Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Michael Craze Changing Doctors

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ABLE SEAMAN Ben Jackson and Polly Wright were the 'swinging Sixties' Doctor Who companions who oversaw the regeneration of William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton and provided precious stability while the audience became used to a new leading man. TV Zone recently caught up with Michael Craze, alias Ben, and shared a pleasant pub lunch while digging for a few thoughts on the series.

How was he cast in the role? "In those days I'd get probably six calls a week for casting sessions. I'd already done films and some television, but I'd been away in repertory in Harrogate and Norwich to get more experience in straight theatre. When I returned, I got a call one week to go for a Doctor Who audition. That was it as far as I was concerned — I didn't realize it was for an ongoing part. I got given the War Machines script by Innes Lloyd, the producer, and when I began reading it became evident I was going to be taking over from Peter Purves as the companion.

"I had to go back for another interview with Michael Ferguson, the director of my first episodes. This involved a prepared speech, and as I'd recently done Chips With Everything in theatre, I did a monologue from that. They probably saw about a hundred and fifty actors for the part, but they knew what they wanted, and I happened to fit the bill at the time."

Younger companions

Ben and Polly were markedly different from previous assistants aboard the TARDIS — younger, trendier and more dynamic. "I think Peter Purves, and William Russell before him, had been a bit up-market, and they wanted to bring the series more into line with the Sixties. Society was going more working class and people were becoming much more open — you weren't expected to have a plum in your mouth and speak posh. I think the producers wanted the girl in particular to represent Sixties fashion and appeal to an older market."

So what did Michael think of his character? "Ben was a good guy. He sided with the goodies, so he appealed to the kids. My son, who's now twelve, watches the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and he's always on the side of the goodies. So there wasn't a whole lot more to it. Ben wasn't really allowed to develop. In that kind of programme, you're only allowed a narrow strip to work within, so we concentrated on developing a personality.

"We all tried to establish characters, but you'd get a new set of writers every six episodes, and they'd invariably get the character all wrong. You'd have to say, 'No, they wouldn't talk to each other like that.' We didn't have a lot of input into the scripts beyond that."

A Team

Ben and Polly were always a team — they joined together, and they left together. Was there ever a hint of romance? "People always ask that! I don't think it was ever intended, and we didn't play it that way at all. They were two completely disparate people; Polly was a bit more toffy than Ben. There was also quite a height difference, as we discovered at the first photo calls! I'm 57", and Anneke Wills is 5'10" and very willowy.

"I met Anneke again when she came over to England recently. She's a great girl, an interior artist now. We had fun on the series; we were great mates off the set. She had a completely different social life to mine, and came from the same kind of background as Polly, but we were on the same wavelength and socialized quite a bit. She's now gone back into hiding in Canada."

Ben's outfits never quite had the same flair as Polly's— "Oh, we had good fun with the costumes. He used to get around in military jackets and all that, which was the norm on the King's Road in the Sixties. One time we went down to Jaeger, in Regent Street I think, and bought two pairs of very expensive trousers and tops for the scene where I walked the plank in The Highlanders. I had to go into the water tank, so we needed two costumes in case it went wrong the first time. They were about £200 a pair — for a one-off! Funnily enough, I went to Birmingham for a convention earlier this year and renewed my acquaintance with the costume designer, Alexandra Tynan [aka Sandra Reid]. She was mad as a march hare!"

The Fans

How does Michael find meeting Doctor Who fans? "Conventions daunt me because I can't remember the scripts that far back. We're talking nearly thirty years ago. The fans have access to what videos are left, so they dig into various scenes, and you're on stage thinking, 'Oh God!'"

What about public recognition when he was in the series? "You got a certain amount of recognition, but 1 think I got more later on in the Seventies when I did Crossroads. That was a dreadful series, the forerunner of Neighbours and all the rest of that rubbish. We used to do five programmes in four days, so consequently you saw actors drying and sets wobbling. It used to go out at six o'clock on a weekday. We filmed in Birmingham, and I was a particularly nasty character, having a tiff with my father. I remember once I was meeting someone in a pub, and this guy came up to me, took me by the throat and said, If you ever speak to your father like that again...!' I tried to calm him down, but went on with it. But you did get nice recognition from Doctor Who."

Difficult Doctor

A lot has been written about William Hartnell, who played the first Doctor. Many people found him proprietorial and difficult to work with... "He was a difficult old sod, but you have to remember that in the Sixties, youth was virtually taking over. He didn't like that at all. He was an old-school actor, and he was rather bitter because he hadn't made it as a big-time film star, as a lot of his peers did. He was a racist as well. We had a coloured actor in The Tenth Planet, and he was particularly nasty about that.

"We all went out for a dinner together once and he was quite a different person, but on set he strode around like a school master: 'You'll do this, you'll do that. If I move here, you'll go there...' He was a silly old bugger who you just had to tolerate. I don't think he was very well, and he probably deteriorated in the break before we shot the last one."

Only three stories after Ben entered the series, a huge gamble was taken in recasting the lead actor for the first time. What was the feeling at the time, and did the on-set atmosphere chang? "Once we knew Bill was going, there was great speculation about his replacement. It was a very exciting time, really. There were so many names bandied about.

"The atmosphere changed completely when Pat Troughton was cast. Pat, Anneke and I all used to socialize, and it became great fun to go into work. Pat's original conception was the oft-quoted cosmic hobo, with his tall hats and whistles and so forth. It was great fun, but quickly squashed. The management thought he was going too far, and he probably was."

Packed Time Machine

Frazer Hines was then added to the cast as Jamie. Were things becoming a bit crowded in the TARDIS? "Obviously, one didn't have as much dialogue, but it didn't ever worry me because that was the way the writers wanted it to go. You had to accept it really. They liked to keep the stories moving all the time, so they changed the companions every year or so. When I knew I was leaving, I asked Innes [Lloyd. the producer] to kill Ben off, but you really couldn't in those days. Now, you'd have a fire, or a plane drop out of the sky or something, but children's television back then didn't have anything so violent."

The monsters of the time caused quite a stir, many of them still fondly-remembered today. "The Daleks had already created history by the time I arrived, but I was there at the outset of the Cybermen. Kit Pedler conceived them, but they didn't work at first because they hadn't been made properly. It was all tennis balls, bits of tubes and sellotape, such a laugh to work with. They made them properly when they returned. The Macra was a good concept as well, but it never really worked. It was so big it was difficult to work with."

Guest Stars

The Troughton era saw more 'guest stars' appear, a policy which would remain with the programme throughout the rest of its run. "There were a lot of good fun special guests who came in. Patrick Barr [Hobson in The Moonbase] was a great man. Joseph Furst, the professor from The Underwater Menace, was good fun — he was mad! I also remember one I didn't enjoy working with: silly old Robert Beatty from the first Cybermen story. He couldn't remember a bloody word. It was a blooming nightmare!"

What about behind the camera? "I didn't care much for Derek Martinus; he was a bit too dictatorial. Morris Barry did some — he was old then, so God knows how old he is now! He was a nice old boy. He used to come with a music stand on which he put all of his directions.

"John Davies was superb. I worked with him afterwards at Anglia. He was a great mate of mine. Gerry Mill I knew socially as well. We always used to go around as twins, because although he's much taller than me, we've got exactly the same features. Julia Smith I recall tended to get a bit hysterical. At one point she was in floods of tears because something had gone wrong! She went on to do EastEnders and didn't employ me, the bat! I tried writing to her, but she wouldn't have it."

Michael doesn't appear to have wonderful memories of The Underwater Menace... "That was a terrible script. It didn't work. The production didn't gel either. I don't think it had been thought through properly. I always liked the historical ones better — I thought they were more interesting for the kids."

Still Who Connections

Ben left in the 1967 story The Faceless Ones. Would he have stayed if asked? "At the time, I'm sure I would have done. I had nothing particularly to go on to. In fact, I don't think I worked for the BBC for some considerable time after that." But it wasn't quite the end of his Doctor Who association. The Radio Times brought Michael and Anneke Wills back together six years later for its tenth anniversary publication. "Anneke was living in Norfolk at the time — I moved up there soon after as well. The photographers collected me from London, but I ended up staying over at Anneke's house. We all ate fish and chips out of newspaper!"

Unlike many other companions, Michael has never returned to the series proper in any capacity. "I was never asked, simple as that. Graeme Harper, a director, wanted to use me in a story years later [as Salateen], but the producer put a block on a return unless it was as Ben. That was his policy. He was a bit weird, John Nathan-Turner."

Michael has kept busy since, his most recent work being as a cerebral palsy carer in The Healer for the BBC. Preparing to fly to Chicago for a convention towards the end of this year, he's still happy to be associated with a series he worked on almost three decades ago. "Doctor Who was a great experience. It has to be a highlight of my career."


Reunited for the Radio Times Special

The Moonbase Polly and Ben on the Moon

Says Michael Craze of The Moonbase: "Patrick Barr [left] was a great man"

The Tenth Planet Says Michael Craze: "Robert Beatty ... couldn't remember a bloody word"

The Cybermen made their first appearance in The Tenth Planet

Like many young men who join the navy, Ben Jackson was eager to see the world and get in on the action. Following his chance meeting with the mysterious Doctor in The War Machines, Ben was to get a far bigger share of the action than he would ever have imagined and would see not only much of this world but several others as well.

According to the character description devised by Doctor Who Script Editor Gerry Davis and Producer Innes Lloyd, Ben was a twenty-four year old Able Seaman whose area of expertise was radar. His father was also a sailor during the war and became a dock-crane driver once the hostilities were over. When Ben's father died and his mother married again, Ben found his new stepfather to be unsympathetic. Unhappy, he stowed away on a cargo ship but was soon returned home. Inspired by his adventure, Ben trained at sea school from the age of fifteen and entered the navy as soon as he was of age. A keen boxer and athlete, Ben was as prepared as much as anyone could be for a life of adventure with the Doctor.

Following the defeat of the WOTAN super computer in The War Machines, Ben accompanied secretary Polly to the TARDIS, where they were whisked away by the Doctor. Although Ben came to respect the Doctor, he was somewhat resentful of being kidnapped and was always eager to return to the navy. Following The War Machines, Ben was forced to walk the plank in The Highlanders, and in The Tenth Planet he helped save the world from the Z-Bomb and the Cybermen.

Of all his TARDIS travelling experiences, perhaps the hardest for Ben to comprehend was the Doctor's regeneration into a completely different person. Although Polly needed little persuading, it took some time before Ben could finally accept that the comical little man with dark hair was indeed the Doctor and not an impostor.

With the new Doctor, Ben's adventures continued in Power of the Daleks where he met for the first time the Doctor's arch foes on the planet Vulcan. After visiting Eighteenth Century Culloden, Ben found himself in the fabled Atlantis of the near future in The Underwater Menace. Journeying even further forward in Time, Ben once again encountered the Cybermen on the Moon where, along with Polly, he successfully improvised a weapon deadly to the silver giants inspired by nail varnish remover. After surviving the mind control techniques of the giant crab like Macra of The Macra Terror, Ben was relieved to find the TARDIS had landed in 'present day' Gatwick airport, and after the alien Chameleons were defeated, he and Polly discovered it was the very same day that they had begun their travels. They chose to return to their own lives and said their goodbyes to the Doctor.

Despite their shared experiences aboard the TARDIS, it seems unlikely that Ben and Polly were ever more than friends. Essentially different people with different lives, the two would make an unlikely couple. However, their travels with the Doctor must have forged a unique bond of friendship. It seems likely that Ben would have returned to the navy and the, comparatively, safe and peaceful life it offered.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Ainsworth, Peter Griffiths, John (issue 71 (October 1995)). Michael Craze Changing Doctors. TV Zone p. 26.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Ainsworth, Peter Griffiths, John. "Michael Craze Changing Doctors." TV Zone [add city] issue 71 (October 1995), 26. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Ainsworth, Peter Griffiths, John. "Michael Craze Changing Doctors." TV Zone, edition, sec., issue 71 (October 1995)
  • Turabian: Ainsworth, Peter Griffiths, John. "Michael Craze Changing Doctors." TV Zone, issue 71 (October 1995), section, 26 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Michael Craze Changing Doctors | url= | work=TV Zone | pages=26 | date=issue 71 (October 1995) | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=2 March 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Michael Craze Changing Doctors | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=2 March 2024}}</ref>