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Deborah Watling: In Time-travelling they can hear you scream...

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BORN January 1947 into the showbusiness family of actor Jack Watling and actress Pat Hicks, Deborah Watling has, to date, enjoyed a full and prestigious career which includes numerous television, theatre, cinema and radio appearances. "My elder sister Dilys is a singer/actress, Giles, my brother, is currently appearing in Bread, and Dad, of course, is always busy. My other sister Nicola gave up theatre to get married and have kids. As a family we were never really encouraged to go into the profession but, I think, being a showbusiness family it seemed to be the natural thing to do."

Among Debbie's early appearances were the television serials The Invisible Man and William Tell, both filmed at Elstree studios. "It was great fun to do and, of course, it got me off school, but it was very technical for its day. We had to work with wires and strings all over the studio, which they set up to do the effects. I thought it was all very funny at the time, this ten year old girl wandering around with a man with no head! It was repeated recently and when I saw an episode I really couldn't relate to the little girl being me. Patrick Troughton appeared in one of the episodes, though we didn't actually do any scenes together. I was seventeen when I did my next major role, that of Alice in The Life of Lewis Caroll, a Wednesday play for the BBC."

Nearly Playing Polly

Further appearances in theatre and television led Debbie onto Doctor Who in 1967, joining the successful teaming of Frazer Hines as Jamie and Patrick Troughton as the Doctor in The Evil of the Daleks.

"Innes Lloyd, who was producing Doctor Who at the time, saw me as Alice and asked me to audition for the role of Polly [which later went to Anneke Wills]. But we both agreed that I wasn't really ready for it; I was too young and inexperienced. He then suggested I go away, learn more about theatre and try again in about a year's time. This I did, and was offered the role of Victoria Waterfield. I had been aware of Doctor Who but it was really considered to be a children's programme at the time. I felt very strange coming into it as I did with the Daleks appearing in the same story. The dress I wore was so long it actually made me look a bit like a Dalek."

During Debbie's year on the show her father, Jack Watling, appeared in two stories as Professor Travers. "Dad was very proud of me, being the only one of his children to actually get him any work. I suggested him for the part to Gerry Blake [the story's director]. We recorded The Abominable Snowmen on location in Snowdonia, and the first day I saw him he looked so funny in that costume, with the stupid gun and white beard, that our first scene took about five takes to perfect, because we just fell about laughing all the time.

"During that story we had to work with the Yeti monsters, which were huge cuddly, furry things, and during one take they had to chase myself and Frazer down this mountain. So, we ran from this cave with the Yeti following us and suddenly they tripped over, picked up momentum and went rolling past us down the hill. There were these tiny voices coming from inside screaming, 'Let me out'. It was terribly funny."

The Monster Era

Debbie's period on Doctor Who is also fondly remembered by fans as 'The Monster Era' of the programme, working as she did with all the big Who creations; Daleks, Cyberman, Yeti and Ice Warriors. "Bernard Bresslaw played the Ice Warrior leader and we had to record this scene in an ice cavern, which was a marvelous cave set all made of polystyrene. Bernard was meant to capture me and drag me along as his prisoner, however, because his Ice Warrior helmet had steamed up with the. heat poor Bernie couldn't actually see a thing. So I suggested that instead of being dragged, I should be pushed so that I could lead Bernie along and I would whisper directions to him along the way. We were doing the scene and I'm talking out of the side of mouth going, 'left, right, left...', then I said 'right' and Bernie went left straight through the cave wall. We were buried in polystyrene!

"You could get away with those things in black and white, it's a wonderful medium — more atmospheric and menacing. The Tomb of the Cybermen was frightening for the very same reasons. In one scene the Cybermen were hibernating in their cocoons, covered in plastic which was supposed to be ice, and as we passed one of them had to twitch. When we did the scene it was so creepy that it actually sent a shiver down my spine. We began to get into terrible trouble though for being too frightening; during The Abominable Snowmen Wolfe Morris, who played the head Monk, had to die and they experimented with what to do with his head, which was supposed to disintegrate. The visual effects people used a dummy head and poured some kind of acid over it and it slowly dissolved. We went to see Innes and told him he couldn't shoot that scene and he agreed. It would just have freaked the kids out totally!"

Laughter and Tears

"My final story, Fury from the Deep, is also my favourite; you didn't see the menace until late on in the episodes and it worked really well. We had to film the opening scenes on Margate Beach in January and it was freezing cold. I was wearing a mini-skirt and I was frozen. We had to discover this huge pile of foam on the beach, so I asked Pat and Frazer to let me stay on the outskirts of the foam because it was so cold and I'd get on with the, 'What is it Doctor?' line from there. We came to do the take and we had a massive audience of people around us, I stood at the edge and suddenly Pat and Frazer looked at each other and then turned and looked at me. Slowly they made their way towards me and I daren't move because we were 'in take' . They picked me up and threw me in to the middle of the foam, where they gave me 'birthday bumps'. I came out absolutely covered in foam and soaking wet. The director said, 'Yes, that was excellent but somebody laughed, so dry Debbie off and we'll go for another take!' When we did my last scene it was very emotional, Pat and Frazer were saying goodbye to me and they couldn't get their dialogue out. Those were real tears we cried. I would like to think that once Victoria had adjusted to life back on Earth, she would believe that all her adventures with the Doctor had been dreams and that she had been writing them down and turning them into best selling novels."

After Who

Away from Doctor Who, Debbie went on to appear in two films, That'll Be The Day with David Essex and Ring'? Starr ("I had to learn to jive and with all those big stars I really thought I'd made it") and Take Me High with Cliff Richard. "It didn't work, it was all about hamburgers made in Birmingham — BrumBurgers —I think everyone involved knew it was going to be dreadful but didn't say anything". Debbie also spent long months in theatre productions on tour and even rejoined Frazer Hines for a run of Doctor in the House some years ago; "I had to seduce Frazer every night. During rehearsals we had to build up to this big kissing scene and we kept putting it off, until the director said, 'I think it's about time you two did the kiss'. I said, 'What? Kiss Frazer? I can't, he's like my brother'. So we engineered doing the scene behind a sofa, with arms and legs coming up every so often! I love farce. Drama can get a bit heavy night after night, but I prefer theatre and television to radio. I have done a lot of directing recently so I'd like to continue with that, but my main ambition is to have my own theatre one day."

Missing the Reunion

Debbie was asked back for the 20th anniversary story, The Five Doctors. She had to turn down the role as she was contracted to an ITV Dave Allen series, which then failed to reach the screen. She has managed to keep in touch with the Doctor Who fans by numerous appearance at conventions both in the UK and America; "In America the male fans are OK, but the women keep giving me pictures of their babies and ear-rings and asking me what size pantihose I wear! When I got the role of Victoria it was just another part but I love the recognition now, the conventions and meeting the fans."

And her final feelings on her year in the show? "Patrick Troughton was a brilliant actor, to me he was the Doctor and a real friend. My character of Victoria Water-field meant a great deal to me and I was very, very, very fond of Pat and the times we had together. We became very close. Frazer was just like a brother, we were like a family, I learnt a great deal from Doctor Who. It is a great part of my career and I feel very privileged to have been in the series."


Present-day Deborah Watling at a Doctor Who Press call Photo Stephen Payne

Even though most of Deborah's stories were destroyed by the BBC, some episodes remain, and have been snapped up onto BBC Video. The Abominable Snowmen (above) appears on the Troughton Years tape — Deborah's Who family; 'brother' Frazer Hines (left) and father Jack Watling (right)

An example of the close friendship in the series!

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  • APA 6th ed.: Wood, Graeme (Issue 29 (April 1992)). Deborah Watling: In Time-travelling they can hear you scream.... TV Zone p. 13.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Wood, Graeme. "Deborah Watling: In Time-travelling they can hear you scream...." TV Zone [add city] Issue 29 (April 1992), 13. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Wood, Graeme. "Deborah Watling: In Time-travelling they can hear you scream...." TV Zone, edition, sec., Issue 29 (April 1992)
  • Turabian: Wood, Graeme. "Deborah Watling: In Time-travelling they can hear you scream...." TV Zone, Issue 29 (April 1992), section, 13 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Deborah Watling: In Time-travelling they can hear you scream... | url= | work=TV Zone | pages=13 | date=Issue 29 (April 1992) | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=3 March 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Deborah Watling: In Time-travelling they can hear you scream... | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=3 March 2024}}</ref>