Doctor Who Magazine Winter Special, 1986 "A Tale of Two Time Lords" by Richard Marson

In July last year, Richard Marson went to meet two of the regular characters in the current Doctor Who season, Lynda Bellingham, who plays the important role of the Inquisitor, and Michael Jayston, who as chief prosecutor of the Doctor, goes under the title of the Valeyard.

Lynda and Michael began by describing how they started in show business. Lynda explained her obsession with acting from an early age: “I only ever wanted to act, it was always that from the word go. Unfortunately, my family weren’t so thrilled about the idea and so I was made to stay on at school until I’d got my ‘A’ levels. When those were over, I still wanted to be an actress, so I got into the Central School of Speech and Drama and did three years there. .

“Having thought I was going to be an instant film star, I left and went on to the Frinton weekly rep! I did lots of theatre work in places like Crewe, Chester, Coventry, and Oxford, learning my trade inside out. Then I got into telly, starting at the very beginning of afternoon TV..

“I spent a year in General Hospital, playing a fat nurse called Hilda Price- with padding, I hasten to ad, and then I did various comedy series with people like Jimmy Tarbuck and Norman Wisdom. I found this rather typecast me as a funny lady, so I cut off my hair, with the theory that you can’t be funny with short hair! This led on to series like Funny Man and Mackenzie. Then I went back into the theatre, as I had a little boy and the hours are better in the theatre, since you have the day to yourself. Over the last three years I’ve been in Noises Off at the Savoy, Strippers at the Phoenix and Look, No Hans!”.

Michael Jayston recalled that he had started with a highly polished acting company: “I had the same desire as Lynda, but this Nottingham Company had some marvelous actors and it wasn’t until I’d actually been in the business for about five or six years that I realized how excelled they were. I did a lot as an amateur and then, most unexpectedly, I won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where I did a couple of years..

“Then, like Lynda, I went into rep (at Salisbury) and I also did a lot of classical work at the Bristol Old Vic and the Royal Shakespeare Company. In early 1970, I did a play about the war poet Siegfried Sasson called Mad Jack, and the film director Sam Spiegel saw it. He was just setting up the Nicholas and Alexandra movie and he called me in, although many big names had already tested for it..

“He was worried that I might not be able to age enough in the part, but luckily I’d just played Dickens for Thames TV, in which I had to age from twenty to about seventy. Nicholas on the other hand, was only forty-seven when he died. I think that’s what swing it and landed me the part. There followed six months’ filming abroad with a marvelous cast that included Tom Baker as Rasputin.. “That launched me on about three years’ telly and film, including a Thriller for Brian Clements and series for the BBC like Jane Eyre and Quiller. Recently, I’ve been back in the theatre at the National with Equus, and doing long runs in Private Lives and The Sound of Music.”.

How did Lynda and Michael feel long theatre and television ‘runs’ compared to one another? Both must surely be extremely demanding. Lynda answered first: “Yes, but you have to especially disciplined in the theatre, which is why it’s good to go back every so often. An actor called Robert Flemyng, who was with me in Noises Off, said that physically it was more demanding than being in the army..

“Though you’re only working at night, I find that after lunch your life tends to be geared to going into the theatre. This was all right before I had children, but no I need my sleep, because I have to be up by five. It’s great going out to dinner after the show, and sleeping to one in the afternoon, but when other considerations enter your life you have to be more disciplined.”.

Michael agreed, adding: “I still can’t get to sleep until about one, because for the last five years or so my life has been geared to the theatre..

“The studio situation employed in television is a different matter entirely. Doctor Who often uses the rehearse/record method, and this mode of filming, which relies on the availability of the recording machines, has often been used this year. Lynda and Michael both prefer this method, however, to the more traditional process of camera rehearsal followed in the evening by one long and frantic recording schedule, with very few breaks. .

Lynda explained: “It’s better to rehearse/record, because in Doctor Who, the whole situation is so technical. You’ve got so many things to think about that if you can rehearse it through once and then record it, it sets the old ball rolling and gets the adrenalin flowing. You have time to take a deep breath, think and then place your energies in the right place. Recording all in one go is very hectic, there’s no time..

“The pressures of the stuff Michael and I have been involved with mean we haven’t really been able to do it rehearse/record. We got into the first studio and the set wasn’t quite finished so we didn’t start until seven that night, instead of two in the afternoon. That upset us a bit, and we had a knock-on effect where scenes had to be shifted into Ron Jones’ session, as we weren’t complete by the end of Nick Mallett’s.”.

On the subject of the three directors who worked on the Twenty-Third Season, Michael said: “Rather like the four different writers, they’re doing, and there’s necessarily been a strong element of continuity. It’s pretty tricky for them having so many characters and so many technical situations going, but I haven’t found any real differences between them.”.

Michael continued: “We’re called in the studio from ten in the morning til ten at night, although if you haven’t go so much to do then, it’s from two in the afternoon. Outside rehearsals finish in the afternoon, though- there’s a very comforting sign, as you come into this building, which says the premises have to be vacated by seven-thirty!”.

Lynda Bellingham expressed a preference for acting in the theatre, because of the intensity in making television: “In the theatre, you’re in control for two-and-a-half hours. Really, film and television aren’t the medium for actors. There’s nothing I can do, for instance if they decide to cut me out. If they want to, they will. And what often happens is that I could be acting my little socks off in the corner and there’ll be no camera on me. Now that doesn’t bother me, but what’s nice about the theatre is that it’s all seen. Film is more immediate but TV is in between the two, the hardest thing being to keep the energy up. It really dissipates your input if you’re kept waiting around for technical things, as inevitably you are..

“Actors all have different ways of dealing with it. I find if I keep chatting and having a rapport with the other actors, I’m still bubbly when it comes to the take. If I went and sat in my dressing room, I’d just nod off and lose touch. Other people prefer sitting in their dressing rooms, but either way, at the end of the day, believe me, you’re tired.”.

Michael came in at this point, saying: It’s sometimes draining, but Lynda’s right that with all the best people you work with, you can have a laugh and a joke. I don’t mean it turns into anarchy- obviously if you’ve got a great long speech to say, you want peace and quiet, but it’s the difference between English and American actors. We take the part seriously but not ourselves. Keeping the jokes going means keeping the concentration going. Very occasionally, intellectual directors will get worried that you’re laughing too much and then all your performance is off screen, because you’re so worried about what you’re doing. For instance, Colin Baker is a man with a tremendous sense of humour. If you’re working his kind of schedule you need more jokes than ever.”.

Lynda agreed, and said: “in a part like Doctor Who, a lot of your own characteristics come to the fore. You can be a brilliant actor and a brilliant Doctor Who, but impossible to get on with. Colin’s a great diplomat and he take his responsibility very seriously, as it all does stem from him.”.

How had Lynda and Michael landed their roles in The Trial of a Time Lord? Lynda spoke first. “It was very funny. I have a close friend called Anita Graham, who also happens to be a close friend of John Nathan-Turner’s. She decided to have her birthday party in my husband’s restaurant and John was, of course, invited. We all made very merry and the next morning John rang my agent and said, ‘I’ve just met Lynda Bellingham, and she seems quite jolly. Would she come and see me?”.

“So I went along, and John asked me if I’d mind reading for it, as his only reservation was that he was worried that I might not be severe enough for the Inquisitor. I gave him a little rendering and we went out , had a glass of wine, and he told me I’d got it that same afternoon..

“Now with no disrespect to John, who obviously had to see it for himself, this kind of typecasting is common- because people have seen you in one role, they think you can’t play old or blonde or whatever. Luckily, John didn’t work like that..

“After I was cast,” Lynda added on a more humorous note, “they had to find someone of suitable standing to play opposite me!”.

Michael Jayston says he was actually cast quite late in the day, going on to explain: “John had phoned my agent, broached the idea and sent me some scripts. I liked the idea of it, I’m particularly fond of courtroom scenes and as nearly all my stuff was in the courtroom, I said yes.”.

“Buy anyway”, broke in Lynda, “It’s Doctor who, so say no more. It’s great stuff.”.

Michael agreed: “Oh yes, it’s an institution in a way, a bit like Coronation Street. A lot of good actors have been in it. Indeed, many are in this series. We’ve met them on studio days and overlapping at rehearsals, and they all love doing it.”.

Lynda added: “It also has a very good standard and it has a good atmosphere. Because the feeling is relaxed, it gives you the same attitude, everyone enjoys it and I think it shows on camera that people are having a good time and have a good rapport.”.

Had either actor found the jargon of the series hard to handle? “Quite hard,” replied Lynda, “I have found it difficult learning some of the courtroom stuff. There are some definite mouthfuls! Whenever there’s a logic behind it, you can usually hang on to the logic and for instance, make a logic up. If that’s not possible of if it’s jargon that doesn’t mean anything normal or real to you, then it’s a chore. Especially as, if you dry on those line, they never come back so quickly.”.

Michael did point out, however, that, “There’s no fantasy stuff in the courtroom scenes. It’s important to concentrate on doing it as straight as possible for the believablility angle, especially for the kids.”.

What about directions for the actors in the script, such as ‘His voice fills with scorn’? Michael again: “I was only aware of that once or twice, when it said things like, ‘He roars’. The writers always put in those kind of directions which actors generally ignore, because you find the stress to be the wrong way around, or something. I’ve had to play up to it occasionally, because it’s the end of an episode and the acting has to be climactic. You wouldn’t say a line like that naturally, but it works as a dramatic peak at the end of a twenty-five minute episode..

How did Lynda interpret the character of the Inquisitor? “Well, she’s one of those characters who hasn’t been designed like an ordinary judge. To me, when I read her, I thought perhaps she might be older, but they’ve gone, maybe deliberately, against that. I’ve tried to play her as a woman who changes in mood and attitude. I mean, human values alternate and she is constantly hearing pieces of evidence that are at variance with other pieces of information. Because the Valeyard is very strong, she has to be kind of general about everything and, of course, she has to keep order..

“I’ve tried to think that maybe the Time Lords in the High Council look on her as something of a rarity, my fantasy being perhaps it’s unusual for a woman to be in that kind of position. Her consciousness of being a woman means that she has to keep her end up and be more severe than she is. I like to think that the Valeyard is a threat to her in that he might be close to walking all over her authority and so sometimes she gets a bit itchy.”.

How did Lynda feel the Inquisitor reacts to the figure on trial, the Doctor? “I don’t think she finds him irritating. I think she’s curious about him. I think there’s an area where she wants, in fact, to believe good things about him because of the very nature of what he is and what he represents.”.

Michael came in at this point to talk about his character’s feelings towards the Doctor. “She’s fair to the Doctor and wants to give him a chance, which the Valeyard find highly obstructive. He’s determined to get the Doctor, it’s an obsession that has completely taken him over. And of course, he shares the Doctor’s great intellectual capacity and ability to twist events. The two opposed are like equally proficient chess players, neither able to win until one resorts to dirty tricks..

“The Valeyeard is going by the trial to get the Doctor legitimately executed, but if this doesn’t work, it’s not going to stop him. The reason for this becomes obvious at the end, but it certainly adds dimension to the character and is why he’s so good at opposing the Doctor.”.

How much had Michael and Lynda known of the background to the Time Lords and Gallifrey? Lynda said, “We’re fairly au fait,” and Michael went on: “Oh yes, we are, but it’s not actually necessary for the courtroom scenes, because they’re totally out of context with the rest of it. We rehearse and record them out of context and then they’re fitted in. We know what’s happened in the scene before, so we won’t be talking a lot of nonsense but it wouldn’t really be necessary for us to know anything about it. I’ve learnt a bit as we went along, but it’s really superfluous to my character.”.

Michael was, however, very aware of the massive following of the series: “It’s quite amazing and I didn’t realize that something like thirty-five per cent of the viewers are over sixteen, and have watched it for years. Funnily enough, apart from Hartnell, I’ve now known all the Doctors. I know Tom very well from our Nicholas and Alexandra days.”.

What did both actors think of the elaborate costumes they were called upon to wear? Lynda began by saying: “I was a bit thrown, because I hadn’t seen it the way the designer had seen it, which is fair enough. I mean, obviously when one comes into something that’s been running as long as Doctor Who, you have to respect that they know much more about the overall aspects of it. In fact, I think it’s quite common for actors not to see the overall aspects of things and now, all together in the courtroom with the Valeyard, the Time Lords and the Doctor, I think it looks fine. .

“I did have a few problems with my collar. The first studio was difficult for me, because they hadn’t successfully managed to make my collar stand up. They pinned it to my hat which was pinned to my head, so for the first few episodes, I’m a bit stiff. Then they found a way of holding it up without me having to support it.”.

Michael added: “I didn’t really like my hat to begin with, but then I found that everyone else in the courtroom scenes wore those kinds of hat, so I felt more comfortable.”.

Michael went on location for the last story. Had he enjoyed the experience? “It’s very funny doing night work, which we did in the potteries, but you get used to it. I hadn’t done any for ages. We were called for supper at six o’clock and then generally it was on until three in the morning. We got back to the hotel about three-thirty and then raided the night porter for a few drinks. We’d get up about one the next day. .

“It seemed as if you’d had a proper night’s sleep, apart from one night which was the last, when we all stayed up later, celebrating. Trying to get to sleep at five was odd, especially as we were all woken up three hours later by a lawn mower outside! It rained on the first day, which slightly messed us up, but on one day at Camber Sands it was so hot that everyone got sunburnt!”.

With the interview drawing to a close and both Michael and Lynda required for the afternoon’s final rehearsal we asked what both had lined up to follow Doctor Who. Lynda spoke first: “I’m doing a one-woman sow at the King’s Head, which is a new departure for me. And I’m making some more OXO commercials! But before that I’ll be going on holiday to Italy for three weeks, where I shall drink a lot of wine and relax, as befits my first holiday in four years.”.

Had Lynda found her OXO advert fame at all annoying? “No, it’s in the nature of this business- ridiculous! Sixteen years and all that but it doesn’t really matter, as people get to know you. It’s probably helped. And because they’re such lovely commercials, it’s more like sitcom and less like me standing in front of a camera waving a box of soap flakes. Either way, it’s lovely when the general public are entertained by what you do- which sounds really ‘yeucch’ but it’s true..

“By the way, I hope after Doctor Who to follow in Kate O’Mara’s footsteps and make the Inquisitor turn into a kind of J.R.- I’m told Aaron Spelling is a great fan of the show!”.

After adding that he’d be all too willing to do a soap, Michael concluded: “I might be doing a two-man show with Derek Jacobi. There’s no money in it, it’s just nice to do! After that, I don’t know.” **.

Our thanks to both Michael Jayston and Lynda Bellingham for giving up their time and to John Nathan-Turner and Kate Easteal, who arranged the interview.