It’s one of the great might-have-beens in the history of Doctor Who – now, actress Louise Jameson has revealed why she turned down the opportunity to return to the BBC sci-fi series in 1980.
Jameson played companion Leela, a warrior of the savage Sevateem tribe, in 40 episodes between January 1977 and March 1978.
Speaking at a BFI event to promote the upcoming Blu-ray release of Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 14, the star explained how she originally won the part following an exhaustive audition process.
“I nearly got Survivors [the BBC’s 1970s post-apocalyptic drama] and I got down to the last ten for Purdey [from The New Avengers] – but, y’know, who wants Joanna Lumley’s career?!,” Jameson quipped.
“But because I didn’t get Survivors, Pennant [Roberts, director] had interviewed me and remembered me and then called me in for Leela. And the rest is history…
“It was 60 [auditioning], then 10, then three, then me, so they called me back and back and back.”
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Contracted to appear in the three concluding stories of Doctor Who’s 14th season and the entirety of the following 15th run, Jameson then opted to leave the show to take up the role of Portia in The Merchant of Venice at Bristol Old Vic. “That was such a tempting carrot… so that was my decision to leave then,” she explained.
Flash-forward to 1980 and with long-standing lead Tom Baker bowing out after seven years, new producer John Nathan-Turner was keen to have Jameson return to Doctor Who and provide a familiar face alongside the new Doctor (played by Peter Davison).
She recalled: “I got a phone call from John Nathan-Turner – and I knew he was now a producer at the BBC – to say could he take me out to lunch and discuss “a series” – that’s all he’d say. I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to get my own series!’.
“It turned out that John wanted me to do the last one or two stories of Tom and the whole of the next season, and he told me the [next] Doctor hadn’t been cast yet.”
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Unwilling to commit to the entirety of Doctor Who’s 19th season, Jameson declined the offer. “I said I would do the leaving and the arrival, but I didn’t want to do a whole other season… what an idiot!”
“That wasn’t good enough, so that didn’t happen,” she concluded. “But I was asked.”
Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 14 is out on Blu-ray on 4th May 2020 and is available to pre-order now.