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A very special birthday

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  • Publication: TV Times
  • Date: 2013-11-23
  • Author: Frances Taylor and David Hollingsworth
  • Page: 6
  • Language: English

50 years of Doctor Who special

As Doctor Who celebrates its half-century, TV Times presents a five-page celebration of the most successful sci-fi TV series of all time. Here, stars Matt Smith and David Tennant tell us about working together in this week's feature-length episode...

Written and compiled by Frances Taylor and David Hollingsworth


Saturday BBC1

Travel back in time with TV Times to London's Trafalgar Square, where, on a wet and blustery day in April, current Doctor Who star Matt Smith is about to do something death-defying. A stuntman is on standby, but it's Matt who is hoisted into the air, clinging to the underside of the TARDIS and scared for his life.

We'll see what happens next this Saturday when The Day of the Doctor, a feature-length 50th anniversary episode, is screened on BBC1 - and also in cinemas (in 3D) across the UK and around the world. It sees the return of the Zygons and, most exciting of all, the resurrection of David Tennant's 10th Doctor. Billie Piper will also be back temporarily as Rose Tyler, while Jenna Coleman is current companion Clara and Joanna Page plays Elizabeth I.

Having survived the life-threatening scene, Matt, 31, tells us that, like many fans, he's most thrilled about David's return...

'Doctor Who was born to be in 3D; he says. 'That's really exciting. And the Zygons are back. But, for me, it's all about the Doctors meeting:

Past, present and future

Several months later, we meet Matt again at the Doctor Who studio in Cardiff and share his excitement as he's joined by David. Fresh from filming, they are both in full costume.

'It was great; says Matt about the nerve-racking stunt. 'I loved it, but I had to persuade them to let me do it. You could see right out - I was 90 feet up. It's been reported that I didn't go all the way to the top, but I did:

David, 42, is obviously very impressed. 'I'm quite jealous that you got to do that; he smiles.

Speaking to the pair, their genuine friendship makes us believe they could have happily travelled the universe together for over 900 years. But what about starring together in the 50th anniversary special?

'I just think you've got to put your ego aside, says Matt, who became the youngest ever Time Lord when he took over from David in 2009. (The next regeneration will see him replaced in turn by Peter Capaldi in this year's Christmas special.)

'It's such a showman's part that there is a degree of possession. One can see why there was friction in the past between other actors who played the Doctor, but it's also just a job:

David, who became the 10th Doctor in 2005, describes the onscreen relationship between the Time Lords as 'slightly combative, slightly competitive, but adds: 'They quite enjoy being in each other's presence:

'I think our Doctors quite like each other... on occasion; offers Matt, before David continues: And then they get surprised by how little they like each other:

But the pair are not alone in The Day of the Doctor. Near the end of the last series, we were introduced to another 'Doctor, played by John Hurt, but that's all we know so far. He's an incarnation of the Time Lord - from the past or future - and he committed a horrible act, possibly in the Time War. But exactly who - or what - he is remains to be seen.

Both Matt and David appear to be completely in awe of John, their 73-year-old co-star.

'It's amazing to have an actor of his calibre; smiles Matt. 'He's brilliant... He's really kind and witty and funny and he can make moments out of nothing - it's extraordinary. He's doing proper acting, I'm just waving my hands a lot:

When we do scenes with John, we feel like we're pulling the biggest faces in the world; agrees David.

Although the exact line-up of monsters and aliens has yet to be revealed, we do know that fan favourites the Zygons - shape-shifting creatures that haven't been seen on screen since 1975 - and the Daleks will be causing havoc.

'The Zygons are a design classic; reckons David. 'They're great to squeeze. You can sink your teeth into that big head of latex...'

After seeing David and Matt teaming up, many fans were keen for Christopher Eccleston who rebooted the BBC series as the ninth Doctor in 2005 to also reprise his role. However, he turned down the chance to appear in the celebratory episode after initial meetings with executive producer Steven Moffat.

'I absolutely respect Christopher's decision; says Matt. 'He was a wonderful Doctor, he's a brilliant actor and this obviously wasn't the right thing for him, so that's fine. There are no hard feelings. I'd have liked to have done something with him, but heigh-ho.'

For David, returning for the special was always on the cards.

Well, there's a precedent for it, isn't there?' he points out. 'I was aware when I left that the 50th anniversary wasn't that far away, so you can put two and two together. I was always up for the notion of it.

How did he find stepping back into the Doctor's pinstripe suit?

'It felt completely familiar - there's a sort of muscle memory to it. And yet at the same time you're thinking, "Surely I'm too old to be doing this!". But it's been really good fun.

'I remember watching The Five Doctors [the 20th anniversary episode in 1983] when I was 12, and it seemed like the most exciting thing that had ever happened. Doctor Who has survived 50 years because it's not like anything else. To be part of something that will have the same excitement for a new generation is a great thrill.

Caption: Lording it: Matt and David are joined by John Hurt as another mysterious 'Doctor'

Caption: Who's who: David and Matt with co-stars Joanna Page and Jenna Coleman

Caption: Rose again: Billie Piper makes a guest reappearance

Tom Baker on being 'reborn' as Doctor Who and why being in it was better than real life...

It's inconceivable that I would have turned down the part, because when I got Doctor Who, in 1974, I wasn't at all happy. I went through a bad time of feeling rejected. I'd flirted with movies, but then I was a labourer on a building site with no skill apart from making the tea or using a drill.

So when the opportunity came along to play the Doctor, it was like hitting the jackpot. I was at the site in London when the news came out - it was in the first edition of the Evening Standard - and I didn't tell the other guys. Then they got the paper and there I was. When I went to work next morning, I was famous! They were so thrilled for me. I went to the bank and got an advance to give them a little party. It was wonderful. It was like being reborn.

I was brought up in an intensely Roman Catholic background in Liverpool, so I was used to miracles and angels on shoulders and people coming back from the dead. Playing the Doctor was no effort - as an actor, I didn't have to reach for that.

Being in the show was just a great experience. Actors want to get to a big audience and to be admired. To get applause is one thing, but to be adored is something I really recommend. I stayed so long [until 1981] because real life at the time wasn't so terrific. I wanted to be in this beautiful, unreal world - unreal in that it was entirely fictional, but utterly real when I was out on the streets. Everywhere I went, I was waving like royalty and dishing out 50p pieces to children. It was absolutely wonderful.

When I did stage work, like the Royal Shakespeare Company, the theatres were packed. Of course, what the RSC didn't understand was that the audiences were all Doctor Who fans. Naturally, I had to perform like the Doctor, because there's no point in deliberately disappointing the audience, is there? I would be in something really

ponderous and every now and then I had to do my Doctor Who routine, which would get gales oflaughter and make the other actors hate me.

I didn't watch the show when I was in it and I haven't seen it since. But I will watch the 50th anniversary episode, because that's going to be terrific, isn't it? It's such a landmark.

I can't explain Doctor Who's longevity any more than my own. It's a happy accident, I imagine. There's nothing else quite like it.

Caption: Tom, 79, travels back to the time of his life

Caption: Warmly remembered: The fourth Doctor and his trademark long scarf

Peter Davison recalls his fears that he was too young to play the Doctor - and battling with Tom Baker's legacy...

When I was offered the part in 1981, I was 29 and thought I was too young. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on the way you look at it - if you're a fan of Doctor Who and you get offered the part, you can't really turn it down. You just can't.

Looking back, I suppose I was frustrated that I didn't have a lot of control over how I played the Doctor. The main problem was that, during Tom Baker's time, the producer, John Nathan-Turner, felt that too much of what he called "undergraduate humour"- which I loved - had crept in. We almost had an iron curtain come down on any kind of comedy element, and we weren't allowed to put anything in, which was a great shame.

I don't think I fought hard enough to get some humour back in. I was always aware that Tom had been a little too confrontational and I was probably trying to prove that I wasn't like that at all, so it didn't really do me any favours.

When I took the part, I had no idea I would still be talking about it now! I thought you'd finish and then be quickly forgotten, but it didn't work out like that. It gradually dawned on me that it probably wouldn't go away after I left.

I do still have my jacket, actually! In that first flush after you leave, you keep various things but people get in touch with you and say, "We've got this charity auction, can you give us something?" and you give away the most stupid things. Later you think, "Why on earth did I do that?". I think I gave away my shoes from the series after about two months and then thought, "What have I done? That was my pension!".

I suggested the cricket theme as I rather liked the idea that the Doctor went into his TARDIS wardrobe and just hauled out a few things that matched up. It was the first of the designer Doctor Who outfits, although I always had a slight worry about the question marks on the collar!

I do find now that I have a broad fan base. Lots of children ask me for my autograph - but they're probably a bit shocked that I don't look quite as I did back in 1981!

The canvas for Doctor Who is limitless - you're never really going to run out of stories to tell. I think it could easily go on and on.'

Caption: Peter and some of his predecessors appeared in a special 20th birthday episode

Caption: As a cricket-loving Doctor, Peter's not surprised that the show is 50 not out

Classic companions

Peter Purves and Frazer Hines tell us about their time as the Doctor's sidekicks

Peter Purves has the unusual distinction of appearing in two different roles in Doctor Who in the same year. 'I played an American hillbilly called Morton Dill in 1965; recalls Peter, 74, who, as millions of a certain age will know, went on to present Blue Peter.

'After the recording, the producer, Verity Lambert, took me for a drink at the pub opposite the studio and offered me the part of space pilot Steven Taylor.'

Three weeks later, Peter found himself playing Steven opposite William Hartnell's first Doctor. He eventually made 45 appearances as the Time Lord's heroic ompanion.

'Steven was the action man and he often came to the fore. Bill Hartnell took me under his wing and he was my mentor while I was on the show. He was outstanding because he created the character of the Doctor and, without him, I don't think the series would ever have lasted:

While Peter loved working with William, he hated the Daleks.

'They were boring,' he groans. 'I didn't like them because it would just be the same four guys sitting in these machines, wheeling them around.

'I liked the nice historical stories we did, such as The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve and The Savages.

Peter departed during The Savages in 1966 as Steven left the TARDIS to act as a peace negotiator. But his association with the show didn't stop there, as he went on to provide the voice of Steven and the first Doctor in numerous radio plays.

So, what does he think of the more modern Time Lords?

'I like Matt Smith and Christopher Eccleston, but for me they can never be the Doctor' he smiles.

Caption: Here's one we made earlier: Peter and Steven Tyler, with Jackie Lane as Dodo

Frazer Hines

As the longest-serving companion in Doctor Who history, Frazer Hines has a major claim to fame. He played Highland warrior Jamie McCrimmon in 113 episodes during his original run from 1966 to 1969, and also made guest appearances in the 1980s.

'I'm so proud that I'm still the longest-running companion; says Frazer, 69, who went on to star as Joe Sugden in Emmerdale. 'Jamie was loyal, true and a good fighter and protector of those he loved. He also had a great sense of comedy, which I loved showing!'

Frazer first appeared with Patrick Troughton's second Doctor, who, not surprisingly, is his favourite Time Lord. The pair fought the Cybermen on many occasions.

'They were my No 1 villains. And words cannot describe my love for Patrick. My favourite memory of the show is working with him, Wendy Padbury [companion Zoe Heriot] and Deborah Watling [companion Victoria Waterfield]:

Frazer was delighted when the BBC recently rediscovered nine missing episodes from his era. 'We were all over the moon about that, especially the fans:

So, is he surprised that Doctor Who is still going strong today?

'Yes! I can't believe that a show I did on children's TV nearly 50 years ago is still on in 2013:

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor is previewed on pages 34-35

For the latest news go to

Caption: Frazer goes back to the Sixties as Jamie clings on to Zoe

A Brief History of Time (Lords)

1963 The first episode, An Unearthly Child, goes out the day after the assassination of US President John F Kennedy, with William Hartnell (right) as the first Doctor.

1964 Infamous foes the Daleks (right), introduced the previous year in The Dead Planet, feature in a six-part story, The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

1965 Following the departure of the original companions - the Doctor's granddaughter Susan and her teachers, Barbara and Ian - Peter Purves joins as space pilot Steven Taylor.

1966 In an episode called The Tenth Planet, William Hartnell's grouchy Time Lord regenerates into Patrick Troughton's considerably more upbeat Doctor (right). Frazer Hines (below left) arrives as Scottish Highlander Jamie McCrimmon.

1967 The Cybermen (below) - first seen in The Tenth Planet - feature in a string of stories, including The Tomb of the Cybermen. Orphaned after her father was killed by the Daleks, Victoria (Deborah Watling), starts travelling in the TARDIS with the Doctor and Jamie.

1970 Following Patrick Troughton's decision to quit, Jon Pertwee (left) takes over, playing the Doctor as something of a dandy, as the show is broadcast in colour for the first time.

1971 The Master, a renegade Time Lord played by Roger Delgado (right), battles the Doctor for the first time. Katy Manning also joins the show as companion Jo Grant.

1974 Tom Baker (right) becomes the fourth Time Lord. Elisabeth Sladen, first seen earlier in the year with Jon Pertwee's Doctor, continues as companion Sarah Jane Smith (above).

1975 Crippled psychopath Davros (played by Michael Wisher, right), the creator of the Daleks, is introduced in Genesis of the Daleks.

1977 Primitive warrior Leela (Louise Jameson) joins as a new companion, with the robotic K-9 (below) also putting in a first appearance.

1978 Time Lady Romana (Mary Tamm) joins forces with the Doctor.

1981 After falling from a radio telescope to save the universe, Tom Baker's Doctor regenerates into Peter Davison's character (above).

1983 A 20th birthday special, The Five Doctors, is shown as part of Children in Need. Tom Baker is absent and Richard Hurndall replaces the late William Hartnell.

1984 When the fifth Doctor is poisoned, Colin Baker (below) enters as the sixth Time Lord, a rather brash and flamboyant incarnation.

1985 The Rani (Kate O'Mara, far right), a renegade Time Lady, teams up with The Master in The Mark of the Rani.

1986 Bubbly fitness fanatic Mel (Bonnie Langford, above right) begins travelling with the Doctor.

1987 With Colin Baker declining an invitation to film a regeneration scene, viewers only see his 'back' as Sylvester McCoy (above) becomes the seventh Doctor. Ace (Sophie Aldred) is his teenage companion.

1989 Doctor Who is shown for - seemingly - the final time after being axed due to poor ratings.

1996 Paul McGann (below, with Daphne Ashbrook as Grace) is the eighth Doctor in a TV movie which attracts more than nine million viewers.

2005 The show returns amid much fanfare, with Christopher Eccleston (above) becoming the ninth Doctor. He leaves after just one series, and David Tennant (below) takes over as the 10th Time Lord.

2006 The Doctor says farewell to companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper, below).

2007 The Weeping Angels (above), probably the most iconic of the modern-era monsters, are introduced in the episode Blink.

2008 Professor River Song (Alex Kingston, right) is first seen in Silence in the Library.

2009 John Simm (below) takes over the role of The Master in The End of Time.

2010 Matt Smith (above) becomes the 11th Doctor, with companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan, inset) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill).

2012 The Doctor combats the Great Intelligence (Richard E Grant) in the Christmas special.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hollingsworth, Frances Taylor and David (2013-11-23). A very special birthday. TV Times p. 6.
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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=A very special birthday | url= | work=TV Times | pages=6 | date=2013-11-23 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=19 April 2021 }}</ref>
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