Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Curse of Dr Who (or why do so many of the time traveller's mini-skirted assistants seem to have been lost in space?)

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1997-06-20 Daily Mail.jpg


Femail Tracks Down Some Of The Many Glamorous Girls Who Have Stepped Over The Threshold Of The Famous Tardis In The Past 30 Years

DR WHO, which ran for nearly 30 years, is one of the most successful children's TV series of all-time. The videos are still huge sellers and thousands of fans attend regular conventions in Britain and the U.S. The rule was strictly no sex or violence although that didn't stop the legendary Time Lord employing nubile assistants, usually in skimpy attire. A part in the series brought promises of a big TV career - and yet many of Dr Who's companions simply disappeared into the proverbial Tardis. So what happened to the girls who earned their living fleeing monsters?

CAROLE ANN FORD, 56, was the first companion playing Susan, the granddaughter of William Hartnell's Dr Who, in 1963. She lives in Totteridge, North London, with her second husband Harry Kornhauser. a textile businessman. She has two daughters: Miranda, 34, by her first marriage and Tara, 20, by her second.

THERE was a problem with my spine and the doctor told my parents dancing would help, so I went to classes from the age of three. I took to it like a duck to water. I was a horrible show-off.

At 20, TV executive Verity Lambert saw me in an ITV play called Man On A Bicycle. I was only 5ft 2in, so I got the part of Dr Who's 15-year-old granddaughter and was paid a piffling $75 a week.

William Hartnell was very thin with sharp features and a gruff manner.

Everyone thought he must be an old man, but he could only have been in his 50s. It was just good make-up.

The show took on a pattern. We would arrive on a planet in the Tardis, then I would get lost, or captured and the others would come and get me out of trouble.

The hook for children was the monsters. Mine were the Daleks and the Thals, a super-race of men. I had a huge crush on one of the Thals, although now I can't remember his name. I absolutely fancied him to death and made a point of telling him he was gorgeous, but I was married with a child so, of course, nothing happened.

I married at 18 because I was an idiot. He was my agent, Walter Jokel, and 12 years my senior. I rushed into marriage even though I knew he was not the right man for me.

At the back of my mind I think I hoped someone would rescue me but nobody did. We were together for seven years but I would say the marriage lasted one day.

I think a psychologist would have a field day with my early life. When I was 16 and working in repertory I was raped by a well-known sportsman who had come to see the show.

I told nobody about it and I don't like talking about it even now. I was so shocked but in those days you just shut up and got on with life. So I threw myself into my work.

I left Dr Who after 18 months as my character was going nowhere. In truth, I wished I had never gone into it. Afterwards all the scripts that came my way were for 15-year-olds. I had to wait two years before I could play a grown-up on television in the series Public Eye.

By then I was going through a divorce. I was alone with no money, and went back to live with my mother. Then I played in lots of bad quality films, including one where I was eaten by triffids.

While filming a commercial, I wrenched my back opening a window. A doctor gave me a drug to kill the pain and it nearly killed me. It totally changed my metabolism and made it almost impossible for me to work. My eyes and face would swell up, I became allergic to many foods and I weighed less than six stone.

I also kept having accidents: three car crashes, riding accidents, skiing accidents. In a West End play I fell over on set and the shock made me lose my voice. I staggered through the first week, my voice disappearing.

Then I found I couldn't remember the words, which left me with stage fright. I rang the Central School of Speech and Drama and asked if they could help. They suggested I took a teaching course on the voice.

I loved it and qualified as a voice coach. Now I help actors, politicans, and businessman. I haven't done any theatre for eight years, there was one film part about 18 months ago, but my last big TV was six years ago.

Without knowing it, Dr Who was the high spot of my life as a celebrity.

I resent that because I did better work which wasn't appreciated.

I can't help feeling if I hadn't been the Doctor's granddaughter I might have had a Helen Mirren-type career - adult, sexy, in charge. But at least I get $2,000 a year from the videos.

JEAN MARSH, 61, who was divorced from Dr Who actor Jon Pertwee in 1960, has had three spells in the series spanning nearly 30 years. She found fame as maid Rose in Upstairs, Downstairs, the Edwardian drama which she also devised. Jean lives alone in London.

MY FIRST Dr Who part as the Princess of France was only small. Julian Glover, who played my brother was very handsome and I thought I ought to kiss him - in a sisterly fashion, of course. But producer Verity Lambert told me even that would be too much.

My second appearance was as William Hartnell's companion Sara Kingdom and I spent several episodes in an Avengers-style tweed cat suit, though God knows why the designer thought you should wear tweed in outer-space.

I had a belt with a pouch which was supposed to carry a ray gun but actually contained the key to my dressing room and my favourite snack, a tomato sandwich.

One day I was sent into the Tardis and told to push a small knob - which looked like it belonged on a cheap bathroom cabinet - for take off. I pushed and it fell off.

Then the director told me to go for my ray gun. I did and found this squishy sandwich all over my fingers. I just couldn't stop laughing.

He got very pompous and said: 'Go to your dressing room and don't come back until you have pulled yourself together.'

I was about 30 and thought I was a bit old to be sent to my room.

It was hard not to laugh on that set. Smoking was absolutely banned, so if you were desperate you borrowed a Dalek costume. It used to crack me up to see these Daleks quietly in a corner with smoke coming out of their heads.

In the last series with Sylvester McCoy as Dr Who I had a brilliant death. I was Morgan Le Fay in love with King Arthur. I was filmed running away through the forest getting progressively older until, in the final shot, they substituted a real old woman for me.

My ex-husband Jon Pertwee played the doctor long after our marriage was over, so we didn't overlap on the show. We met when I was 17 and married when I was 20. Five years later, we divorced. Things didn't work out and, looking back, I was just too young.

DEBORAH WATLING, 48, played the orphan Victoria from 1967-68 opposite Patrick Troughton, the second Dr Who. She lives in an Essex village with her sound technician husband Steve Turner, and runs a summer theatre at nearby Frinton-on-Sea.

BEFORE I got the part in Dr Who, I hadn't really watched the programme. I joined in the same year as the Daleks. I was 19, got $75 a week and thought myself lucky. I loved it.

Pat Troughton was so divine. He had a twinkle in his eye and was not above playing practical jokes. Frazer Hines was the male companion and he sent me up rotten, too. My father, the actor Jack Watling, had a part as a Professor.

In one episode Victoria was dragged off by a Yeti. My father, Patrick and Frazer were all involved in the search. In the script Dr Who stopped, looked down, picked something up off the track and said: 'My goodness, it's Victoria's handkerchief.'

But when it came to the take, Patrick picked up a pair of knickers. He said: 'Yes, these are definitely Victoria's.' Fraser took them and said: 'Yes they certainly.'

My father took them and said: 'How do you know?'

I went bright red. Patrick or Fraser must have pinched them from my dressing room.

My character initially wore a Victorian frock but over the episodes the hemline crept up and it became a mini-pelmet. The show used to go out after the football on Saturday, so it had to appeal to Dads as well.

My boyfriend at the time, John Hart, was a handsome-but-serious microbiologist. However, there were always loads of attractive men among the staff.

I started to go out with other men and John became very possessive - the quickest thing to make me run.

At one time the Dr Who people made me wear plus fours and climbing boots and I got extraordinary fan letters from men - I still do. The relationship didn't last very long - Dr Who killed him off. He couldn't cope with show business, it was all too wild.

After a year on Dr Who I had had enough of screaming and running away. I left and opened a boutique in Essex with a friend. But after nine months I went back to showbusiness in the soap Newcomers.

Now my husband and I live near my retired parents. When we married the whole village came to the register office.

I am at the end of the line here, a little star in a smaller pond. I even have my own stalker who stands outside the cottage peering and making silent phone calls. Once you have appeared in Dr Who you are never allowed to forget it.

ELISABETH SLADEN, 50, was the companion of the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, from 1973-1976 - She continued in the role of journalist Sarah Jane Smith when Tom Baker took over as the Time Lord. Elisabeth is married to actor Brian Miller and lives in Ealing, West London.

EVEN though my part was a tough journalist I had to fit the formula of silly young girl. I earned $118 an episode and each week I would either fall down a hole or something equally daft.

To begin with I was terrified of playing opposite Jon Pertwee, he was such a formidable presence. I've seen a video of my first episode and I am standing ramrod straight, like a soldier, and one of my legs is shaking.

But I was looked after like a star. The first time someone held an umbrella over me I was shocked. Then the woman told me it was her job!

In the Ark In Space I got jammed in a ventilator shaft. Then one of the cast went round the back of the set and gave me a big spank on my backside.

I shot out through the vent in double quick time.

In Invasion Of The Dinosaurs, I had to walk behind a special screen of blue light. The floor manager asked me casually if I'd got my knickers on. I bit his head off. But he said I had to wear 'chrome-key underwear' otherwise everyone could see through my clothes.

I screamed and ran to wardrobe shouting: 'Let me in I must have special knickers.' But it turned out to be a huge joke that everyone was in one.

In another memorable episode, The Android Invasion, Tom Baker had to throw me over his shoulder. My trousers were so tight they split in full view of everyone. I had brightly coloured knickers on and they looked dreadful. I changed into my spare pair, but it happened again. I spent the day held together with safety pins.

Tom Baker married my successor Lalla Ward. I once met her at an Dr Who convention where she was asked what her worst experience was on the show.

She replied: 'Marrying Tom Baker'. They are both with other people now but great friends.

I was 30 when I left. I was desperate to do something else but I kept being asked to play silly girls like Sarah Jane.

But no one really knows me from anything other than Dr Who, although I have worked harder and got more satisfaction from other things. In 1981 I came back for a spin-off Dr Who programme, K9 And Company.

I worked as a teacher's helper at my daughter Sadie's school for six years but I wasn't really popular. Other mums would start a conversation but then go to their own clique of friends. I couldn't get close - my Dr Who persona was in the way.

Later when the Dr Who videos came out and the children were playing Daleks and shouting 'Exterminate, exterminate', the head asked me to give them a half-hour talk.

The first time I went to an American Dr Who convention I went down so well people told me I should stay on. I got an agent. When I flew home there was a message for me to go back and read for an American sitcom. I didn't have the money for the flight. The other week I read that Tom Hanks had been in the series I'd turned down.

JANET FIELDING, 44, is a successful West End agent. Between 1980 and 1984, she played Tegan, the bossy Australian companion to Tom Baker and successor Peter Davison. She is divorced from journalist Nicholas Davies and lives in Queen's Park, North London.

TWENTY years ago I came over from Australia to do a show about the aborigines. I spent a year doing rep and then I got the Doctor Who part. I had absolutely no idea how frustrating it was going to be.

Initially I got a year's contract. The companion's main role was to give the audience information. A typical line was: 'But, why are they green, Doctor?'

The whole thing was unbelievably sexist. In 1983, when we were doing a 20th-anniversary special, there was Carole Ann Ford, a male companion, Mark Strickson, and myself in the Tardis with five Doctors. In the script, the girls were sent to make the tea while the boys got on with business. Carole Ann and I complained and the compromise was that Mark had to go out with us.

But the script still had him slamming the door in protest.

Peter Davison and I got on so well I still see him occasionally. But the sexual politics of Dr Who doesn't bear close examination. It was supposed to be children's show and Dr Who was sexless.

I used to say to Peter Davison: 'Two hearts no genitals.' But I was always told I was there in my high heels and short skirts 'for the dads'. I didn't get to change costume too often - about once per series.

There was no sex off the set either. Peter Davison was married. I was newly-married to Nicholas Davies, who became Foreign Editor of the Daily Mirror. We met on a blind date just after I arrived from Australia. Nic was attracted to me as an actress and loved it when I got the Dr Who role. We were together nearly seven years.

Then in 1983 some very strange people started appearing on the scene. Nic told me they were stringers (part-time journalists) for the Guardian in the Middle East, which seemed most unlikely. Then came the horror of what my husband was doing.

I left him because of allegations that he was an arms dealer. Nic made me aware of them and thought I would approve. But I vehemently disapproved and told him I was getting out fast.

When I left Dr Who I did a children's series called Murphy's Law. I played a tarty croupier in Minder but I was relieved to get any job after Dr Who. I hadn't realised it would be the kiss of death to my acting career.

For women over 30, getting work is just desperate. It was as though someone turned a tap off on my 34th birthday. I was miserable, bewildered and then deeply depressed. My marriage had ended and I was alone.

I didn't want to go out. I read cheap thrillers, which was all I could concentrate on. On the way to the post office one day I ran into Peter Grimwade, who directed my first story in Dr Who.

Two weeks later I got phone call and Peter was in St Mary's Hospital with leukaemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. Whatever was going wrong with me it was far worse for him.

Peter, who died a few months later, had started studying Transcendental Meditation and to keep him happy I learned TM, too. That put enough air under my wings to lift me out of depression.

I started writing and joined Women In Film. Then Marina Martin, an agent, contacted us looking for another agent to come into the business. I took over in the middle of last year and am finally earning what I did in my last year at Dr Who.

Graphic: (1) Elisabeth Sladen (Above) As Tom Baker's Sidekick Sarah Jane Smith. 'I Was Desperate To Do Something Else But I Kept Being Asked To Play Silly Girls,' Says Elisabeth (Right) (2) Far Left: William Hartnell's Companion Sara Kingdon. 'God Knows Why She Wore A Tweed Catsuit,' Says Jean Marsh (Left) (3) Left: Carole Ann Ford Who Played Dr Who's First Companion Susan (Above) (4) Above: 'Playing Tegan Was The Kiss Of Death To My Career,' Says Janet Fielding (Right)

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hutchinson, Diana (1997-06-20). Curse of Dr Who (or why do so many of the time traveller's mini-skirted assistants seem to have been lost in space?). Daily Mail p. 28.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Hutchinson, Diana. "Curse of Dr Who (or why do so many of the time traveller's mini-skirted assistants seem to have been lost in space?)." Daily Mail [add city] 1997-06-20, 28. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Hutchinson, Diana. "Curse of Dr Who (or why do so many of the time traveller's mini-skirted assistants seem to have been lost in space?)." Daily Mail, edition, sec., 1997-06-20
  • Turabian: Hutchinson, Diana. "Curse of Dr Who (or why do so many of the time traveller's mini-skirted assistants seem to have been lost in space?)." Daily Mail, 1997-06-20, section, 28 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Curse of Dr Who (or why do so many of the time traveller's mini-skirted assistants seem to have been lost in space?) | url= | work=Daily Mail | pages=28 | date=1997-06-20 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=3 March 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Curse of Dr Who (or why do so many of the time traveller's mini-skirted assistants seem to have been lost in space?) | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=3 March 2024}}</ref>