OF FOUR DR WHOS
(& THE DARK
TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN 1967
remains my favourite Doctor. He was always
slightly sinister, and he never tried to be lovable or
He once gave an excellent performance in a play of
mine for Radio 4 so perhaps I am biased. When I was booked for Tomb my agent
told me the BBC were offering what was called a
'special low' fee, the reason being that I didn't have
to say the lines. Technology at the time
didn't allow for mics under the costume, so the
Cybercontroller's lines were spoken by Peter Hawkins — the ranking
voice-artist of the day — into a hand-held mic off-camera.
I argued that although I didn't have to say the lines
I had to learn them in order to synch the mouth
movements with a chinstrap. This argument was
accepted and I got my full fee, but when I played the
part for Attack eight years later and was able to
speak my own lines the rectangular mouth had been
forgotten. Also the transparent skull with
its pulsating brain had gone, leaving me
indistinguishable from my subordinates.
As technicalities developed
exponentially so demands on the actor intensified,
with positioning and eyelines ever more
critical. Today's Dr Who is light-years in
advance of anything I experienced, with jaw-dropping
special effects on a level once only seen in Hollywood
blockbusters. Sets are much more hi-tech,
lighting is more complex, and the plots and dialogue
far more sophisticated, perhaps because the target
audience is as much adult as juvenile. And of
course there is colour.
At 6' 5" I have often worn
monster-type rigs, both on stage (mostly in pantomime)
and on TV. A problem with being thus
encased is that people tend to forget there is anyone
inside. For instance, when I was electrocuted in
Tomb and crashed to the floor, all the lights
went out and the studio swiftly emptied.
It was 4 o'clock, tea-break time, and I was abandoned,
threshing about like a stranded whale.
Another problem is that dressers tend to get you fully
kitted up far too soon. It's difficult to argue
as they're given a rap over the knuckles if you’re not
ready when needed. Eventually I developed a
personal zen, enabling me to switch off during waits.
FRONTIER IN SPACE 1973
In this story I was Second Ogron, with First Ogron
played by my old friend Stephen Thorne whose mordant
humour I had always enjoyed. The costume was a
gorilla-type body with, mercifully, easily detachable
head and hands. I never really understood
what Ogrons were about. They were kept in cages
and could scarcely speak, yet they could pilot
space-ships. Go figure.
The Master, an evil Time Lord and
long-standing foe of the Doctor’s, was played by Roger
Delgado with whom I had worked on many radio drama
productions as well as a Prom concert at the Royal
Albert Hall. He was one of the sweetest-natured
men I have ever known, and his untimely death while on
location in Turkey was an utter tragedy.
Of Jon Pertwee I can only say that
he was a pain in the fundament. He was so
demanding, needy and noisily temperamental in front of
cast and crew that for the first and only time in my
career I felt ashamed to be an actor. He also
stamped on a very good visual gag I did in rehearsal,
and he wasn't even in the scene!
Katy Manning, playing his
companion, took it upon herself to soothe his excesses
and keep him calm, which I thought very good of her as
she had her own performance to worry about.
THE ROBOT 1974
This aluminium monstrosity didn't take long to put
on but it was exceptionally heavy and unwieldy to
work in. I fell over several times due to the
long segmented feet and by the time the week’s
filming was finished I was bruised and cut and very
tired. In fact when I got home to West London
filming was at the BBC's engineering
establishment outside Evesham — I had nightmares
about being trapped in a midget submarine; the next
morning my legs refused to support me and it wasn’t
until lunchtime that I was fully mobile.
For studio run-throughs I was given a much lighter
skeletal version so at least I could sit between
Tom Baker was friendly, ebullient
and a lot of fun. I have always felt he
was not well-served by the director in the closing
scenes, where he displays too much noisy
triumphalism as the huge metallic entity crumbles to
dust. But when you’re filming
these things all out of sequence it’s very difficult
to anticipate the tone and impact of a scene.
The enchanting Elisabeth Sladen’s soulful gaze up at
me as the bewildered Robot struggles to cope with
inchoate emotions remains a powerful memory.
The Robot remains
my favourite Dr Who rôle because the writing gave
him the opportunity to change. Usually a
baddie is a baddie and that’s that, but as the Robot
developed a degree of sentience it/he became a far
more interesting and complex character than the
usual soulless frightener.
The production ran into two
strikes, one by BBC prop men and one by
floor-managers, delaying the recording dates, so
although contracted for four episodes I was paid for
ATTACK OF THE CYBERMEN 1985
Again I played the Cybercontroller, but other than
getting a difficult and painful backfall in the can
on the first take I have no significant memories of
Attack, or indeed of the perfectly pleasant if
somewhat bland Colin Baker, though as mentioned
above due to technical advances I was able to speak
my own lines (as was the case with The Robot).
After transmission there was a minor media
controversy over a scene in which a Cyberman, on my
signal, squeezed Maurice Colbourne’s hand
until the blood spurted. This gruesomeness was
discussed on BBCtv’s Points of View, and in
Australia was edited out. I suspect it wasn’t
so much children as their parents who complained.
Tomb of the Cybermen (2012)
The Seeds of Doom (2019)
THE DARK CRYSTAL 1982
In this, perhaps the greatest of all puppet movies, I
voiced the villainous General of the Skeksis, aka
skekUng the Garthim-Master. The original
dialogue was written in an invented language, but a
preview audience in Washington DC evinced such
confusion and irritation that all the Skeksis dialogue
was re-dubbed into English.
On one occasion over lunch at
Elstree Studios the producer, Gary ‘Star Wars’ Kurtz,
asked me what I thought of the picture.
‘Wonderful!’ I enthused, ‘but I’m puzzled as to why
the girl gelflings can fly but the boy gelflings
can’t.’ ‘Yes, we’re working on that,’ he said,
to which I replied, ‘I thought it was perhaps because
the girls were born with wings and the boys were born
without...’ ‘That’s it!’ he exclaimed.
‘You got it!’
The film’s writer and director Jim
Henson, for whom I supplied voices on a couple of
other projects, was the most delightful and
captivating of men. It was an honour to
work for him; his early death was a shocking tragedy.