Deborah Watling (1988)

Here’s Deborah Watling, Victoria in the Patrick Troughton era, talking to DWM about Daleks, Yeti and Ice Warriors, as well as the reasons she wasn’t able to be in ‘The Five Doctors’.

“I left school after doing my O-levels, all of which I failed miserably, and then went to stage school. Three weeks later I walked out. I didn’t like it at all – I thought their methods of teaching were awful, too many people in the classes, that sort of thing. I then got myself an agent and went straight into television with a play about Lewis Carroll in which I played Alice. That was it, I was started – a combination of wanting to act and a lot of luck!

“I went to see Innes about a part in the show a year or so before I got the part of Victoria, but he thought I was too inexperienced at the time. (After being cast) it took about a week to lose my first nerves, but Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines were wonderful, like a lovely family sending me up rotten.

“I was only told that Victoria was a Victorian girl wearing a Victorian dress and that her attitudes were to be correspondingly conservative. It was largely left up to me, in other words, but as I remember she came out rather nicely in the end. I did watch the show for a few weeks before I joined the cast, on Innes’ suggestion, so as to get the feel of it. My predecessor Anneke Wills looked as though she was having fun, so I was quite happy. I think I had two months between accepting the part and actually starting work.

“We weren’t told that ‘Evil of the Daleks’ was to be the last Dalek story. But I did so love the Daleks – they were very funny with those sucker things in front, really quite extraordinary. I didn’t enjoy some of the special effects scenes in that one, though – they used this latex stuff on the exploded Daleks which smelt disgusting! I found it very involving – fascinating to be working with all those monsters and the fantastic storylines. I was also learning a lot; it’s all about television technique, a useful lesson for me early in my career.

“We went all the way to Snowdonia for the Yeti one and to Margate for ‘Fury From the Deep’. We were in Covent Garden for ‘The Web of Fear’, and in my first one we went and did night filming at Knebworth House. We used to work six days a week to produce one episode, including filming, so as you can imagine it was pretty tiring. The Yeti were so cuddly and wonderful. We really did have a lot of fun with them. On location, they used to fall about all over the place and would end up out of control, rolling about until everybody pitched in and helped the poor actor inside to get out.

“One thing we did slowly and consciously was traumatise Victoria up to the point she left. I didn’t want her always to be screaming – I wanted her to be quite tough as well. She had to be – anyone would – to be chased by all those monsters! I loved all the Victorian stuff but you couldn’t really run about in it a lot. It wasn’t practical. I loved dressing up, have done ever since I was a child, and the scenes gave me ample opportunity. The Victorian gear really went with my image, since Victoria was the archetypal heroine, always screaming. They don’t scream so much now, but I was stuck with the nickname Leatherlungs!

“We were filming ‘Fury From the Deep’ on my birthday, and it was in the depths of winter as usual. Pat and Frazer knew it was my birthday, so during a take when I was supposed to be standing still they came up to me and gave me the bumps. We were using loads of foam in that story, and after they’d given me the bumps they threw me straight into it. I was covered from head to toe in the stuff, and not just foam but sand as well, all in this freezing cold and on my birthday too!

“Gerry Lake was a director we had a great time with, because he had such a lovely sense of humour and was also able to discipline us well. (Her father Jack Watling) looked so funny in that costume with that stupid gun that our first scene took five takes to perfect, because at first we just fell about laughing. By ‘The Web of Fear’, I’d got used to him and the rather strange thought of acting alongside him. I think I’d said to them ‘How about using my dad?’, because he said ‘Thanks kid, you’ve got me some work!’. I thought he was brilliant. I think he’d make a good Doctor, actually, I really do.

“For ‘The Ice Warriors’, when Bernard Bresslaw, who was playing the Ice Warrior, was in costume, the suit was made so that he couldn’t see. We were in these ice caves all made out of polystyrene, which looked fine on screen but awful in real life, and he was meant to be dragging me off to some dungeon or something. Of course, as it turned out I had to lead him, because he was virtually blind, so I kept whispering as low as possible and not moving my mouth, ‘right, left, right, left’ and once he went left when I said right so he went straight through the wall. The entire polystyrene cave collapsed on top of us, and that, as they say, was the end of that!

“I knew that I’d like to do a year when I joined. I also knew that they’d have liked me to do more than that, but I decided to go. I thought it was time, so I gave three months notice. You see, I’d learned a lot about television and I felt I had to get out and into the theatre to learn something about that. They did try pretty hard to keep me on – I was already in the next six storylines – but no, I had to go. It was terribly sad, like the end of an era for me.

“John Nathan-Turner approached me to do ‘The Five Doctors’, but then ‘The Dave Allen Show’ came up. Shortly after I had accepted this in favour of the special, the series was cancelled, the lot. As a result, I lost out on both things and I was very annoyed. But I would return as Victoria if asked.”

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