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Original ‘Doctor Who’ Star Caught In Typecast

Carole Ann Ford says show brought down career

With Mark Gatiss’ upcoming biopic “An Adventure in Time and Space” getting ready to present the history of “Doctor Who” in time for its 50th anniversary, it seems some of the original people involved in those early episodes have different views of how The Doctor has evolved.

Waris Hussein, who directed the premiere episode of “Doctor Who,” recently said he felt the modern Doctor is too sexual. However, the opinion of the first Companion — Carole Ann Ford — is a bit different. The actress behind The Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, says she loves what they’ve done with the series, especially under Matt Smith.

It’s just the past that really gets under her skin.

“I must say that when I left ‘Doctor Who,’ I was filled with … not loathing, but I was incredibly annoyed because I wanted to do more television and films, and the only thing that people could ever see me in was a recreation of what I had done” on the series, Ford recently told The Calgary Herald. “A Susan clone. Some kind of weird teenager. I wanted to do work that would disconnect me from ‘Doctor Who.’ That is a very difficult thing to accomplish, as many other actors who have played the companions have found out.”

And what’s worse, Susan was not anything Ford was interested in playing in the first place. Part of what created bad blood between her and BBC in the 1960s was the fact that Susan was pitched as a far different character than what actually ended up on screen. And the fact that guest stars and the other two companions — William Russell and Jacqueline Hill — were getting much more interesting stories, didn’t help matters much either.

“I was a very good dancer and had been an acrobat,” Ford said. “They told me Susan was going to be an Avengers-type girl — with all the kapow of that — plus she would have telepathic powers. She was going to be able to fly the Tardis as well as her grandfather and have the most extraordinary wardrobe.

“None of that happened.”

Instead, Susan was given boring costumes, and was someone that needed constant rescuing as a family member to The Doctor.

The series was far different then from what it was today. The sets were practically made of paper, and could be knocked down by the slightest touch. BBC, for years, looked at “Doctor Who” as a children’s show, and was only willing to invest in it as such a show. Little work was put into the characters’ backstory, leaving both Ford and her costar, first Doctor William Hartnell, to develop a lot of what would become the history of The Doctor.

“Bill and I put together a backstory because we had to,” Ford said. “You can’t act something unless you know what is behind it. We created the fact that he had done something to annoy the other Time Lords, and they decided he had to go.”

After leaving “Doctor Who” in 1964, but did come back for an anniversary episode in 1983. She tried to continue her television career, and even looked to depart from her character of Susan as much as possible, but that totally backfired on her.

“I had the most searing letters from parents of small children who had been allowed to stay up late to watch this,” Ford had said, referring to an episode of a detective series where she played a prostitute. “Because I was in it … they thought it was going to be something akin to ‘Doctor Who.’ They were saying, ‘How dare you do this? You are a role model!'”

That would eventually chase Ford from television, and she would move to the stage instead. Now 72 and retired to North London, Ford last appeared on screen in the 1999 video “Soul’s Ark” with former Doctor Colin Baker. The low-budget outing was directed by “Alan Smithee,” a pseudonym used by directors (and writers) when a project is changed drastically outside of their control (and usually to its detriment) that they don’t want their named attached to.

However, Ford is set to make her first screen appearance in 14 years playing a character named Joyce in the Doctor Who biopic. In the meantime, she herself will be played by up-and-coming actress Claudia Grant.

Ford does have one last regret as the series nears its golden anniversary, however.

“I wish William Hartnell was here to share in all this,” she said of her co-star, who died in 1975. “Even before we started this, he said, ‘This is going to go on forever,’ [and] he was right, bless him. He loved it so much.”

To read the full interview, including why Ford fears for her life (and the illness that pulled her out of acting totally for many years), click here.

“Doctor Who” airs Saturdays on BBC and BBC America. The 50th anniversary special will air Nov. 23.

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