Doctor Who - Documentary s01e08 Episode Script

Remembering the Aztecs

It's very hard to explain to anyone now what it was like in those days, when television was in itself new and strange and actors worked in the theatre or they worked in films.
Television was a different animal.
Nobody understood what it was.
We were a bit scared of it.
And it was taking over the studios that we all revered, where magic had been made like Ealing Studios and Denham Studios.
I never really thought about being on television, while I was doing my repertory theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Then I was asked to do a thing called Kidnapped.
That was all on film.
It was a BBC production for television, all on film.
The next thing I did was Doctor Who.
It was my first experience.
When I went into the studios, there were the sets and actors, costumes and cameras.
It was a wonderland for me.
I assumed they had it right, that there was nothing wrong with it and this was the way television happened.
It was miraculous in those days.
Television programmes like Doctor Who and the Aztecs, is the combined work of a whole team of people, that is the important point.
It isn't just actors getting up and spouting.
There has been a writer, most important man of all, or woman.
There is a director, there is a cameraman, the lighting fellows, the props, the wardrobe, make-up as well as the actors, and it's this which makes the whole business quite exciting.
But it was good doing it because you were on your nerves, and it made acting seem a bit more feasible, watchable, you know.
You had a week's outside rehearsal for a half-hour piece, and then an hour for two weeks' rehearsal for an hour and so on.
For an hour-long piece, you'd have that, two days in the studio, wouldn't you? Camera rehearsals, and by God, they were clever those camera boys! And you ran the play as if it were a play and the big difference was, everybody came out of the theatre - the floor manager, the assistant floor manager, the director, the producer, the scriptwriter, everybody had come out the theatre.
They had a different professional attitude towards putting on a show.
You would run the play through in front of the cameras, on the take, and if it didn't work here and there, you'd say, there are just a couple of pick-ups I want to do, you'd slot those in.
You had the feel it was going from one end to another.
- Today - It's all out of sequence, isn't it ? - It's shot like a film, isn't it? - Yeah, rehearse and shoot.
That's it.
The actors were under a lot of pressure because after a short rehearsal period, we then had to almost continuously record the episode.
I didn't find that too difficult because I had done weekly rep where you only have four or five days' rehearsal for a two-hour play.
And I was doing only one series.
Someone like Bill Hartnell who was doing the whole thing, playing Doctor Who, he was under enormous pressure.
I'm not surprised that sometimes he wasa bit tight-lipped, or distant, or remote, or whatever.
He wasn't the friendliest person.
But then, he was trying to remember all these flipping lines! I always thought Billy Hartnell was He was a bit pompous.
He thought of himself as being a big international star simply because ''Doctor Who'' was sold overseas.
But, he was never rude to me.
He was always very pleasant to me.
I've heard that he was difficult.
I never saw any of it.
I did the one in Cornwall with him and he wasn't difficult then.
He used to get a bit tetchy sometimes but, fair enough.
- He wasn't a young buck, was he? - Nor are we, but we're polite.
- But he had been around for a long time.
- Yes, he had.
He did all the B-pictures and all the Ealing pictures.
All the Sergeant Majors, yes.
Actually, he played the type of character he really was in real life.
He was very Yes, he was very strict and very conscientious.
Always on time.
He thought he was a bigger star than he was.
But he was very kind to me.
He took me out to lunch a couple of times.
I used to get a bit pompous about him because of the way he worked, which was to learn all his lines on the Sunday, and then he never looked at the script again.
Well, each to his own, but at the time, I thought it disgraceful, you ought to see what subtleties you can get out of a script, but he didn't.
He had three or four expressions which he'd throw in for consternation, bafflement or enlightenment.
All those would flit across the face now and again.
You knew where you were.
You can respond to that, because you knew what was expected of you.
I've worked with other difficult people, so-called, and I think it's because they want to get the thing right.
They get fed up with incompetence and fools doing something wrong.
Which is fair enough, it seems to me.
He carries the show, for God's sake.
The rehearsals were very pleasant, very light-hearted.
William Hartnell was very funny in rehearsal.
It was only in the studio that he became a bit more aloof and tense, which he had every right to do because he was carrying it.
He felt very much that it was his show and he was responsible for it.
Setting standards, keeping us all in order, everything, it was as all his responsibility.
But he did relax in rehearsals and we had a few laughs, a few giggles.
He knew his stuff, he knew his lines in rehearsal, almost from day one.
A very conscientious actor.
I had a lot of time for him.
I know not everyone did.
There was another side to him, but he was certainly fine with me.
He was very intolerant of foreigners and things like that.
So I've heard! I've got a German wife.
That wouldn't go down well.
He'd probably say, ''Those bloody Krauts''! Whereas, I say that to her and she knows I mean it! I had to laugh when I watched the re-run of the Aztecs the other day.
These scenes with Margot van der Burgh.
That was hysterical.
She was a lovely lady.
But those two, Billy Russell and Jacqui Hill, they were delightful people.
If they'd found Bill difficult, too difficult, they'd probably have said to hell with the next series, that's it, we're finished.
I remember Bill Russell as being very very friendly and trying to put people at their ease and making jokes and saying, ''Don't worry if you get it wrong.
'' I know that as a young actor, I was very brash and fairly arrogant and confident.
Not quite as confident as I pretended.
I wasn't as terrified as Keith Pyott, who was really frightened because he was very new to television, I think.
We all were but he was an older actor and the strain was greater.
The fear of getting it wrong.
When you're young, you don't mind so much.
He looked marvellous, I thought.
Because he was about our age, then.
He looked much younger because they'd got this hat on him.
Margot was superb, I thought.
I remember being impressed by Verity Lambert because she was so pretty.
She was very dark, long dark hair, I mean.
And very very attractive.
I could hardly believe this womanthis girl - she wasn't much more than a girl then - was producing a major television series.
She certainly seemed good at it and she was careful not to get she never threw her weight about in front of the cast.
I don't know how strong she could be on the producers' gallery, but no one resented her.
- Then I was bearded too.
- That's right.
Verity Lambert said, ''You're not going to play this part like that, are you?'' The Aztecs couldn't grow any facial hair.
That's right.
But John Crockett, actually That man had more effect on my life than anybody I can think of, bar one person.
In 1948, I found myself employed by a company called Compass Players, which John had founded.
- John Crockett? - John Crockett, back in 1944.
It was big, highfalutin stuff we did.
One-night stands over the whole country, but we were doing plays like Molière's Le Misanthrope, Marlowe's Dr Faustus, Milton's Comus.
One-night stands all round the country, four years.
It was heavy stuff.
And that man had enormous talents in many many areas.
He could dance, he was a trained painter at Goldsmiths, he directed, he acted, he wasn' a very good actor, but I always felt he was a man born outside his century.
He never fitted.
At the BBC, he was looked upon as a joke.
I worked with him in 1962 at the Icon - or was it in 1960? At the Lyric Hammersmith, the Icon Theatre Company.
The rest of the cast were contemptuous towards him.
Because he was happiest working with amateurs, he had no idea how professional actors worked and of course those of us in that company he formed were first jobs so we didn't have any real professionalism then.
But he was a wonderful man with a heart the size of a mountain.
His influence on me has been enormous and it is nice to set the record straight because a lot of actors had either said he is just mad or he can't do it.
And he could.
I got the job of whatever that character's name was.
ShlshorshlSomething like that, with a few clicks of a tongue.
He got me that job and I remember he said to me, ''All you've got to bear in mind for the part is you've got to make all the children in the country hate you.
'' That was a good note.
He didn't give me any other notes.
I looked at it the other day before we came here, and I thought I was ghastly in this.
- Well, you made the kids hate you! - I hope I did.
But I mean it's such a patent Laurence Olivier performance.
I know I didn't intend it to be but that's what It was Richard III, even the shoulder was up here - So what's happened to John now? - He's dead.
He died ten years ago.
Well, I can tell you where he's buried.
I went to the funeral.
Prinknash Abbey near Stroud in Gloucestershire, amongst the monks.
He became deeply religious, Catholic, for the last 10, 20 years of his life.
Erm, an intensely clever man, a very good mind He was one of the few people who can think When most of us say, ''Well, I think'' what we mean is ''I feel,'' but he thought.
He would literally sit down and think his way through things.
I learned a huge amount from him and my debt to him is colossal.
Oh, well, there you go.
I loved him, of course, because he gave me the job.
My memory of him is that he was middle-aged.
But at 22, anybody over 30, you think they're old.
But I think he was a bit younger than most of the technicians around.
Television was a young man's game.
There were a few directors like John who were theatre people, basically.
Via Lorimar was another one I recall.
And they came in to help the BBC, I suppose, to keep this thing moving along and tell the stories in a theatrical sort of way.
They had assistants to put cameras on it.
They had to learn to put cameras on it.
So it was a learning process for them.
And I think there was a sort of ''us and them'' between the die-hard, technical TV people and these incomers from the world of theatre.
Both sides thinking that they were the superior ones.
I thought the script was quite good.
But then I always thought that the Doctor Who scripts were really rather good.
It was designed for children and to its credit, the BBC took greater care, if anything, over children's programmes than they did for adults.
- It was that good, the adults watched it.
- Well, that's the point.
Overall, I think I was a bit in awe of the whole process.
I was certainly impressed by the costumes, the sets.
They weren't very comfortable costumes.
We weren't the most comfortable bunnies with these great headdresses, and rather tight sleeves, laced up the back, I remember.
You couldn't move in them very easily, the costumes weren't easy to work with.
They were very hot - studio lights in those days were tremendously strong.
Much more so than now, I believe.
I remember the atmosphere of terror.
When they actually say, ''Actors go,'' the fear of getting it wrong was overpoweringsometimes.
One thing I've always loathed about TV is people pop in and out of the studio who are being shown round.
And I can't bear it when members of the lay public are around when I'm working.
It seems incongruous - we're trying to create magic and people come in, saying, ''Oh, oh, what's he wearing?'' I'd got half my costume on for a technical run.
And as I walked past a group of people, one of them said, who was clearly, I assume, an expert on Aztecs, he said, ''Well, that costume's hopeless!'' ''It's not nearly elaborate enough!'' That sort of thing drives me mad.
I was covered with stuff.
I had feathers out here but I was only half dressed then.
That sort of thing irritates me enormously, but they were good costumes.
- The wigs were very good.
- They were.
I had this dreadful wig which came No, that's not fair, it was a lovely wig and my dreadful head wouldn't keep it on.
If I did that, the wig did that.
I was constantly looking for opportunities to do that.
Then we put the headdresses on and the wig slipped, then the headdress.
A lot of the fighting was done like that.
It was very makeshift! Doctor Who was very close to being live, but not quite.
It was recorded and that gives you a tremendous amount of leeway.
But the live television was a nightmare from beginning to end because for two minutes before you start to do the programme, a deathly silence falls on the studio.
Nobody moves or talks so the tension builds up and builds up and builds up.
And then you get the call to start And it becomes panic-stricken.
And success is to get from A to Z without disaster.
That is success.
Without a boom coming in shot, without a camera being in the wrong position, without a door jamming so you can't get through.
The biggest gripe and one of the biggest tensions was that it was continuous recording and retakes cost money, editing costs money, and we were made very aware of this.
At the end of a recording session, there was a short period to record the retakes and put things right.
The order of priority was technical mistakes first.
Camera mistakes had to be corrected.
Then any sound errors would be corrected, if there was a mistake.
The end of the line would be the actors, if they'd fluffed a line or dropped a prop, or looked stupid, they might get a chance.
But in the main, actors didn't get a chance because they ran out of time.
We were so naive then there was no defence.
You had to put up with it.
If you fluffed, you sat at home watching, thinking millions of people are watching me fluffing, it was dreadful.
As time went by, the only way to make sure you got a retake if you fluffed a line, was to say ''Oh, '' when you finished.
Then they had to retake, they couldn't put that out.
By the time I got into ''Z Cars'', that was the standard thing.
You'd make a mistake and, ''Oh, Sorry!'' There was no way out of it.
We had two big fight scenes, there was the wrestling and the fight with axes.
David Anderson ran a martial arts school in Shepherds Bush.
He was a very nice chap and very professional, of course.
He took us right through it, very carefully.
It's the better of the two fights.
There's a reason for the other not being so good.
What I didn't like, and it was in the writing, I think John made a mistake, the scene he pinched from ''Hamlet'' where Bill gets his wrist scratched And it was very difficult, with a tiny thorn, you're fighting and you're supposed to scratch their wrist It was difficult working it out.
In the end we went, ''Oh, sod it, stick your arm out'' and bang, it was the only way.
I think it was meant to be accidental, ''Oh, gosh, I'm bleeding.
'' But we couldn't do it, it was too mini a thing for the camera.
David Anderson had trouble with that.
The other fight, I blame the props entirely.
We had these silly, light wooden clubs.
Why they were so light and wooden I don't know.
They had a serrated edge that had been stuck on.
They were entirely fragile.
If you leaned against them they fell to bits.
We had to fight these savage battles with these fierce-looking clubs but the clubs must never hit anything.
So it looked more like a bad ballet.
All Derek could do was make it look more like a rapier and dagger fight.
We used those clubs like rapiers or sabres.
I felt silly and it looked silly.
Shame.
We could've had a good muck-in.
There were no out-takes.
We weren't allowed them! So for an actor to stop in the middle of a scene at the time of Doctor Who and the Aztecs, theatre-trained actors, it would be almost impossible for them to say, ''Sorry, I've forgotten my words,'' or, ''Gosh, the prop's broken.
'' Whatever happened, if the studio caught fire, they'd carry on to the end.
So if the prop's broken, you look for something to continue the fight with.
If there hadn't been something there, I'd have strangled him, or whatever.
And lifting the slab that one had to lift to get into the tunnel, and us trying to make it look heavy, the harder we tried, the worse it looked.
It was very light, it was called jabolite, which was an ICI waste product.
It was impossible! William Russell struggling with this thing.
I remember my daughter saying, ''He's not doing that very well, is he?'' This is when we were watching it the other day.
I said, ''Wait till you see me.
'' You couldn't lift this paving stone, however hard and carefully one acted, you could see it wasn't heavy! I have to say I don't like my stuff being resurrected.
But that's purely It's not conceit When most actors see their work, they're dissatisfied for very good reasons.
Because they know what they were trying to do and they see the result and how far short they're falling from that.
The audience, of course, doesn't have that knowledge.
It doesn't know what the actor thinks.
The actor's not doing his job if he doesn't get it across.
Somebody can come up and say, ''I thought you were very good in that.
'' You don't say, ''But I was terrible!'' because you're insulting them.
You've worked on it for ages, they've seen it for the first time.
So you say, ''Thank you, that's most kind.
'' The difficult thing about watching TV, a TV programme in which you appear, is it's almost impossible not to focus on yourself.
It's not so bad the second or third time.
I can watch the whole thing, watch the whole scene.
It's hard for an actor not to look at himself and say, ''Gosh, I blinked,'' or, ''I shouldn't have done that,'' and not really watch the other actors.
But John Ringham was very dominant.
I thought what was perhaps the strength of that episode, apart from the script and direction, certainly one of the qualities was the believability of the actors.
That thein fairly impossible situations, sometimes, John Ringham found truth and it was utterly believable.
Smiling away as Tlitoxl, Clicoxl, I think it was.
Tlotoxl.
And being an absolute evil villain in which we could believe, a person we could believe in.
I thought I was believable, I saw it the other day, I was only 22.
And I thought I tried very hard to be believable and truthful and It comes off, Keith Pyott was very believable.
That believability is why Doctor Who and the Aztecs was one of the more successful of the series.
Watching something like that, which was done years ago, in fact, that's why I have a scrapbook, it's nice to reflect and go back to see the way we were, to be quite honest.
I was appalled at the way I was! John Ringham was believable.
He shouldn't be ashamed of it in any way.
The circumstances under which we were working were not easy.
It wasn't easy to keep your credibility.
The lines weren't always very sayable.
The research that John Lucarotti did was terrific but some of his dialogue was difficult, well, old-fashioned.
I think we should all be proud of it.
Bill Russell was very believable in that part and in subsequent series of Doctor Who.
He was always, for me, one of the more believable actors on television, doing unbelievable things - there's always a balance.
You can do unbelievable things in an unbelievable way.
You can do unbelievable things in a truthful way.
And that's acting.
That's different, and special.
I'm sure that believability and truth is what makes Doctor Who so special.
And has done over the years, because later series adopted the same ethos.
They never sent it up, they always took it very seriously.
I think that's right.
I thoroughly enjoyed my work.
I don't think I was a ''good actor'' or anything, but I got by.
I filled the space, I filled the screen, as it were.
I didn't train as an actor or anything.
I used to be a dancer before, I just met a lot of people and then commercial television started and I started putting myself around.
I love my death.
My first television death.
Wonderful.
He falls off the top of the pyramid and crashes down.
I was stunned by the way they did that, because the cameras were far too heavy to hoist up and hang in the air.
So they painted the floor on a flat, on a wall, and I stood against the wall as though I was dead, like that, and then they reversed it, so it looked as though I was dead - it was very clever.
and I learned from that, about camerawork and camera trickery, 'cause they could do it even then.
There are jobs that I've done that I've totally forgotten and if someone said, ''You were in that programme,'' I'd even argue with them.
But there's no question of that happening with Doctor Who and the Aztecs, because I get fan letters, I still get fan letters.
Fairly constantly, four or five times a year, I'll get a letter from someone who says they've just bought the programme and will I send a photo.
Cheques arrive.
Invitations, sometimes, to parties or meetings, with other members of the cast, so it's in my consciousness.
It wouldn't amaze me if the BBC remade it with me in Keith's part.
Nothing would surprise me.
It's Doctor Who.
I think it's invincible and will last forever! It's a wonderful, wonderful programme.