Jacqueline Hill (1984)

As Barbara Wright, the late Jacqueline Smith was one of the first occupants of the TARDIS, following Susan Foreman into the junkyard at Totter’s Lane back in November 1963. In this old DWM interview, she talks about getting the role at a party, about her time on the show, and about her return, as a different character, in the Fourth Doctor story ‘Meglos’.

“I was at a party one evening and the usual bunch of friends were there. I’d known Verity Lambert socially since she had joined the ABC television company for whom both my husband and myself had done some work. She was one of Sydney Newman’s proteges, and by this stage she had transferred with him to the BBC, where she had been asked to become a producer. Anyway, this party came at just the right point for me, because Verity was in the process of casting the regulars for her new television serial ‘Doctor Who’. We talked about it, and shortly afterwards, she offered me the part of Barbara Wright, which I was more than happy to accept. Because of this good beginning, Verity and I always got on well. Making that number of programmes every year meant that it helped to ease the burden of doing so many.

“I think nearby everybody, including the BBC, under-estimated ‘Doctor Who’s appeal. We had quite long-running contracts which bound us up initially for a year, but which had a number of clauses which meant that they could drop you or the series, or both, whenever they felt like it. So in effect they had the best of both worlds. Looking at the show’s durability now, it’s a quite amazing phenomenon, although it was an excellent idea, particularly for the time. I think he has managed to last so long because it has this ability to change and develop, it’s never the same, so nothing gets too boring or familiar.

“By the end of a series one did begin to get very tired, but they would usually try and write the scripts to accommodate you, so that one week Carole Ann or Bill Russell would have more to do, and on occasions they’d even write us out for a couple of weeks so we could dash off for a holiday. We were so on top of each other, in those tiny, tiny studios, that bad tempers would have been a disaster. I got on particularly well with William Russell. He shared my sort of approach to acting and liked to get on with the job with the minimum of fuss. I’ve worked with him since, doing a lot of rep abroad, in France, and I’m hoping to work with him again soon.

“Carole Ann Ford and I enjoyed a very easy relationship, although we didn’t keep in touch after she left the series. She was very busy being a mother and our paths just never seemed to cross. However, I did see her again recently at a ‘Doctor Who’ convention and I enjoyed that very much. She’s really quite well known at these conventions, I gather, whereas I’ve only done the one. They’re quite amazing. How so many people can still appreciate what we did all those years ago in a tiny black and white studio really astonishes me I suppose it’s unique.

“It all goes back to the success of Bill Hartnell as the Doctor, I should imagine, and we always got on well. He would get very annoyed with the way things were done if he thought they were being done the wrong way, but he cared so much about the programme and I think it showed. He particularly enjoyed all the comeback from children, and I grew quite fond of him. I think he was sad when we left. I know I was.

“All I knew at first, all I was actually told, was that my character was a very learned history teacher and that I was there to represent the Earth point of view when we went back in time and did the occasional serial set in the past. I found that quite easy, as I liked history and those historical stories appealed to me anyway. Everything else I had to put in myself, and this meant taking it up with either Verity or the director concerned. I think there were times when I said ‘Barbara wouldn’t say this or she wouldn’t do this’, and they were usually very good and listened to me on those points because I knew the character better than anybody else.

“I had quite a good part in ‘The Daleks’, and in a series like ‘Doctor Who’ one tends to remember that. We were all absolutely fascinated with (the Daleks), it became very easy to suspend one’s disbelief when acting opposite one of those things, and that helped make the whole thing that little bit more polished and exciting. I remember Carole Ann Ford bringing her young daughter to the studios one day, and her daughter trying out the Dalek for size. They have that irresistable appeal, that does make you want to try them out for yourself. There were others I liked – the Sensorites were unusual, for instance, and the Mechanoids were interesting too, but overall it still has to be the Daleks. One could almost put up with the lessened part to be in one of those Dalek stories, because they were such fun to make.

“The other reason for remembering that story is much sadder. We were in the studio on the night that the news of President Kennedy’s assassination came through. It was devastating and everybody was  very, very upset. I don’t think, looking back, that anyone today can quite understand all that Kennedy had meant to the western world, and when he was killed the last thing anybody wanted to do was get on with acting out a fantasy in a confined studio. I don’t think anybody stayed behind after the recording for the customary drink.

“I always preferred the historical stories, because I was given a bit more to do in them. In the science fiction stories, it was the monsters and weird characters who tended to take over, and all the girls tended to have to do was look frightened and get lost in a gloomy passage or two. I adored all the dressing up that went with doing the historical stories, and they were much more colourful for us because the historical sets were so gorgeous to act in.

“I think I liked ‘The Aztecs’, and the one about the Crusaders, best. In ‘The Aztecs’ I had the most magnificent headdress, which was terribly difficult to balance, but which looked superb and made me feel very regal. The story itself was extremely clever and it was a fascinating period. I suppose I liked it above all the others because that was the one in which Barbara was most important to the storyline. I liked ‘The Crusades’ for similar reasons, and also because I greatly enjoyed working with Douglas Camfield on that one. ‘The Romans’ was another which was great fun to do. It had Derek Francis in it. He used to make me laugh all the time and we got the chance to play ‘Doctor Who’ all out for comedy, which was fun.

“Shooting ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ on location was hardly what you’d call a massive amount of location filming, and the location itself was just around the corner from where we recorded the studios in Hammersmith. We had very little time to do it in, more or less one take only, so it was just as bad as working inside. I can recall very clearly filming the sequences in and around the famous landmarks of London, because we shot them first thing in the morning, as soon as the light came up – on a Sunday too! That was even more arduous because we had to run along pushing this wheelchair, which I can tell you soon lost its novelty value.

“I certainly wasn’t asked (to be in the film Dr. Who and the Daleks), partly because I was hardly a top box office name but most of all, I expect, because all my time would have been taken up making the series itself. I never had much time to watch myself in the series, although obviously I saw the occasional one or two. I haven’t seen it now for quite a long time, and besides it’s virtually a different programme now, it’s moved on so much. Science-fiction isn’t really my own taste as far as entertainment goes.

“The good thing about Barbara was that because she was older than most of the girls since, the writers were more hesitant about making her look silly, or scream too much. That side of things was largely left to Carole Ann Ford, which is why she left earlier than Bill Russell and myself. Naturally Maureen O’Brien felt very nervous when she first arrived, but nobody was out to be unpleasant and that initial, understandable feeling quickly wore off. I think we got on very well, although it was strange not having Carole around at first. Maureen didn’t really enjoy her time with the series, though, because she inherited Carole’s role of screaming all the time, which luckily for me I retained the better of the two female parts. It was more or less her first big television part and I think it was a bit of a rude awakening.

“(William Russell) and I decided to leave virtually as a mutual thing. We’d done two years of it, which was a strain and there wasn’t a lot more we could do with it either. Everything that we wanted to do in the series had been accomplished and we felt, and I think Verity sneakingly agreed with us, that it was time for the series to try and see if it could do something new. As for the question of going together, well, it all just seemed to come together at the right time for both of us. I think it had always been felt that Ian and Barbara, who had this slightly romantic side to their relationship, should go together much as they came – back to the London they left. They wrote us out well. They took us all around the centre of London to get some shots of us ‘back home again’, which were later shown in the last episode. For the last live action filmed piece, we went back to, guess where, glamourous Hammersmith.

“We did ‘Meglos’ in different studios, and of course television had moved on in leaps and bounds so that the technique was completely different. The special effects were a lot more dominant. It was recorded entirely out of order and there was nobody working on the story who could remember as far back as me – which was something of a humbling experience. I did enjoy it very much, though, mainly because the part I played was so very different to the calm and unflappable Barbara. It was a happy reunion with a show that was really only the same show by name alone.”


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One Response to “Jacqueline Hill (1984)”

  1. jacqueline_blog Says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading this, and look forward to exploring the archive in more depth. Just a note: you’ve referred to Jacqueline Hill as “Jacqueline Smith” in your introduction. Any chance you could correct this, please?

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