Archive for the ‘Companions: 4th Doctor’ Category

Elisabeth Sladen (1980’s)

November 20, 2009

Here’s Elisabeth Sladen talking about almost  drowning in Wookey Hole, almost being crushed by a collapsing TARDIS, and how she originally planned to play Sarah Jane for just one year.

“Sarah had to be able to stick up for herself. She was pretty forceful, especially at first, then we allowed her to soften and adapt more to the circumstances she was living in. Sarah was not only feminist, she was feminine – a rather happy, forthright girl with a lot of intelligence, and plenty of courage.

“I felt I worked well with Jon – we made a good duo, professionally. He works it all out the whole time but I can’t do that – it’s all instant with me. I try to act for that instinctive quality I like my characters to have. So although we approached it differently, we had a great time and a lot of laughs.

“With the new team we had Philip Hinchcliffe, who was young and enthusiastic, and Tom Baker who was a charming man. Eccentric, yes, but so warm, such a sincere person and a first-rate actor. We worked as a team and it was great. It sounds conceited calling them classic days – but that’s what they were for me. It had the sort of spark you get when everything gels. This applied even to the production team.

“One of the stuntmen – Terry Walsh – was as marvellous guy who stood in for us if the action got too dangerous. With me, as often as not, I had to do my own stunts because of my height – it would have been too obvious otherwise – but he was always there on the sidelines, and it’s to him I practically owe my life. We were shooting down in Wookey Hole for ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’, and they wanted me to do this ridiculous joyride on a sort of speedboat. I was petrified at the thought of being caught in the undercurrent of one of the pools, though everyone assured me that it would be alright. Terry wasn’t satisfied, though, and he stood by the side in a wetsuit in case anything went wrong. Sure enough, I came off and probably wouldn’t be here today if he hadn’t intervened.

“We never got glamorous locations. It was always from one quarry to another. It was just my luck that when I returned for ‘The Five Doctors’, Jon and I ended up once again in a disused quarry, freezing to death. It caused a few laughs for both of us. As we were turning blue, I said ‘Just like old times!’. We just had to grin and bear it.

“I’ll never forget the time the TARDIS collapsed on us! We did have a lot of special effects that had to be done in an amazingly short time, but we did it, and that’s a thing to be proud of. We were under lots of pressure, particularly during Tom’s first year, but we never ran out of time. Minor mistakes were made, and no doubt some of our directors had more grey hair by the end. It used to be worst on the six-parters – in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, I think it was the last session in the studio and we had about five crucial scenes to do and only fifteen minutes before the plugs were pulled. With an extension and no second takes, we managed it. A remount at that time would have been a nightmare.

“The robot in ‘Robot’ was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, but it was almost impossible to work with. The actor inside it kept falling over with the most tremendous crashes, and he came near to fainting because of the restrictions the costume imposed on breathing. We had exactly the same problems with the Ice Warriors.

“I was very pleased with ‘Planet of Evil’. It had a lot more to it that some of our more mundane scripts. For once we were in a tropical jungle with all this crazy wildlife around us – totally fantastic, but a marvellous break from what we usually did. Although I loved my time with Jon, the team I remember most fondly had to be Tom, Ian and I. We really did care. There was flexibility – room for improvement – and we all became very close. I loved nearly all my time on ‘Doctor Who’ and I’ve never regretted doing it.

“Originally I’d planned one year. That became two, then three. I got a great deal of satisfaction from making Sarah Jane what she was. Even so, there were boundaries that couldn’t be crossed and I felt I’d really done my best, had my day, and should hand over to somebody else. I felt regret, of course, but I was happy that it was I who took the initative, and not somebody giving me a quiet push – in fact, they asked me how I should go out and I said make it quiet, not over-dramatic. I didn’t want to die or anything like that. So at the end of ‘The Hand of Fear’, I slipped out of the Doctor’s life and back to the theatre.”

Elisabeth Sladen (1990)

October 17, 2009

With the third series of ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’ having just started on the BBC, here’s Elisabeth Sladen back in 1990 talking about how she upset Jon Pertwee by getting her hair cut, how she helped Tom Baker and Ian Marter with the script for the aborted 70’s movie ‘Doctor Who Meets Scratchman’, and how she felt she couldn’t play Sarah Jane again after ‘The Five Doctors’.

“I really wanted to act. It was just what I wanted to do when I left school. I didn’t go to stage school – I went to an ordinary grammar school, then drama school for two years, then to the local repertory theatre. We based ourselves in Manchester, although Brian (Miller, her husband) went into the West End with a production. We always knew we’d have to move to London, but it was so different. I didn’t have the contacts. I didn’t have an agent. In the end, I got one who had seen me in Manchester, and to my surprise, I got quite a bit of work.

“Someone else was offered Sarah Jane before me, but they decided to reconsider. I don’t know if she recorded any – it was all a bit of a rush, which was to my advantage. I only found out afterwards. They tagged ‘The Time Warrior’ onto the end of the season when Jo Grant was leaving. I did that, then we finished and started again after Christmas. I remember going out and doing a lot of publicity shots. I got my hair cut very short and came back for the first production of the new season, the dinosaur one. Jon Pertwee hated my hair, just hated it, which was a wonderful welcome!

“I felt very strange that they weren’t giving me more notes, that I wasn’t being pressed into a mould more. I saw ‘The Time Warrior’ a long time after making it, and I was quite amazed at what a strong role they let me take. She was never so strong again. I remember Tom Baker later brought up a point: ‘If the people the Doctor chooses to be with him are stupid, then it makes him out to be stupid’.

“The chemistry with Tom was the chemistry each actor bought to it. I saw Tom once in Regent Street and I couldn’t cope with reality. ‘Come and have a drink’, he said. ‘No, Doctor, I can’t!’. It worked very well and it was always a pleasure to work with Tom – it was just like shorthand. In the end, you just knew what we needed at a certain point. I helped with some of ‘Doctor Who Meets Scratchman’ (the proposed 70’s film). The British Film Finance Corporation were very interested about that. I put in some ideas, but I didn’t do any writing. They told me I’d been written in – but they might have written me out, too!

“I really didn’t like the script for ‘K9 and Company’, but I loved the idea and I thought John Nathan-Turner was very brave to actually go for it. He wasn’t given enough time to set it up, and I was concerned that there were things in it that weren’t really Sarah. I would have loved to have made it really work, but I just think there were so many disadvantages when we started off.

“The Five Doctors was like a command performance. Everyone came back to it. The story had moments in it that really worked well, but I feel in the end it didn’t kind of reach anything. I doubt very much that I could do another one – I don’t really think I’m that person now, and I don’t think you can play Sarah Jane so many years on. I’m different, and unless the script accommodated that, I don’t think I could make it work.”

Mary Tamm (1985)

October 9, 2009

Mary Tamm was the first Romana, appearing in the ‘Key to Time’ season. Here, she tells DWM about getting the role, her time working with Tom Baker, the attempt to bring more humour to the show, and her annoyance at not getting a farewell scene.

“I wasn’t particularly keen on going for the part of Romana, but my agent suggested it would be a good career move. The producer Graham Williams and my first director, George Spenton-Foster, saw me and I was told it was planned to be something of a radical departure from the usual companion mould, with Romana matching up much more to the Doctor’s intelligence and skill. It was supposedly goign to be more of a challenge, as well as more of a starring partnership. Anyway, I read for it and then Graham and George screen-tested six actresses for the part before they contacted me and asked me to play Romana.

“The press are so funny. One of them reported me as saying that playing a ‘Doctor Who’ girl was like being a ‘James Bond’ girl, which I never said at all! I suppose there’s an element of truth in it, but I never said it! They’ll pick up anything that smells of behind-the-scenes tension and blow it out of all proportion, but fortunately with ‘Doctor Who’ that was never a problem.

“I didn’t really like the script for ‘The Ribos Operation’. For a start, I thought ‘Hold on, what’s happened to this incredible starring part?’, and then I realised that I was there to fill the traditional role of cipher to the Doctor. I still had to do my share of the screaming and the bungling that tends to go with being a companion. Looking back, the format doesn’t actually allow for much else. It’s only a half hour show. I did enjoy the year I had with the show, but it was a bit of a disappointment once I realised the truth about the character I was playing.

“Tom Baker’s a fascinating man in many ways, and very refreshing to work with, if occasionally a bit difficult. He was just so different, he suited the part down to the ground and in a rehearsal room he made everyone feel ‘this is my show’. We got on very well, which was nice because, as with everything an actor does, those first few days of rehearsal can be really nerve-wracking. He made me feel welcome quickly, and so we got down to thte work without any real hassles.

“In ‘The Androids of Tara’, we had to do this scene using an antique fishing rod worth literally hundreds of pounds. Tom was supposed to be casting it off, which, when he came to the take he did – throwing the thing into the water at the same time. It was awful, really, he felt so guilty, but it was very funny at the time.

“The worst filming experiences I had were when we did ‘The Power of Kroll’ in a dreadful marsh somewhere. Tom and I got totally stuck in the mud, we just couldn’t move until we were rescued. We were miles from anywhere and it was so bleak. There was absolutely nothing to do between takes, because if you wandered off you’d probably have been swallowed up!

“The Pirate Planet was written by Douglas Adams, and it was great fun to work on. I really enjoyed its inventiveness and humour, and the whole production glowed. Pennant Roberts was my favourite director, but that’s not meant as a slight on the others. They were all fine, but Pennant was something special, and he was wonderful on that story. As a whole, we didn’t have any difficult directors which, in a schedule like that, was a distinct blessing.

“I liked the humour element very much. In fact, Tom and I put a lot of comedy into our relationship which I think worked quite well and was certainly very popular at the time. I think there’s room for a lot of comedy in ‘Doctor Who’. If it concentrates too much on the frightening and more serious aspects of the situation, it can become too intense. The humour was a nice contrast to that, and we tried harad to work it into the scripts wherever possible. Tom and I were also very keen on the love / hate relationship (between the Doctor and Romana), and we would both have liked to have seen that develop even more than it did. I think, though, that both our producers and our writers were a bit scared of going any further into that set-up because it was deviating from the established and successful formula. It was a shame, but it’s typical of the limits of TV.

“John Leeson (as K9) was just as inventive as Tom and he was super to be with in rehearsal. He did everything as if he actually was the dog we had on screen, down to wagging an imaginary tail! The character of K9 took off with viewers very rapidly, and I think it’s easy to see why. I liked him, but one did have to suspend one’s disbelief when acting with him. He was fine because he was usually on Romana’s side in an argument, as well as the fact that, because of the sheer mechanics of working him, he wasn’t in every episode.

“We had some nice location stuff to do for ‘The Stones of Blood’, and I was rather impressed with the story. It was quite creepy. Because the cast was so small and so good, I got a larger part and it was a closer team. Susie Engel and I got on very well indeed, and Beatrix Lehman was a tremendous person to work with.

“The Androids of Tara was the one where I got to play two parts, which was fine in one sense but which meant that I had more than the usual number of lines to learn! It was a nice idea and it offered me a bit of the scope I had been promised by the part, and which had been somewhat lost along the way. There was a scene where I was being crowned or something, and I had this great big speech, something of a rarity in ‘Doctor Who’! I had a really heavy crown and my costume was so complex that even the slightest sharp movement would descend into disarray. On the first take, I had just about got to the end of this long speech when I forgot the last line. I was furious and we had to start all over again. On the second take I lost my balance and the crown went cascading off my head. Everyone – including myself – absolutely fell about.

“I’d very much have liked a leaving scene. I was rather annoyed that I wasn’t properly written out. I’d said to Graham Williams when I accepted the part, ‘You have to know, I’m only going to do the one year’, and he’d said ‘Yes, yes, fine’, hoping, I suspect, that I’d change my mind. And sure enough, when the time came and I said this is my last story, he said how much they wanted me to stay on. The character had been highly popular with the viewers, and I think to try and persuade me into doing extra time, I didn’t get a proper leaving scene. But I had made my position perfectly clear and so I felt rather annoyed by it all.”

Lalla Ward (1985)

September 30, 2009

Here’s Lalla Ward talking about her time as Princess Astra and Romana, as well as her marriage to Tom Baker, the loss of ‘Shada’ and her decision to leave the show in ‘Warriors Gate’:

“I must have been the most unusual entrant into the series. My audition was, unwittingly, a six-week story! Naturally, at the time I had no idea it would blossom into the offer of a regular job. I was fortunate because when I joined, I knew everybody, so the first-night nerves, so to speak, were not so concentrated. Everybody had been so surprised at Mary Tamm’s decision to leave. It was all so quick, before I knew it there I was – the new Romana!

“The director of ‘The Armageddon Factor’, Michael Hayes, had worked with me on ‘The Duchess of Duke Street’ and also noted my work in ‘Shelley’. He contacted my agent because he saw me as right for the past of Princess Astra. I think one of the reasons they asked me to take over from Mary was that my original character had received a favourable response from the viewers. I’d got on so well with Tom – and with Mary – that I was suggested and I certainly had no qualms about taking it on.

“I just couldn’t be the same as Mary. It wouldn’t have worked. I had to approach it differently. I kept thinking that I was in somebody else’s shoes and they didn’t quite fit. So it was weird – but a challenge. Besides, when Time Lords regenerate, they don’t stay the same, do they? None of the Doctors have, and I’m sure Romana wouldn’t have either. It was never easy to do ‘Doctor Who’ – it was very hard work, very taxing at times for all sorts of reasons.

“We used to have the most awful problems with our writers. Tom and I used to have the rewrite most of our dialogue with the director, usually because it wasn’t right for the parts we were playing. And it happened from the very st art. Our actual rehearsal time, which was incredibly tight, was reduced still further as a result. So the programme was always a heavy workload – we had this responsibility for the show and we were doing so many a year against the problems of a small budget and scripts that we wouldn’t have done without at least an element of rewriting.

But our writers were under pressure too. They had to work with severe limitations, and in making it adventurous the characters were often neglected. And in some ways, I felt the show was more about people than adventure situations.

“The schoolgirl outfit was my idea – so was the riding look in ‘The Horns of Nimon’. I took the whole thing to its limits because I knew I’d probably never have such a chance again. In ‘Destiny of the Daleks’, we came up with that smashing idea – a joke on the Doctor, really – of having a version of his costume for Romana. She was an individual charaacter and her clothes had to show this – a fantastic mixture of all the different worlds at her disposal. I’m ashamed of the way I bossed my poor designers around. They’d suggest something, which might be alright, but then I’d see myself in something else, so I’d insist on that. They were always letting me have my own way, so I had a tremendous time. I always bore n mind what would appeal to the viewers and make them laugh. It was all fantasy and I enjoyed every minute of it.

“City of Death was very challenging. For a start, we had to film loads of scenes in the rain and cold and as quickly as possible because we only had a few days – there was no glamour at all! Then we had tov irtually rewrite the whole thing, because it just wasn’t working out. Luckily the excellent cast helped and it was stimulating, but very difficult. In retrospect, it was different from the ordinary stories too, and I liked the finished result.

“My favourite was ‘State of Decay’. It had the most amazingly real designs – the sets made me feel so eerie, it wasn’t difficult to act. I think perhaps the horror element was over-played, but it was a powerful script, one of our beset, and beautifully directed.

“Tom works incredibly hard, too hard. He’s a perfectionist at heart, and with ‘Doctor Who’ we often didn’t have time for perfection. He love the fans he got through playing the Doctor – especially the children – and he always kept up an incredibly conscientious role while he was in the series – he never smoked or drank in public. That was something he saw as his responsibility. He is a superb actor and his popularity reflects this. The trouble is our careers came to be just as important as each other, and we grew apart. I was angry at suggestions that it didn’t work because I was too young – or that Tom was unreasonable to me. It was a decision we discussed and felt was for the best.

“On ‘Shada’, we had stupendous problems for a while. We shot the series out of order anyway, and because of delays and over-running we got steadily more and more behind schedule. The team were all working at breakneck speed to complete it all in time. Tom was a hopeless punter, so that scene on the gondola took hours! We lost everything we’d done – which was a lot, unfortunately. As I remember, the filming in Cambridge was superb, but overall I wasn’t happy with it. Douglas had written a superb script, but it just coincided with a time when I felt fed up with everything. To have worked so hard and got so far advanced was heartbreaking when all that happened was its cancellation. Morale sank very low.

“I know it’s a cliche, but it’s best to get out on top. I’d had my era – it was time for a new look and the programme never keeps its cast for too long anyway. I’d made up my mind before the start of recording for the new series that I’d like to go halfway through. John Nathan-Turner had exactly the same feeling, so we had no conflict over the decision – it was entirely amicable, and a relief, because I’d been dreading telling him – and vice versa, I think. I absolutely loated ‘Warrior’s Gate’ because it was my last one. I felt particularly regretful, I’d become so very close to the show. The story itself was a good one – a fine leaving story – with a sufficient air of mystery to it. I hadn’t wanted to be killed off or fall in love or anything tame and silly, so I was pleased that I got a nice open-ended departure. I was also delighted I got K9 as company. It somehow eased the break. An excellent story – good for Romana – but terribly sad for me.

“I discovered quite early on that a camera never lets you down. Your acting is unrestricted by its presence, whereas an audience will react in different ways. I love the theatre and I do like to work ‘live’ every so often, but my first loyalty is to television. I’d done so much there – I feel a sense of attachment. The atmosphere of television is right for me.”

Sarah Sutton (1992)

September 20, 2009

Here’s part of a DWM interview with Sarah Sutton, talking about her time as Nyssa, including being freezing cold at Heathrow airport while filming ‘Time Flight’.

“I didn’t really think too much about Nyssa as a character because she wasn’t terribly complicated. I did like the fact that she was an alien, so there was no set way of doing her. She could react to any situation quite unconventionally if she wanted to, which was nice. I got on well with all my co-stars. Peter Davison and I shared a similar sense of humour and this made things go smoothly in rehearsals.

“In any show with an established star, the rest of the cast tends to look to them for a general tone. If Tom Baker was in a bad mood, everyone felt depressed. If he was buoyant, then we all felt good. Peter was just relaed, but serious about the job. This created good teamwork which extended beyond the actors to the technical crew.

“I developed a good rapport with Janet Fielding, and that added to the feeling that I was going to work every day with friends rather than colleagues. This was a definite advantage on location – you suffered together. Doing ‘Time Flight’ in the snow at Heathrow airport was probably my least favourite experience ever. We were so unbelievably cold and just huddled together between shots to keep halfway warm. It was also quite chilly in Amsterdam, where we did ‘Arc of Infinity’, but it was more pleasant. Amsterdam was fascinating – a bit sleazy, but colourful and full of life.

“When I came to leave the series, it was done really well. Over the two years we’d seen Nyssa change from this rather sheltered aristocratic young lady into a mature and well-balanced young woman. She was a scientist with a strong sense of justice, who’d lived through the awful things life had thrown at her. The only downer was that she had to say goodbye to the Doctor and Tegan – her best friend. It’s always hardest to say goodbye toa friend, especially when you know it’s for good – which in Nyssa’s case it certainly was. Anyway, she was probably in for some interesting times, stranded on a space station full of men.”

Ian Marter (1984)

September 16, 2009

I’ve always thought that Harry Sullivan would be one of the best ‘classic’ Who companions to bring back for a cameo in the new series, but of course that’s impossible since Ian Marter died in 1986. These quotes are taken from a longer Richard Marson with Marter that first appeared in ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ back in 1984. The actor talks about his time as Harry, his desire for a more heroic exit from the series, and plans to bring him back for ‘The Five Doctors’, which sadly never came to fruition.

“I think the part of Andrews (in Carnival of Monsters) came about because Barry Letts had seen me a couple of years before when he was casting the part of Captain Yates. I couldn’t do that at the time but Barry had obviously remembered me as the right kind of fine upstanding military type, and luckily for me I got my second chance, so to speak. It was extremely hard work technically – we spent several days on a pensioned-off Fleet auxilliary ship anchored on the River Medway, as I remember. There were a lot of special effects that inevitably always cause problems, but all the same we had a lot of laughs – it was great fun working with Jon Pertwee and Tenniel Evans. This mixture of hard concentrated work along with the lighter side of it I recalled when it came to playing Harry, I rediscovered the feeling altogether!

“They cast me (as Harry) before they knew anything about the new Doctor. I was brought in, in case the Doctor had been made much older and couldn’t handle the physical side of the series. I would have been his strong arm – a sort of rough-and-ready action type. As it was, Tom didn’t really need me there at all.

“I had been dreadfully ill for about two months, laid up in hospital and more or less at death’s door. I was only just getting back on my feet again about five or six months later when Barry asked me to meet both him and his script editor Robert Holmes for lunch. This I did, and they outlined the concept of Harry to me. It took me about three seconds to say I’d do it – I said yes with distinct alacrity!

“Although Tom and I were coming into it and Lis was already there, we never had any problems at all. Both Lis and Tom were tremendous – such generous colleagues and such a lot of fun. I think we all tried to work together as a team – which meant we were able to criticise one another and to go through an entire spectrum of suggestions, changes and compromises. There were never any bad feelings or anything like that – that would have been unprofessional.

“I did and I didn’t like the character. I responded instantly to his well-intentioned accident-proneness and his zeal for good and justice. But I did find his incompetence could become a bit of a drag. Gradually, he seemed to have less and less to contribute to the overall set-up, either for good or ill.

“The most difficult story for me was ‘Terror of the Zygons’ because John Woodnutt as our chief  villain was so funny in rehearsals and on location that I had to work incredibly hard just to keep a straight face! It was a problem that was only made worse by the fact that I was supposed to be frightened most of the time. I still howl with laughter whenever I recall John sending himself up in the past, which he modelled on the late Robert Atkins. We had some superb villains – Michael Wisher’s Davros, Kevin Lindsay’s Sontatan. But to us they were more often than not terribly funny – we’d seen them eating their lunch, or in the Robot’s case fallling over, sights the viewers were spared.

“Recently I had the chance to watch ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ with Lis while we were in Chicago, attending one of the conventions. That was great, because it was one I’d never actually seen. I thought it was good! Rodney Bennett directed it so beautifully, it came across with a lot of style.

“All the stories had their own individual virtues and drawbacks so I don’t really have a favourite. I didn’t care for my last story, ‘The Android Invasion’, one little bit. There was no real reason for Harry to be in it at all – I couldn’t see the point of it. My last scene was particularly frustrating as Harry just sort of fizzled out sitting tied up on the floor in the corner of a room. I don’t mean that as any disrespect to Patrick Newell, who made me laugh a lot and was wonderful to be with, or to Martin Friend who is an old mate anyway. They both did their best to cheer me up. My own unfulfilled wish was that Harry could have been blown up while trying to save Sarah Jane, or something on those lines – a genuinely heroic exit instead of what I actually got.

“I hadn’t decided to go. Harry, the character (and that meant me too), was dropped from the series because he had finally outlived his usefulness and was simply getting in the way. It was sad, but there you are. It was lovely to be asked for ‘The Five Doctors’, but perhaps it was better not to appear. You can’t cling on to a programme that you left nearly a decade ago. John Nathan-Turner contacted me and was very keen for me to appear, but by the time I was asked I was under contract to appear in a TV series in New Zealand. Generally speaking, I don’t think I’d ever seriously contemplate a return to the series now.

“I seem to get at least three or four (fan) letters a week, mostly from America these days but also from Australia, Italy, Canada, all over. I always reply personally with a postcard and I try to answer people’s questions if I’m not too busy. The recent letters are mostly to do with the books rather than with Harry Sullivan. The enthusiasm is amazing. (At conventions) we get grilled on all sorts of topics, they never let up. In America it’s current – they’re showing our episodes all the time again and again, so we’re not out of date there. It’s a marvellous opportunity to see Tom and Lis and everyone again too, so I find them very enjoyable as a rule.”

Elisabeth Sladen (2002)

September 13, 2009

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!'”

John Leeson (1984)

September 3, 2009

Here’s an extract from John Leeson’s ‘Mythmakers’ video, in which he talks about his early career and his time playing the voice of K9.

Q: Do you have a theatrical background of any description?

A: I don’t suppose I do, really. All my family were in the church, my father was a clergyman, my godfather was a bishop, my uncle is a clergyman, and I’m an actor!

Q: Did you leave school and go straight into acting?

A: No, I didn’t, I left school under a black cloud, which probably disappointed my parents a lot. I then went out into the big bad world doing what other people do, I worked in a bookshop for a while, in Leicester, then I worked in a hospital. I worked in the Leicester Royal Infirmary as a hospital porter. I think my father was instrumental in that, because he wanted me to get my feet on the ground a bit, so I spent a fair bit of time portering, carting people about from ward to ward, and the mortuary porter went sick for four months just after I landed at Leicester Royal Infirmary, and a young porter named John was deputed to take his place. It was a very quiet job, but again it was very good experience.

Q: Why didn’t you go straight into acting at this point?

A: Again, because I still hadn’t got my act together. I still didn’t know where I was going, what I wanted to do, or anything. I had vague notions of wanting to become an actor, but they were very vague. I joined the Leicester Dramatic Society, which was very good, but I hadn’t really got the courage to take the plunge until one day I suddenly I decided I would audition for RADA. They had, I think, thirty places to fill and I discovered, just having auditioned, that there were only 450 audition applicants. I did what must have been the worst audition I’ve ever done in my life, but a fortnight later I had a very nice letter saying that I’d been accepted! I couldn’t believe it.

About a year after I went to RADA, I started to get my act together by means of Restoration drama. We had a teacher called Eddie Gray, he was marvellous. He was a Restoration comedic figure himself, I think he wouldn’t mind me saying that… marvellous style, and size. He taught me, and most of us, the art of being on stage and striking twelve, and not having any fears about making our point, which was super. And I think after that point I started to realise that this really was for me.

Q: Do you think, with generations of your family having been in the church, that you were a disappointment to your family?

A: Well I don’t know, my father was very philosophical about this, he said ‘After all, it’s the same job’, in the sense that he as a clergyman with a congregation, there’s an element of theatre, with a stage and an audience. But there’s another similarity, which is that it’s a priest’s function to stand between the realm of ideas, and Earth, and so an actor, in sort of symbolic way, I suppose does the same sort of thing. He stands on a stage and is the medium through which ideas pass to the audience.

Q: So then you went to the London stage?

A: Yes, I had little forays onto the London stage. I did a pantomime for the Westminster theatre, and I did ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ – in fact, I met my wife while I was understudying Mole, (who was played by) a wonderful actor, Richard Goulden, he fell into the pit on the opening night, which was very alarming. The manager of the theatre phoned me, said ‘Do you know the lines?’, and I said ‘Of course’, but of course Richard was the kind of actor who was never off stage.

Q: And you were getting married three times in a week?

A: Eight times a week, including matinees. Yes, I was playing a bridegroom in ‘Plaze Suite’, a Neil Simon play that was then running concurrently in Broadway. It was three plays, and in the third of these a guy is fetched to the house of the bride, who has locked herself in the bathroom and can’t go through with the wedding, and the bride’s father creates mayhem.

Q: But you got married three times?

A: Yes, you keep coming back to this. Yes, my wedding day fell on a Saturday, then there was a matinee, then an evening show. I got married in the morning, I think at eleven, the matinee was at five, and the evening show was at eight. And we had a very short honeymoon because we had to be back on Monday.

Q: So how did you get into television?

A: (pause) I don’t know! How does anyone get into television? It’s a very good question. Um… I really don’t know, I did a religious play for the BBC called ‘The Wedding Feast’, when I was a very hungry actor and there was food in it and I thought that was good. The first television play of any note that I was in was ‘The Spanish Farm’, by R.H. Mottram, it’s a good novel, all about the First World War. I played a young solider who was in the trenches and couldn’t take it, I did my schooldays again, I did a flip, and he eventually gets shot and it was a very nice introduction to television. But the sort of weight I am, the sort of build I am, I tended to do situation comedy. ‘Dad’s Army’, I did, years ago, and I was livid because they gave me an army haircut, a real basin job, and then of course put me in a balaclava and a tin hat, so nobody could see the hair anyway, but it was in the contract, you had to have an army haircut to play the part.

Q: You were a bear as well, weren’t you, in ‘Rainbow’?

A: I was, yes, I confess, I was a bear. I went up to Thames Television for this show, ‘Rainbow’, and I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. The costume hadn’t been made for this bear, this creature. The producer said they wanted a jolly, cuddly figure, then had me fitted for this amazing bear suit. No-one could see any expressions on my face at all, it was all voice acting, inside this incredibly hot bear suit. I was really ill inside this bear suit, because if you spent all day in this hot bear suit in a small studio, you were in trouble. So I was poured out of this costume every evening, into a taxi, and I kept taking the money. It was useful, because I could do a lot of voiceover work, where nobody ever saw me. I did a lot of freelancing for the BBC, and it was a meal ticket because Judy was no longer working because we were expecting our son, who duly arrived. That year I did on it (‘Rainbow’) was a very good cushion to sit on, a stepping stone.

Q: You were also setting questions on ‘Mastermind’, weren’t you?

A: Yes, that was a fluke. If you consider my school record, I had no business setting questions on ‘Mastermind’, I had no business setting questions on anything. But a very good friend of mine was a researcher on ‘Mastermind’ at the time, and she said ‘John, you should set the questions, one of our question setters is on a sabbatical, and you’ve got a mind like an old bag of tricks, full of rubbish, send twenty questions to the producer and see if he likes them’. So I sent twenty questions, and he liked them, and after about twenty thousand I’d had enough, been squeezed like a lemon. You found out the most ridiculous things, because you had to not only set the question, you also had to provide notes on it, but I found out things like, for example, I set a question on royal fish, heraldic symbols, but if fish are landed in territorial water they become the property of the queen. But all questions about this are handled by the ministry of transport! Ludicrous!

Q: How did you land the role of K9?

A: Well you don’t leave RADA hoping to get the part of K9. It’s one of those really weird jobs that comes up. A friend of mine, a director I’d worked with years ago in rep in the North of England, was in a local pub and I was there too. He was doing ‘Z Cars’ or something at the BBC at the time, and we chatted and he said ‘I may have something for you’. A week later, my agent called me up and said ‘John, I’ve just had the BBC on the line, they’d like you to play a tin dog, and they’d like you to play a virus in ‘Doctor Who’. What do you think?’. I thought, well, I’d been asked to do some strange things in my time, I had nothing to lose, except my dignity, my sanity and my family, so I did it.

I went to see Graham Williams, who was then producing ‘Doctor Who’. He showed me the blueprints for K9, for which a voice was required, and asked if I’d think up some voices and put them on tape, which I did. And then there was a call from his office saying ‘John, have you accepted the job? We’re waiting to hear from you’, because I didn’t realise it had actually been offered to me. So I said ‘Yes, fine’, and lo and behold I found myself being K9!

Q: And how did you come up with the voice of K9? You said you’d recorded several…

A: Well, yes, the idea was to have this machine that was omniscient and could churn out data at the press of a button, and then suddenly uttered it with a tiny little voice, as if it came out of a tiny little speaker on a transister radio. So I just took the voice up a register or two, and clipped it a bit. One of the ideas I had was from a Len Deighton film called ‘Billion Dollar Brain’, where there was a computer that spat words out, totally detached from any other words in the sentence. I had a go at that a bit, but it wasn’t very successful, you couldn’t modulate it and carry on a dialogue with the other actors.

I think the way of working with K9 contributed to his success. I was actually in the rehearsals, running around on all fours, being the dog. He was only in for one story, as far as I was concerned, so I might as well go for broke. It provided an eyeline for the other actors, it amused Tom Baker immensely and it kept me out of trouble. They put the voice through a ring modulator, with a microphone, and I couldn’t be near the other actors or their voices would also come through the ring modulator, I suppose. So come recording time, I’d be stuck away somewhere with a monitor in front of me, a screen to watch, a pair of headphones, and a micrphone, and try to reproduce what had happened in rehearsals.

But the first time that K9 appeared, the electronic signals being sent to K9 to make him move around, were on the same frequency as the signals being sent to the cameras. So whenever K9 appeared, the cameras slowed up and K9 just careered around into the furniture. And I’d rehearsed it for two weeks, but I thought the BBC would never employ me again when this wretched thing couldn’t do as it was told So there were two voices, there was the virus as well, but the virus was this immense prawn-like creature made out of fibreglass, which a very small actor called John Scott-Martin put on. He clamboured into this thing, and it wasn’t possible for him to have his voice relayed from this. So I had to have this very plummy voice, that I don’t have naturally.

But after a while of playing K9 I found I got more into the character, and we needed less and less of the fuzz on the voice.  Very worrying. We had a situation in Oxfordshire once, when the BBC had taken a video unit out, a great big van with big scanners, and Tom Baker was doing a scene a couple of miles down the road but my voice was coming from – I was sitting in the van, in the driver’s seat, and I could hear what was going on, I had headphones. But what I didn’t realise was, during a break Tom got out his paper to do the Times crossword, because we tried to do it every day and we usually got about a third of it finished. And Tom said ‘John, have you got your crossword with you?’, and I said I did, so we started solving it, and of course all the locals who’d been to watch the filming saw K9 on the grass verge and Tom Baker with his Times, and they were both doing the Times crossword.

Q: You left for a year, didn’t you?

A: Yes, I left for a year, with no intention of going back, because being out of  vision for a year is no place for a career actor to be. You need to get your face around, and it was purely for that reason, no other at all. The character of K9 had been well-established, there wasn’t much more that could be done with it. One of the difficulties of the K9 character was that it wasn’t a dynamic character, it couldn’t move very fast for a start, and if you consider that the Doctor is a plus factor, his companions are a plus factor, and you don’t want too many plusses in the mix, you want some baddies, Daleks and Sontarans and so on. Also, if you have a computer playing a part that is capable of solving any problem in a microsecond, it’s fine on page seven of part one, but then you might as well pack up and go home because the story could be well wrapped up by then. You know, if K9 was actually allowed full reign. So he was always having flat batteries, he couldn’t go out onto swampy planets because he hadn’t been under-sealed. Even in the special, he couldn’t be the lead, he needed Sarah-Jane Smith to carry the heroic thrust of the story.

Q: So why did you go back?

A: Well there’s been a producer change. John Nathan-Turner was the producer now, he suddenly phoned up and said ‘Would you be interested in coming back, K9 will probably be phased out, we’re not sure, maybe, maybe not, would you consider coming back an seeing him out properly?’. So I talked to my agent, and my bank manager, looked at my watch and said ‘Alright’ and stayed with ‘Doctor Who’ for another year.

Q: How did people react to K9 on the set? Did people like him?

A: Some did and some didn’t. Some felt the character had overstayed his welcome, but I think that’s partly the problem that I’ve indicated in the writing, if you haven’t got enough for the character to do, he’s spare weight. If he can be seen to be earning his crust, in terms of the story, then there’s a very good reason for him to be there, and he’d be welcomed. But there were certain people who didn’t like him. In his last season, he was always getting kicked about. Bill Fraser kicked his head off! He became a lame duck, a lame dog, so to speak.

Q: Were there any spin-offs from doing the K9 voice?

A: We had a pilot for a hopeful series that never came to anything, called ‘K9 and Company’, where another ‘Doctor Who’ character, Liz Sladen, found K9 in her attic, or her auntie’s attic or something, as a present from the Doctor. An unlikely thing to happen, but it was quite fun, a black magic story. But unfortunately I think the money ran out, or there was a change in the regime at the BBC, so what was agreed in the first place ended when the money ran out.

Q: And K9 turned up in things like ‘The Generation Game’…

A: Yes. Well I always used to think that K9 was never a dog, he was a computer, and the dog thing was entirely incidental, he just happened to be that kind of dog shape. I was rather keen on letting the rather pedantic side of my nature come through in his voice.

Q: And you did Longleat?

A: Yes, the big twentieth anniversary celebration. I was asked to do the public address system, so K9’s voice boomed out across the Wiltshire countryside. But the crowds were such that on the second day, and so few could get in because it was vastly oversubscribed, I had to do it in my own voice, which was more commanding. But I was also the person to complain to, so I spent the day being a sort of public relations officer!

Matthew Waterhouse (2006)

August 19, 2009

This is a great recent interview with Matthew Waterhouse, where he’s very genuine and honest about his experiences with Tom Baker. You can see the video here.

“I was absolutely petrified. I remember very clearly my journey on the Tube the morning of the first day and sitting there, I have never been so frightened and excited in my life. And I remember arriving at the read-through and Tom was late, so we were all sitting around the table waiting for the read-through to begin, and he stalked in, in his mac, his brown mac, and I was physically shaking. It was extraordinary. Extraordinarily frightening, a very surreal first day. But maybe since ‘Doctor Who’ is essentially surreal, that’s not a bad way to approach it.

“Tom doesn’t take prisoners, and I think the fact that I was doubtless this immensely irritating, but sweet and unaffected kid, he didn’t give me any leeway at all. It was the most terrifying day of my life. And I wanted him to love me, I wanted him to think ‘Oh what a wonderful boy, what a gifted lad’. I’ve never wanted someone to like me so much in my entire life, and that first day he didn’t really speak to me. He stalked into rehearsals, sat there in his brown coat, read the thing and sat there and smoked cigarettes… he chain-smoked them if I remember rightly. I was absolutely terrified, but it also seemed to be confirming the glamour of it as well. I think he’d be appalled to hear me say this, but to me, as a middle-class kid from commuterville, it was unbelievable. I mean, I’d never been away from my parents for more than two weeks at a time, and there I was working with this frightening man, tall, larger than life man, and I remember on the first day he didn’t really acknowledge me.

“I tried to stand near him in the pub, I remember he went to the pub at lunchtime so I went to the pub and I wanted him to see me. I think I edged a little nearer along the bar so I was only two people away from him, hoping he’d say hello to me, but he didn’t. So I went back and we got back to rehearsal, and we had to do a scene together, and he said ‘Hello, I haven’t said hello to you, have I?’, I said ‘Hi’, I thought ‘He likes me’, he smiled at me… and then I made a suggestion about something, I said ‘Why don’t we try that’, and he said ‘Why don’t you piss off?’. I thought ‘That’s not a very good start, maybe he doesn’t like me after all’, so I went home distraught, thinking ‘He’s my favourite actor in the world and he doesn’t like me, he thinks I’m horrible’. So that was my first day.

“I’m not sure what he thought about having a heroic boy in ‘Doctor Who’. I’m not sure he thought it was the bee’s knees. He’d rather have had twenty-five year old girls rather than heroic teenage boys… in fact I’m pretty sure of that because he once said ‘I hate this fucking character’, so that was a clue. I liked the character because it got me into ‘Doctor Who’ and that was enough for me. But Tom could be very sweet, he could be very kind, very generous to me, and his great quality, which I admire so much, is that he’s so funny, and out of the ordinary, and the only thing I’ve ever wanted in my life is to be out of the ordinary. I don’t want to be ordinary. I don’t know what ordinary is, but I don’t want to be it. And Tom wasn’t.

“The atmosphere on ‘Doctor Who’ with Tom was pretty fraught, there’s no point pretending it wasn’t. In some ways I think I wasn’t equipped to deal with that fraughtness, because I was too young and… stupid to deal with it. But he could suddenly be unbelievably generous. He could be very nice to me in many ways. I think jelly babies have a lot to do with it, and I think the hat has a lot to do with it, and the scarf. Of course I had a vast amount to do with the success and popularity of ‘Doctor Who’ at that time, but I think Tom also made a contribution.” (smiles)

Louise Jameson (1977)

August 18, 2009

Another Louise Jameson interview, this time from 1977 when she was still on the show. The interviewer is Noel Edmonds, the show is ‘The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop’.

Q: How’s it going? How’s the involvement with the show going?

A: It’s fine, it’s going very well. It’s very hard work, that’s why I caught glandular fever. I got run down.

Q: We wanted you on the programme a few weeks ago.

A: That’s right. I’ve had a tremendous amount of Get Well Soon cards. Thank you very much to whoever send those.

Q: Do you find it tiring?

A: I find television acting, in a way, more tiring than stage acting, because you’ve got to keep the impetus going that much longer. On the stage, you start at eight o’clock, you go through to eleven, that’s your work. With television, sometimes you come in at eight o’clock in the morning, you don’t leave until eleven o’clock at night.

Q: The stop-go, is that the tiring element?

A: Yes. Two minutes you’ve got to be right there, then a five minute break, then two minutes again.

Q: How did you get involved in the profession in the first place?

A: It’s a very difficult question to answer, that one. There’s a kind of do-or-die element in it, you’ve just got to feel that you’re not capable of doing anything else.

Q: When you were at school was acting always your ambition?

A: Always. Well my original ambition at the age of four was to be a tiller girl, which I never quite got together, but I’ve always wanted to be a performer of some sort.

Q: So what did you do before ‘Doctor Who’?

A: Mostly theatre. I did two and a half years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, toured to America and played in Stratford and down in London. And I did a secretarial course before that, which my parents forced me into, which I’m very grateful for now but at the time it was a bore.

Q: What made you audition for the ‘Doctor Who’ legend?

A: Well I always watched it as a child. It started when I was about eleven, but I never dreamt I’d be on it. Career-wise it was important to do a series, and this part just happened to land at the right time for me.

Q: We had Tom on the programme and he said that wherever he goes people call him Dr. Who, refer to him as Dr. Who. How much has the programme altered your lifestyle?

A: In a way the private life at the weekend’s been mucked up. I’ve been amazed at the amount of publicity I’ve got from it. But I haven’t been recognised in the street.

Q: Well you’ve got clothes on.

A: Speaking of clothes, I got this lovely letter, ‘Please could you start putting clothes on, love from Katherine’ so I have a message, in a couple of weeks’ time we go into Victorian London and I wear so many clothes I can hardly move.

Q: When you joined the programme there was quite a lot of talk about you appealing to the dads. How did you feel about that at the time?

A: Well the producer said he wanted to expand from children to an adult audience. I mean basically the show if for children, it’s an adventure story.

Q: It has a very large adult audience.

A: Yes, I think it’s something like 60-40 it weighs out and I think a lot of the parents say ‘Well the kids like to watch it, so I will’.