Dr Who weekend: Deborah's year in the Tardis
STEVE DOWNES She was Doctor Who’s glamorous assistant before Billie Piper’s mum left school. But, thanks in part to the show’s remarkable recent renaissance, Deborah Watling is in demand. This month she is among the special guests at a Dr Who Festival in Holt.
Most Doctor Who fans know where to draw the line. They understand that it's a great bit of TV, get slightly spooked by some of the monsters - but know that it is NOT REAL. But for every thousand of them there is one fan who takes it a step (or hundreds of steps) too far.
They live for the conventions, dress to kill (hopefully not literally) in their cybermen suits, and display a disturbing knowledge of the planets and monsters that have featured on the show since it began in the 1960s.
Deborah Watling knows the type.
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As former Doctor Who assistant Victoria Waterfield from 1967-8, she gets invited to the conventions and reunions - and has her own exclusive group of followers.
She said: “If your name is on the poster, you have your ardent fans who always turn up to everything and just stand and stare at you. That is rather unnerving.”
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Deborah was assistant to the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, along with his other sidekick Jamie - played by Frazer Hines, who went on to star in Emmerdale Farm.
She made her debut in The Evil of the Daleks, when her Victorian scientist father Edward Waterfield was murdered by the Daleks - leaving Victoria to travel as an orphan with the Doctor on the Tardis.
In almost 50 episodes in a gruelling year, she had two encounters with the Yeti, visited the Cybermen's tombs on Telos and battled the Ice Warriors during the second ice age.
It became known as Doctor Who's “monster era”, and Victoria was christened the “queen of scream” - or “leather lungs” - because she was always captured, screaming, by a monster.
The noise became her not-so-secret weapon in one of her final shows, Fury from the Deep, when the piercing pitch of her scream defeated the seaweed monster - before she decided to remain on Earth with the Harris family.
The big break on Doctor Who came as a surprise to Deborah.
She said: “Just before, I did a show called Alice and the producer of Dr Who - called Innes Lloyd - happened to see it.
“He called me in one day and said he enjoyed my performance and offered me a part in Dr Who.
“It was a gruelling schedule. The show was on every week in those days. In a year I did 48 to 50 episodes. I was 19 years old at the time.
“It was brilliant. My Doctor was Patrick Troughton and the sidekick was Frazer Hines, who went on to be on Emmerdale Farm.
“Patrick became like a second father to me and Frazer became like a brother. We were a family, and enjoyed every minute.”
The 58-year-old, who lives in north Essex, said there was a contrast between Doctor Who circa 1968 and the effects-laden 21st version.
She said: “We didn't have a big budget. Sometimes you could see the sets wobble a bit. It was in black and white, which gave it so much more atmosphere.”
In the style of Christopher Eccleston, the ninth Doctor, who called it a day after a year, Deborah made a swift exit.
She said: “After a year I had done all that I could with Victoria. I just went up to Innes at the start of filming one day and said 'I'm off after this story'. He said 'you can't, because you're written into other scripts'. But I had made up my mind.”
Deborah has since made a name for herself with a host of TV and stage appearances, including Danger UXB with Anthony Andrews, some Les Dawson specials, and the film That'll be the Day, with David Essex.
But that brief spell on the world's longest-running TV sci-fi show has had a lasting impact.
“I look back on Dr Who as a great part of my life. I didn't know that 39 years later I would still be remembered for it - but people still stop me in the street and call me Victoria.
“People want me to make appearances here and there at Dr Who reunions and conventions. It's very flattering.”
She is up to speed with the latest series, which she thinks is “brilliant”, and particularly likes the current Doctor, David Tennant.
She said: “He is wonderful. He reminds me of Patrick Troughton because he has got that twinkle in his eye. Billie Piper is smashing. The show had to be updated and everyone's talking about it. It is terrific to see.”
Next weekend, she will travel to Holt as one of the special guests at the inaugural Dr Who Festival, where as many as 100 Daleks could be roaming the streets.
The soulless creatures killed her father in her first appearance on Doctor Who, but Deborah is not daunted.
She said: “I've been around daleks for long enough. I know how to handle them.”
Deborah will be surrounded by some familiar friends and foes when she visits the genteel town of Holt for a Doctor Who festival.
Organisers are hoping to set the world record for the largest number of Daleks in one place.
The current record stands at 57, and co-ordinator Nigel Pearce is setting his sights on almost 100.
Cybermen, the Tardis, and the sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, will also be in the town throughout the weekend of June 24-25. Terry Molloy, who played the Daleks' creator Davros, will also be attending.
The main public event is a 1pm parade through the streets on the Sunday, after a Saturday evening “meet the stars” event, which is ticket only.