Patrick Troughton’s 1966-69 stint on Doctor Who is now hailed by fans as a golden era of the long-running sci-fi show, but Troughton himself was “incredibly anxious” about stepping into the role of the Doctor, according to his co-star Anneke Wills.
It’s difficult now to imagine the idea of a new actor playing the Doctor proving so controversial, but with only one actor – William Hartnell – have previously taken on the part, Wills told RadioTimes.com that Troughton went through “nervous times” as he worked to find his own take on the character.
“He came in and he was incredibly anxious about getting it right,” Wills said, speaking to RadioTimes.com to promote the DVD, Blu-Ray and SteelBook release of The Faceless Ones, one of Troughton’s stories once thought lost but now restored by way of the surviving soundtrack and new animated visuals.
“He felt the whole onus of this was on his shoulders,” she continued. “He didn’t so much trust [series producer] Innes Lloyd and and the directors, he trusted me and Michael [Craze, companion Ben Jackson] and so he would always run things by me and Mike.
“We’d go to the pub and he’d say, ‘OK guys, what do you think? Bit over the top?’ and Mike was wonderful for saying, ‘Right over the top, darling! If you’re gonna do that, I’m not working with you!’ – and he trusted us to tell it like it was. So in that way, we became very bonded, because we helped him through. By the time we were doing The Faceless Ones, he was just in the role.”
Troughton’s nervousness around replacing Hartnell famously led to a practical joke by Wills and Craze backfiring, with the actor failing to see the funny side when his cast-mates arrived on set wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘Come back Bill Hartnell, all is forgiven’.
“That was in the very beginning, those nervous times,” Wills recalled. “By this time, Pat and Mike and I, we were buddies… [but] the joke fell flat. His little face was devastated and he shuffled away to his room… he wore his heart on his sleeve, it was so beautiful.”
Despite those early nerves, and his reluctance to speak about the show out-of-character, Wills explained that Troughton did come to realise how popular his portrayal of the Doctor was with fans when the fan convention circuit really began to kick into gear in the 1980s.
“At the end, of course, he did know. And he loved it. It absolutely thrilled him to bits.”
The Faceless Ones – which sees Troughton’s Doctor and his friends uncover a sinister alien plot at Gatwick Airport – marked Wills’s final appearance as companion Polly, her character being written out alongside Craze’s Ben as they arrived back in contemporary London.
“They’d decided to move Michael out and they said, ‘What do you want to do, stay in or not?’ and I thought, I can’t go on and say goodbye to Mike – it would just be disloyal – so I said, no, I’ll go at the same time,” she explained.
“For me and Mike, it was instant friendship – partly also because our first stories were with a very fractious Bill Hartnell, so we instantly became a support team for each other, because it wasn’t easy, and we lived around the corner from each other in Fulham, so we became such good friends.”
Though they appear in three of The Faceless Ones’ six episodes, Wills and Craze were only present for filming of the first two episodes, with their farewell in the concluding chapter taking the form of a pre-filmed insert. “That was kind of strange,” she recalled. “Mike and I didn’t have a party, or people saying ‘How lovely it’s been!’ – we sort of slunk out the back door and that was the end of that, so it was rather sad.”
More than 50 years later, Wills still finds reflecting on her Doctor Who exit an emotional experience, recalling how, while recording an audiobook version of The Faceless Ones adapted from the Target novelisation, she became unexpectedly tearful when asked to to revisit Polly and Ben’s final scene.
“When I got to the bit when we have to say goodbye to Patrick, I said, ‘I’m sorry, you’re going to have to stop a moment’ – I said, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t say goodbye to him!’ and my voice was all thick with emotion.
“I only just managed to get through it. Isn’t that amazing? After all those years…”
The Faceless Ones is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and SteelBook from Monday, 16th March