This is a transcript from a 1985 American interview with Patrick Troughon. It covers his early acting career and his thoughts on how he should play the Doctor back in 1966 when he took over from William Hartnell. I’ve transcribed the interview word for word from the original recording, although I’ve missed out the um’s, er’s and long pauses.
Q: I suppose we should begin by dispelling a myth that you hate doing interviews. Is it true?
A: No, it’s not that I hate doing interviews, um, and it doesn’t worry me at all, but being a character actor… it’s a mistake for such an actor to promote their own personality too much because it’s counter-productive where their actual work is concerned. They’ve got to be a sort of nothing, you see, and only come to life as a person, where the viewer’s concerned, in the story. And I think that was the reason, really, if you go on promoting yourself, the audience gets to know you too much instead of the people you’re trying to portray. It makes your job harder.
Q: Well we would like to get to know you a little better.
A: That’s very nice of you.
Q: When you were doing ‘Doctor Who’, there had already been a previous one, was the programme very popular at that time?
A: Yes it was. Billy had been doing it for three years by the time I was asked to do it. I think he was getting tired, and I don’t think he was a particularly well man toward the end. He had circulatory trouble, something like that… and I thought that perhaps the programme was beginning to be played out a bit, I thought that the joke was beginning to be over, and I was astonised when they asked me to do it and I thought ‘oh dear, no’ and gosh, to recreate a character like that… it’d probably only last about six weeks with me anyway, and it’s just not worth doing.
Q: And three years later…
A: (laughs) Twenty-three years later!
Q: Sorry, yes. But three years after you took it on, were you still astonished that the joke was still going on?
A: Ah, no I don’t think so by then, because it had been very popular with me. It had been with Billy too. It was a lovely part, I loved doing it and the family audience liked me very much in it, and I regretted leaving it very much, but again you can’t stay in one job forever, not as a character actor.
Q: You pop up in a lot of places that are unknown to American audiences. Do you like that, do you like being hidden and yet there?
A: Do you mean a lot of parts? Oh yes, I love it, I love the variety. I’ve always done wildly different parts. I started in the classical vein, in the Bristol Old Vic, and then the Robert Donat company in London and at the Mercury Theatre doing T.S. Eliot plays and all that, and I got a very good grounding in all that sort of thing. But then I got into television, which was the very early days,1948, when it was all live, and I got a chance there of playing every sort of part under the sun. Goodies, baddies, costume, modern, everything, and it was a small audience, 300,000 in those days, only in London – look at it now! – and the directors tended to use you a lot because once an actor had done television they knew the ropes, to a certain extent, and a director could rest easy in his mind because at least they’d done it and they knew roughly what was going to happen, they didn’t have to tutor somebody in a new medium. And it was completely new, it was a cross between the theatre and film that had never really been attempted before, and you needed to do it in order to be relaxed in it. Not that you ever were relaxed in live television!
Q: Do you miss the live aspect?
A: No! No way! It was a bit amateur really, you get on camera, you get a boom in and actors dry up, you have to cut and then the vision mixer goes crazy upstairs because he doesn’t know where he is. After all, it’s a professional job and you’ve got to produce a professional article, and so although those days are wonderful fun, when you’re younger one can cope with it all, it was a little bit hit and miss, but there was some tremendous stuff because as you know the adrenaline flows quite considerably when you’re doing a live act.
Q: What about the stage? You say you got your beginnings on the classical stage.
A: Yes, well I had a long history of being a character actor, playing every sort of part you could possibly imagine – swashbuckling heroes, lots of Dickens, things like the dward Quilp in ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’, which was a big success and a part I look back on with great love and excitment. That sort of thing, wild comedy, and baddies I used to play. So I had a long experience of playing every sort of part. And this, as it turned out, was an opportunity to exercise the lighter side, the more mischievous side of my nature, which I grabbed with both hands.
To begin with I was thinking of playing it (‘Doctor Who’) rather serious and tough. It was very difficult, you see, following Billy, it had never been done before. The whole concept of the Doctor going on was totally new and no-one knew if the audience would accept that at all, and so one was jumping in at the deep end, and although one had carte blanche and could do whatever you like with it, there had to be continuity, he had to be otherworldly, he comes from another planet, this was the most important thing, and so to begin with I had all sorts of ideas like playing a tough army captain sort of thing, like some of the parts I used to play, then I thought when this is all over I’ll have to go back to playing parts in television again and people will know me as Doctor Who, so what I’ll do is I’ll black up, put a turban on and big earrings and play it like Conrad Veidt, that sort of thing, then when I took it all off, no-one would know. But they stamped on that, the powers that be, they thought it was a very bad idea.
And then there was this lovely idea of Sidney Newman’s to play him very light, like a sort of Chaplineqsue sort of character, although I hasten to add without the skill of Mr. Chaplin. He was such a genius of a mime. But that’s what Sidney Newman had in mind, he kept egging me on to do strange wonderful things in the way of mime, which I was incapable of doing, so I tried to do it all up there in my head. And it was a wonderful relief to play a sort of saucy part, you know, a bit of a bungler – or was he? You don’t know whether he’s bungling or not, really, or whether he’s got his tongue in his cheek, he’s got a real twinkle in his eye. It was a lovely part to live with for three years because it was a happy part and so one was happy. You can’t avoid it rubbing off when you go home, a bit. And I had a young family, and that was lovely too, that kept me in touch with my audience. Although it was a family show, it was 50% kids, and having kids of, what, five, seven and nine, it kept me in touch with the sort of thing that the audience wanted, which was nice.