There was a number of Cribbins in Mott. Positive, as an actor he may play small, petty males for Alfred Hitchcock and John Cleese, step into Sinatra’s footwear for Guys and Dolls on the Nationwide, and even Gertrude Stein in Swedish surrealism, however the important thing factor everybody says about Cribbins is how immensely likeable he was. The Grasp himself, John Simm, even spoke about how exhausting he discovered it to be merciless to Wilf:
He introduced in little touches like sprigs of holly from his backyard or the Parachute Regiment badge as headwear equipment, making ideas like Wilf taking pictures a paintball gun at a Dalek. Cribbins’ life expertise additionally knowledgeable Wilf’s character, the younger man in post-World Warfare Palestine watching the haze of bullets and feeling misplaced within the midst of chaos. That this outdated monarchist bringing the Physician a gun stays a beloved character is a testomony to the sheer likeability of the actor and the way Russell T. Davies formed the character based mostly on the casting. Whereas Davies and his writers have been giving Catherine Tate some nice materials to indicate her vary, they have been build up Wilf along with his and Donna’s very pure, supportive relationship (with Donna’s Mum and Wilf’s daughter Sylvia being a pivotal if much less endearing unifying determine for them each).
Contemplate Wilf’s function as Donna’s grandfather. Even permitting for the truth that the character changed Donna’s father late within the day, there aren’t many predecessors within the present’s historical past: Jamie, Victoria, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough, and Peri have members of the family seem onscreen, however they weren’t used to the identical extent (largely being seen in a single story solely, dying, after which offering some occasional semblance of pathos). Different companion’s family who appeared often had a extra fractious relationships (Rose and Martha don’t have the identical stage of supportive relationship within the earlier three collection to Wilf and Donna). In truth the closest factor the present has come to Wilf and Donna’s relationship beforehand is the First Physician and Susan, which was a mixture of paternalistic, fractious, and healthful. As with William Hartnell within the ’60s, kids watching the present within the late 2000s had discovered one other grandfather, and would strategy Cribbins on the street in that spirit.
Wilf additionally features as a surrogate father determine for the Physician, whereas concurrently mirroring the character: they’re each older males who know their time is up quickly, haunted by previous battle, however able to step up and do the precise factor. In some ways Wilf is the extra straightforwardly heroic determine, combating to avoid wasting what he loves and stepping in to avoid wasting an unnamed scientist in “The Finish of Time” and not using a second’s hesitation. The Physician, alternatively, does the precise factor and saves Wilf in flip however solely after bitterly lamenting what it’ll price him (so much much less then it’d price Wilf). If it wasn’t Wilf needing rescue, then frankly there’s a component of doubt over what the Physician would have accomplished. But Wilfred Mott’s religion isn’t diminished, as a result of he is aware of what the Physician did for Donna and may do for others. In the event you’re on the chaotic facet, it’s no surprise that Wilf offers a stellar father determine, somebody who you may really be quieter and weak with. This prolonged past the characters and into fandom too.
Put merely “The Finish of Time” falls aside with out Wilfred Mott within the companion function. It merely wouldn’t work in any respect. Its strongest scenes are all constructed on the power of Cribbins’ efficiency and his management of dynamics. Wilf is emotionally trustworthy – in all his scenes the place he’s doing a little bit of enterprise and being an affable granddad, he means it within the second – and this implies when his worry involves the floor he’s equally unabashed. There’s no sugar coating the ache in strains like “However she was higher with you” and “I don’t need you to die.” If Bernard Cribbins was on display screen and crying, you’d higher imagine the viewers was weeping too.
When Cribbins’ dying was introduced the information landed closely. We noticed the identical gifs and jpegs throughout social media, of Wilf saluting or Wilf not fairly having the ability to wave goodbye, and the elevated melancholy of the “I’m going to die” café scene that was going round in screengrab kind. Then the fan artwork got here in waves. So many quotes. The outpouring was colossal. It crossed generations.