Meet the Doctor’s original feisty red-haired companion. Here’s the unforgettable Leela…
This interview originally appeared in DWM 395, published in May 2008.
Hello, Louise. After three decades, do you ever get fed up of talking about Doctor Who?
“It depends very much on the interviewer.”
“No pressure, love.”
This interview is to plug the DVD release of [1978’s] The Invasion of Time. When you’re asked about individual stories, what comes to mind first: what was going on in front of the cameras or what was happening behind the scenes?
“The first thing is the writing, for me, and my connection with the script, and then comes the gossip. The costumes and the sets probably come third.”
How would you rate The Invasion of Time?
“I think the story itself was very weak. Well, given that it was my last one.”
Leela’s departure is a bit sudden…
“In a hugely flattering way, they thought that they could change my mind and persuade me to stay. The night before we recorded the last scene, Graham [Williams, the producer] told me, ‘You could run into the TARDIS at the end. We could rewrite it over night.’ Bless him. But I’d already accepted Portia in The Merchant of Venice at the Bristol Old Vic, and it’s no secret that Tom [Baker] and I had a tense relationship.”
It was tense because…?
“If you print this, I’d really like you to say that I have huge respect for Tom. I think he’s an absolutely major talent, and his love for the show is unquestionable. As long as that goes in… well, I felt that he was very competitive. There was always the sense that he wanted to get between me and the camera at every available opportunity. That’s not the way I work. I work from a Stanislavski basis. You work from the script, you take care of your fellow actors, and you trust that the camera will find you. I don’t think Tom had that maturity about him. I never felt that we worked as a team. We could have been quite a formidable team.”
Maybe he felt threatened?
“By me? I don’t think so. I was in awe of him. I felt cowed on occasions. He just wanted his own way all the time, but we all know that people who are that dominant are very insecure.”
Did the stress ever detract from the enjoyment of making Doctor Who?
“Well, I got quite ill. I got glandular fever in the middle of it. Illness stems from anxiety. I think I got quite neurotic about the whole thing. Plus, I have an allergy to dry ice. Every time I do panto, my glands swell up and I lose my voice. Everyone goes, ‘No, no, it’s hypoallergenic.’ But they lie! As allergies go, it’s a bad one for Doctor Who.”
So your decision to quit was down to a combination of Tom Baker and dry ice?
“THAT’S TRUE! Well, and Portia. The decision I regret is, I was asked to come back for a season and do the changeover from Tom to Peter [Davison], but I said that I’d only do two stories, Tom’s last and Peter’s first, so it never happened. I would jump at an opportunity like that now.”
In the light of Doctor Who’s current success?
“Yes, and because I didn’t know Peter then, and now I know how lovely he is.”
Have you ever fallen in love with someone as quickly as Leela falls for Commander Andred?
“Yes. [Thinks] You know they say that you can decide whether you want to buy a house in eight seconds? Well, I think you can fall in love with someone in about the same time. Don’t you?”
I’d say three seconds, maybe longer if it’s a phone interview. Put these in order of preference: Tom Baker, Colin Baker, Danny Baker.
“I absolutely adore Colin. He’s one of my best friends. I’m going to embarrass myself here, but who’s Danny Baker?
He’s a comedian and radio presenter.
“Rather gorgeous? Or am I thinking of someone else?”
You’re thinking of someone else.
“Well, then, I’ll put him and Colin on a par.”
Now then, Sontarans. What did you make of them in The Invasion of Time?
“It was hard to take them seriously. We’d have a quiet giggle about all the monsters. Sometimes not so quiet. However, at the risk of sounding really wanky, it’s your job as an actor to endower the monsters with whatever qualities – like, at least pretend that you’re scared – so that the audience believes in them.”
Shall we close with a message for DWM readers?
“Yes. Thank you. That’s my message. Thank you for being bloody loyal over the years. You’ve been a lifeline.”
Louise Jameson was talking to Benjamin Cook. The Invasion of Time is available on DVD from 5 May. Check out Louise’s website: www.louisejameson.com