Pertwee’s Last Daemons

 

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Image Credit: Stephen Broome (All Rights Reserved)

Image Description: Damaris Hayman, Jon Pertwee, Nicholas Courtney and Richard Franklin

Mark Learey was present in April 1996 when Aldbourne, the location for Jon Pertwee’s favourite Doctor Who story, became the setting for his final public appearance.

The popularity of Jon Pertwee’s era during its original broadcast was in no small part due to its fresh take on an ageing format, grounding the Doctor in exile on contemporary Earth. The addition of Katy Manning (as Jo Grant) and Roger Delgado (the first and arguably definitive incarnation of the Master) to the successful UNIT team cemented its popularity. The Dæmons represents the pinnacle of this reinvention, an ensemble piece which was celebrated in the spirit of the 1996 Aldbourne reunion marking the story’s twenty-fifth anniversary.

Meeting the elementals

On the glorious morning of 27 April 1996, hundreds of Whovians cascaded into the village to enjoy a day of geeking-out in this picturesque location. The event began with a group panel, featuring Jon Pertwee, Nicholas Courtney, John Levene, Richard Franklin, Damaris Hayman and David Simeon (who played BBC3 reporter Alastair Fergus), alongside producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks.

Pertwee had firmly reconnected with the world of Doctor Who, not only having his episodes revived on television, but also reprising the role for a Children in Need sketch, the 1989 stage play The Ultimate Adventure, and even two BBC radio adventures (written by Barry Letts). Recounting his casting, he had very definite views about how the part should be played and recalled how he put his name forward only to discover he’d been on the internal short-list (behind Ron Moody) for (he claimed) eighteen months! After several lunches and dinner with head of drama Shaun Sutton, he was convinced to take on the role. Pertwee also revealed the fate of Bok, the gargoyle in The Dæmons, which he’d taken home and put on display in his garden, terrifying his gardener until it melted from exposure to the elements; Bok was, after all, made from expanded polystyrene! Pertwee was also enthusiastic about the Third Doctor radio adventures, and described the frustratingly slow process of getting them made by the BBC. He was particularly happy with their commercial success, noting that they’d gone straight to the top of the audiobook charts, alongside old episodes of The Navy Lark (in which he also starred).

Remembering Roger

Absent from the event were two actors many consider the lynchpins of the show: Katy Manning and Roger Delgado. Manning was then living and working in Australia. Levene said she was marvellous, bubbly, and full of laughs, and fondly remembered the close bond they enjoyed. He remembered picking up Jon and Katy for rehearsals and arriving to find Roger sat filing his nails meticulously into points! Delgado tragically died in a car accident in 1973 but Letts knew him well, describing him as a charming, kind, sweet, gentle, quiet, fearful man essentially all the things the Master wasn’t. Dicks added that actors who play villains are always terribly sweet and nice, his theory being that they perform all the bad stuff out of their systems!

Hayman had immediately bonded with Delgado because she took his character seriously: “The Master has a very definite significance […] It means he has very, very high occult powers. Miss Hawthorne, nice, sweet and amiable as she is, is just a white witch in an English village and couldn’t be expected to have [comparable] power.” Levene remembered having dinner with Roger and his wife Kismet (voice of the Queen Spider in 1974’s Planet of the Spiders). He recalled Delgado’s comfortable home-life, his beloved armchair and the cigarillos he used to smoke. Dicks cited the scene in The Sea Devils (1972) where the Master watches Clangers: “Only Roger could pull off things like that and yet at the same time be a villain of the deepest dye.”

The Dæmon Rides Out

The Dæmons is unusual in the world of Doctor Who for tackling the almost taboo subject of the occult. Co-writer and producer Barry Letts explained that the story began life as a short audition sketch for new companion Jo Grant and Captain Yates. It was basically the scene in the church where Yates comes to rescue Jo and they encounter the Devil. Dicks added that he and Letts had grown up enjoying the works of Dennis Wheatley “partly because they were so sexy; many a schoolboy was steamed up by them!” Letts remembered saying it was a shame they couldn’t do the devil sketch for real and Dicks had replied: “Well, why don’t we?” and so a legend was born. Hayman noted: “I think we all knew that we were onto a winner. I don’t think we quite realised what a winner it was going to be!” Dicks countered that it was flattering that the story and the Pertwee era as a whole were regarded as classics, but that they didn’t know it at the time; everyone was just desperately trying to get the show out!

The writing wasn’t straightforward. Worried about underrunning, Letts wrote an extra sequence where the Doctor gets captured in the woods by a hermit and ultimately escapes by using sleight of hand to prove he is a powerful magician. Whilst this nicely echoes the “Science, not sorcery” scene, the addition was greeted with consternation by director Christopher Barry and was quickly dropped. Dicks noted that most programmes suffer from ‘studio spread’, where recorded sequences turn out longer than expected, but Doctor Who tends to have the opposite problem. Directors often requested ‘filler’ scenes and so Dicks would concoct a short row between two characters, ending with them saying “oh, alright then” and returning to the story! Hayman added that cuts could be traumatic for actors who’d fallen in love with a particular scene. A cut to the line where Hawthorne explains she is a white witch had to be defended by Hayman: “the audience will wonder what the hell this stupid old woman’s doing capering about in a cloak!” The Brigadier’s famous “Chap with wings” line was also nearly removed, but Letts asked for it to be retained: “That was one of Robert Sloman’s lines and I laughed out loud when I read it.” He also described how his boss Ronnie Marsh, head of drama serials, had read the script the day before the church shoot and had forbade the representation of occult masses on hallowed ground. The script had to be rapidly altered to accommodate.

End of the Third Age

The reunion was a unique experience, giving Whovians the chance to closely interact with their favourite Doctor Who personnel and this led to some surprises. As I stood in a long ‘meet and greet’ line, I heard a young voice behind me. “Guess what?”, asked a small, slightly disturbed-looking boy pointing to the adjacent marquee, “Doctor Who’s in this tent and you’d never guess what? I think he’s smoking!” Soon, Pertwee emerged to do an interview and then made his way along the patient crowd, talking with children and signing autographs. Grant Hibbard, my companion for the day, recalls: “I’m pretty sure I was the last fan to meet and have a photo with Jon Pertwee, always my favourite Doctor (along with Sylvester!) He was wonderful and every inch the Doctor in his ruffled velvet jacket. He said ‘nice to meet you, but look, I’ve got to go, I’m off on holiday to America tomorrow’, and that, of course, is where he passed away.” Whovian Stephen Broome remembers: “I saw Jon wandering around and he was looking his age. Imagine my shock when Radio Kent phoned me about four weeks later telling me that Jon had died.” Whilst queuing, I asked a small girl who her favourite Doctor was. Without hesitation, she replied “Jon Pertwee.”

Feeling somewhat rebellious, I cheekily hopped over the cordon and into the marquee to say hello to Dicks, Letts, Hayman and Simeon. In hindsight, they were extremely accommodating, chatting with me and signing autographs. Dicks revealed that his favourite Doctor Who novelisations were The Talons of Weng-Chiang and Image of the Fendahl, the latter he and Letts agreeing was similar to The Dæmons in its handling of the occult. The legend of the day was Richard Franklin who, having to leave, made an apologetic and gracious circuit of the lengthy queue, greeting fans, signing autographs, and ensuring that everyone felt suitably special. Feeling hungry, Grant and I headed for the pub, which was pleasantly empty because most people were exploring the churchyard or queuing in the main arena. Even more pleasant was discovering Nicholas Courtney sat enjoying a quiet pint… which we promptly interrupted! The day was turning out rather perfectly. How could any Whovian top a pint with the Brigadier in the Cloven Hoof?

No thank you, Captain Yates

Courtney duly signed autographs whilst lamenting the sorry state of British politics. Earlier in the day, he’d remembered impossible lines he was given; his favourite, which he claims to have delivered without cracking up, was: “Jimmy, I want you to get on my chopper and tell Benton to lay on a jeep!” He also talked about his sense of loyalty to fans and the Doctor Who production team, describing how he’d infuriated his manager, the casting director and the director of a major stage production by turning down a very lucrative part in order to do Battlefield. Courtney also told us how he was apt to modify his scripts, such as by adding the Cromer line in The Three Doctors, to show the character was human and flawed, as real army officers have been throughout history. The Brigadier could not believe he was on another planet; he was closed to the idea. Courtney said his aim was to find the humour and humanity in the character.

The afternoon brought another surprise in the form of elderly local villager Marian Deuchar, who played the woman dragging a child safely indoors in episode four. She shared her memories of filming, noting how the heads of over-enthusiastic locals kept popping into shot over garden walls! She also recalled how the children of the village would not stay in school. Pertwee instead took to giving them rides around the green in Bessie. Dicks described the filming of the Master’s capture. As he was driven away in a UNIT jeep, the crowds were encouraged to hiss and boo, but instead all cheered and clapped, to the consternation of the director. Dicks attributed this to Delgado’s lovable quality, saying: “it is extraordinary that he could do the most diabolical things as the Master and yet remain rather lovable and charming”. Asked what else had been filmed in the village, Deuchar recalled a John Betjeman programme about the church and several Doctor Who sketches, including one where she was required to pull a glamorous man to safety rather than a child. “I liked that better,” she grinned! She also remembered problems caused at the aerodrome by the sudden snowstorm, and described how telegraph poles were removed from the green in order for the helicopter sequence to be filmed.

Star quest

After a charity auction, in which I proudly bought a Doctor Who Magazine signed by the Doctor Who TV movie executive producer Philip Segal, John Levene entertained everyone with his corny stand-up comedy and personal stories. He described his early career and how Douglas Camfield had given him his big acting break, suggesting him to Barry Letts despite Levene having no training or experience. “I can’t thank Douglas enough. I’d never have seen the world the way I’ve seen it. He was a marvellous man.” He also recalled various jobs as a hospital radio presenter, the making of Wartime for BBV, his wedding at the home of Time Tunnel star Robert Colbert, and his time as a cruise-ship entertainer around South America and the Caribbean. Asked if he’d return to Doctor Who, Levene pointed out that the new, American-based production team were in need of stars: “We’re not stars. Yes, we were in Doctor Who in England, but only you know me!” I imagine he is rather better-known since the 2005 revival.

In April 1996, Whovians were in a state of excitement over the Paul McGann TV movie, still several weeks away from UK video release and broadcast. Levene was highly enthusiastic. He hoped we liked it but warned us to be prepared for something different, with no cheap effects or wobbly sets: “The hardest job Nick and I ever had was holding the door still so that the next actor wouldn’t have the wall shaking!” Courtney said the premiere was to be held in Cannes! He was delighted about the casting of McGann and hoped the film would reinvigorate interest in Doctor Who. The scale and ambition of the film was a major talking point; Whovians speculated as to what a series might look like, how many episodes it would have, and when the Daleks would appear. Asked if he would return, Pertwee replied that he could no longer fall off motorcycles and that his Venusian karate wasn’t up to scratch, but that he would enjoy playing a supporting role. Courtney felt that the Brigadier would need to have less action and a more cerebral role if he were to reappear. Levene was certain the film was going to be bigger than Superman: “It’s going to be quite stunning, frightening in places. I think the children are going to be more scared of this one than they certainly were of ours.” In hindsight, most Whovians would probably be relieved this version didn’t go to a series; at the time, many of us were hugely disappointed.

As the day came to a close, the remaining crowds awaited the firework finale, drinking and chatting in the glorious April evening and mostly agreeing that a fiftieth anniversary reunion was highly improbable—but twenty-three years on, it’s now surely inevitable.

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