How did it feel to land the role of The Doctor?
“It is inconceivable that I would have turned down the part, because at the time I got Doctor Who I wasn’t at all happy. I was going through a bad time of feeling rejected, and even though I had had a flirtation with movies, I was a labourer on a building site and had no skill there apart from to make the tea and use a Kango drill. So when the opportunity came along to play Doctor Who it was a jackpot.”
What did everyone at the building site make of you winning the part?
“When it came out, it was in the first edition of the Evening Standard and I didn’t tell the guys I was working with. And when they got the paper and there I was. I went to work the next morning famous! They were so thrilled for me. And then I legged it down to Barclays Bank and got an advance and gave them a little party. It was wonderful. It was like being reborn.”
Did the role ever faze you?
“Having been brought up in an intensely Roman Catholic background in Liverpool, I was used to miracles and angels on shoulders and people coming back from the dead so it was no effort – as an actor, I didn’t have to reach for that.”
How would you describe starring in the show?
“Playing Doctor Who was just a great experience. Actors want to get to a big audience and to be admired. To get applause is one thing, but to be adored is really something I recommend. It was just so much better than real life, and I stayed so long because real life at the time wasn’t so terrific. I wanted to be in this beautiful, unreal world; unreal in that it was entirely fictional, but utterly real when I went out into the streets.”
What impact did it have on your career?
“When I did theatre like the Royal Shakespeare Company, they were all very packed. But of course what the RSC didn’t understand was that they were all Doctor Who fans, so naturally I had to perform like Doctor Who, because there’s no point in deliberately disappointing the audience, is there? And so I would be in something really ponderous and every now and then I had to do this Doctor Who routine, which would get gales of laughter from the audience, and of course make the other actors hate me.”
Why do you think Doctor Who has lasted so long?
“I can’t explain Doctor Who’s longevity no more than I can explain my own. It’s a happy accident I imagine. There’s nothing quite like it.”