Magic Bullet Productions

Wendy Padbury
The last companion of the Sixties


Conducted by Alan Stevens and Alistair Lock in 1991, the following is a extended version of the interview that previously appeared in TV Zone Special #3.

Wendy Padbury as ZoeAs the Sixties drew to a close, the time-travelling Doctor was joined by a highly intelligent companion, Zoe. At times she seemed as intelligent as the Doctor. Now, twenty-two years later, the actress who played Zoe, Wendy Padbury, looks back.

I was born in Stratford, and from an early age had a passion for ballet. Sadly my ballet career was very short-lived as I have flat feet. Once I got over the disappointment of that, I started to do Saturday morning drama classes. They were more like elocution lessons because I used to have a very strong Birmingham accent, and I just became more interested in acting and thought, 'Perhaps this is me'.

Non-speaking First

My first professional appearance was non-speaking, on a programme called Tonight, I played a modern-day Little Nell. All I had to do was walk around the streets of London with a camera following me with John Dankworth's music playing in the background. I'd never seen a camera in my life before, so it was good, basic training and I got used to all the technical bits without having to worry about speaking.

My appearance in Doctor Who came about when my agent put me forward as a new companion to take over from Deborah Watling. I always used to watch Doctor Who with my niece and we were great fans of Patrick Troughton. I went along for the part with hundreds of others. I had about three or four interviews then a screen test at the old Lime Grove studios, where I had to read a page of dialogue which had nothing to do with Doctor Who. I was so scared I don't remember what it was except that you had to convey all these emotions in a couple of minutes. I got the part and then I met Frazer Hines and Patrick Troughton.

It's always difficult taking over from other companions, but they made it very easy for me. I wasn't given an awful lot of background on Zoe Heriot's character except she was an astrophysicist and therefore very clever. In my first story, "The Wheel in Space", she was able to say, 'Please Doctor, you must be really stupid if you don't know how this works', but after a couple of stories she became just another screamer.

Posh Voice

I saw one of my early episodes recently, and I just couldn't believe how posh my voice sounded and I don't remember it being so high. She was supposed to be really clever, but I think she came over as something of a brat. I was twenty at the time, although I was certainly playing younger than twenty. Somebody I met recently told me they have a press cutting that states that Zoe was only twelve, but that's news to me, and if I was twelve then I've done it all wrong. Sixteen is the area we were aiming for.

I had a good time with the show. There was much messing around like the time Frazer almost buried me in the foam in "The Seeds of Death" but that's what kept it bubbly and fun. I suppose occasionally on a late rehearsal we might have got a bit out of hand or a bit naughty, but there were times when you had lines that were really difficult to say.

I am a terrible giggler. There was one scene near the beginning of "The Seeds of Death" where we had to walk into a museum, with all these rockets on display, and my line was, 'look at the size of that one Doctor'. Who could say that with a straight face? There were a few times when I had to ask Pat not to look me in the eye, because I would start giggling. He had to do a scene looking at my forehead, which of course made me roar with laughter because it made it even worse. Most of the costumes I wore on Doctor Who were not very practical. I wore a mini-skirt in a number of episodes, which wasn't much fun in cold weather. It was forever tearing, and they'd have to rush me to the sewing machine, because it was PVC paper, which although looking nice was really impractical for climbing around quarries. I also had to watch out for low camera angles, especially when going up and down stairs, or clambering over rocks. I liked most of the costumes that I wore. I was shown some of the designs by Bobby Bartlett who used to bring two or three along and ask me which ones I preferred. I actually got to keep the costume I wore in “The Seeds of Death”. It was a yellow leather trouser suit, with lacing down the leg and the front. 

My least favourite story was probably “The Dominators” as there wasn't very much for my character to do, and the director Morris Barry really gave me a hard time. There are, unfortunately, some directors who like to pick on the newest, or least experienced member of a cast, and as “The Dominators” was only my second story, he decided to pick on me. My favourite adventure, however, was “The Mind Robber”. It was just so imaginative and very creepy. It was like a real fairy tale, like a book you might have read when you were younger, lying in bed scaring yourself. I thought the toy soldiers with those huge keys in their backs were wonderful. I also liked the forest of words where you had to climb up the letters to be able to read the messages. That was the story where Frazer got chicken-pox and had to be replaced by Hamish Wilson. 'Gosh Jamie you look different,' and it wasn't Jamie. What a good story for that to happen, putting together another face from jigsaw pieces and getting it wrong. It just worked so well.

Recording Schedule

That story was directed by David Maloney, and I also liked working with Douglas Camfield on “The Invasion”. I remember the people mostly, like Sally Falkner who played Isabel. There was one scene where I got to blow up a computer. We had a great laugh on that story. There was a lot of location work so there was a time limit although you weren't quite so pressured like you were in “The Krotons” which was mostly studio. We'd rehearse all week, have an afternoon off for costume fittings and then one day's rehearsal of the episode in chronological order. In the evening we had about two and a half hours to record the entire episode. We would try to do it in one go, only having to do a scene again if something really disastrous happened. Having said there was a lot of pressure, I really did enjoy the studio stuff. It's hard to get the old adrenalin going when I do a telly now.

My next story was “The Seeds of Death”, featuring the Ice Warriors. They were my favourites, really scary. I think it was the voice and the scales. Even though I saw the latex being put on these men while they drank cups of coffee, once they got out there they really did send shivers down my spine.

I don't remember anything from my penultimate story "The Space Pirates", but l recently saw the first five episodes of “The War Games”. Watching it was like seeing someone else. Usually if I see a clip I remember things about what I was doing, but I remember nothing of "The War Games" which is quite extraordinary. I remember the people in it, although I don't remember where the locations were, but I enjoyed seeing it again and became quite involved. This was Pat's last story, but we were asked to stay on and Frazer and I decided it would be nicer to go with him. We didn't know who was coming in. I know it turned out to be Jon Pertwee and we'd probably have had a lovely time, but I didn't think you could push your luck. “The War Games” was ten episodes long and I heard later that this was due to a number of scripts falling through, and there was a lot of chaos behind the scenes, although I never saw any of that. I thought ten was a bit long for one story.

Post Who

After leaving Doctor Who I did theatre straight away, then a number of TV programmes including a children's series called Freewheelers. So typecasting was not a problem as I hadn't really been in Doctor Who that long. In 1974 I did the Doctor Who stage play “The Seven Keys to Doomsday” with Trevor Martin as the Doctor. He previously played a Time Lord in “The War Games”. He's a lovely man, and a very good Doctor, bringing something to the role like every Doctor before him had done. Unfortunately at the time there were frequent IRA bomb scares and so it didn't do as well as it should. Once the scares started the audiences declined. It was a shame because the two producers had put everything into this show, which really was extremely spectacular.

James Mathews played Jimmy and I played Jenny. She was similar to Zoe really, same sort of age, about sixteen. The difference was that I was not an astrophysicist, I was just an ordinary schoolgirl, and a member of the audience. We used to stand in the foyer drinking cola at the beginning when everybody was coming in. When the announcement came for the start of the show we'd wander in, show our tickets to the usherette, and sit in our seats.

The lights went down and the TARDIS appeared in the centre of the stage with lots of smoke and effects. The Doctor would struggle out coughing and muttering 'help me somebody', and we'd mutter 'there's something wrong with that man.' People behind used to hit us about the head with their programmes. 'shh! We're trying to watch!' 'will you leave this theatre?' They got really cross which was nice because that's what they should be doing. The more desperate the Doctor became the more agitated we got. Suddenly we'd run down the aisle and up onto the stage and pull him into the TARDIS which would then disappear, with us in it. Of course every kid in the audience thought 'If only I'd got there a bit quicker I could have gone off with the Doctor!' So that made for a rather nice opening. All those people who'd hit us with their programmes thinking 'oh dear, how embarrassing.'

In that show I actually got in a Dalek, and pretended to be one. That was my first meeting with Daleks, as I'd never met them on Doctor Who. I had to go across the stage in the Dalek. There was a microphone powered by a car battery inside to modulate my voice and I was always burning my legs from the battery acid. But I survived.

Return to Who

I became involved in “The Five Doctors” when my agent had a phone call from the producer John Nathan-Turner. I was pregnant at the time but it was only a small scene so I said 'yes'.

I wore a costume made out of bubble wrap to cover the bump, but I just looked huge in it and people used to pop me as they walked past, so it was a bit limp by the end. As lovely as it was to work with Patrick and Frazer again I never quite got into the part because I was not there for long with only a morning in the studio to record my lines.

Recently I was asked to be interviewed for the BSB Doctor Who weekend. Looking back I don't think the interviews were long enough. It was so slick and snappy that by the time you were in the middle of answering the first question you could see that they were winding it up. They had a lot to do, but apparently the weekend was an enormous success. I think the worst thing about the whole day was the interviewer asking me to scream. I absolutely refused. Elizabeth Sladen was upstairs watching with Carole Ann Ford and they said that they were so pleased because it would have set a precedent for them all to have to show their screams.

It's very flattering to still be recognized from Doctor Who after all this time. Who'd have thought that I would be sitting here now, talking about something I did years ago. We had no idea then that there would be such things as conventions either, people going half way round the world to talk about a part they played 20 years ago. And long may it go on.

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