Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Julie Collins, Lecturer in Indigenous studies, University of New England

In 1987, I appeared as Fire Escape, the Leader of the Red Kangs, in a Doctor Who tale of dystopian mayhem: Paradise Towers. In a dilapidated Tower Block, colour-coded gangs of “Kangs” - delinquent teenage girls - ran amok, whilst behind closed doors, sweet and endearing old ladies lured unsuspecting visitors into their apartment for tea, so that they could eat them.

The Kangs became allies of the Doctor - number seven, played by Sylvester McCoy - who went on to defeat the Hitler-like totalitarian Chief Caretaker, played by veteran British actor Richard Briers. The fans both loved and hated this story. The acting was at times way over the top. But on the plus side, Paradise Towers, a storyline written by Stephen Wyatt, contained great social commentary, critiquing the social upheaval of Thatcher’s Britain. The Kangs were seriously “scary girls”, and the streets were full of them.

The news this week that a woman - English actor Jodie Whittaker - will be the 13th Doctor Who has got me thinking about my time on the set of this classic show. Whittaker’s appointment to the role has been hailed by many and criticised by some purists. I think that it is about time a Wise Woman took control of the Tardis, even if the Tardis does not always do as it’s told these days. Reflecting on my brief time on the show, it is interesting that while women such as the Kangs were feisty, the Doctor’s female companions were there mostly to help show how clever the Doctor was.

image The author as Fire Escape in 1987. author provided

My own personal association with Doctor Who - apart from hiding behind the couch as a very small person - began in the mid 1980s, when my partner at the time, Mark Strickson, was cast as Turlough, companion to the fifth Doctor, played by Peter Davison. I was so jealous! But over the next few years, I probably spent almost as much time on the set as Mark did. This was the era when John Nathan Turner (known as JNT) was the producer and the series was probably at its most economical.

Production was fast and furious. But despite the pressures, I was welcome on location and in the studio. I watched from the sidelines and even from the control room. One day when I entered the studio, the Daleks were there. They were really very scary, even though you knew the voices were coming from four small and elderly gentlemen sitting at a table in the corner with large microphones.

When I eventually got the call to audition for my own story on Doctor Who, it was unlike any audition I’d been to. Instead of sitting across a desk, having a quiet chat and perhaps reading a few lines of script, which was the norm, JNT and the director, Nicholas Mallett, had overturned the furniture and I was asked to improvise a life and death battle.

Working on Paradise Towers was hard work. You had to stay focussed; if at 10pm, your concentration was about to lapse, the production team was unlikely to retake a shot to fix up your performance.

One of the episodes in which Fire Escape appeared.

This was only Sylvester’s second outing as the Doctor, and he was quite nervous at times but his background as a stand up comic helped - and his wry sense of humour came to define his portrayal.

I met many of the Doctors over the years: the quietly dignified Pat Troughton; the charming Jon Pertwee; the ascerbic Tom Baker; the very kind Peter Davison; and the flamboyant Colin Baker.

In recent years, I also met Paul McGann, the eighth Doctor, who appeared in the movie, and he told me a story that shows how the character has evolved over the years.

The Doctor began his existence as a typical white, upper middle class, patriarchal male. While the casting of Peter Davison in 1981 sent shock waves through the BBC - I mean how could you have a young Doctor? - he was still the wise and nicely spoken patriarch.

image Paul McGann as Doctor Who in 1996. BBC

McGann told me that when he was cast as Doctor Who, in 1996, he suggested that he play him as a Northerner in a leather jacket. But the producers insisted he play the Doctor as an Edwardian gentleman.

Yet in 2005, Christopher Eccleston became the ninth Doctor - as a Northener in a leather jacket. The Doctor was no longer quite so posh.

Peter Capaldi who played the Doctor from 2013 until now, might be seen as a return to the old model - the mature patriarch - apart from the fact he is Scottish. And yet Capaldi is quite different, more reflective, more self doubting. Ironically, considering the Doctor is not human, this incarnation seems more human and in need of support from his companions. For this reason, he is my favourite Superhero. The Doctor is in a sense Everyman and therefore, Everywoman.

The idea that Time Lords can change genders has already been established, and the Doctors can remember all their previous incarnations, so I do not think the change to a female Doctor will be earth shattering. Maybe Doctor number 14 will be a person of colour, that would be exciting.

Postscript: After appearing in four Doctor Who episodes, the author went on to study zoology and do a PhD in ecological humanities … as you do.

Authors: Julie Collins, Lecturer in Indigenous studies, University of New England

Read more http://theconversation.com/my-time-as-a-scary-girl-with-doctor-who-81175

Writers Wanted

The Mitchells vs The Machines shows 'smart' tech might be less of a threat to family bonds than we fear

arrow_forward

The Essentials of DIY Home Repairs: What You'll Need

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister interview with Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Karl Stefanovic: PM, good morning to you. Do you have blood on your hands?   PRIME MINISTER: No, it's obviously absurd. What we're doing here is we've got a temporary pause in place because we'v...

Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon - avatar Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered Keynote Address at AFR Business Summit

Well, thank you all for the opportunity to come and be with you here today. Can I also acknowledge the Gadigal people, the Eora Nation, the elders past and present and future. Can I also acknowled...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Morrison Government commits record $9B to social security safety net

The Morrison Government is enhancing our social security safety net by increasing support for unemployed Australians while strengthening their obligations to search for work.   From March the ...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

The logistics behind setting up massive vaccination hubs in South Australia

To scale up the South Australian vaccination rollout, Portable Partitions Australia were approached by SA Health to urgently provide 78 vaccinations booths across the Northern and Central mass vac...

NewsCo - avatar NewsCo

The Age Of Advertising: The Importance of Online Business Advertisements

The language of advertising had long grown since its modern beginning in the 15th century when printing was all the jazz. Nowadays, it continues to flourish and adapt as new mediums are created, a...

NewsCo - avatar NewsCo

What is Hampering Your Good Sleep? 7 Things to Check

A good sleep is the pillar of a healthy body and a strong mind. Countless studies have proven how a good night’s sleep goes hand in hand with good health and a productive day ahead. Sleep has an i...

NewsCo - avatar NewsCo