, which I always liked.”

Gatiss was also intrigued to learn about an ancestor’s legendary encounter with a vampire in the area in the fifth century.

A chieftain of the O’Cahan clan is said to have fought and killed an ‘evil tyrant’ named Abhartach who terrorised the area around Glenullin.

However, in the myth believed to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Abhartach rose from the dead and demanded a bowl of blood from each of his subjects.

The O’Cahan chieftain is then forced to defeat him again and conduct a special burial – using a wooden stake – to ensure Abhartach does not rise again.

Appearing on the show in 2006, Scottish actor David Tennant visited relatives in Derry city to learn about his ancestors, including his grandfather Archie McLeod, who is still revered as a player for Derry City Football Club.

Who Do You Think You Are? featuring Mark Gatiss will be aired tonight on BBC One at 9pm.

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