The final remnants of the First Doctor era, Polly and Ben (played by Anneke Wills and Michael Craze), departed unceremoniously in The Faceless Ones (1967), leaving a space on the TARDIS. And it would only have been one space: with Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) alongside Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, it appeared that two companions worked better than three – indeed, with Jamie’s introduction, many of Ben’s lines were redistributed and a few writers seemed to struggle with the balancing act.
Nonetheless, the TARDIS needed a new occupant, and that was… Samantha Briggs.
Briggs had been introduced as a gobby Scouser in The Faceless Ones, played by Pauline Collins. Producers, Peter Bryant and Innes Lloyd were especially impressed with her, the latter seeing the character as Doctor Who‘s version of the strong women presented in The Avengers.
Collins, however, simply didn’t want the job. Following her debut serial, the production team offered her to stay on for 36 episodes, and she told Doctor Who Magazine #212: “I’m a mover-on, and I didn’t want to do any more. I have a low boredom threshold.”
Fortunately, the next serial, The Evil of the Daleks, offered another character who could be suitable for life as a companion: Victoria Waterfield. She was created by writer, David Whittaker as an option for Lloyd and Bryant to take further, but Briggs was the pair’s first choice.
While Briggs was a contemporary, enquiring woman who’d stick up for herself and give a modern perspective to events, Victoria was a Victorian character, rather more retiring and timid than Briggs. Alongside the Jacobite Jamie, the Doctor’s companions would both be from the past (in relation to the audience), which was an entirely new situation for Doctor Who – and interestingly, never repeated again since.
Nonetheless, Victoria’s introduction to the TARDIS fitted the conclusion of The Evil of the Daleks: the Daleks had killed her father and destroyed her home, so the Doctor and Jamie, feeling sorry for her, had welcomed her to their home. The Doctor became a father figure, and in the next serial, The Tomb of the Cybermen, the pair would have a beautifully and frank conversation about death. Meanwhile, she saw Jamie as something of a brother… although Jamie clearly though the relationship quite different from that!
But who could play the Victorian companion?
The role eventually went to Deborah Watling, but she didn’t actually appear on any audition paperwork. Instead, auditions in later March/ early April 1967 led to Denise Buckley being cast as Waterfield. After a camera test on 11th April, she was contracted for six of the seven episodes that would comprise Evil of the Daleks – but two days later, she was dropped for reasons unknown.
Fortunately, Innes Lloyd recalled seeing The Wednesday Play in 1965, with a young actress playing Alice Liddel (Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for his most famous book) who’d be perfect for the new companion role: Deborah Watling. In fact, Lloyd had spoken to Watling about a recurring part in Doctor Who before, but had asked her to get more acting experience before doing so. In her autobiography, she wrote: “Innes knew how intense the workload could be on Who, so he was quite right asking me to get some more working experience before taking it on. So in early 1967, back I went to Innes’ office to talk about becoming the new companion. We had a chat, I didn’t even have to read a script, and was offered the part there and then. As simple as that!” She also confirms that, despite rumours, she never auditioned for the part of Polly, although we may infer that her prior talk with Lloyd might’ve been at the same time they were casting the Swinging Sixties girl.
In DWM #308, she recalled: “The character of Victoria jumped off the page at me. I knew then how to deal with her, how to sustain her, what she was thinking, and when she was thinking it. I could always go to Pat for advice if I had a problem. ‘How about playing it this way?’ he’d say. ‘See how comfy that feels?’ He’d never tell me directly how to play it one way or the other.”
Victoria’s debut episodes would go in front of the cameras in late April 1967, and was screened between 20th May and 1st July (with 7.5 million people watching Victoria’s first appearance in Episode 2, aired on 27th May).
Deborah’s original contract included The Evil of the Daleks, and the option to continue into two serials in the following season, The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Abominable Snowmen. In the latter, she even managed to bag a part for her father, Jack Watling, who played Professor Edward Travers; after she read the scripts, she approached Innes about starring opposite her father, and he immediately agreed, telling her to ask Jack about it at tea that evening.
Of her regular co-stars, Troughton and Hines, told DWM #308: “We were like a family. I can say that I’ve done a lot of work in my time, but I’ve never ever had a relationship like that. We had something magical.”
Victoria went on to further appear in The Ice Warriors, The Enemy of the World, The Web of Fear, and Fury from the Deep. In the same issue of DWM, she remembered her final scene with Patrick and Frazer: “They weren’t saying goodbye to Victoria: they were saying good bye to me. I was in tears, Pat certainly was, and Frazer was welling up… We recorded the scene and you could hear a pin drop in the studio. I looked around and everybody, the whole cast and crew, was in tears.”
Goodbye, Victoria. Goodbye, Deborah. We’ll miss you.