Monday, 22 August 2011

INTERVIEW: Doctor Who's Carole Ann Ford

The year is 1963 and a young girl of just 23 years of age embarks on a journey of a life time. In a little blue box, accompanied by authoritative actor William Hartnell, both sign up to what is pitched as a children's series so influential, over 40 years later, is still going strong around the globe. Of course I am referring to Doctor Who; that cult British television staple. 

On 16th July 2011, I interviewed actress Carole Ann Ford after she paid her Doctor Who DNA dues, carrying out a signing session for Doctor devotees of all ages, celebrating the release of four new Doctor Who classic novelisations. Despite the soggy London air, the queue of fandom well surpassed the alloted one hour, concluding that said 'childrens series' had definitely shed it's blue stabilisers. I discovered that Carole will be joining the rest of us as new episodes are aired, with a fervid layer of reverence, even a sonic screwdriver couldn't penetrate...

GG: Welcome today to Forbidden Planet, I’m here at the London megastore with Carole Ann Ford; most famously known for being the first companion on Doctor Who. Carole played Susan Foreman back in 1963, so welcome very happily here today Carole.

Carole: Hello, I just have to correct you there – I wasn’t actually the first companion; I was his granddaughter, Doctor Who’s granddaughter. So although I travel with him, I wasn’t strictly a companion.

GG: But you were the blueprint essentially for what was to become the companion’s in the later series?

Carole: I imagine so. In a way you can sort of see it because it seems most of the companions have been quite small ladies (laughter), and apart from that I think we’re all pretty different.
"They wanted the young girls of the day to identify with my character."
GG: When you were filming the first ever episodes of Doctor Who, what guidelines did they give you for that character? Did you have a script to stick to or did you develop your own character arcs between yourselves, with Mr Hartnell?

Carole: Well we did, we developed our own back story so to speak. Bill (the First Doctor, William Hartnell) and I worked out where we’d come from and why we came from there and all this sort of business. But the character I built for myself, I wasn’t allowed to use. I though having come from where she did come from, she’d be quite a strange lady with all sorts of extraordinary experiences which somehow must have shaped her, but I wasn’t allowed to be like that. In the pilot there was a bit of it, but in the ultimate first episode, a lot of it was wiped out because they wanted the young girls of the day to identify with my character. If I was too weird they couldn’t identify.

GG: We see you in the opening episode just bopping along to your Walkman (actually a radio), enjoying the 60s music of the time (laughter). So do you actually watch Doctor Who now?

Carole: (Laughter) Yes I love it I think it’s fantastic, wow.

GG: Did you watch it when they brought it back with Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant? Or are you more of a Matt Smith kinda girl?

Carole: I did love Christopher Eccleston, I must say, I thought he was tremendous.

GG:  And Matt Smith is of course the current Doctor, but what do you think of Karen Gillan who plays Amy Pond as a companion?
"Matt Smith doesn’t scream every time he meets a creature, does he?"
Carole: Well I envy her because she’s allowed to be much spunkier and funkier than I was. I used to have constant arguments with the script department saying ‘for God’s sakes I shouldn’t be screaming all the time’, because I spent god knows, it could have been hundreds of years actually; a long, long time anyway going round the universe meeting all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures, and Matt Smith doesn’t scream every time he meets a creature, does he? He converses with it; brilliant! That’s what I wanted. And I wasn’t allowed it, but never mind.

GG:   So they didn’t listen to you?

Carole:  They didn’t listen to me.

GG:  Aww (laughter). Verity Lambert who sadly passed away in 2007, was a founding producer for Doctor Who. As well as this, Verity was also the youngest and first female producer at the BBC. How was it working with her?

Carole:  Well she was a very lovely lady, in later years we became very good friends. But at the time I think I was possibly quite in awe of her (Carol laughs); she was a very formidable person and at that time actors were mere mortals and the producers were terribly important people. You didn’t mix socially (laughter).

GG:  Did she help you develop in your acting skills or have much input to your direction?

Carole: I think she might have passed on her thoughts to the directors, but she didn’t actually interfere in the direction.

GG:  You came back for the 20th and also 30th anniversaries for Doctor Who episodes, would you consider coming back for the 50th anniversary, if they asked you?

Carole:  I certainly would, I’d love to work on those amazing sets and with those lovely people. Yes there’s a fantastic dynamic about it now which I’d love to be part of.

GG:  Do you like the new scripts Russell T Davies and Stephen Moffat have been producing? The episodes were 25 minutes in length in the 60s, whereas now they’re 45 minutes. Do you think the new format is a shame? Or do you find how they produce it quite refreshing still?

Carole:  Well that’s a big question (laughter), I have to think about that. I don’t know, I think it suits the formula that it is now. It’s very exciting, very dynamic, and there is a tremendous amount in the one episode; it is marvellous. I think if it’s just confined to the 25 minutes it’s sort of over before it starts, and you think ‘what was that about?’ So I think it is great, I really like the way they do it now.

GG: Do you have a favourite moment from your time on Doctor Who?

Carole:  Favourite moment would have been if I could be killing the Daleks, but I don’t think I ever managed to do that.

Carole as Susan Foreman;
screaming her way through
The Keys of Marinus, 1964.
GG: I don’t think anyone has really (laughter).

Carole:  (Laughter) I did manage to help to get the top off and eliminate one, but it was a combined effort, not just me personally (The Daleks, 1963/64).

GG:  So would you say they were also your favourite villain in Doctor Who; the Daleks?

Carole:  No actually I like the psychological villains more than the tin-pot ones (laughter).

GG:  They are the ones that affect you after the episode has finished are they?

Carole: Yes they stay with you, creepy. There was one I did called The Brain of Morphoton (episode Keys of Marinus, 1964), and all this particular monster was reduced to was just the brain. It was one of the creepiest things I have ever come across. It was very strange, and I did actually dream about that.

GG:  I was speaking to your husband just while we were waiting for you while you were doing the signing today here at Forbidden Planet…

Carole:  (Joking) He gets in on everything!

GG:  …He’s a lovely young man isn’t he? He was talking about how you met, and it would be great to find out what you are up to now. I don’t believe you do many signings like this, so coming back to the Doctor Who coven as it were, how do you find it seeing all your fans? To know that the affect you had in the 60s is still throbbing, rather like a Doctor Who being in some sort of basement somewhere?

Carole: (Laughter) What I do find amazing is when the young kids come up and ask for my autograph and they say they’ve seen the old classic ones and really enjoyed them. I think that’s quite moving, quite touching. They do genuinely seem enthusiastic about them and it’s nice to hear.

GG:  Well thank you so much for your time, that was Carole Ann Ford from Doctor Who, and I have been Kerensa Bryant for The Geekend.

The audio recording of this interview was aired on The Geekend radio show.

NB: This interview must not be used anywhere without credit or my permission.

If you are a fan of classic Doctor Who, why not have a look at these sites for the other guests who also attended the signing:
  • Artist, Chris ArchillĂ©os - - stunning cover art.
  • Terrance Dicks - script and novel writer (he's written 60+ Doctor Who novellisations!)
  • Actor, Frazer Hines - - Frazer played companion Jamie McCrimmon to Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton.
Plus, click here to see more pictures I took at the event.

Posted by: Geek Girl Kerensa Creswell-Bryant
Geek Girl, Updated at: 10:52