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Deborah Watling

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2017-07-26 Times.jpg


Actress conceived in a theatre dressing room and renowned for a piercing scream that marked her role as Dr Who's assistant

With her wide blue eyes and her mouth opened even wider to produce a piercing scream, Deborah Watling was the archetypal female assistant from the early days of Doctor Who in the 1960s. She was tiny, but the scream was huge — so impressive that the writers decided to employ it as humanity's secret weapon in defeating the killer seaweed in a storyline entitled Fury from the Deep.

Watling served as companion to the second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton. They formed a memorable threesome with the displaced Jacobite Highlander Jamie (Frazer Hines) in 40 episodes in 1967-68, pitching her against several intergalactic villains who were even scarier than seaweed, including the Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors and the Yeti.

Although the end results were often terrifying for the programme's young audience, Watling recalled that the shows were a joy to make, in spite of tight schedules and location budgets that stretched only as far as Wales.

"We had such fun doing an episode about the Abominable Snowmen in Snowdonia," she said. "Frazer and 1 were being chased down a hill by them. All of a sudden they fell over and started rolling down. We were hysterical. All that I could hear from inside the suits were these big, butch men screaming to get out."

She left the show to take up a regular role in the soap opera The Newcomers in 1969 alongside her real-life father, Jack, who took on the paternal role in the soap as well. She came from a family of actors. Two sisters, Dilys and Nicola, were also actresses. Her brother, Giles, who played the vicar in Carla Lane's Bread, subsequently decided to entered politics and is now the Conservative MP for Clacton.

After Doctor Who and then The Newcomers, Watling co-starred with David Essex and Adam Faith in the rock and roll movie That'll Be The Day (1973) and with Cliff Richard in Take Me High (1973). With her hair dyed blonde she played against type as the sexy Norma in the television series Danger UXB (1979), before retiring from acting in the early 1980s.

Her parents, Jack Watling and Patricia Hicks, were both actors, and she was reputedly conceived in a theatre dressing room, which she said was: "Proof, if any were needed, that my origins were firmly theatrical!"

She was born Deborah Patricia Watling in London in 1948, but the family moved to a house on the edge of Epping Forest then to the 16th-century Alderton Hall in Loughton in Essex.

Watling was little more than a toddler when she appeared in an uncredited scene in Father's Doing Fine (1952) with her father, and also Richard Attenborough and Sid James. They needed a shot of a little girl eating ice-cream. The sheer number of takes put her off icecream for life, but not acting.

At the outset of her career, Watling made an impact at a Women's Institute evening where children could perform. She delivered a spirited rendition of a song that had been taught to her by her half-sister, Dilys, which began: "Old Mrs Kelly with a bamboo belly and her tits tied up with string."

After failing her O levels she enrolled at stage school, but lasted only a few weeks before deciding that she could do just as well without any formal training. Still in her mid-teens, she got her picture on the cover of Radio Times when she played the title role in Dennis Potter's television play Alice (1965), about the origins of Alice in Wonderland.

She was already a veteran, with more than a decade of onscreen experience behind her, when she landed the role of Victoria Waterfield, a Victorian orphan adopted by Doctor Who. Her father also appeared in two of her Doctor Who stories. They were very close. She would later call her autobiography Daddy's Girl (2010), which she wrote sitting in his old chair. "I wanted Daddy to be proud of me," she said. "He didn't really want me to go into the business. He wanted one of his children to be something sensible, like a doctor or a solicitor. Of course, we all went into it anyway."

She and Troughton also became close and she revealed that she used to keep a photograph of him in her kitchen and would talk to it at times. After work dried up she moved to the village of. Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex, ran a gardening business and directed the local amateur pantomime.

Her first marriage, to the actor Nicholas Field, was short-lived and ended in divorce. She later married Steve Turner, a sound engineer, who survives her.

She maintained her links with the Doctor Who fanbase, regularly attending conventions and working on various spin-offs, including an audio drama and the comedy homage The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot (2013).

"It was a very important part of my life," she said. "I had no idea, back then, that I would still be talking about it 40 years later. It's unbelievable. The fans don't let you forget it. And I don't want to."

Deborah Watling, actress, was born on January 2, 1948. She died of lung cancer on July 21, 2017, aged 69

Caption: Deborah Watling as Victoria Waterfield in Doctor Who and, right, in 1971

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