From Bedford to eternity – Bedford Who Charity Con 2021

Image Credit: Adam Kendrick

Image Description: Members Of Oxford WhoSoc with the convention’s guests

Adam Kendrick reports on the return of Bedford Who Charity Con after COVID-19 lockdown

After being delayed for 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bedford Who Charity Con Six finally took place on Saturday 16th October 2021 at King’s House Bedford, raising a grand total of £6,633. First onto the stage were the TARDIS Team of Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding, who travelled together from Earthshock through to Terminus. The trio recounted their path to acting, appearing in Doctor Who, and their time afterwards.

Peter and Janet were both inadvertent actors, as they initially had no intention of entering this line of work. The catalyst for Peter was failing most of his exams, graduating with a single O-level in English Language and dashing his father’s hopes of having an estate agent for a son. After a few odd jobs, he eventually ended up studying at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Perhaps because of this path, he says he enjoys acting, but treats it as a career rather than his passion, while envying more fervent actors. Janet, meanwhile, went to university to study Journalism with English Literature and performed for the first time in a university production of The Miller’s Tale with the Oscar-winning actor, and fellow Australian, Geoffrey Rush.

Sarah, on the other hand, went to ballet school and began acting at the age of eight. Her first acting job was at the Phoenix Theatre in Tottenham Court Road and she continued from there into a variety of productions. Eventually, she made her Doctor Who debut in The Keeper of Traken, where she was informed only halfway through filming that the production team wanted Nyssa to stay on as a companion. Although she was nervous at first, and terrified by Tom Baker, the strong script, as well as the amazing sets and costumes, more than made up for it. That said, the hair and makeup department left something to be desired – her hair was frizzled with old-fashioned Victorian curling heaters which caused burns!

As a Time Lord or a resident of Traken, portraying alien characters may have proved a challenge for Sarah and Peter. But for them, playing a non-human is almost identical to playing an earthling, just with less background information. While Peter had twenty years of lore for him to draw from, he argues that as the Fifth Doctor, he was cast to simply be different from the previous incarnations, yet still be the same person. All he had to do was say his lines as quickly as possible and run down corridors more quickly than his predecessors.

In doing so, he found that filming Doctor Who is sometimes frightening and spontaneous. Peter remembered a rush to record a scene with little time remaining, for which the cast were told to wait for a red light to switch on and suddenly act with no blocking. He described it as “madness” but memorable, similar to live television. While Doctor Who was challenging on a technical level, Peter said his greater acting challenges were in other productions including At Home with the Braithwaites and Love for Lydia. He has immensely fond memories of filming All Creatures Great and Small in the Yorkshire Dales, where he learnt how to herd cows across a field and how to put your arm up a cow’s bottom – thankfully, animatronic prosthetics are used instead nowadays. Coincidentally, Peter’s companions also turn out to have farming connections – Sarah’s daughter married a farmer, while Janet’s grandfather and uncle were dairy farmers, leading to her recalling how she was scared by the cows as they were brought in for milking.

Fortunately, the cast got on much better with their human colleagues. Although Anthony Ainley was a very private individual, Janet remembered being taken out for dinner by him, while Peter told an anecdote about how he was rather cowardly for someone who played the Master. Filming The Five Doctors in the Welsh countryside, the pair were warned by the special effects team that there would be “a small puff of smoke” – which Peter knew really meant a very large explosion. After the very large explosion had been set off, Ainley was found hiding behind a rock, refusing to come out. 

As for guest stars, the cast remembered how many of them said that appearing in Doctor Who gave them credibility with their family for the first time, with Richard Todd, Mary Morris, and Beryl Reid named among their favourites. Sarah especially loved working with Sir Derek Jacobi on The War Master: Killing Time, which led to Janet complaining to Big Finish about not appearing alongside a Knight of the Realm yet.

Peter’s most memorable scene was the aftermath of Adric’s death in Earthshock, but not necessarily for the right reasons – despite the fact they were supposed to be very sad, all three of them were trying very hard not to laugh. Corpsing was also an issue during The King’s Demons, when Janet and Isla Blair were told that Sir Geoffrey de Lacey had died off-screen. Having come up with some very inappropriate theories of what exactly had happened to him, they then had to film the scene without bursting into giggles!

Though they may have gone in different directions since leaving Doctor Who, the three of them still meet up for conventions and Blu-ray extras. Back in October 2019, they underwent a two-day road trip to a Doctor Who convention in Kassel, Germany. Their adventure, which included eating Belgian chocolate portraits of themselves and Peter exiting the Morgan that they were driving by falling out of it, was turned into a Great British Car Journeys-style documentary which should hopefully be released as an extra for the upcoming Season 20 Blu-ray box set.

With thoughts turned to the future, Peter was asked if he was playing a sequel to The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot for the 60th anniversary? Sadly, the answer was probably not. Aside from the mystery over what’ll happen for the milestone, Peter would need to come up with a good idea and consider payment, as most of the people involved with Fiveish did so voluntarily the first time around. He added that he doesn’t want to disappoint fans with a perfunctory follow-up and would rather leave Fiveish as a one-off special. Another problem would be having to work around the ongoing pandemic: Peter recalled his role in the Call the Midwife Christmas Special of 2020, during which he appeared to receive a baby from one of the nurses. In reality, he was handed it across a six-foot gap, with the distance enforced by an assistant with an appropriately long stick.

Despite being almost four decades since they first met, it’s clear that the trio still get along incredibly well together. They’re full of jokes and take great joy in comedically upstaging one another, both during the convention’s sketches and on stage. With plenty more Blu-Rays still to come, who knows what this TARDIS team will get up to next!

Image Credit: James Ashworth

Image Description: David Hankinson sits in a Dalek as he and Paul Marc Davies in a sketch on stage

Next – the monsters invade the stage…

Invading the stage at Bedford Who Charity Con were two actors who’ve put the “man” in “inhuman monsters”. Between them, Paul Marc Davies and David Hankinson have appeared in all of Doctor Who, from the main show itself to its various spinoffs and Big Finish audios, in a variety of guises. During their panel, they discussed the world behind their masks and their many contributions to the Whoniverse.

Growing up, David describes himself as being “very easily led”, recounting being led astray by a class rebel who discovered that the school’s chocolate peanuts machine accepted plastic two pence coins as well as those made of copper. By the time the racket was eventually rumbled, there were over one hundred plastic coins inside the machine. Paul, meanwhile, wasn’t afraid to stand out, and remembers his class becoming grossed out when a student discovered a huge spider squashed inside her schoolbook. To prove that he wasn’t scared of spiders, he peeled it off and ate it!

This talent for becoming the centre of attention didn’t immediately translate into acting, however. Neither David nor Paul were particularly keen to become actors, but both eventually discovered a passion for performing. David initially started out as a theatre designer since he was a shy individual. However, when he was called up to play a small part in a play, he discovered this hesitancy went away when he was inhabiting another character. Paul also started out in art, sculpting for a living. He got into acting by accident after gate-crashing a wrap party and spending the night chatting to a producer who offered him an audition. He went along, expecting it to become a funny anecdote about how he missed out, but ended up being cast as the lead in The Real Casanova. He felt it was so much fun that he wanted to do it again, especially after he became disillusioned with the “pomposity” of the 1990s art world. Hence, he entered the world of acting – which definitely isn’t pompous at all!

Throughout their time in showbusiness, both David and Paul have led varied careers. While David found theatre very satisfying, Paul enjoyed his time in the theatre less, though he did enjoy hanging around from a wire during opera. Both found a lot to enjoy in audio performances, which Paul finds less stressful than some other mediums as he doesn’t have to worry about fidgeting or standing still, instead allowing him to immerse himself in the studio.

Much like their audio roles, you can’t see either Paul or David’s faces in most of their Doctor Who appearances. They specialised in playing a variety of monster roles, with David being a prolific Dalek operator. He managed to get the original job through Barnaby Edwards when the finale of Series One required more Daleks for The Parting of the Ways. His best advice on how to become a Dalek was to try not to be too tall. Despite being almost the average height for the UK, the description of Dalek operators as “short” by one publication led to him getting a lot of stick from his wife.

Paul, meanwhile, is one of the few actors to appear in Doctor Who and all its modern spinoffs – Torchwood, Class and The Sarah Jane Adventures. He’s perhaps best known for playing The Trickster in the latter, but first appeared as the Futurekind chieftain in Utopia – in fact, the teeth which he wore during that episode were later recycled for The Trickster’s costume. Slotting over the top of his own teeth, Paul said the prosthetics took a week to get used to and talking required additional enunciation, which he argued is beneficial when playing a villain. However, the teeth were nothing compared to the other prosthetic which was needed to play The Trickster. Each day, a fresh mask was required with only pinpricks to see through. It was difficult to see out of, causing him to trip repeatedly over his cloak, and it also contributed to his mouth drying out a lot. This meant a lot of hydration was needed and as a result, frequent trips to the restroom, for which he had to be led towards by a member of the crew. He faced similar issues as Corakinus in Class, suffering from heat stroke inside the costume on one occasion.

For David, one of the most trialling aspects of being a Dalek was being patient and staying focused on the task in hand for twelve-hour days. This is especially difficult when, as with Paul, it’s hard to see what’s going on. On Parting of the Ways, he needed to be pushed into the shot when repeatedly filming the Daleks’ entrance to Satellite Five. Wearing a facemask, goggles, earmuffs, and a balaclava to protect himself from the various effects on set, he unsurprisingly found it difficult to fit through a doorway just one inch wider than the width of the Dalek casing. Such narrow margins always leave the possibility of putting the set into peril, and this came to pass during Daleks in Manhattan, when David accidentally crashed into a bottle of green liquid which fell and smashed on the floor. He thought he would be fired, but fortunately Nicholas Briggs covered up his mistake with a joke which made everyone laugh. 

Even if you can see where you’re going, there’s also the wheels on the Dalek to consider, which David compared to a shopping trolley – they travel very well except on the occasions where the wheels get stuck. The key, he said, is to make lots of small movements with your feet, but this tires out the leg muscles, like constantly driving a car in low gear. Unfortunately, these strenuous actions aren’t rewarded immediately, as it’s hard to help yourself to cakes and biscuits when you’re stuck in a Dalek. However, you sometimes get opportunities to surprise cast and crew, who often forget when the Daleks are occupied. He recalled overhearing a fellow actor being told that the Genesis Ark would have no life on the set of Doomsday, who immediately replied with, “There will be when I’m inside, sunshine!”

While acting can be a tough job, there are plenty of rewards. Paul had a lovely time on The Sarah Jane Adventures, getting to know the rest of the main cast. Since he was in all three series, he got to watch the kids grow up and travelled with Anjli Mohindra to fan conventions across the USA. Meanwhile, Elisabeth Sladen was motherly and protective of the cast, while also having something childlike about her which resonated with the young actors. Even the Daleks came under her protection, with David recalling how she would check in on them between takes.Just like in Doctor Who, the reign of the monsters can’t last forever. Once Paul and David’s panel had finished, it felt like the audience had gained a greater appreciation of how sometimes, it can be good to be bad.

Image Credit: James Ashworth

Image Description: Peter Roy is interviewed by Simon Danes on stage

Last but not least – a familiar face…

One of the guests at Bedford Who Charity Con Six is ubiquitous across popular culture, even though his name may not be immediately recognisable. As an extra – he dislikes the term “supporting actor” – Peter Roy has appeared in countless franchises in a variety of guises, as well as appearing in many other mediums. 

Peter started acting at the age of seven, with an emphasis on musical ability. He appeared in everything from cabaret to music hall and even opera, although he eventually stopped performing in the latter as he “had to sing well”. Nevertheless, he kept up his singing as part of The Four Ramblers, a 1950s vocal group which included noted Irish singer Val Doonican. The group toured widely and were featured on the radio but folded once Val left to pursue his successful solo career.

Peter, meanwhile, moved further into acting and from 1961 onwards, he appeared in almost 60 TV programmes and films, mostly as uncredited background characters. It took his first few productions, including Dr Strangelove, until he was finally credited as ‘The Bear’ in an episode of the BBC’s 1965 series Gaslight Theatre. That same year, Peter made his Doctor Who debut in Temple of Secrets, the first episode of The Myth Makers. Over the following 19 years, he would appear in 18 episodes, mostly as guards and other meddlesome types. Perhaps his most memorable role is as the policeman murdered by the Master at the beginning of Logopolis, disappearing into the police box and vanishing forever. Peter looks back fondly on his time on Doctor Who, describing it as “one big happy family” and that he liked everyone he worked with. 

Outside of Doctor Who, Peter has shown up in thrillers such as the James Bond franchise, The Saint and The Avengers, cult science-fiction such as Blake’s 7 and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as two Star Wars films. In the first shot filmed for The Empire Strikes Back, he remembers causing hilarity when he slipped and fell. The sheer number of films, and the secrecy associated with some of them, means he doesn’t know everything he appeared in – a scene from the enigmatic ‘Film #28’ continues to be unknown to him.

Being in so many franchises has added benefits, with Peter considering himself to be very lucky that he can travel to fan conventions across the world and meet lots of people interested in the work he did. Doctor Who being produced directly by the BBC also means he receives his residues directly without middlemen taking their cut.

Looking back on his career, Peter is pleased with his path through life. He admits he’s “never done a proper day’s work”, but while he doesn’t envy those who commute every day, he respects them for keeping the country running. While his last uncredited appearance was almost a decade ago in Skyfall, it’s worth keeping an eye out for Peter – you never know where he’ll turn up next!

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