Doctor Who Magazine, 17 Nov 1999 "Michael Jayston: Pointing the Finger" by Chris Howarth and Steve Lyons

By the end of The Trial of a Time Lord, it was clear that the character of the Valeyard was to be a more significant part of the Doctor Who mythos than anyone could have suspected- an evil incarnation of the Doctor himself, no less. Chris Howarth and Steve Lyons spoke to the man who gave him life.

“I like playing villains,” admits Michael Jayston. “They’re good parts to get your teeth into. I played a small part last Christmas in Element of Doubt with Nigel Havers. It was a really nasty character, but it was a red herring- they wanted people to think I was the killer. Villains are easy parts to play in some ways as long as you don’t go over the top. You can play villains in various ways, but I think it’s better to slightly underplay them.” Of course, the Valeyard, fearsome court prosecutor throughout the 1986 epic-length The Trial of a Time Lord, probably isn’t a character to whom the term ‘underplaying’ applies….

Acting was always an ambition for Michael. “I was in a very good amateur group in Nottingham for about two years, in which Peter Bowles and John Bird preceded me. Ken Loach was there at the same time as me, and Tom Baker came after me. A lot of good actors were there who turned pro it was as good a grounding as most professional reps.”.

However, at the time he was starting out, it seemed a professional career might prove difficult to achieve. “When I was about 20, the Nottingham Rep was about one of the best in the business- they had people like Brian Blessed walking on- so I thought I didn’t stand a chance. Until I saw a touring company, then I auditioned at Guildhall and I managed to get a scholarship.” Acting stints followed at Salisbury Rep, the Bristol Old Vic and eventually the Royal Shakespeare Company. Then came television. “The first big telly I did was in 1968 in a thing called The Power Game with Deborah Watling’s father, Jack.” Michael is no stranger to movies either, having appeared in such productions as Nicholas and Alexandra..

At one point he even came close to becoming one of cinema’s greatest icons. “I was up for James Bond years ago, when Roger Moore was thinking of getting out of it. The part seemed up for grabs, but they eventually went back to Roger Moore.” But Michael did in fact go on to play Ian Fleming’s superspy- on BBC Radio, in a faithful adaptation of You Only Live Twice. “That was five years ago or more. I don’t think it worked on radio because James Bond is action- on radio you have to think it all the time, you don’t see the action. It was just a one-off. The director had wanted to do a series of them, but he realized that it didn’t really work, though some people liked it.”.

Along similar lines was the TV series Quiller, based on Adam Hall’s books, in which Michael played the eponymous agent. “It was the other way around from James Bond, because everything goes on in Quiller’s mind in the books, so we had to translate what he was thinking into action. I had some ludicrous things to do in that. I had to stop the world from being blown up by a controlled nuclear explosion. They set up this whole thing in the Moroccan desert with a rat gnawing through a rope which would activate a pulley… The writer had written that, but you try getting a rat to gnaw through a rope. So they couldn’t do it out there, they had to do it back in England with gerbils. There were two of them and they kept escaping. Eventually, they got the shot of a gerbil and this sort of rope that was made from old bits of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes packets sprinkled with treacle.”.

Michael was unaware of the precise nature and origins of his Doctor Who character when offered the role early in 1986. “I only got four scripts,” he explains, “and, as you probably know, the later scripts weren’t written for quite some time- in fact the last script took ages to get out, we kept getting different versions of it. So I didn’t realize who the Valeyard was. I mean, I knew he was evil and out to get Doctor Who but I didn’t know he was the incarnation of the evil side of him until episode eight.” So would he have played the role any differently had he known from the outset just how significant it was? “No, because he was still a villain. There was nothing I played that was out of character with him being the Doctor’s evil side, because he was a villain anyway.” And, in Michael’s opinion, enough of a match for the Doctor on his own: “It seemed rather silly that we had the Master and the Valeyard in one episode, which diffused the evil. You couldn’t really latch onto either one of them in that- it divided the nastiness.”.

By the sound of things, getting the final part of Trial out was a trial in itself. “Sometimes, with a series like that, they say, ‘Hang on, I made a mistake, you can’t say that,’ so we might get a page re-write the day before that’s got to be inserted, but it wasn’t panic stations. Sometimes we were asked to knock out a sentence to make more sense of it- that’s really par for the course in script-writing and acting. In the Only Fools and Horses we did last Christmas, I got a whole speech about this clock. I learned it all, and three days later I got another one. The day before we did the shooting John [Sullivan, writer] said, ‘I’ve slightly altered this, I’m terribly sorry.’ I’d learned it one way and it was quite convoluted anyway, but he said, ‘It doesn’t matter how many takes it goes to because I’ve given you this at the last minute.’ So that was fair enough, he’s a fine writer and he just wanted to get it right.”.

Having seen Eric Saward’s unused version of The Trial of a Time Lord’s climax as well as Pip and Jane Baker’s replacement, Michael wasn’t unhappy with the script that was ultimately used. “I think either one of them would have worked, but in [the second one] you got the idea that the Valeyard could quite easily come back.” Was that a return he would consider? “I wouldn’t mind. But it was so long ago and the rights are a bit tricky with the Americans.” While on the subject, he adds: “I thought [Paul] McGann made a fair stab at it, but it was done as Superman, wasn’t it? Which Doctor Who isn’t. I’d like to have seen Robin Williams tackle the part.”.

Though not entirely enamore ce, he’d like to make it plain that he doesn’t. “If people as me questions about the Matrix… well, you don’t have to know a mathematical equation to play a scientist, for instance.”.

What then did Michael enjoy about working on Doctor Who? “I liked the costume very much, the black and the silver.” But he still has reservations: “I didn’t like that hat much, it made me look a bit like a garden gnome. They had to stick it to my forehead. Lynda Bellingham didn’t like her ruff because every time she turned her head it grazed her face.” He managed to lose the hat for location filming at Camber Sands. “I scraped my hair back because I thought it would be better like that and give it a more evil aspect outside the court because the court was formal. No, I’m intellectualizing, he looked more like a Christopher Lee character in some ways- he looked good with the hair slicked back and pale make-up. It was a bit tricky in the summer because I got a bit of a tan and they put on this stuff, I forget what it was, this purple stuff that comes out white on the screen.”.

Filming of the courtroom sequences took around three to four months, during one of Doctor Who’s most turbulent periods. However, Michael never found himself involved with back-room politics. “Towards the end, we did have an idea that [the BBC] were thinking of cancelling Doctor Who. But we just had to get on with the work- if actors do get the idea that something is going to be pulled, you’ve still got to do the work.” Indeed, though stuck in the courtroom set for a lot of the time, he found the atmosphere on the show extremely friendly. “I got on very well with Colin, I still see him quite a lot, and I’m still very good friends with Tony Selby and Joan Sims. I didn’t see Joan or Brian Blessed all that much, but I used to see them at readings because we used to have a reading every week to see whether they had altered the script. Or sometimes they’d be rehearsing or they’d just be finishing a certain sequence, especially on film. I knew Brian from before- he a very strong man, and a black belt in karate. He lifted up the girl who played Peri, Nicola [Bryant], by her shoulders and held her at arm’s length for about a minute-and-a-half. She only weighed about seven stone and I know he’s strong, but to do that… well, don’t cross him. He’s a very nice man- I think he’s mad to climb Everest again, but I like that kind of bravery.’.

The Trial of a Time Lord also provided an opportunity to work with Bonnie Langford. I liked her a lot, though I didn’t have much to do with her really, apart from a bit of the trial scene at the end. I thought at one point, when she turned up with her briefcase full of sheaves of paper from her accountant, ‘This isn’t my idea of an actress, actors and actresses don’t go around with briefcases.’ But they do now of course. I thought she was a sweet girl. She had a bit of a dancer’s pose, but fair enough, she’s got a lot of talent. She’s got a 17-inch waist which is unbelievable- I don’t know whether she still has it now, but she had then..

“Geoffrey Hughes was a very funny man- we had a lot of jokes. In fact we got so jokey that when someone from wardrobe said, ‘Tell Geoff we need him at so-and-so at half-past-six,’ and I told him, he didn’t believe me. He didn’t ell me he didn’t believe me, he just didn’t turn up for make-up that night.” Apparently the affable Dickensian Mr. Popplewick, Hughes was actually the Valeyard in disguise. Michael recalls the transformation scene between the two of them: “I had to have a life mask for that, which is quite tricky because it takes three or four hours to do and they have to put straws up your nose because they block everything else when they put the plaster on. It’s a bit hairy when it starts to set, you think, ‘I hope it doesn’t set inwards and break my nose.’ And you can’t talk, of course, for half-an-hour.”.

Playing a Doctor, albeit an evil one, has naturally generated a lot of fan interest. “It’s amazing, it was so many years ago and I still get four or five letters a week, people writing to me as if it only happened yesterday. I’ve run out of photographs now. They tend to be quite nice people- they’re like anybody who’s a bit fanatical about things, but they’re harmless.” Doctor Who, however, wasn’t Michael’s first experience of fan adoration. “I did Jane Eyre years ago, about 1971, that was probably the biggest. I got about 200 letters from that altogether, mainly from adolescents. If any lady says to me, ‘I liked you in Jane Eyre,’ I virtually know how old they are.” Kind of the Colin Firth of the time then? “It is strange, you do a classic like that and there’s no nudity, nothing really sexy but it’s what’s not seen I suppose.”.

Michael has already done just about everything in his illustrious acting career, so has he any ambitions left? “I’m not fussy about roles anymore. At the moment you get people like Albert Finney doing television, whereas he never did television ten years ago- in the old days all he did was concentrate on films. So he’s in the market and everyone goes down a bit, so the people who used to do nice little cameo parts are out of the business virtually. I’m lucky because I do voice-overs and things. I do a lot of radio stuff and what they call audio visuals for firms, that are never seen by the general public. I like comedy a lot because it’s trickier to do. If you go on stage in a comedy and you don’t get a laugh, you know immediately you’ve gone wrong somewhere, whereas you can play Hamlet or whatever it is and you don’t know how you’re going over because they’re taking it seriously..

Perhaps appearing in Doctor Who had given him the taste for more work in the genre? “it depends how good they are. Some science fiction things are… well, generally they work. I’m not sure about The X Files, I think most of it is hocus-pocus and they try to pretend it’s slightly true. A great mate of mine is Pat Stewart, he said he was so lucky to get that part in Star Trek. Right until the last minute he kept saying to his agent in America, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, they won’t get an Englishman.’ And now, about $3 million later…” One unusual genre role saw Michael playing a famous telefantasy hero, albeit a fictional one. “I did a children’s series called Press Gang that won a BAFTA award. That was a lovely series written by Steven Moffat [The Curse of the Fatal Death], with Dexter Fletcher and Julia Sawalha in it. I had a lovely part as Colonel X- I liked doing that, though it was only a couple of day’s work on location somewhere.”.

Recently, Michael has made a return of sorts to the world of Doctor Who by attending several conventions. And he admits it’s nice to receive royalties from Trial, a copy of which the BBC sent him housed in the infamous TARDIS tin. With this in mind, there was one final thing we needed to know….

“I think it was Colin Baker on mine,” says Michael..

Which is just how it should be..