Here’s John Levene, aka Sgt. Benton, talking to DWM about his time on ‘Doctor Who’, from his first appearance as a Yeti in ‘The Web of Fear’ to his decision not to come back for ‘The Five Doctors’.
On The Web of Fear
My agent said ‘It’s £20 a day. Yeti. Four days, two days studio’. Boy, was I thrilled. There I was with Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines. My heroes. I watched them at home. One day, we were down in the Underground at Covent Garden. Frazer and I got on like a house on fire, and one of the first things that happened was that Frazer pinned a number on my back and then we did a ballroom dance around Covent Garden, with me dressed up as a Yeti.
When I first met Jon Pertwee, he came straight over and was so nice. Jon was the most giving Doctor of them all, always ready to give advice that I was ready to take. We were in a rehearsal hall in Old Oak Road, Acton, and I remember meeting famous Jon Pertwee, this amazing man from ITMA who had all the voices and played the postman. I was like a little puppy dog then. If there were lines to cut, they would be mine, and if there was time to be made up, then they would add it on to my script.
On The Mind of Evil
I remember I really hurt myself falling out of that lorry, because if the kids were gonig to see Benton shot there was no point in me just going ‘Ah, ooh, it hurts’, I had to do the whole number. I fell out of that truck and my leg caught on the handrail, and I grazed and cut myself. That look of agony is pretty genuine. One of the more memorable shots was a chase scene that took place in and around a garden in Kensington. As we were about to shoot the last scene, someone became ill, which was kept in as part of the plot.
On Day of the Daleks
Jon Pertwee is always the first to say, a Dalek, unless he is on a marble floor with three acres of flat ground, is helpless. The audience knows they run on wheels. And yet, they’re incredibly popular… The monsters I find awesome, if I’m honest, were the Ogrons. They wore half-masks with long hair and the leather chests. They were real gutsy monsters, the like of which we need in today’s ‘Doctor Who’.
On The Three Doctors
The scenes with Pat Troughton were wonderful. Pat gave me all his talent, because I remember saying to him ‘I’m a bit nervous, Pat, because I’ve got such a lot with you’, and he said ‘Look, you’re a fine actor and we have got some good scenes here. You just carry on playing the innocent Benton the way you do it’. And I did, and of course it came out well. Pat was wonderful and like me he tended to ad-lib if it felt right. He has a great sense of humour, and that scene where we came face to face with the anti-matter blob, my line was ‘What’s happening?’, and Pat’s line was ‘Trying to confuse it’. Then he turned to me and added, ‘I wonder if there’s a television set anywhere?’. Great stuff!
On The Daemons
I had a fight with Peter Diamond. The props guy had forgotten to remove the glass ashtray from the table I was to fall back on. So the cry of pain you saw in the show was genuine, and because of that, the bit where I threw Peter over me didn’t quite come off as planned, but there was no way I was going to do it again and it remained in.
I was in plain clothes and I loved that, because it gave me credibility and I was actually given a handgun. I remember watching Clint Eastwood and practising my stand and action. I couldn’t have just pointed the gun and, bang, you’re dead. I remember having a fight with John Joyce, who played the shot-fun toting Verger, and I had to kick the gun out of his hands. Anyway, there’s no point in being a sissy about these shots and I did something I shouldn’t have by allowing John Joyce to kick Benton over on his back. You know, feet in the chest and up and over. Well, it looked terrific but it broke this £80 shot-gun. There was no way we could repeat the throw, and as we struggled I whispered to John, ‘Hold the two pieces together’. He did, and the marvellous scene was kept and if you watch it again, you’ll see that after the fight when John Joyce picks up the shot-gun and says ‘Okay, Benton, I’ve got you covered’, he’s holding the barrel somewhat strangely. And now you know why.
On Invasion of the Dinosaurs
The best gag that I have ever come out with, and one that I did with real panache, was when UNIT had captured a dinosaur in an aircraft hangar and, of course, the creature had subsequently escaped. The Doctor and the Brigadier were discussing the escape, while I waited for my cue from behind the door. I had to come in and say something like ‘Excuse me, Sir, but…’. My cue was when the Brig said ‘Well, goodness knows how it broke a chain like this’. And then as I walk up, the Doctor’s line is ‘Well, Brigadier, the one thing we know for sure is that it’s large, dumb and stupid’, and of course Jon is looking at me as he says it. On the actual take, with a full gallery, I said ‘Excuse me a minute, could someone please ask Mr. Pertwee not to look at me when delivering the line about it being very large, dumb and stupid?’. Jon creased up, and Nick Courtney was in tears.
I had a scene where Jon Pertwee had knocked me out. And Nick had to come in and say ‘Benton, you traitor, you’ve let the Doctor go’. The Brigadier and I exchanged the most marvellous look, because he looked at me as much to say ‘The next time you break the rules, Benton, you’re for a court marshall’. And I gave him a look, as if to say, ‘Well, it was the Doctor, sir!’. It was a real magic moment that was cut and ended up on the floor.
There was a bit where the special effects were quite good and the bangs were going off nicely, where we had to rush up this grass bank. Well, we all had these boots on and we were slipping on the grass verge. So for every three steps we took up, we were slipping back four. I remember Tom Baker laughing it up, because when we were in close-up, we were on this grassy bank and what we had to do was dig our heels in to stop us sliding out of shot.
On The Android Invasion
I didn’t enjoy that one, because Nick Courtney wasn’t there and although I had a double part, I knew it was my last. You got a feeling and when we heard UNIT was going, we felt left out. It’s got nothing to do with them sacking us, it was just, oh, is it over? I’m not very good on my own, but as a team we were inseparable.
On The Five Doctors
I was asked to go back for ‘The Five Doctors’ but it would have meant a quite large upheavel in my life and sadly I didn’t think the tiny part I was asked to do would have made it worthwhile. Jon, Lis, Richard and Nick were all there and although I don’t regret not doing it, I do feel that I missed out on something special and unique.