In a relaxed and friendly environment Sophie, encouraged by event organiser Neil Goodman, spoke enthusiastically about her career, how she won the role of Ace, her life post-Doctor Who, working with tenth Doctor David Tennant and much more, in a lively, exuberant and refreshingly-unhurried interview/Q&A session. The early part of the afternoon was given over to an informal autograph/photo opportunity session where everyone had the opportunity to share a few words with Sophie before posing for their inevitable selfies (STARBURST can’t possibly condone such activities and will hide any evidence if necessary) before the event wound down with the charity raffle draw. On display were a couple of costumes worn by Elisabeth Sladen in the Sarah Jane series, loaned by a private collector, and battle-weary Dalek Bob re-enacted the famous ‘baseball bat’ sequence from 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks before taking to the promenade to molest and terrify innocent passers-by. A fun, good-natured day and it’s unlikely that anyone who attended will have gone home feeling short-changed or disappointed. Here’s to the next timely Timeless event...
STARBURST managed to grab a few minutes with Sophie to find out more about her experiences meeting Doctor Who fans over the years, life as part of the Doctor Who family and her plans for the future...
STARBURST: Is it still fun meeting and greeting the fans after all this time and do you prefer the smaller events to the big functions such as 2013’s ExCel Anniversary convention?
Sophie Aldred: I don’t mind what I do. People say that events like ExCel are a massive bun-fight but we do try to make absolutely sure that people have time for an individual conversation so they do get a one-on-one but I think from a fan point of view it’s probably better to come to a more intimate event like this. They get more out of it because they get a proper talk, a proper Q&A, competitions and they get social time together as well, and they get to be a group rather than just like people in a queue.
You still seem to be extraordinarily enthusiastic about Doctor Who and your part in its heritage and legacy.
Somebody said to me a few weeks ago ‘Wow, you must be so grateful to Doctor Who’ and I realised that there’s nobody else who I know from any other show which they did so long ago who’s still getting work off the back of it. Sylvester and I have never left that show; we’ve been doing Big Finish audios, we travel round the world talking about it. It’s opened so many doors and I’m forever grateful to (1980s producer) John Nathan-Turner for taking a punt on me, a complete unknown, just as a result of a hunch where he put me in the show and here I am years later still talking about it. It’s absolutely amazing and it’s something I could never have foreseen.
Who was the first Doctor you were aware of growing-up?
Jon Pertwee was the first Doctor I remember. I have this image of that white hair, the frilly shirts, and the vehicles as well – he was a bit of a sort of James Bond-type character. I remember Jo Grant who I loved – Katy Manning – I always wanted to give her a cuddle because she seemed so tiny and vulnerable. I remember her wearing some very fluffy moonboots and being quite intrigued by her fashion and her sense of dress. Then I remember Lis Sladen really inhabiting that role so well. I thought she and Tom’s Doctor were a perfect match.
It’s become a bit of a tradition in the show, isn’t it, that each Doctor tends to have their ‘signature’ companion?
It was very lucky that Sylvester and I were a very good match for each other and we really understood each other, we got to know each other very well. Sometimes you hit upon those great partnerships.
Did that relationship allow you both to have input into your characters and the way they developed and behaved?
Andrew Cartmel was a very innovative script editor and I remember before my second season he got me together with the writers and they really got to see what kind of person I am so they could get bits of this and that in. Mind you, I always wanted to ride a motor bike in the show and they never got that in so it shows you what sort of attention they paid to what I thought! But there were instances; by the time we got to the studio after we’d had the rehearsal period, there was a lot of freedom, both from mine and Sylvester’s point of view, to say ‘hmmm, not very happy about that..’ Sylvester was very adamant that he would never hold the gun or wield the weapon, he would subtly get Ace to do it or mention ‘that can of Nito-9 you’re not carrying’ so he was always on the look-out for things that didn’t quite go with his version of the Doctor. He was asked for his input a lot which was great. I made lots of decisions with Andrew that Ace was never going to scream, she was always going to be a certain way; we looked for words she could say because in real life she’d be swearing like a trooper but we couldn’t do that on TV so we had to be more creative.
Your time on the show was cut short when the BBC effectively cancelled it in 1989. Did you have any plans to move on anyway, having been in the series for the better part of three years?
I was actually on an option for half of the next season so that was the plan; halfway through I would have been written out. I think that was probably a very good thing because if I had gone on I wouldn’t have known when to stop and I do think that it probably was a time of my life where I did need to move on soon. Of course I was really upset that it didn’t continue but both Sylvester and I were lucky enough to have other work to go on to. One of my sadnesses now, looking back, was that poor old John Nathan-Turner had such a rough deal. It was at that time when TV was changing as well, producer choice had just come in and people could farm things out to independent production companies which were all starting up. I think John’s type of TV had also had its day; it was the infancy of alternative comedy, light entertainment was really trailing off although John would have loved Strictly Come Dancing... can you imagine John producing Strictly, he’d have loved that, been in his element.
What do you think of Doctor Who 21st century style?
I love it. It’s ‘date TV# in my family. My husband and my kids and I sit together. My youngest son loves Clara, she’s the first assistant that he’s really watched. The first new Doctor Who that my eldest watched was Matt Smith’s first episode which was lovely because we were visiting my Dad and he, my stepmum, my husband, myself and Adam sat down and we all watched together so it really was a family affair.
Ten years on from its return, of course, and there are viewers watching now who can’t remember Christopher Eccleston...
Isn’t it funny because I remember going to a convention probably during my time filming and looking at Lis Sladen and Katy Manning and thinking ‘Wow, they’re doing these conventions and they were doing it about ten years ago’ and yet look at us all now, all these years on. We’re like a big family now and when we meet up it’s like a big party, especially when we go to other countries. I have been a few times this year to the States but the one in Baltimore really sticks in my mind because we were all in this hotel together, quite far away from civilisation – Colin (Baker), Sylvester, me, Nicola, Terry Malloy (Davros in 1980s episodes), Colin Spaull (Revelation of the Daleks, Rise of the Cybermen), Deborah Watling and a few others – and we just had a ball together. We ate together, we went out on a trip together – we all get on so well because we’ve got this common bond. We’ve known each other a long time, we really respect each other’s work and we love each other’s company and it’s such fun. We got a mini bus and went to a shopping centre together!
You’ve mentioned that you’ve now got a theatrical agent for the first time in over a decade. What would you like to do in the future?
I’d love to do anything really but I’m interested in doing small interesting parts in TV and film and just building up again really, doing stuff that interests me. I was offered a theatre show in the West End at the beginning of the summer but I couldn’t do it because I had so many commitments doing other stuff. So I’m open to anything and I’m kind of excited because it’s a bit like starting again. I’m lucky enough to have my voice-over career so I’ll be able to choose what I want to do but equally I’m going to take it slowly and see what happens and see what doors open.
Sophie Aldred can be heard in Strangeness in Space, a free sci-fi comedy also starring Trevor and Simon (from Going Live! fame).