See the earliest surviving Doctor Who photographs
Producer Alvin Rakoff speaks to Radio Times about his first wife, the Doctor Who legend Jacqueline Hill, who died 30 years ago.
Doctor Who fans need little reminding that 2023 is the 60th anniversary year. To celebrate, at Radio Times we’ve been digging deep into our photographic archive to unearth treasures that, in many cases, have never seen the light of day before.
Indeed, some images were only recently discovered. Across the coming months, we’ll be sharing a selection of Who-related items via RadioTimes.com — and where better to start than at the very beginning…?
On Friday 20th September 1963, the four original cast members of Doctor Who assembled in London for their first photo-call. That quartet was, of course, William Hartnell as the Doctor, Carole Ann Ford as his granddaughter Susan, and Jacqueline Hill and William Russell as Susan’s teachers (and soon-to-be travelling companions) Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton.
The first (pilot) episode An Unearthly Child would not be recorded for another week and the studio sets had yet to be built so mock-ups of a classroom and the junkyard (where the police box is first discovered) were erected in a photographic studio in the basement at BBC Television Centre. Quite different from how the sets would appear on screen in November 1963 – nevertheless (especially in the case of the junkyard) suitably evocative.
RT photographer Don Smith was present, along with his friend Douglas Playle, who worked for the BBC’s picture publicity department. Both men have since died, but back in 2003 Don told RT: "Oh yes, I remember it well. It was just a large room – most uninspiring. We had bits of furniture in the waiting room, and it was just a matter of dragging anything in."
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Over the decades, many shots from this session have been printed, but sadly nearly all the original negatives are lost. However, one of Don’s negatives from 1963 does exist in the Radio Times archive – making it our earliest-surviving neg from Doctor Who. It was probably saved because it’s filed separately under "Jacqueline Hill". Variations exist of this shot of Hill as Barbara, but we believe this one hasn’t been published before.
A magnificent actress, Jacqueline Hill died almost 30 years ago (on 18th February 1993) at the age of 63. She was survived by her husband, the acclaimed producer/director Alvin Rakoff. Now in his 90s, he’s happy to talk to RT about his beloved first wife and her time on Doctor Who.
"Sixty years ago is often easier to recall than 60 hours ago," he chuckles. "The thing that Jackie repeated to me endlessly while she was making Doctor Who is that each director would come up to her and say, 'Can you scream here?’ and she would say, 'What sort of scream?' She had done so many!
"She said, 'There are only so many screams you can do. How loud? Face this way, face that way? Eyes wide? Eyes wider? There's a limitation to how you vary a scream.' She couldn't often persuade a director to let her tremble with fear rather than scream. It always had to be a scream. That's the thing she most remembered about Doctor Who."
That said, Rakoff is sure she enjoyed her time in the programme, staying for almost the entire first two seasons. "She loved those early episodes because they divided the stories between history and the future in space. She particularly liked the historic episodes because, I guess like a lot of actresses, she loved dressing up in the period costumes that were assigned to her. She felt she could get something out of the historic ones. They offered something she could capitalise on, whereas dealing with the future, it was often just a lot of screaming." In the 1964 serial The Aztecs, her character Barbara became the focus as a reincarnated high priestess. "Oh yes, she loved that episode."
Rakoff and Hill had first crossed paths a decade earlier, at the BBC in 1953. "I was a raw neophyte director and was casting for a TV series called A Place of Execution. I needed a young leading lady. I interviewed a number of people including Jackie but I didn't hire her. I decided she was wrong for the part, which was upper middle class. Then about a month after that, I was at a party with actors and in came Jackie with a friend. She was cold towards me and I was cold towards her, but finally after the party we socialised a bit more, and we agreed to meet after that."
Soon, they became a couple and, subsequently, did work together on BBC television several times in the 1950s. The first TV play they made together was Three Empty Rooms in December 1955.
Alvin Rakoff and Jacqueline Hill married in 1958, and it was in the late '50s that he recalls them first encountering a dynamic woman in her early 20s called Verity Lambert – in London and then America. "I was working in New York in 1959, and Verity was at the same organisation as a glorified typist/secretary for an American television producer. So she and Jackie, these two English girls, met up in New York and really became friends. A few years later Verity became producer of Doctor Who and offered the role to Jackie because they knew each other."
Did she perhaps also cast Hill because, in many ways, the character of Barbara represented Lambert herself on screen? Any truth in that? Rakoff laughs. "I think that is true. I think it often happens that directors and producers see a projection of themselves in the story they are telling."
What did his wife make of the enduring appeal of Doctor Who and being besieged by fan mail for years afterwards? "Oh, she liked it. She didn't capitalise on it in the way that some people do, going to Doctor Who reunions and conventions. She would avoid all of that. Jackie found them a little self-conscious making. She was too professional an actress. And people coming to the house she objected to, though she tolerated it. But we didn't get many of those."
Jacqueline Hill remained fond of her time in Doctor Who. In 1980, she briefly returned to the series as a completely different character (in Meglos) and, in 1985, made her one solitary appearance at a Doctor Who convention. She always kept up with her fan mail, and in the early 1980s sent two autographed photos to the writer of this article.
Read more from Alvin Rakoff in Radio Times: The Sixties available from RT Shop, discussing Z Cars and how he and Jacqueline Hill helped to launch the career of Sean Connery.
Next time, something with a touch of Patrick Troughton…