Here’s Sarah Sutton talking about her time as Nyssa, her thoughts on how the character ‘grew up’, and her eventual decision to leave the show.
“I got a phone call from my agent, who said that I was up for a part in ‘Doctor Who’ and would I go for an interview. I went along for an interview with the director of ‘The Keeper of Traken’, John Black, and John Nathan-Turner. Very soon after this I was told I’d got the part of Nyssa, thought it was a little while before they asked me to carry on. I was very pleased to do so, and quickly signed on the dotted line because the regular pay was very appealing.
“In the script for ‘The Keeper of Traken’ there had to be a lot of falling masonry, and we all got knocked by bits of falling plaster. I remember Anthony Ainley getting very worried about it! My only real objection was that the stuff got clogged up in your hair, which was very unpleasant.
“It was a story decision to leave me out of ‘Kinda’, so that there would be more room to do something with the characters of Tegan and Adric. The problem was that the series had four regular cast members, which is spreading the lines a little thin. When my contract for that season came through, it simply said ‘to appear in twenty-four out of twenty-six episodes’, so I imagine it had been planned that way for some time.
“Black Orchid was great fun – we had a super cast, and all the Charleston, Twenties, flapper bit was a laugh. The dress I wore was beautiful, too – I think it was genuine. It was very tiring playing a double part, as far as both effects and acting were concerned. There was a lot of waiting around, and several costume changes, which can be a pain. The worst thing was keeping one’s concentration up and remembering whereabouts one was in the plot of the thing. I enjoyed the end result, although you could see that my double was anotehr actress. Actually, she wasn’t like me at all – not even the same height!
“I liked some of ‘Time Flight’. I liked the way they tried to give Nyssa a bit of extra-sensory perception and all that. I must say that the plot left me standing – I didn’t really understand it. Those Plasmaton mosnters were quite amusing, though – they were supposed to look terribly menacing but the actors inside couldn’t see where they were going or what they were doing, so the effect was rather negated. They just sort of stood there and hoped for the best.
“John Nathan-Turner felt that it was time to see Nyssa grow up a bit and become a bit more sophisticated. Part of this was reflected in the looser hairstyle and the new costumes which were designed to give Nyssa a more adult look. Apparently there’d been complaints from ‘Doctor Who’ viewers that Nyssa kept herself so covered up all the time! Hence the new look – although for filming purposes, mini-skirts are somewhat less practical than velvet trousers.
“I think Nyssa got more sure of herself later on. It was decided before the season started that Nyssa would be written out midway through. John decided that we’d done all we could with her and I can see the validity of that – but before she went, there was this effort made to make her seem a little maturer and more able to cope than she had been before – important, really, considering the circumstances of her departure.
“It was so lovely to work with Nicholas Courtney on ‘Mawrdryn Undead’, he’s as much a part of ‘Doctor Who’ as the Daleks. It was an intriguing story, too, and we had a lot of laughs making it. You can imagine the reaction when we first saw all of Mawdryn’s lot in those costumes and with those wigs and that make-up. We all died laughing because they looked like large salt cellars – and they moved like them too. Poor Peter Moffatt had to tell us off about that.
“The ageing make-up took hours, and it was most uncomforable because you’d get an itch under your latex skin and you couldn’t scratch it for fear of ruining the make-up and having to go through the whole process all over again. It made your skin feel very tight when you actually got it off, and it wasn’t pleasant.
“Dropping my skirt was my parting gesture to all those fans who wante to see the real Nyssa. It was my idea and John okayed it, but in retrospect I wish I hadn’t bothered because it caused such a stir, I get asked about it whenever I’m interviewed about ‘Doctor Who’. We’d seen Nyssa grow up over the two years, and turn from a very protected and aristocratic young lady into a mature and well-balanced woman. She was a scientist with a strong sense of good, and in spite of the awful events thorugh which she’d lived, she always managed to carry on.
“There was a strike going on when we made ‘Terminus’, and so on my last day I didn’t finish. I had to come for a brief re-mount during the recording of the next story, ‘Enlightenment’, and so my farewell scene wasn’t the last thing I did at all. It left me with a bit of an empty feeling – I went home thinking ‘Well, I’d at least have liked a clean break’.