Michael Jayston Interviewed by Ian Wheeler October 2004

CT was able to talk to Michael Jayston , the actor who brought The Valeyard to life. This interview by Ian Wheeler appeared in CT issue 320 - October 2004.

CT: Michael, how did you become an actor?

I was in an amateur group which had Ken Loach in it. Tom Baker was in it after me and Sue Pollard, Peter Bowles and John Bird. I managed to get a scholarship but the Nottingham Rep Company at that time was so good I didn’t  think I stood a chance. I’d acted a bit at school and I acted when I was doing National Service as well. If I hadn’t have got a  scholarship I’d have been in trouble because in those days up North and in the Midlands it was very difficult to get a grant. Whereas people down South just said ‘oh I want to be an actor’ and they got it.

CT: Had you watched Doctor Who as a viewer in its early days?

I saw Hartnell a few times but some of those early ones were very creaky, you could see the gaps in the sets. It was made very cheaply. I watched it when Troughton was in it and from then onwards really. As I was working, I hardly ever saw Sylvester McCoy in it, only two or three. I suppose the most I saw was Tom Baker.

CT: Did you worry that the Valeyard, a classic villain  in a black cloak, might be a bit ‘cartoonish’ or did you feel there was enough in the scripts to make it more three dimensional?

Some of the scripts weren’t amazing and I just played it as a villain. In some ways it was one dimensional - he was determined to get the Doctor because, as you know, I’m one of the Doctors.

CT: Did you know straight away that your character was in fact the Doctor?

Oh yes, I did. There were one or two exchanges where some of the responses that Colin Baker had to make like ‘the Barn Yard’ or the ‘Scrap Yard’ were a bit silly, especially when he was working against a supposedly brilliant mind i.e. the Valeyard.

CT: The Trial scenes were very much courtroom drama. Did you feel they were a bit static?  

Well, not really, because don’t forget that whenever you had a courtroom scene, it then flashed to something else and those people I only ever saw when we met for the reading, like Tony Selby. Although I did go on location on Camber Sands towards the end and I was also in the potteries and I met the Geoff Hughes character. I liked the potteries because I had to do that maniacal laugh. I had to change into Geoff Hughes.       

CT: Were you aware of the some of the problems that were going on between John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward?

There were a lot of funny things going on because Michael Grade suddenly started to say it ought to be dropped.  There were some problems with the script at the time. The Bakers were writing them weren’t they? I like them, they’re nice people.

CT: Did you feel upset for Colin as a friend when he was axed from the series?

Yes, I got on very well with Colin. He's got a bright mind, he does the crossword puzzles. I try to do The Times one but I hardly ever get through it.

I worked with Troughton on a radio years ago. I liked him. He was very eccentric. Tom’s eccentric.  Colin isn’t eccentric as a person. But he managed to put it into his interpretation of Doctor Who.

CT: Do people often remember your part in Doctor Who?

Quite a few, yes. I did a thing at Llangollen a couple of years ago for the Hyde Fundraisers. It was mainly youngsters. They watch it on the videos. There’s a whole new audience for it. They watch it on UK Gold.

CT: Did you know that your character has had new adventures in the novels?

I know. There’s also a website in Australia that I’ve never got in touch with. I’m better than my wife with computers. My daughter is brilliant at it. I wanted to find out what I’d done in certain years. I typed in ‘The Valeyard, Michael Jayston, Doctor Who.’ I got everything I’ve ever done going back to radios I did when I first started out. It was unbelievable.

CT: Did you like the script for your audio story He Jest at Scars?

Yes, I did. It was very well written. It was strange to go back to it like that.

CT: Who do you admire?

On the acting level, I like Bill Nighy a lot out of the current actors. I like Al Pacino. I suppose historically I like Churchill. I know he wasn’t a saint but I think he did save this country.  I like Jack Davenport, he’s a good actor. There are some good people coming up but a lot of youngsters nowadays think in terms of film and television instead of learning their craft. You can’t play comedy, for instance, if you haven’t got timing or technique and you learn that through experience.

CT: With the current trend for Reality TV, do you think drama has suffered?

I think a lot of television is absolute rubbish nowadays. So-called reality television is not reality at all. They’re surrounded by cameras and they can edit out the bits they don’t like, like in I‘m A Celebrity. I’m afraid I have watched that but for Ant and Dec because I think they’re very funny and they send it up in a very subtle way. I don’t think they’re supposed to be sending it up. Do you remember Chris Tarrant used to have a programme going all the way around the world and you’d see Japanese people going through excruciating tortures and we all roared with laughter thinking how cruel and how sadistic?  We’re doing the same thing. As long as they get the ratings they don’t mind. That’s the way it’s going, it’s very sad.

CT: Will Doctor Who struggle coming back in this new climate?

I think it deserved  never to have gone off the screen because there is a market for it. I did my Doctor Who eighteen years ago and I still get about three letters a week. McGann, who I’ve met and I liked, takes the mickey out of himself. I thought he was good but Doctor Who is not Superman. McGann did the best he possibly could with it. There was a conference recently at the Hilton in London (Panopticon). That’s when I met McGann. He was sending himself up about how tall he was. We had a chat about Ireland because I had a relative in Ireland.

CT: Do you think actors get associated with one type of role and then only get offered that role?

Yes, I used to get ‘ oh he’s a posh actor’ and it’s nonsense, I came from Nottingham. I’m not a posh actor. Nowadays, there’s no closed shop. Anybody thinks they can do it. It’s like Pop Idol. I feel sorry for some of them because they’ve got it the wrong way round. What they want is fame or money.

CT: We interviewed Sir Derek Jacobi in CT recently and he was saying how he wants to be in Coronation Street but has never been asked because he is seen as ‘a posh actor’.

I know. It was the same the same with Lawrence Olivier. He was working there  (at Granada) producing his own thing  and they did their damndest to try and get him in it. The schedules  didn’t work. He said ‘I just want to play some sort of shopkeeper because Coronation Street is an institution.’ He meant it, he wanted to have just one little scene and they couldn’t do it. They worked it out and then he fell over and hit his head.

CT: Would you do the Valeyard again on television if it was a good script?

Oh I think so, yes. Most people outside of Doctor Who don’t think I’m a Doctor. I’m rather proud of it. I think if you haven’t been in Doctor Who you haven’t lived.

With thanks to Michael Jayston.