Elisabeth Sladen (2002)

Here’s a transcript of Elisabeth Sladen talking about the changeover between Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. She says she felt left out, at first, because TB and Ian Marter seemed to be getting on so well, but the interview ends with a great story about TB and some fairy lights, so enjoy:

“First of all, I knew Jon was leaving before he actually left. Even when I joined. All these names were mentioned, Alan Dale, Ron Moody, and then Barry Letts, the director, came rushing in one day and said ‘Wonderful, we’ve got Tom Baker!’. In my ignorance, I didn’t know who Tom Baker was. And the first time I saw Tom was when we were filming ‘Planet of the Spiders’ and we were filming Jon’s demise and it was the take-over, so it wasn’t a time to really say so much. Jon was in his own little box of ‘I am leaving’, Liz as Sarah had to be upset because she thought Jon was dying, and it was just ‘Hello’. That night I had to go to the studio to film with them, with Tom, and I think if things work well you get that extra frisson on screen.

“Ian Marter was there with Tom when I got there and they seemed already to have a really lovely relationship and I actually felt very excluded, and I felt I had to sit back and wait on it. From the word go it was a very very new Doctor, which was lovely because you’re only as good as the people you work with. And the Doctor makes the running. It’s like in a George Formby thing, you can’t have ten George Formby’s, it wouldn’t work, so all I could do was wait to see what Tom gave me. And whereas Jon’s Doctor had been very protective, arm around the chick, Tom’s Doctor was ‘You can do it’, and it was wonderful. Tom comes from Liverpool, and I do, and Tom’s so generous and disarming. It was great.

“By the time we came to do ‘Planet of Evil’, we knew we were really flying. You just knew it was really really good, and that’s a very rare feeling, and when something is really good you dare to be brave, you dare to make mistakes, and by that you get better results because you’re braver. You trust the people around you. We didn’t have to finish sentences. We’d rehearse, and Tom would say by the time we got to the studio we had to know exactly what we were doing, exactly where the marks were, exactly how many seconds to pause, because the special effects were so important. You could do twenty, thirty takes and be brilliant, but if the stun gun didn’t work you’d got nothing. We knew they’d take the one where the stun gun worked, so we were on the ball, and Tom used to say to the director’s box ‘Sir, Liz and I have just thought of -‘ and the director would say ‘Lovely idea, Tom, but we haven’t got time’. Tom would say we’ll do it but we have to get it right.

“An example is ‘Pyramids of Mars’. There’s a Marx Brothers film where they walk in, turn and walk out, and we did that in ‘Pyramids of Mars’ when we saw something in one of the tunnels, Tom was supposed to say ‘Quick, Sarah, hide’, and he said ‘I’m not saying that again’ so it was in, turn, out. It was very good, it was accepted, but if he’ got it wrong we wouldn’t have been very popular because the clock was ticking. You only had until ten o’clock in those days. We used to record from seven thirty at night until ten o’clock at night, so it was rather like being live.

“And I remember we were going filming one day, I never used to know where we were going, I just got on the bus, and it was six o’clock at night, we were going down the motorway, we came to a whole load of houses and Tom sat back and said ‘You know, Liz, if we stopped and I knocked on the door or one of these houses and said Do you mind if I come in and watch myself?, there’s no-one who’d say No’.

“It’s so simple, ‘Doctor Who’, but if you mess around with it you’ve got nothing. I wish we’d had more money. Tom was always having ideas. He’d say ‘Shall we try it this way’, they’d say ‘No, Tom’, he’d say ‘Alright, but I’ll have another idea in a minute and that one might work’, you know, you could be wrong a hundred times but if you’re right just once, it’s worth having your input. We’d camera rehearse and the make-up girls would run after Tom and say ‘Tom, can I just comb your -‘ and Tom would say ‘Darling, I’m too busy, I’m saving the universe’. Wonderful. Fantastically professional irreverance.

“When we were doing ‘The Hand of Fear’, I think they were a little anxious that we mustn’t film the last scene as the last scene, in case it got a little too, whatever, maudlin. We used to often record out of order, but this particular time we recorded the end halfway through, but I remember one of the last scenes we did, it was where Eldred was injured and we were climbing up this slippery slope, and it was in the studio so it wasn’t desperately slippy but we had to sort of pretend to slide back. Tom thought it was quite funny, and we kept doing it and going up and sliding up and we just couldn’t stop laughing. It really was very sad leaving, but I needed to go because I didn’t ever want to be asked to leave, and I wasn’t Philip’s choice, he inherited me. Tom gave me a party at his house, and he put fairy lights in the trees in the garden, and as a joke I said ‘Tom, it’s lovely, do you always have it like that?’, he said ‘No I bloody don’t, I did it for you!'”

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